Showing posts with label Space exploration. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Space exploration. Show all posts

Space, Exploratory Behavior And Genetics




So much for any psychological support for assertions regarding space as a universal or distinctive object of human curiosity. 



What about biology and anthropology? 



Isn't it true that numerous migrations, from the out-of-Africa exodus to the settlement of the American West, have altered our genetic heritage? 

Shouldn't this lengthy history of migration after migration have resulted in human creatures with a proclivity for exploration and movement? 


Genes linked to migratory behavior have been discovered, which is fascinating. 

Various polymorphisms of the dopamine D4 (DRD4) receptor, in particular, have been linked to the novelty seeking (NS) phenotype, which refers to a heritable tendency to respond strongly to novelty and cues for reward or relief from punishment, leading to exploratory activity in search of rewards as well as avoidance of monotony and punishment. 

Roussos, Giakoumaki, and Bitsios (Roussos, Giakoumaki, and Bitsios, 2009, 1655) The activities prompted by the many types of curiosity previously outlined are referred to as novelty-seeking. 


Individuals with the NS phenotype may engage in a variety of activities, including migratory activity and more "local" kinds of exploration, such as examining local resources. 



The link between DRD4 and the NS phenotype has yet to be shown clearly. 


  • Some studies and meta-analyses have shown a link between specific DRD4 polymorphisms and novelty seeking, including Laucht, Becker, and Schmidt (2006), Munaf, et al. (2008), and Roussos, Giakoumaki, and Bitsios (2009). 
  • Other investigations and meta-analyses, such as those by Schinka, Letsch, and Crawford (2002) and Kluger, Siegfried, and Ebstein, have shown no link (2002). 



The impacts of the environment on the determination of the novelty-seeking phenotype are largely unknown, as is the case with many phenotypic-genotype connections. 


Both sex (Laucht, Becker, and Schmidt 2006) and socioeconomic characteristics (Lahti, et al. 2006) have been suggested as possible modifiers of novelty seeking. 


Similarly, additional genes are likely to influence novelty seeking in substantial but unknown ways. 


  • A priori, if there is a positive association between DRD4 and novelty seeking, as some of these findings suggest, then a positive correlation between the proportion of individuals with the relevant DRD4 polymorphisms in a population and the population's distance from East Africa would not be unreasonable. 
  • As Roussos, Giakoumaki, and Bitsios point out, traits associated with novelty seeking, such as "efficient problem solving," "under-reactivity to unconditioned aversive stimuli," and "low emotional reactivity in the face of preserved attentional processing of emotional stimuli," may have been advantageous during migration periods (Roussos, Giakoumaki, and Bitsios 2009, 1658). 

Other researches have backed up this claim. 


There is "a very high connection between the number of long alleles of the DRD4 gene in a population and its prehistorical macro-migration histories," according to Chen et al. (1999, 317). (It's worth noting that 7R is the most prevalent DRD4 long allele.) 


What is the source of this link? 


Two theories are proposed by Chen et al. 


  • One is what I call the "wanderlust" theory, which claims that DRD4-related qualities encouraged people to migrate. 
  • The second idea is what I term the "selection" hypothesis, according to which DRD4-related features were chosen for after migration. 


The wanderlust theory, according to Chen et al., has "limited evidence": Immigrants have nearly the same rate of long alleles of DRD4 as their respective reference groups in their native country. 


  • These findings show that migratory tribes' greater rate of long alleles may have resulted from adaptation to the unique needs of migration. 
  • To put it another way, Chen, et alresults .'s show that the 7R variation of DRD4 (along with other long alleles) was selected for as a consequence of migration, for essentially the same reasons as Roussos, Giakoumaki, and Bitsios: Long alleles (e.g., 7-repeats) of the DRD4 gene have been associated to novelty-seeking personality, hyperactivity, and risk-taking behaviors, according to prior studies.


The inquisitive part of human nature seems to be the common thread that runs across all of these actions. 


  • It is reasonable to argue that exploratory behaviors are adaptive in migratory societies because they allowed for more successful resource exploitation in the particular environment migration entails—which is typically harsh, constantly changing, and always providing a plethora of novel stimuli and ongoing survival challenges. 
  • (320, Chen et al., 1999) Following study has backed up Chen, et al preference's for the selection hypothesis over the wanderlust theory. 



There is a substantial amount of evidence indicating qualities associated with novelty seeking DRD4 alleles have adaptive relevance for people living in migratory communities. 


This does not bode well for efforts to legitimize the exploration or settlement of space on the basis of supposedly intrinsic exploratory or migratory inclinations. 

Novelty-seeking behaviors are not the only candidate explananses for why NS-alleles of DRD4 were adaptive post-migration. According to Ciani, Edelman, and Ebstein, “the DRD4 polymorphism seems also associated with very different factors, such as nutrition, starvation resistance and the body mass index” and that “it is possible that these factors alone might have conferred an advantage of selected alleles, such as 7R, on nomadic individuals compared with sedentary ones” (2013, 595).


  • In the event that people are genetically or mentally predisposed to exploration or migration, this has minimal bearing on space exploration and migration in particular. 
  • We may all be interested and participate in exploratory activity, but we all do so in our own unique way. 
  • We aren't all enthralled by the same things, and we don't all explore for the same reasons or in the same manner. 


Importantly, the desire to travel or move to unknown regions in space is not a universal aspect of human psyche or biology. 


  • Though some of us may have one of the DRD4 gene variants linked to ancient migration, there is more evidence that these genes were chosen after migration rather than before it (because it is likely these genes were adaptive for migrants28). 
  • And perhaps also maladaptive for individuals in societies that do not provide outlets for novelty seeking, which has been proposed as an explanation for ADHD, substance abuse, and compulsive gambling in modern sedentary societies; see the references in Roussos, Giakoumaki, and Bitsios (2009).
  • This isn't conclusive evidence that DRD4 or another gene (or group of genes) was not a driving force behind migration, but there's clearly a lack of compelling evidence that it was. 


As a result, we can't use the presence of particular DRD4 polymorphisms in certain people as proof that the urge to explore and colonize space is in our genes. 



While it is conceivable that future study may find a significant genetic predictor of behaviors such as space curiosity or a desire or impulse to explore space, there is currently no evidence that these behaviors have a distinct genetic foundation. 

As a result, any reasoning for space travel that presupposes differently should be rejected at this time.


~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan

Find Jai on Twitter | LinkedIn | Instagram


You may also want to read more about Space Exploration, Space Missions and Systems here.



References and Further Reading:



Chen, Chuansheng, et al. 1999. Population Migration and the Variation of Dopamine D4 Receptor (DRD4) Allele Frequencies Around the Globe. Evolution & Human Behavior 20: 309–324.

Ciani, Andrea, Shany Edelman, and Richard Ebstein. 2013. The Dopamine D4 Receptor (DRD4) Exon 3 VNTR Contributes to Adaptive Personality Differences in an Italian Small Island Population. European Journal of Personality 27: 593–604.

Laucht, Manfred, Katja Becker, and Martin Schmidt. 2006. Visual Exploratory Behavior in Infancy and Novelty Seeking in Adolescence: Two Developmentally Specific Phenotypes of DRD4? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 47: 1143–1151.

Roussos, Panos, Stella Giakoumaki, and Panos Bitsios. 2009. Cognitive and Emotional Processing in High Novelty Seeking Associated with the L-DRD4 Genotype. Neuropsychologia 47: 1654–1659

Schinka, J. A., E. A. Letsch, and F. C. Crawford. 2003. DRD4 and Novelty Seeking: Results of Meta-Analyses. American Journal of Medical Genetics 114: 643–648.

Wang, Eric, et al. 2004. The Genetic Architecture of Selection at the Human Dopamine Receptor D4 (DRD4) Gene Locus. American Journal of Human Genetics 74: 931–944.







NASA 4-Wheel DuAxel Rover To Explore Moon, Mars, And Asteroids.

 


The adaptability of a flexible rover that can travel long distances and rappel down hard-to-reach regions of scientific interest was shown in a field test in California's Mojave Desert. 



DuAxel is a pair of Axel robots intended to investigate crater walls, pits, scarps, vents, and other severe environments on the moon, Mars, and beyond. 



  • The robot's capacity to split in half and dispatch one of its parts - a two-wheeled Axle robot - down an otherwise impassable hill is shown in this technological demonstration produced at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. 
  • The rappelling Axel may then seek out regions to research on its own, securely navigate slopes and rough barriers, and return to dock with its other half before traveling to a new location. 
  • Although the rover does not yet have a mission, essential technologies are being developed that might one day assist mankind in exploring the solar system's stony planets and moons.




DuAxel is a development of the Axel system, a flexible series of single-axle rovers meant to traverse high-risk terrain on planetary surfaces, such as steep slopes, boulder fields, and caverns — locations that existing rovers, such as Mars Curiosity, would find difficult or impossible to approach. 





DuAxel's Advantages:



To cover greater distances, two connected Axel Rovers are used: 


  • DuAxel travels large distances by connecting two Axel rovers. 
  • They divide in two when they approach a steep slope or cliff so that one tied Axel may rappel down the steep danger to reach otherwise inaccessible area while the other works as an anchor at the top of the slope. 



Tether that can be retracted: 


  • The Axel rover can lower itself down practically any sort of terrain by reeling and unreeling its built-in rope. 



Greater Maneuverability: 


  • The two-wheeled axle simply spins one of its wheels quicker than the other to turn. 
  • The core cylinder between the wheels houses the sensors, actuators, electronics, power, and payload.



~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan

Find Jai on Twitter | LinkedIn | Instagram


You may also want to read more about Space Exploration and Space Systems here.



References & Further Reading:


JPL Robotics: The Axel Rover System


Educational Resources:


Student Project: Design a Robotic Insect.

Educator Guide: Design a Robotic Insect.





Meet VIPER, NASA's Lunar Ice Hunter Rover!

 



NASA chooses a Moon location for an ice-hunting rover. 








NASA is hoping that the robot will confirm the existence of water ice under the surface, which may be turned into rocket fuel for trips to Mars in the future. 




NASA said on Monday that in 2023, it will deploy an ice-seeking rover in the Nobile Crater, an area of the Moon's south pole. 




The space agency is hoping that the robot will confirm the existence of water ice under the surface, which may one day be turned into rocket fuel for trips to Mars and beyond. 

"Nobile Crater is an impact crater near the south pole that formed as a result of a collision with another smaller celestial objects," NASA's planetary science division director Lori Glaze told reporters. 

It's one of the coldest places in the solar system, and it's only been studied from afar using instruments from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite. 


Glazer said, "The rover will get up up and personal with the lunar dirt, even digging several feet deep." The robot is known as the VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover). 






It has the proportions of a golf cart – five feet by five feet by eight feet (1.5 meters by 1.5 meters by 2.5 meters) – and resembles droids from Star Wars. 


It is 950 pounds in weight (430 kilograms). VIPER, unlike rovers on Mars, can be controlled in near real time because to its close proximity to Earth - just around 200,000 miles (300,000 kilometers) or 1.3 light seconds. 

The rover is also quicker, reaching a maximum speed of 0.5 mph (0.8 kph). 






VIPER is a solar-powered robot that has a 50-hour battery, can endure severe temperatures, and can "crab walk" sideways to keep its panels facing toward the Sun to keep charging. 




The VIPER crew aims to discover how frozen water got to the Moon in the first place, how it stayed frozen for billions of years, how it escapes, and where it goes now in terms of the mission's scientific objectives. 





Artemis is America's plan to return people to the Moon, and this mission is part of it. 

The first crewed mission is scheduled for 2024, although it will most likely take occur much later due to delays in many areas.



The ice-hunting Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) will land near the moon's south pole, just west of Nobile Crater (Sept. 20). 





VIPER will go to the moon in late 2023 on Griffin, a lander developed by Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic and launched atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. 

In a statement, Daniel Andrews, VIPER project manager at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, stated, "Selecting a landing location for VIPER is an exciting and significant choice for all of us." 

Andrews said, "Years of research have gone into assessing the arctic area VIPER will investigate." "VIPER is venturing into unknown terrain, guided by science, in order to test theories and disclose crucial data for future human space travel." 



VIPER is a key component of NASA's Artemis program, which seeks to create a long-term, sustainable human presence on and around the moon by the end of the next decade. 




According to NASA experts, achieving this objective would require significant utilization of lunar resources, particularly water ice. 

According to observations by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and other spacecraft, the moon has a lot of water ice, particularly towards its poles in permanently shadowed regions (PSRs). 

VIPER is intended to validate such research by informing scientists about how much ice is really there and how accessible it is to humans. 




The Nobile site is 36 square miles in size (93 square kilometers). 



The solar-powered VIPER, which weighs 950 pounds (450 kilograms), will measure and describe the water ice under its wheels at various sites throughout Nobile, including PSRs, which are among the coldest places in the solar system. 

VIPER will collect samples from up to 3.3 feet (1 meter) down over the period of at least 100 Earth days, utilizing three spectrometers and a drill. 

"The data VIPER returns will provide lunar scientists around the world with more insight into our moon's cosmic origin, evolution, and history, and it will also help inform future Artemis missions to the moon and beyond by allowing us to better understand the lunar environment in these previously unexplored areas hundreds of thousands of miles away," Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said. 



The VIPER team had chosen four candidate landing locations for the four-wheeled robot near the lunar south pole. 




VIPER project scientist Tony Colaprete of NASA Ames stated during a press briefing today that the other three were a region outside Haworth Crater, a ridgeline extending from Shackleton Crater, and a location near Shoemaker Crater. 

According to Colaprete, all four candidate locations are interesting and seem to be acceptable both scientifically and logistically. 

"Ultimately, it came down to the overall number of working days," he stated at a press conference today, adding that a "working day" is one during which the rover has enough sunlight to function while still being able to communicate with Earth. 

(VIPER's connection with its handlers will be direct; the robot will not utilize a relay satellite.) 



"To complete our mission objectives, we'll need at least 10 or so days," Colaprete added. "At Nobile, we get 40 or more, which is much more than any of these other locations." 


According to NASA officials, the entire cost of VIPER's mission will be about $660 million, including $433.5 million for mission development and operations and $226.5 million for the delivery contract with Astrobotic, which includes the cost of launch. 



NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services program was used to sign the delivery contract. 


While VIPER will be NASA's first unmanned rover to land on the moon, it will not be the agency's first wheeled lunar vehicle of any kind: during the last three Apollo missions in 1971 and 1972, NASA deployed astronaut-driven moon buggies.




~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan 


You may also want to read more about Space Exploration, Space Missions and Systems here.








Space Exploration, Curiosity, and Human Psychology.




Emotions and actions are involved in genetic and anthropological considerations of exploration and migration, it is worth outlining briefly a psychological notion of curiosity. 



Despite the fact that psychology has numerous ideas on human curiosity25, one key discovery is that it is extremely idiosyncratic. 


While it is true that all people are inquisitive in some way, this curiosity manifests itself in a variety of ways. 

The difference between cognitive or epistemic curiosity and sensory or perceptual curiosity is worth noting. 

“The need for new information” is referred to as cognitive curiosity, while “the desire for new experiences and thrills” is referred to as sensory curiosity. 



The difference between particular and diversive curiosity is another important distinction. 


Diverse curiosity refers to a broad need for perceptual or cognitive stimulation, while specific curiosity refers to a desire for a specific piece of knowledge (Kidd and Hayden 2015, 450). 

As a result, knowing that someone is inquisitive tells you very little about them since they may exhibit specific cognitive curiosity, diversive cognitive curiosity, specific sensory curiosity, or diversive sensory curiosity. 



Furthermore, knowing that someone is inquisitive in one of these ways tells us nothing about what kinds of knowledge or experiences would help them fulfill their curiosity. 


The details differ greatly from person to person, and there is no evidence that knowledge and feelings linked to any one subject or area, including space travel, serve as common or universal objects of interest. 

Nonetheless, there is a significant link between curiosity and exploration— but only in a psychological and biological sense: 

Exploration includes finding new information to address a problem through observation, consultation, and focused thought (specific exploration), as well as new sensory experiences and thrills to broaden one's knowledge into the unknown (diversive exploration). 



Curiosity, according to a definition that connects the two categories, is the need for new knowledge and sensory experiences that drives environmental exploration. 


Curiosity motivates exploration, but it is usually much more mundane acts of information or sensation seeking, such as tinkering with a new toy, surveying one's local environment (be it one's neighborhood, office, or refrigerator), or experimenting with hallucinogens, rather than something as lofty as sending humans to explore the Moon. 

It would be an equivocation to conclude from the facts that we are all inquisitive in some way and that we are all explorers in some way that humans in general are interested about and want to explore space in particular. 



Individuals may be interested about and want to explore space, but this does not define the species; to argue differently risks the composition fallacy.


~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan 


You may also want to read more about Space Exploration, Space Missions and Systems here.




SPACE AND THE DESIRE TO EXPLORE





An argument for a duty to explore space is that humans can only fulfill some inherent human impulses via space exploration, such as the drive to explore or move. 



The main activities involved by such a duty would be human space exploration and space colonization. 


Robert Zubrin, the founder of the Mars Society, is one of the proponents of this logic: 

One of our primary adaptations is the human desire to explore. 

Because our forefathers did, and because we are alive because they did, we have a fundamental desire to see what is on the other side of the hill. 

As a result, I am confident that mankind will go into space. 

If we didn't, we'd be less than human. 


Carl Sagan and Ian Crawford are two other proponents. 



In Cosmos, Sagan says, 


"We began on our cosmic journey with a question first posed in the infancy of our species and asked again with undiminished amazement in each generation: 

What are the stars?" Exploration is ingrained in our DNA. 

We started out as wanderers, and we still are. 

We've spent much too much time on the cosmic ocean's beaches. 

Finally, we're ready to set sail for the stars. 



Meanwhile, Crawford makes an even stronger case for space travel as a need for humanity's survival: 


There are grounds to believe that as a species, Homo sapiens is genetically inclined to exploration and colonization of an open frontier. 

Access to such a frontier, at least vicariously, may be psychologically essential for human civilizations' long-term well-being. 

It's essential to highlight that this is a human trait, not just a Western one, since it led to our colonization of the whole globe after our development as a species in a geographically limited area of Africa. 



Regardless of how seriously these arguments are taken, it must be true that if we participate in cosmic research, our perspectives will be wider and our culture will be richer than if we do not. 


Despite its cult following, claiming that human nature is characterized by exploratory and migratory tendencies is problematic. 

For starters, such statements are ambiguous since they may be construed in one of three ways: Such statements may be referring to the notion that mankind has a fate or "destiny" in space. 

Such statements may be referring to the notion that inquisitive and migratory habits are fundamental to human civilizations. 



On an individual, biological level, such statements may relate to the notion that inquisitive and migratory tendencies are fundamental characteristics of humans. 


These are the spiritual, cultural, and biological manifestations of the notion that mankind is characterized by adventurous and migratory inclinations. 

If at least one version of the assertion that exploratory and migratory inclinations define humankind is true, then such a claim may be used as a premise in an argument supporting a duty to support those spaceflight activities that fulfill these desires. 


To begin, even if it is undisputed that at least one formulation of the claim is true, we would risk the naturalistic fallacy, as Rayna Slobodian (2015) acknowledges, if we conclude directly from one of these formulations that it would be desirable for humans to act on these urges. 


At the very least, it might be argued that acting on these impulses does more good than not acting on them, whether via the fulfillment of wants or the realization of positive outcomes. 

As a result, it would be easy to dismiss this argument by claiming that funding kinds of spaceflight that fulfill desires to explore or migrate would be insufficiently beneficial. 



I will argue that the scientific exploration of space produces enough good, therefore I do not want to go down this path of rejecting a duty to fulfill our claimed desire to explore. 


Instead, I will argue against the first assumption, namely, that any articulation of the assertion that mankind is characterized by exploratory and migratory inclinations contains little meaningful reality. 

However, space constraints prevent a comprehensive examination of all three versions. 

As a result, I'll just address my problems with the third, biological formulation; for further information on the mystical and cultural formulations.



So, for the time being, I'd want to concentrate on the argument that inquisitive and migratory behaviors are necessary human characteristics in a biological or genetic sense. 

We'll need to look at psychology, anthropology, and genetics for some answers.



~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan 


You may also want to read more about Space Exploration, Space Missions and Systems here.




Views on Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life.



Given that educational level and scientific literacy positively correlate both with belief in evolution by natural selection and with willingness to increase space funding, and that religiosity negatively correlates with belief in evolution by natural selection and with willingness to increase space funding, it could be that astrobiology and the search for extraterrestrial life are subject to acute levels of disapprobation, at least among those with less education or those with higher religiosity. 



It is not safe to assume that astrobiology and the search for extraterrestrial life inherit the same degree of popularity as space exploration more generally. 



What of the data that bear directly on astrobiology? 


To the best of my knowledge there have only been four surveys that have attempted to measure the public’s interest in, and willingness to support, astrobiology and the search for life; and only one of these surveyed the American public.

This telephone survey, which took place in 2005, used a random sample of 1,000 U.S. adults, making it the largest survey of its kind. 

It is also noteworthy in being the only survey that attempts to discriminate between belief in extraterrestrial life of various types (e.g., microbial extraterrestrial life, versus plant-​or animal-​like extraterrestrial life, versus intelligent extraterrestrial life). 



In response to the question “do you believe that there is life on other planets in the universe besides Earth?,” 60 percent of the sample said yes, 32 percent said no, and 8 percent were not sure.(Pettinico 2011). 


Belief in extraterrestrial life correlated negatively with frequency of religious service attendance: Only 45 percent of those attending services weekly believed in life on other planets, whereas 70 percent of those rarely or never attending services believed there was life on other planets.

Pettinico also reports a positive correlation with belief in life on other planets and household income.

Of the 32 percent not open to extraterrestrial life, 56 percent cited religion as a major reason.



Among this group (about 18 percent of the total sample), frequency of attending religious services correlated positively with the identification of religion as a major reason for rejecting the possibility of extraterrestrial life, with 72 percent of those attending services weekly giving this reason compared to only 31 percent of those attending rarely or never.


This information might lend credence to the analogy between evolution and astrobiology, since religiosity is negatively correlated with belief in evolution by natural selection and with belief in the possibility of extraterrestrial life. 

Nevertheless, these results do not provide definitive insight into the public’s interest in and support for astrobiology, if only because of a curious spread of beliefs about the likely nature of extraterrestrial life. 

Of the 68 percent open to the possibility of extraterrestrial life, 45 percent think that there very likely is extraterrestrial microbial life; 25 percent think that there very likely is extraterrestrial life similar to plants; and 21 percent think that there very likely is extraterrestrial life similar to animals.

Meanwhile, 30 percent believe that there very likely is alien life similar to humans; and 39 percent percent think that there very likely exist superior extraterrestrial intelligences.



Pettinico offers an explanation as to why these beliefs do not correspond with scientifically informed expectations (that the probability of alien life diminishes as the complexity of such life increases):

It seems logical that the public thinks extremely basic life forms such as bacteria are the most likely alien life forms, because most space experts would usually agree—​at least that extraterrestrial microbes would probably be more frequent than more sophisticated life forms. 



However, the public is more inclined to believe in the likelihood of sophisticated life forms than they are to believe in the probability of plant-​like or animal-​like life forms. 


This may be, in part, owing to the influence of the media, which tends to highlight human-​like or sophisticated alien life forms. 

When ordinary Americans think of aliens, they may more readily picture Star Trek’s Klingons than they do any kind of lower-​level animal. 

Of course, it is essential to question why it is that, e.g., media representations of alien life tend to be extraterrestrial intelligences (ETI), and very frequently human-​like ETI. 



Clearly, human-​like ETI are simpler to conceive and to depict in movies. 


But it also may be that ETI, especially human-​like ETI, are just more intriguing to most people than other kinds of alien life. 

Thus, it may be that what motivates the answers in the instances of human-​ like and better ETI are not scientifically founded views but instead preferences based on what the respondents hope is the case or what they would find most interesting. 

For this reason, it is essential when polling the public to try to account for this possible variation in excitement regarding alien life. 



It is conceivable that people who are excited about the hunt for life are mainly thrilled about the prospective finding of human-​like or better ETI, and less so about “simpler” forms of alien life. 


It must be acknowledged, however, that little is known with any certainty regarding the public’s opinions particularly about the scientific hunt for alien life as it is presently being done, e.g., through robotic exploration of Mars or by exoplanet biosignature detection. 

There are, in my opinion, five problems that must be addressed in future research before we can make solid conclusions regarding the public’s views on astrobiology and the scientific quest for alien life. 



The first issue is that interests in extraterrestrial life are diverse, and could come from interest in the possibility of microbial life in the Solar System, from interest in the possibility of intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe, or from interest in the paranormal (e.g., UFOs and alien visitation) (e.g., UFOs and alien visitation). 


These passions are self-contained. A person may be interested in the paranormal but not in microbiological alien life, for example. 

Similarly, someone could be extremely interested in the potential of life on Mars but not at all interested in extraterrestrial biosignatures. 



Another problem is that views in alien life are not always the same as beliefs about the significance or usefulness of looking for it. 


The degree to which a person believes it is essential to seek for evidence of alien life is not the same as their conviction in the existence of extraterrestrial life, and the latter was not addressed in Pettinico (2011). 



A third problem is that curiosity in alien life is not the same as curiosity about what science has to say about it. 


Some people are fascinated by the origins of human existence but are uninterested in what evolutionary scientists have to say about it. 

It's possible that the same is true for alien life—that many people who are interested in extraterrestrial life will be uninterested in what astrobiology discovers. 

Two prominent examples are conspiracy theorists who believe in extraterrestrial visitation despite a lack of solid proof, and religious people who think (and have little doubt) either that God only created life on Earth or that God created life wherever it exists. 



The fourth problem is that curiosity in alien life, and even curiosity about the science surrounding extraterrestrial life, does not imply a desire to expand funding for the scientific quest for extraterrestrial life. 


If the comparison with space exploration is correct, we should anticipate few people to favor increased spending for the hunt for alien life, even if the majority of people support the quest. 

When seeking the public's opinion on the hunt for alien life, it's critical to ask both types of inquiries. 



A last point to consider is that absolute interest in alien life is not the same as relative interest or prioritizing the quest for extraterrestrial life. 


It's conceivable that even people who are highly interested in alien life, and even those who believe it needs more financing, do not prioritize the quest for extraterrestrial life above their other interests. 

The same may be said for opinions on space exploration in general. 

Thus, it is insufficient to simply question if one believes the hunt for alien life is worthwhile in isolation. 

Rather, the aim should be to assess the relative importance of the hunt for alien life to other space exploration goals and initiatives, both scientific and otherwise. 



Although there is more to astrobiology than the quest for alien life, it is possible that interest in astrobiology may exist independently of extraterrestrial life research. 


Nonetheless, the hunt for alien life is a major priority for astrobiologists, and they are not bashful about publicizing it. 

It is noteworthy, then, that there is no clear evidence of widespread public interest in and support for astrobiology and the scientific search for extraterrestrial life— leaving the claim that the public's desire to see astrobiology answer "life's big questions" provides sufficient grounds for the existence of an obligation to support astrobiology in this way as unsubstantiated.


~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan 


You may also want to read more about Space Exploration, Space Missions and Systems here.




Views on Space Exploration.



Consider the public’s views on space exploration. 



As NASA historian Roger Launius (2003) has noted, there has been and there continues to be a mismatch between, on the one hand, the public’s approval of NASA and the space program, and, on the other hand, the public’s willingness to support funding increases for space exploration. 


As mentioned earlier in this chapter, Gallup polls from 1990 to 2007 revealed that an average of 57.6 percent of Americans thought that NASA was doing an excellent or good job; 28.5 percent thought NASA was doing only a fair job; 7.8 percent thought NASA was doing a poor job; and 6 percent had no opinion. 

According to the General Social Surveys (GSS) from 2008 to 2014, an average of 67.2 percent of Americans were either very or moderately interested in space exploration, while an average of 32.1 percent were not at all interested. 



Meanwhile, a different picture emerges when the public is asked specifically about funding for NASA. 


Focusing on the period between 2006 and 2010, William Bainbridge finds evidence of the influence of scientific literacy and religion on beliefs about space funding. 

Among the 52.7 percent of GSS respondents who correctly identified that “human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals,” 18.2 percent said there is too little space funding; meanwhile, only 10.7 percent of those denying this claim thought there is too little funding for space.

Similarly, among the 50.4 percent who said that “the universe began with a huge explosion,” 20.2 percent said there is too little space funding; of those denying this claim, only 9 percent said there is too little space funding.



Scientific literacy may be the primary culprit here, since other questions seemingly unrelated to any potential conflict between science and religion revealed similar differences in attitudes toward space. 


For instance, of those correctly denying that lasers work by focusing sound waves, 20.1 percent said there is too little space funding; meanwhile, of those incorrectly agreeing that lasers work by focusing sound waves, only 9.8 percent said there is too little funding for space.

Nevertheless, Bainbridge does find data that bear directly on the influence of religion, and in particular, on the strength of one’s religious convictions. 



Of those who “know God really exists” and who have no doubts about it, only 11.7 percent said there is too little funding. 


Compare this with 22.4 percent of atheists and 24.9 percent of agnostics. 

A similar trend emerges when examining frequency of attendance of religious services. 

Of those who claim they attend religious services more than once per week, just 7 percent feel there is too little room financing; compare this with 16.9 percent of those who never attend religious services. 

 According to Joshua Ambrosius’ examination of data from the GSS and from many other polls, we must also be aware of the impact of religious tradition. 



Just as religious tradition seems to impact one’s beliefs on evolution, so too does it seem “to affect space knowledge, policy support, and the overall advantages of space exploration”.


As with evolution, Evangelical Christians stand out: Evangelicals are indeed less informed (even if reluctant to acknowledge their knowledge), interested, and supportive of space/​ space policy than the public as a whole and/​or other religious traditions. 

This is a concern for the future of space exploration since Evangelicals make up more than one-​quarter of the U.S. population and therefore a substantial proportion of prospective space-​minded constituencies. 



Meanwhile, individuals identifying as Jewish, Hindu, or Buddhist showed higher than average interests in space. 


Thus, Evangelicals may have an outsized effect on the connection between religiosity and pessimism about space, because Evangelicals are more likely than are other religious groups to attend services once a week or more, to think that scripture is the actual word of God, etc. 

It is plausible, then, that the public largely approves of astrobiology and the scientific search for life, but that like space exploration more generally this support is moderated by scientific literacy, religiosity, and religious tradition, and it does not extend to willingness to provide increased funding for astrobiology projects.


~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan 


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