NASA scientists have predicted that we are not too far from discovering alien life. According to John Grunsfeld, associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, researchers will be able to find extraterrestrial life within our solar system, probably on Mars, or on one of the moons of Jupiter or Saturn or on exoplanets orbiting a relatively close star, within one generation. NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan stated “I think we’re going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth within a decade, and I think we’re going to have definitive evidence within 20 to 30 years. We know where to look. We know how to look. In most cases we have the technology, and we’re on a path to implementing it. And so I think we’re definitely on the road.”
Grunsfeld and Stofan expressed their views during April 7 panel discussion on NASA’s missions for searching potentially habitable planets and extraterrestrial life. A number of recent discoveries regarding potentially habitable environments on bodies in our solar system and beyond were discussed. Recent researches have revealed that Jupiter’s moons Europa and Ganymede and Saturn’s moon Enceladus have water oceans beneath their icy surfaces. Evidences suggest that Mars had oceans of liquid water in the ancient past. Kepler Space Telescope has revealed that majority of stars are orbited by exoplanets and majority of those exoplanets could be rocky planets like Earth, Mars, Venus, and Mercury. A number of protoplanetary disks contain water.
NASA is planning to launch a Mars rover in 2020 which is expected to gather geological samples for a future return to Earth. Scientists are also planning manned landings on the Red Planet in the 2030s. In 2022, a probe might be launched for a mission to Europa in order to study the jets of water vapor that erupt through the icy shell. NASA will be launching its James Webb Space Telescope in 2018 to study starlight filtering through the atmospheres of super-Earths for finding the spectroscopic signatures of gases produced by life.