HOUSTON — NASA’s newly announced Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) seeks to establish a foundation for future space and terrestrially-based observatories with capabilities to assess the environments of distant exo-planets for evidence of life.

Announced just ahead of April 24 ceremonies marking the 25th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope, the multi-institute NExSS initiative will tap the expertise of the Earth and planetary science communities as well as solar physicists and astrophysicists to assemble a “big picture” perspective on how biology interacts with planetary atmospheres, land forms, oceans and interiors.

The unprecedented scientific interplay is intended to help experts improve a search for extraterrestrial life that has been largely limited to listening for broadcast signals from possible intelligent life in distant star systems, and more recently by looking for direct evidence of alien planets, especially rocky planets in the habitable zones of Sun-like stars.

“This interdisciplinary endeavor connects top research teams and provides a synthesized approach in the search for planets with the greatest potential for signs of life,’’ said Jim Green, NASA’s Director of Planetary Science, in an April 21 announcement from the agency on the initiative.

Launched in 2006, NASA’s Kepler space telescope has contributed greatly to the search for planets, logging just over 1,019 exo-planet discoveries so far, plus more than 4,633 candidates awaiting confirmation. Moreover, Kepler’s findings suggest planets are plentiful among the billions of stars that populate the Milky Way, but zooming in on Earth-like planets — let alone detecting and analyzing their atmospheres — remains a technical challenge.

Earlier this month, NASA hosted a forum in Washington on the significance of recent discoveries of water and organics in the Solar System, from Mercury to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Enceladus, Jupiter’s ice- and ocean- covered moon, already is the focus of a future NASA robotic reconnaissance mission, one that seems to have unusual congressional support.

During the April 7 forum, NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan predicted evidence for life elsewhere in the universe will surface in the next 20 to 30 years.

A month earlier, MIT’s Sara Seager and William Bains noted the great diversity of characteristics among the Kepler discoveries in Science Advances. Their March 6 paper, “The search for signs of life on exoplanets at the interface of chemistry and planetary science,” calls on the astrobiology community to look beyond the Earth-centric perspective as the search continues with the launches of NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite in 2017, the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018 and the Wide-field Infrared Survey Telescope in the planning stages for launch in the 2020s.

NExSS will be led by Natalie Batalha of NASA’s Ames Research Center, Dawn Gelino of the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute, and Anthony del Genio of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, as the space agency addresses the challenges outlined by Stofan and the others responsible for counseling the agency in its quest for life or the makings for life beyond the Earth.  They will be joined by representatives from 10 different universities, from Stanford to Yale,  and two research institutes, including SETI.

The effort will include an opportunity for “citizen scientists” to comb the Kepler database for evidence of exoplanets with an enhanced internet interface as well.