The Genesis Project

“One morning, a little more than a year from now, a group of scientists, members of what is known as the Stardust mission, will be standing around on a remote stretch of salt flat in the Utah desert, eagerly awaiting the arrival of a very special package. It will, if all goes as planned, enter our atmosphere much like a meteorite, plunging earthward until the final stage of re-entry, when a small parachute will open. The object, about the size and overall appearance of a large metal cephalopod mollusk, better known as the nautilus, will drift harmlessly to the ground, its belly filled with the dust and debris gathered from the comet Wild 2, which scientists now expect may offer significant clues about life’s origins here on earth…

Searching for the origins of life in the dust of a comet might sound like a bit of cosmically cockeyed indirection, something straight out of a New Age sci-fi novel. The Stardust mission, however, is typical of a number of projects to divine life’s origins, all part of a $75-million-a-year scientific enterprise now being financed by NASA. It is known as astrobiology.”

More here from the New York Times Magazine.