In the early 1990s, I was at a symposium in Washington DC on space science. Dan Goldin, the then head of NASA, delivered a keynote speech. He marched up to the podium in his trademark cowboy boots, looked out at the assembled astronomers and physicists in the audience, and asked: “How many biologists are here today?” No hands went up. He then said, “The next time I address this audience, I expect it to be full of biologists!”
While NASA had launched an exobiology program in 1960, and the Viking program had searched for signs of life on Mars, in my mind, Goldin’s speech marked the official christening of the field of astrobiology.
This was, in many ways, a high point.
This may seem strange, I know. Technology has greatly increased the possibility of discovering life other than Earth. Biology has also advanced rapidly, making it possible for us to understand the origins of life on Earth. I enjoyed keeping up with this topic as I wrote my new book. Mayor, Queloz and Marcy were the seminal exoplanet discovery. They were followed by thousands of other exoplanets including some around nearby stars.