Dr. Penelope Boston: "Seeking the Tricorder: The Hunt for Extraterrestrial Life" | Talks at Google

Dr. Penelope Boston:

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Today. We've got dr. Penelope Boston joining us from just, next door over at NASA Ames she's. The director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute and, we'll be here talking today a little bit about her research. Welcome. Thanks. Calvin I'm really happy to be here. To. Share a few thoughts with, everybody. About. One. Of the most challenging. Things, that we're trying to do at NASA and in fact other, space agencies around the world and that is try. To hunt for, extraterrestrial. Life and of course we've been doing this for, a number of decades. Both. Within NASA within, the University and research. Lab. Environment. And. Europe. Is highly, involved in this and other, countries, are coming on board. Japan. Has a very active. Space. Program and, a lot of interest in astrobiology as, do. People in China and, many, other parts of the world so this, is really a global enterprise, but I'm going to give you, really. My own perspective, on where, the rubbing points, are, looking. For life is extraordinarily. Difficult. Because life is, not, really a collection of stuff it's a collection of stuff that is actually behaving in the. Time dimension so, it's, an ongoing process, and. This. Means that it is. At. One sense, flamboyant. We live on a planet that's absolutely, saturated, with, life this our planet is dominated, by life but. If we have, life. On, other, bodies. In our solar system it clearly isn't the same kind of global. Dominating. Force that it is here and so this, really changes the game and a, lot of the work that those. Of us in the in the science community have, done on this. Have. To do with looking at examples. That we have on this planet that are. Very, challenging, so, marginal. Environments extreme. Environments, on our planet has. Really sort of set the stage for trying, to expand, our our, thinking, in that regard. We, really, want a tricorder, where you just point your, device at something, and it tells you a bunch of wonderful stuff but we actually really, are. Still fumbling around in, many cases, with. More. Like a Rube Goldberg device. And, this is the cartoon that. Actually started. The. Idea of these crazy devices, that Rube Goldberg, who's a famous artist, and and, cartoonist. Actually came up with back in the 1930s, so. We often refer to Rube Goldberg devices. As some kind of Cluj together, thing, so. Even, though we have many wonderful. Technologies. That we are that, we are working with because. Life is a subtle. Phenomenon. And we don't know what it's going to be made of on other planets and we don't know even what, it's, pace. Of life and many other things about it are actually going to be like we. Are trying, to design. Instrumentation. And protocols. And. Accessibility. To places. That we are tremendously, unfamiliar, with and where. The life might. Be so, different. In its many. Different properties that trying, to even recognize it as life might be very challenging now. I could go the other way it could be that there's. Something so optimized, about, the way our life does chemistry that, it's the only Road available. I don't, personally believe that but there are people who do believe that but. Really these are articles, of faith at this point rather than really informed. Stances. So that's. The background so, what are we looking for well we're, looking for things that are still alive if, they. Were cute and green with three eyes like these, guys from the. Movies that would be easy the. Truth is that they're. Much, more likely to be microbial. Organisms and. One. Of the reasons that we think so of course is because really for three-quarters of the time that we have, evidence of life on our planet in.

The Rock record, it was microbial, life big. Things like us were. Decorative. Additional, afterthoughts, that happened after many, different, cycles, of geological, changes, had occurred over. Hundreds and hundreds of millions of years billions of years, so. It, wasn't until, between. Seven, and eight hundred million years ago, that. What. We would now call complicated. Multicellular. Things began to be, evolving. And this. Is on a planet, where we have evidence of life back to at, least 3.6. Possibly, 3.7. And possibly. 3.8. Depending. Evidence. From that period time is really subtle and really hard to interpret but anyway the, bottom, line is it was a heck of a lot longer, ago, then then, we have big things so this pushes, us in into. The realm of microbiology. On, the other end of the spectrum of course we, are also looking for evidences, of past life and. I. Don't know if there are any amateur, paleontologists. In the room but if so you'll know that. The way you look, for fossil material is, very different, from the way you study living material, and yet, we have both of these twin. Goals because. We don't know what we're going to find and even. Though we would all love, to find, actively. Living, organisms. Somewhere in our solar system we'd. Still be very happy if we found convincing, evidence of, even past life for example on Mars, so. One of the biggest problems, is that if. You take a physics, and a chemistry, perspective, this is very instructive, except. That life is really not, a. Package. Of bulk properties, so. In many cases we are measuring. Bulk, properties, of a, planet and by bulk I don't mean you, know things the size, of California, I mean, bulk things that are above the microbial, scale. So. Microorganisms. Are individually, very tiny, although, they can be, macroscopically. Visible. In the aggregate. But. In very low, nutrient. Environments where. The, numbers, of organisms are very low, you. Have, patchy. Distributions. That are hard to explain, you. Know the obvious thing is if you have a nutrient, gradient, you would expect organisms, to be arrayed. Along that nutrient, gradient, and there, is some of that but there's also. More. Magical, properties, that life has which seem to have something to do with, self-organizing. Properties, of complex systems, and they, do not just you know trivially. Map onto what is available for them and. This. Is something that a number of folks in the community are studying, but we really don't have a grasp of it so. Why, am I talking to you about this other than working. At NASA currently, I've spent most of my career working in extreme environments, and for, the past 25, years or so I have focused primarily. On, the subsurface and natural caves and mines I'm not going to spend a lot of time on my work but I just want to show you a. Few. Examples some of our more photogenic examples. That. Try, to look. At the most. Extreme physical, and chemical conditions, that we can find on our, planet in. An environment, in the subsurface, where, photosynthesis. Is not possible, so. Our. Focus, has always been on the, micro organisms that make their living not, off organic, materials, but, off inorganic, materials, they're essentially, rock eaters and they, get their, various. Energy. Quantum, by quantum, by doing. Things like oxidizing. Metals in, in, minerals. So. This, is a geologically. Driven. Source. Of energy for these organisms and as. We look around our solar system we see no where, else that is green and gooey like our planet and, so, the. Fact that we. Have photosynthesis. As our primary driver, of, the. Energy that goes to run our biosphere is very, lucky for us that's why we're all sitting here but on a planet, with a much more subdued. Potential. Biology, we're. Not going to see that and we know that we don't, have anywhere else like earth that we can find in our solar system so. We're looking for much more subtle much. Lower biomass. Systems. Perhaps functioning. At a much. Slower. Level, so, we go places. Like. In, the the upper, left-hand corner this, is a cave, that we have studied in Tabasco Mexico for. Almost, 20 years now. Starting. In 1998. And this, system is dominated by sulfuric, acid it has hydrogen, sulfide, pouring. Into it, from. A number of Springs and. That. Goes into a, reaction, with oxygen, in. The system in the water and in the air and produces, sulfuric acid so it's a hyper acidic, environment, that's where we're all duded up in the suits and so forth, and. The breathing masks. And auxiliary.

Oxygen. Bottles so that we can actually survive. In there long enough to do the work that's. Actually, very, chemically. Extreme, it's not a temperature, extreme, so, if you go to the upper right hand side you can see that. We're working in another environment, this is a much, newer project. On flanks. Of Mount Rainier, there's. A lot of mountaineering, involved, in getting up there there are permanent ice caves that, are the result of being. In an icy environment. But these are volcanic. Fumaroles, Mount, Rainier course is very large and gorgeous volcano. That. Is definitely. Still active although it hasn't erupted in a good long time but it will again someday and in the meantime it's, got a lot, of the similar gases, but these are coming out into a very cold environment and then. The lower-left. Has been the focus of a lot of National, Geographic expeditions. That we have, been. Part of and we. Have explored these giant, crystals in a very hot environment so. This. Is on the order of between, 40 and 60, s Celsius. The. Hottest, that we've had in there is in. Excess of 60 degrees C to the point where one, of my former graduate students. Got second-degree burns, on one of her boots ruptured, so that's, pushing, in the, very hot direction. There. Are things in the subsurface. Of Earth that are on expected in the surface and so it's, almost. Like going to another planet every time you go, into one of these extraordinary environments. And that has been very helpful in my own thinking about. Imagining. These, different kinds of conditions combined. In various different ways and how, you would go about actually, trying to find these in. You. Know alien, terrain, and, certainly. Robotic, aliy for the foreseeable, future, ultimately. Perhaps we'll have humans, on Mars that, can actually do. Some of this exploration, but for a good long time we're not going to be able to do it other than with our devices that, we send there so. This, is a wordy. Slide but I want you to really focus on the colored. Words. These. Are the high-level things so we, talked about bio signatures, meaning, anything, that life leaves behind and this is can be as subtle, as metabolically. Produced, gasses that. You see here in this list obviously. The gold standard, would be if we could actually find, live. Organisms. But, much more subtle accumulations. Of. Suggestive. Biological. Molecules, that we know are part of our biology here. Possibly. Molecular. Fossils these, are traces, of organic materials. That we know at least on earth are associated. With various different kinds of organisms might, be preserved, in things like. Silicate. Materials, or carbonates, and. Of. Course if we find true, fossils, that known, as body fossils, that are somehow recognizable. By their structure, and not. A. Artificial. Mimic. Of a form, of life that would be obviously. The most strong, type of evidence but there. Are many other things that we see on earth that are the result of life including bio paths excuse. Me bio, minerals, that are produced by the activity, of these rock. Eating and mineral. Pooping out organisms, that are just mentioning and then other subtle, geo chemical, traces that I will not go. Into the nitty gritty details well. On my, lifeö. Meter on the left-hand side you can see I've got sort of a slider bar from extant life to, extinct, life so all these different kinds of pieces of evidence. Either. Pertain. More to, the extinct, life end of that spectrum and, more or more, to the extant life guys. That are still alive. So. The. Truth is about our. Current. Grasp, on life detection, that we're really doing it by circumstantial. Evidence, we. Are. Looking. At some of those weaker, lines of evidence that I just quickly flash before you in the previous slide and looking. For. Places. Where we may find complicated. Organic, compounds, and I don't mean just simple, amino acids, I mean things, that are more complex, that we can imagine being. A product of life and the, collocation, of those, or. Patterns. Of molecular, or even suspicious. Patterns, of. Elemental. Abundances, in, one place, but. That's really, still, forensically. A circumstantial. Piece of evidence right none of those things aren't really the clinchers, you could go gee, that looks really suspicious. But. If it isn't wiggling, around you. Don't really know that it's life without a whole lot more work on. The other hand of course it's very hard to find complicated. Structures, so this. Particular electron. Micrograph, that you see there is from one. Of our lava tube caves that, we've studied and, they're, pretty convincing, they're. Fuzzy they look sort of like little, chrysanthemums.

To Me although, each one of those is about a micrometer, in, diameter so, you could fit a hundred of those across the diameter one of your hairs, so. Very very tiny and they. Appear. In very patchy, distributions. In this lava tube because there isn't a whole lot for, them to eat so, what. Are our chances of being able to look at enough material, on a robotic mission to actually, come. Up with those so, you can begin to see this conundrum we've got you, know various, different lines of evidence that we need. But. Trying. To get them all on the same, sample. Or in the same time is really, challenging. So. I just show this as an example of the work of one. Colleagues, and, in. Fact one. Of the team members of our one of our NASA Astrobiology. Institute teams. Happens. To be the one that is headed out of SETI right here, and, Richard. Spends a lot of his time worrying, about how we're going to do life detection has come up with steps. Towards, one of these analytical, combinations, and we're not going to go through this in detail but, just to point out that he's trying to combine. Micro. Fluidics, to actually get access to. Micro. Organism. Sized. Creatures. And at, the same time use, fluorescence. To try to look. For living, materials. Very. Often of course we look for natural. Fluorescence. Or we look for fluorescence, that we can actually induce, by. Using various wavelengths or in fact even putting materials. Into. The. Sample that, will bind with, biological. Compounds. So, we're making a lot of progress in, these lines but, even this is not really a life detection, it it, is still piecing. Together, tiny. Bits of information about the chemistry, and hoping this. Is real, life detection, if, something. Was big and it came up and bit you on the ankle, that'd. Be pretty convincing, anything. Short of that is much less convincing, and so, the question for us is what, is the suite of things that we need how, many different lines of evidence do we need and how.

Strong Does that evidence, have to be to. Actually convince us at some, time in the future that we've found an actual living creature, well. This is not new this, is a famous cartoon from, The New Yorker that. Was, drawn in 1962. Very. Early on in the Space Age and the. Fundamental, principles, of what we need to do are still the same, it's. Really, hard but. We spend a lot of time trying to figure out what. Life forms, you might get from. First principles, given. Whatever, properties, you know about a particular, body so. For example, Mars we've had a long history of. Attempting. To look. For life on Mars, our, first attempts, in in. The, early to. Mid-1970s. We're, very naive in retrospect, we didn't know that. This. Was before we even discovered, that there were hydrothermal, vents at, the bottom of the oceans right we we did not know about, the world of extremophiles. At. That time but we did know that maybe, on, a. Planet. There. Would be a, very different atmosphere and, the, creatures there would be using, that so, that notion is one that has been in people's minds for a long time, so. I just want to share with you some of my biggest concerns and, where. I hope, that, not. Only folks within NASA and the university, communities, but, everybody. Within the tech realm that. Might be interested. In in some of these these. Issues. Could. Find a way to contribute. So. These are the five, biggest problems, that I see right. Now. Simultaneous. Measurements, you. Would think we would have solved this we haven't. In. Terms of doing the kind of biology. That. We do in extreme environments or any environment on earth. We. Have, missions. That don't, last that long and if they do last long we go to different places, so. The idea of long-term, observations. To, capture. Changes. In things. That might be alive that maybe living on a very very slow, timescale, and growing, very very occasionally, perhaps. Once every hundred years perhaps. Once every 10,000, years. And. We have examples of that in the Antarctic, exam even. On our own planet. The. Doubling, time for. Cells, that are living under sand stone. In. Sand, stones in the Antarctic, Dry Valleys, probably. Only reproduce, once every 20,000 years well that's, pretty darn hard to capture that. Anywhere. And. Certainly. On another planet, so, how do we solve that problem. Problem-free. Is access to challenging, terrains well it's robots. I love, robots, and there's. A wonderful. Community. Of robot. Designers. That. Are coming up with with. Concepts. That are you, know certainly, the, kinds of things that we're going to need and yet what are we still flying where's floor flying mini. Coopers basically, okay. So we, have to close the gap of trying. To be. Able to do tech demos, and actually, vet, these, kinds, of much more creative, and much more capable. Robotic. Capabilities before, we can fly them, what. You do on earth is one thing but getting something ready to. Be approved for spaceflight is a whole, other thing it's. Vastly more, difficult, it's vastly more expensive. Problem. Four is essentially, seeing like a human, and by that I mean sensing, and, integrating. At the same time. Particularly. For the icy moons around the gas giants, where we know. That there are. Liquid. Interiors. Of these, and. Where. There's a huge amount of. Circumstantial. Hope, and evidence, that these. Would be very habitable. Places on the interior. We. Cannot. Direct, these immediately. On a step-by-step basis. From earth it's hard enough with Mars in terms. Of the delay in the return time of commanding. Spacecraft. And commanding, payloads when, you get out, to. The orbits. Of Saturn, and Jupiter, the. Delay time just makes that ridiculous. And, in. Fact the interference, from the radiation, environment sees high radiation environments. In the in the, gas giants. And the fact that. Wherever. You're, interrogating, is, going to be eclipsed by the planet, episodes. And so forth that fluidity. Of communication. That you need to actually run things from the ground is simply, not going to be there and this of course pushes, us in the, direction of. Devices. That can make their own decisions, and then, binding. All these together is a. Thing called planetary, protection I don't know how, how many of you have ever heard of this term.

It. Is not planetary. Defense, which is a. Related. Term that nASA has interests, in that's. When, we're thinking about near-earth, asteroids. Slamming, into us and what are we going to do about that this, is on the other end of the spectrum and this has to do with microbiology. And this. Is. A problem that was recognized, right at the dawn of the Space Age and before and that. Is microbial. Life could. Potentially, be a hazard, to any life on. Another, planet if, it comes from here and, then. In, turn, the reverse is also true and, that is as we get to the era where we're bringing. Back samples from. Astrobiology. Targets like Mars we. Want to make sure that. We are not risking, any. Adverse. Consequences. For our own one-and-only home planet so, these are very serious issues, and they have been taken very seriously, nASA, has a planetary, protection officer, in, office with worries about this there is an international. Body called Co spar that. Brings. Together the, the global. Space. Community, and one. Of its divisions of course is devoted to planetary. Protection and, in, fact this year the Coast bar meeting this summer is actually, going to be down in. The Pasadena. Area, in Southern, California it. Travels, all over the world the, last one was in Turkey, was. Intended, to be in Turkey and that was just as the coup happened so. That one was cancelled but this is the body that deals with a lot of interactions. And it deals with this problem of how do we make sure that, we're not screwing, up somebody else's planet, and that we're not screwing up our own so this is a very serious. Problem so. Just. A few details the simultaneous. Measurements. We've got a lot of signal-to-noise problems. It. Doesn't matter what kind of planet is we've got issues with both of these. We're. Looking at patching. Us that we don't understand, as I mentioned before low. Biomass probably. The, life might be very cryptic, that is, not recognizable. To us and they, might, thrash. Around at a very very slow pace compared, to us and. The. Minute you take a microbial, sample, even here on earth you have changed, it, and. We try to compensate. For that here on earth because we understand, a lot more about our own biology but. We. Have found out a problem in extreme, environments where, we are poking, around at things that we, don't know who's there we don't know how many are there it all looks like minerals, or soil or something, it's. Only after a significant, amount of work that you can actually prove that some of these things are alive and some, of those. Examples I show here from some, of our previous work the stars, that you see on, the. Interior, of each one of those manganese, oxide, stars is a tiny, microorganism, and it causes. The precipitation, of that manganese oxide, as a byproduct of using, other, oxidation. States of manganese minerals, to make its living and it, produces. These characteristic. Things I. Can't. Tell you how many times, this. Kind of work has to be submitted before you can prove, to yourself and other, people that you're really looking at a living thing because from, the surface it just looks like a mineral. The. Other end, of the scale is we see things here on earth that we cannot determine. What they are and I show this thing, that looks like a broken mesh stocking, and, we. Have found these kinds of structures literally. All over the world in every kind of geochemistry, and every. Kind of temperature. In caves in the subsurface and after. 20 years of, working on this we still don't know what they are they. Don't map onto any other kind of microorganism.

So. Even. Here we essentially, are working with aliens in a way, so. The, solution to this is really that we we, need simultaneous. Multispectral. And multi scale imaging, and we need to have that done at the same time we're actually interrogating. The chemistry, and. Preferably. Something, about the energy state to look at what the entropic. Can. Do within. A suspected. Organism, and all, at the same scale that matters to microorganisms. Which is really very tiny, it. Doesn't do you any good to look at one size of a hand sample, rock, on Mars for one thing and the other side for another thing and the other side for another thing you, cannot then. Overcome, that logical, conundrum of bringing, those together to really produce, highly. Trust. Of all high quality data that we convince us that it was a lie. One. Of the things that may be helping, us with this problem is is relatively, new and it's the idea of not. Big spacecraft, but whole fleets, of tiny little things, so. Here, again we've got the cryptic life problem, are they, even recognizable, low. Biomass again, slow. Pace of life you, can't invade, them. With, clumsy. Sample, handling because you. Might suppress. Them or destroy them and we, even have large-scale, patterns, changing, on geological timescales. Or perhaps. A little shorter, and the the upper image. Shows one of the patterns that we've been working in if you, look this is a the, sulfuric acid, cave in Mexico if you, look at all the dark, material you. Can see that it looks like little dots it's actually, a hieroglyphic. Like pattern, and this. Is something that is a self-organizing. Property, of microbial, communities, which. Helps, them distribute. Fluid. Flow and, the, distribution of, nutrients. And other limiting, other, limiting, factors we've, been working on the mathematics, of the development, of this and then, trying to back what that means out scientifically. From that work so. We have all of these complicated, things, the. Poof ball see which happens to be in a cave in southeast Alaska, right. Around freezing, the. White stuff that the hand is pointing to that's, actually a, shallow. Pool and those, poof balls actually, are. Composed, of. Previously. Undescribed, filamentous. Microorganisms. That produce these, beautiful, fin shaped, calcium. Carbonate crystals that you see in there well we've, never seen anything like before and. Trying. To look. For that, life. Signal. When. Your, visual. Appearance. Of these poof balls are actually globs. Of fluffy, minerals so. I, show. These pictures to show you pretty. How challenging, this, is even here so we, really need. Long-term. Monitoring, and we are looking at things like small SATs smart. Breadcrumbs, we, don't know we, need things that are self-contained, they. Don't have to do a lot but, numerosity, can, overcome, this. Problem of time dimension, and it can also give us the basis for a statistical. Analysis, if we, can't sit there for 20,000 years we can do a statistical analysis. Of various, phenomenon, and that will, give us insight into some, of these, well. Now we get to the robots which I love I have. Made. A cottage, industry before, I went back into NASA when I was still in the university, environment is essentially, being the pet astrobiologist. Of a lot of robot groups so. MIT. And. JPL, and. Various. Other ones because. People.

Who, Are designing these wonderful robots they. Need to know what the customer, base wants and I am a customer and a very chatty customer, and I love robots so. We. Want to be able to get into these difficult. Terrains in my case it's caves and rock. Overhangs, and things like that but even rugged. Terrain on the surface of Enceladus, for, example or Europa. We, have nothing that can do that at this point we need, to be able to look. At, features. Of, significance, so our. Sl's, are these recurring, slope lineae, these. Streaky, things that come and go on Mars. And, appear. To be brine or not. Okay we don't even know what they are maybe. They're liquid and maybe they're not liquid so. We. Have. To be able to get up to those with. Robotic. Devices that we can then remove. And. And, do the analysis. We want to be able to interrogate tiny, environments. In huge environments, and sensitive, environments, and the, way to do that is with surrogates, that are our robotic, partners. Biologically. Sensitive environments, even. With astronauts, on site, these, planetary, protection protocols. These planetary protection concerns. Means. That it's. Not going to be like the Martian where the guy is tromping, around on Mars and walking up to things and practically. Licking them I mean I know he was trying to stay alive, but. That's not the way to do science so that, was a great adventure story, but it's not the way to do astrobiology. On Mars with astronauts, and so we need surrogates, to be able to go do that so. One of the frustrations, that I have and I know a lot of folks have is that, we. Really need to enhance, the, pace of being able to field-test these. Access. Robots. And other ways. Of expanding. Our ability, to detect, the environment, and we, need to be able to fly some of these on tech demos. Space. Flight is really expensive there, is intense, competition. For everything, that goes on a spacecraft, and so, it's a big scramble, to try to get, new. Devices, that are. Still. Untested. In terms of actually going to another planet or even flying, on a spacecraft and so, this, is really important. Nested. Multi, unit, designs, where, you've essentially, got something, like we proposed. Many years ago we called it Mother Goose and it was a mother. Robot, and then, we, called it the egg crate which is where all the little tiny. Individual. Robotic, units were, going to be housed and, at the time we were using. Artificial. Polymer. Muscle, activated. Hopping. Mechanism for these little spheres that was an MIT, collaboration. That we did but, there are many other ways to do this and we have to solve this problem. One. Of our big talents as humans is. Seamlessly. Putting, things together and, coming up with creative solutions and. Our, ability to do sub, cognitive, pattern recognition, we don't even know how we do it I know. That, there. Are a lot of folks in the community at, large that are trying to mimic. This or, emulate. It perhaps, is a better word. We, need this and really the direction that we have to go is in, machine. Learning and pattern recognition, and coupling. That to, our devices being able to make real-time decisions, in. The scientific, context, they have to be our surrogates, more, than just in mobility they have to make decisions, about which. Of their tools to deploy we, cannot, tell them everything, we. Can help them we can. Be. With them as a virtual, reality, presentation. Perhaps but. We, need. Them, to be us in some. Of these environments, and we are not. Even close, this. Is one area that I'm hoping Silicon, Valley will magically help, with, even. Though of course we have folks in NASA who are working on it too so this is a an, area very active, interest in in collaboration.

And Then. Things that we can't directly sense magnetic. Fields, chemical. Gradients, all these things that we do not sense. Because it's not part of our particular. Biological. History so. Capturing, that pattern. Recognition, and machine learning technology and then, really. Trying it out in some of these environments. That I showed you that we work in here that. Connection, is very loose it's expensive. To do that. Extreme. Environment. Expeditions. Are expensive, enough to begin with and then when you're taking. Prototype. Technology. Out there where. You, know it's breaking down all the time these are very very complicated, and one, of the issues is that it's very hard to get enough money to do one of these projects. Right and. Then the, last problem of course is this planetary, protection, if. You. Do. Not do this well, you. Enhance, the signal-to-noise problem. In terms of looking for. Rare. Life in, an extreme environment on, another planet, if. You find it and it's, very similar to us in chemistry, and you have, not done the planetary, protection well, you. Have broken that logical, chain where you can actually cleanly. Claim that, what you have found is extraterrestrial. Maybe. It's contamination. You took with us with, you. So, there is a scientific. Rationale, and then there is a deep ecology, rationale, which is you. Don't want to threaten another biosphere. NASA. Focuses. Heavily on the. Science aspect and. Leaves. The ethical, aspect, to others but, many of us within the agency, and in the community, of course are very concerned, we're all conservation. Minded we, value, our, own biosphere, as well as everybody else's. One. Of the problems that we have is that between. The time that we actually flew the Viking missions to Mars and. Now. We've. Had fabulous, developments. In electronics. And all kinds, of materials, and engineering, components. The, problem is for spaceflight too. Biologically. Sensitive potential. Targets. Those. Have not been developed with. An eye to how, they can actually be sterilized, you, can't stick everything in a heat. And pressure chamber, like an autoclave and have, that device. Survive, and, still function. So. We have fundamental, incompatibilities. Between the. Classic, ways that, we sterilize things, as. Microbiologists. On earth and. The. Other aspect, is we. Have. To also have ultra clean conditions. So it's not enough to just kill. Off anything, that is there you also have to have your spacecraft scrupulously. Clean so, that here again you don't get a signal to noise problem. You don't get contamination. Even, if you're not looking for life even your. Devices, that are looking for the background, chemistry, the mineralogy. Still. Cannot, be interfere, dwith with, an. Unclean. Spacecraft. And of course I'm sure you know that spacecraft, get, cleaned. Within an inch of their life whether they're sterilized, or not right so the, ways people do these two things are not compatible. People. Have said often, oh gee why don't you just go to the you. Know the, BLS. For, containment, facilities, that you know Center for Disease Control areas. Where they work, on stuff like Ebola and so forth well that's great for the sterilization. And working with, you. Know organisms. But it isn't going to clean things up for you at.

All, CDC. Facilities, in terms of spacecraft cleanliness, our, pigsty, right, so it's not the same thing and these have not been worked, together. So. Not. Going to go through these but just so, you know we have a lot of tools right we have the teat dry. Heat steam heat we. Can beat the Dickens. Out of things mechanically. We can use all kinds of gases, and so forth to, chemically sterilize, we can smack it with various kinds of radiation, but. How. Do you, assure that all, of those different, things are compatible, within. Subsystems. Of devices. Super. Systems of devices, or indeed. The whole spacecraft, so. It becomes a massive complex. Systems, engineering, problem for, which we have. Not tooled, up and, so. Therefore the, planetary, protection protocols. That are implemented, now are, unreasonably. Expensive in many cases, there really can. Be an impediment to spacecraft. We've. Seen this play out with our upcoming Mars. 2020, mission. Trying. To meet all the demands of, planetary. Protection while, at the same time, using. Components, that are of mixed. Materials. And. Trying to put all these things together it's, very complicated, and frankly. We're just not masters. Of the art of this and so that has, cost. Consequences. Which means we can't go as many places so. We. Really, need a, sea, change and this is gradually, happening, but, it's very slow because, people. Are used to doing things the way they're used to doing them right so. My. Preferred. Solution is that we design, these planetary, protection requirements. In as high-level engineering. Requirements you don't add them on at the end where it's really expensive it's like if you're building house and you've. Got two bathrooms planned, and when, they're about to start putting up the drywall you go you know I really. Think we need a bird guest bathroom, that's like the worst way you can build a house right and it's, precisely analogous, to the way we have to put spacecraft, together there. Are many things that have not been tried, and I list a couple of them down here so. The. Cruise phase while you're actually in space getting, to wherever, you're going can, you have ways to restore. Lies those components, while you're actually flying while, you're in a non-biological environment. Use. Of new materials, that might facilitate. Either. Trapping, microorganisms and. Immobilizing. Them or, killing. Them and causing. Them to mineralize to co2. And water who knows but, those things are are. On the horizon and we need to. Explore. That so. If we are able to stumble, our way forward with a, measure, of good. Sense and cleverness. Serendipity. And. Synergy. And solve, these problems, then, we. Stand a much better chance of, finding life on these missions, that cost a lot of money it. Costs at least a billion dollars, just for the bus ticket to get out to the outer solar system that's just to get there that's not the payload, or anything you're going to do, you. Could send a brick that far and it would cause cost. That much. So. Let. Me come back to the original. Theme. And. That's, the tricorder, can we really develop, it well maybe over, time we're. Willing to settle for something much, less developed than the science-fiction version. One. Of the things that may. Be called for in, a in a proposal call fairly soon is, the, baby step of taking an, imaging, capability. And a, significant. Chemistry, capability, and melding. Those into, a conjoined, unit. To. Do two things. Well. Without. Interfering, with each other in the same device. So. That's, the level at which we find ourselves. I've, tried to paint a picture for you, where. I think we need to go. So. Are we ready to go find life on Europa. We're. Ready to go look at some of the habitability, properties. Of Europa but we are not ready, yet for the life detection so this. Is the kind of growth. Area within technology, that. Provides us, with a unique and fascinating problem. To. Have people exercise, their brain cells and come up with solutions, but. All the things that I've described, have real-world out applications. The ability to detect, life obviously, has many. Applications in, terms of. Detecting. Pathogens. Against, a background that's, biologically. Rich against. A background is biologically, poor.

For. National. Defense or, terrorism. Circumstances. Epidemics. Things, of that sort so this, is not simply. Only. Devoted to this main. Exciting. Core. Function, that we have within NASA which is exploration. Of our of our universe, and the search for life amongst. That exploration, but it also is, something that, can act as a as a major technology, driver, and, with, that I'll end thank you. I'm. Happy to take questions if, there. Are any thank. You so. You've got you've played a very kind, broad, and diverse picture, of what life can be and, even if we just look at the kind of organic chemistry of life is like. Such a such. A spectrum. From simple. You. Know the Meno Assis complex. Proteins. All, the way through to complex life, and. Kind. Of I guess on earth it's it's been, easy. In the past to say okay, once it's life, that we recognize, then we, can kind of go from there that's right if we, if we're now kind of broadening that do you think there could be life on Earth. We haven't recognized as life yet that, has been suggested I don't know if you're familiar with the the, work that Paul Davies who. Is a physicist, at. University. Of Arizona. He's. A very creative. Guy and he's suggested, that maybe there's a shadow biosphere that, we, actually have organisms. Here, that we are not detecting. Because they're. So different from us I don't, know what to think about that I mean I can argue it either way if it. Is something. Very different from us our ability to recognize it is clearly, we're. Biased against, it on. The other hand there are ecological. Principles that have been developed, by observation. Of. You. Know 150 years of biological, development. One. Of them is called the competitive, exclusion principle, I. Don't. Know what whether that applies, to. Whole. Classes. Of organisms. I mean the idea of that principle is that any two, species if, they're competing for exactly, the same niche somebody, will lose and somebody. Will win over time is that, always true can that be balanced, are there, circumstances where. Those could be symbiotic, relationships, or. Is, it as if, you have a superimposed. System, that is so different and is, not tapping into the same resources, so, there actually is no interactivity. In which case then maybe. Actually. Steve. Benner who. Was. One. Of the people who's involved, in a national, research council study that was done a number of years ago it, had a big long official, name but we, all call it the weird life study and, they. Were looking at those those issues you know how, out. There could life be and, us still, detective. So could, it be made out of silicon, could it be organic. Materials. That we know but you, know with, anhydrous. Ammonia as a solvent could, it be. Solid-state. Could it be you know all these other things, that, that we are not and. And. So. We're still a very much speculative. Stage so I think actually modeling, might, you. Know and ecological. Modeling, might actually give, us more insight than what, we can actually observe. Paul. Davies and Steve Benner you, know maybe. Write, about. A shadow biosphere or it may be just notional. I, think. That if anybody stands, a chance of finding something like that it's people like us who. Are in weird environments. Where we see things I showed, you the weird mess stocking, thing we. Don't know whether that has DNA we don't know because we're looking at it against a background of, other, organisms, so when we do the genetics, we, get this long list of strains, that, are, not known to science if you can't grow them and I've been trying to grow them for a long time. And. Have failed I don't. Know who they are so. You, know maybe they're made out of non DNA I don't know yet so. It's a very slow process so it's a long-winded answer to your question but it's a very profound question yeah. Thanks. Great. Thanks a lot yeah my pleasure. You.

2018-02-23 07:11

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