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The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation is holding a series of hearings leading up to another NASA authorization bill, which helps set goals and authorizes funding for the agency (2017-2018's bill is here). On Wednesday, scientists from U.S. universities, the Smithsonian Institution, and NASA answered senators’ questions about why Congress should fund the hunt for extraterrestrial life.

“I believe it’s one of the big questions of all of humanity,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, told the Senate committee. “This is how great nations make a mark—what they do for their citizens and how they move history forwards.”

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