But as time has gone by, I’ve become less convinced that we know exactly how to look for life, because I’ve had to learn much more about life. I’ve been the head of a group working in the NASA Astrobiology Institute, and I’ve understood that life is a system, and chemistry is probably the necessary way to start a life system, but it isn’t an exclusive way of continuing, especially for intelligent life. So we have a situation where NASA is looking for chemical life but not really sure what it’s looking for and not really sure of how to prove you’ve found it when you get there. And this means that at 80 years old, I can continue to enjoy my life by thinking about this problem.
Looking back at my career, it seems clear to me now that being an expert in technology can lead in two very different directions. You can stay in technology, and let other people bring their problems to you for solution. Or you can use that background as a springboard for getting into new science. It takes a different kind of person to do that, and I had the fortune to be so inclined. Each of us has to play to their strengths. Science is important, but so is your life, and a life spent enjoying your work is extremely worthwhile.