WASHINGTON (AP) -- A blue ribbon panel of experts, selected mostly by the National Academy of Sciences, on December 11 briefed Vice President Al Gore on the prospects of finding life beyond the Earth, of discovering new planets beyond the sun and of ultimately understanding the nature and history of the universe itself -- all in two hours.
John Gibbons, the White House science adviser, said the briefing was in preparation for a meeting in February in which Gore and others in the administration will draw up specific plans on how NASA will proceed in an ambitious program of science that the agency is calling "Origins."
"The consensus of the group is that the way NASA is going is the right direction," said Gibbons.
The meeting with 18 top U.S. scientists, he said, was "to share the wisdom of outstanding people from a variety of perspectives about the importance of modern day astronomy and recent discoveries that relate to the origins of the solar system and the possibility of life on places other than the Earth."
Gibbons said the meeting will help Gore and others make decisions about budgets for NASA and other science agencies. The administration has announced plans for a "Space Summit" meeting in February where a basic program of exploration is to be formulated. Plans for the Space Summit were drawn up after NASA scientists announced in August they had found what they believe to be evidence that life once existed on Mars.
Other researchers in recent months have found new planets circling nearby stars, discovered evidence of water on the moon and found new evidence that life, in the form of microbes, is extraordinarily tough and perhaps able to develop in many places in the universe. Some scientists have said it may be possible now, for the first time, to conduct a systematic search for planets elsewhere in the universe where life is possible.
"Our notion that life is rare may be revised,'' said Gibbons. ``Life may be pervasive in the universe."
NASA administrator Dan Goldin, who attended the meeting, said, "Our astrobiology (study of extraterrestial life) is woefully underfunded. We need to understand what could be the fingerprints of extrasolar (beyond the sun) life."
Also included in the meeting were two clerics, the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment and the Rev. John P. Minogue, president of DePaul University.
Minogue said at a news conference that the race of science to answer basic questions about origins is challenging to religion and to concepts of God.
"The role of religion has always been to connect us with our ancestors and all the way back to the origins,'' he said. Minogue added that society needs both science and religion -- science to gather new understanding and religion to connect "to our roots."
A statement released by Gore said discussions with the scientists "reinforces how important it is that we continue to pursue the unknown and that we as a nation continue to place a high value on protecting and promoting our scientific enterprise."
Original file name: CNI - Gore Briefed on ET Search
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