By exploring how we define life, astrobiology explores some of the most profound philosophical questions that have fascinated humanity. For example, how does life propagate and thrive in the universe, and how can we detect it? Finding indigenous micro-organic life on Mars, alive or extinct, will open a new chapter in our knowledge of the evolution of life bound by our planet. However, there is a delicate interplay to remember between the need to preserve the critical areas of astrobiological significance with the areas that might be critical for the crew’s survival. And the need to pay close attention to this interplay is coming up sooner than we think.
To examine these questions, the fast-growing field of astrobiology incorporates molecular biology, biophysics, biochemistry, chemistry, astronomy, astrophysics, and many other sciences. I’m particularly intrigued by life detection protocols already being developed on Earth’s extreme environments for other planets.