Later this morning, the full House Science Committee will hold a hearing on “Astrobiology: Search for Biosignatures in our Solar System and Beyond.” The hearing is primarily an exploratory and informational one, designed to collect information on the state of astrobiology research. The closest the hearing may come to policy issues is a statement in the hearing charter about assessing “existing and planned astrobiology research strategies and roadmaps.”
Such hearings are not that unusual: the committee’s space subcommittee held a hearing on exoplanets earlier this year, for example, and the hearing may allow some discussion on whether NASA is devoting the proper funding to astrobiology research. But the idea of holding a hearing on the potential for extraterrestrial life seems, to some, to be a case of misplaced priorities. “With only seven workdays left between now and the end of the first session of the 113th Congress, a full House committee has found time to hold a hearing on extraterrestrial life,” complained The Huffington Post in an article yesterday.
One of the members of the committee, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), defended the committee’s decision to discuss astrobiology. “If members of Congress were occupying floor time with discussions of extraterrestrial life, that would be a problem,” she told The Oregonian. Some might argue that such discussions could actually be an improvement on the current level of debate on Capitol Hill.