All scientific disciplines face their own unique set of challenges. As new discoveries are made, new questions arise that make us rethink what our goals are and what we are striving to obtain. Some discoveries can turn an entire field on its’ head and inspire an entire new era of research and theories. New discoveries drive us to question more deeply and think more critically about the world we live in. Astrobiology is no exception to this rule, however, astrobiology faces an entirely unique set of problems. The cross-disciplinary nature of astrobiology makes defining what the field is and what its focus is extremely difficult. NASA designates the main goal of astrobiology as to “find evidence of past or present life beyond Earth”. This is insufficient and does not do well enough to define the breadth and scope of astrobiology. Stating that the goal of astrobiology is to find life in the universe, leaves much to be wanted and does not provide a clear definition of what the discipline is and what it encompasses.
Astrobiology is unique as a field. The diversity of backgrounds among those who are astrobiologists is a part of the problem when attempting to define what the goal of the field is. Classically trained physicists, geologists, cosmologists, chemists, and biologists who now find themselves in the field of astrobiology will more than likely give different definitions of what astrobiology is depending upon their background. This incongruency is further amplified when attempting to define important ideas within astrobiology – such as what is life? How should we look for life outside of Earth? Etc. Having such an interdisciplinary field as astrobiology can be very beneficial as differing expertise and viewpoints can lead to innovation and advancement. However, in this case, such diversity may be a hinderance. Making the definition of astrobiology and the goal of the field so broad hurts both the research community by not focusing studies and hurts those who wish to go into the field but do not have a clear path ahead of them to pursue astrobiology as a legitimate scientific field.
There is no easy solution to this problem. Attempting to define the purpose of a rapidly growing and advancing field is difficult but it is a necessity. Although advancements can and will continue to be made without any attention given to this issue, the efficiency of these advancements and discoveries will be hindered without a clear purpose. Unlike biology or geology, astrobiology is an extremely young field and must have clear goals in order to establish itself and have information to work off of. As it is now, the field will not sufficiently advance if it remains a field without a subject matter.