NEW YORK (Reuters) - The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, famous for its manned missions to the moon, announced the creation of the Carl Sagan Postdoctoral Fellowships in Exoplanet Exploration on Wednesday.
The fellowship is named after the late astronomer who popularized science through his books and television appearances.
The fellows will search for life on planets outside our solar system, the so-called exoplanets, more than 300 of which have been discovered since 1994.
Many of the planets discovered orbiting distant stars are gaseous and icy giants believed unsuitable to support life. The challenge is to find Earth-like planets orbiting Sun-like stars.
That search will be aided by NASA's Kepler mission, due for launch next year, that will survey 100,000 stars looking for smaller planets.
In addition, the agency wants to attract young scientists who share Sagan's wonderment about the cosmos who will dedicate themselves to answering the question, "Are we alone?" through improved telescope technology or other means.
"Many feel it's only a matter of time before we find Earth-like planets in Earth-like orbit around solar-like stars and that such planets might be capable of sustaining life," Jon Morse, director of NASA's astrophysics division, told a news conference.