NASA Astrobiology Institute


Michael Meyer Declines NAI Interim Director Position

Michael Meyer Declines NAI Interim Director Position

Due to unexpected personal conflicts, Dr. Michael Meyer has declined the position of NAI's Interim Director. Dr. Meyer explains, "Unfortunately, the requirements levied to resolve a conflict-of-interest were unacceptable."


Why Is NASA's Astrobiology Program STILL Ignoring

Why Is NASA's Astrobiology Program STILL Ignoring "Cosmos"?

NASA's Astrobiology program continues to totally ignore "Cosmos" - even when it offers millions of viewers a full episode on Astrobiology.


Why Is NASA's Astrobiology Program Ignoring

Why Is NASA's Astrobiology Program Ignoring "Cosmos"? Video in Story

Last night @NASA and other main NASA Twitter accounts devoted a lot of real time tweeting and linking of images and references in support of the premiere of "Cosmos".


Michael Meyer Selected as Interim Director of NASA Astrobiology Institute

Michael Meyer Selected as Interim Director of NASA Astrobiology Institute

Effective April 7, 2014, Michael Meyer will serve on a one-year detail assignment as the interim director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.


Astrobiology Future Webinars - Next Steps

Astrobiology Future Webinars - Next Steps

As we are rapidly approaching the end of the end of this stage of the Astrobiology Strategy planning, we would like to thank everyone that has participated as a presenter or author, commented on a white paper or at a webinar, or even just listened in to one of the presentations.


AbSciCon 2014 Postponed until 2015

AbSciCon 2014 Postponed until 2015

The Astrobiology Program has been the sole source of funding for biennial AbSciCons from their beginning. However, restrictions on federal spending on conferences and budget limitations due to sequestration have led us to determine that the Program cannot support an AbSciCon next year. We regret this decision as much as you do, and it was a hard one to make.


Astrobiology Program Strategy Process Update

Astrobiology Program Strategy Process Update

Betcha didn't know that the unofficial motto of NASA's Astrobiology Program was "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of Congressional paralysis stays these scientists from the swift completion of their appointed webinars" ;-)


NASA Cooperative Agreement Notice: NASA Astrobiology Institute Cycle 7

NASA Cooperative Agreement Notice: NASA Astrobiology Institute Cycle 7

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Science Mission Directorate (SMD) is releasing a Cooperative Agreement Notice (NNH13ZDA017C) entitled NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) - Cycle 7.


Astrobiology Strategic Plan Milestone

Astrobiology Strategic Plan Milestone

The NASA Astrobiology Strategy process has reached an important milestone. The concept documents, which were created at the Wallops Island workshop, are now ready for public comment.


NASA Astrobiology Strategic Plan Update

NASA Astrobiology Strategic Plan Update

The 2014 Astrobiology Strategic Plan is now under construction. It has involved the community in online and face-to-face discussions.


Notice of release of draft text of the NASA Astrobiology Institute

Notice of release of draft text of the NASA Astrobiology Institute

Cycle 7 Cooperative Agreement Notice NNH13ZDA010J: On or about July 3, 2013 The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Science Mission Directorate is releasing a Draft Cooperative Agreement Notice (CAN) soliciting team-based proposals for membership in the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) for community review and comment.


Developing a New Astrobiology Roadmap

Developing a New Astrobiology Roadmap

The NASA Astrobiology Program has begun the process of developing a new Astrobiology Roadmap to chart the future directions of astrobiology research. During the month of May, NASA hosted a series of on-line hangouts and discussions focusing on broad themes in astrobiology.


Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research in Astrobiology 2013 Selections

Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research in Astrobiology 2013 Selections

The NAI is pleased to announce selections for the 2013 Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research in Astrobiology.


Astrobiology Program Early Career Collaboration Award 2013 Selections

Astrobiology Program Early Career Collaboration Award 2013 Selections

The NASA Astrobiology Program Early Career Collaboration Award offers research-related travel support for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Applicants are encouraged to use these resources to circulate among two or more research teams, however any travel that is critical for the applicant's research will be considered.


Minority Institution Research Support (MIRS) Program 2013 Selections

Minority Institution Research Support (MIRS) Program 2013 Selections

The Astrobiology Program has selected 5 faculty members from minority serving institutions to conduct research in the labs of NASA Astrobiology Program researchers as part of the Minority Institution Research Support (MIRS) program during 2013.


Astrobiology Roadmapping: Be a part of the future of Astrobiology

Astrobiology Roadmapping: Be a part of the future of Astrobiology

Be a part of the future of Astrobiology! It's time to chart the future directions of astrobiology research and you can participate. During the month of May, NASA will be hosting a series of on-line hangouts and discussions focusing on broad themes in astrobiology: Planetary Conditions for Life, Prebiotic Evolution, Early Evolution of Life and the Biosphere, Evolution of Advanced Life, and Astrobiology for Solar Systems Exploration.


NASA Seeks New Director for the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI)

NASA Seeks New Director for the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI)

The ideal candidate will be an internationally recognized scientist with proven experience in leading large, multi-disciplinary, multi-site research programs or projects, possessed with a vision for leading the Institute into the future. Established in 1998 as part of NASA's Astrobiology Program, the NAI is a collaboration between NASA, US academic institutions, and foreign institutions, governments and research organizations - and is composed of over 800 US scientists and hundreds of researchers abroad. The NAI, currently headquartered at NASA Ames Research Center in the heart of California's Silicon Valley, functions as a virtual institute, its members linked by modern information technologies.


2012 Early Career Research Focus Group

For the past four years, early career scientists have organized a Research Focus Group (RFG), preceding the Astrobiology Graduate Student conference (AbGradCon) in which participants are grouped into interdisciplinary groups to develop original research projects, draft a written proposal, peer-review the proposals of other groups and then vote on the best proposals.

For 2012 the RFG was held at USC's Wrigley Institute on Catalina Island, CA in late August. The group selected the following proposals:

1st choice: Characterization of Residual Biosignatures in Arctic Glacial Environments: A Remote Sensing Study for Biosignature Detection on Mars and Icy Worlds
Group 8: Julia DeMarines, Ian Foster, Chester Harman, Shana Kendall, Afshin Khan

2nd choice: The Autocatalytic Generation of Amino Acid Homochirality under Planetary Atmospheres
Group 3: Michael Chaffin, Amanda Evans, Rebecca McCauley, Marika Tarasashvili

3rd choice: Microbial and geochemical characterization of soils interfacing with physicochemical extremes from the hyper-arid core of the Atacama Desert - a potential key to understanding the evolution and functionality of life in a Mars-analog environment
Group 7: Anthony Friedline, Graham Lau, Shannon Soucy, Madhan Tirumalai

Congratulations to the winning proposal teams!!


NAI Announces Selection of New Teams

Please join the NAI in welcoming five new research teams into the Institute--the University of Washington; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the University of Wisconsin, Madison; the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; and the University of Southern California.

"The intellectual scope of astrobiology is breathtaking, from understanding how our planet went from lifeless to living, to understanding how life has adapted to Earth's harshest environments, to exploring other worlds with the most advanced technologies to search for signs of life," said Carl Pilcher, Director of the NAI. "The new teams cover that breadth of astrobiology, and by coming together in the NAI, they will make the connections between disciplines and organizations that stimulate fundamental scientific advances."

"How would we know if an extrasolar planet were able to support life or had life on it already?" asks the University of Washington's Virtual Planetary Laboratory (VPL) team, led by Victoria Meadows. Using interdisciplinary computational models, VPL examines life's observable impact on a planetary environment, considering a variety of metabolisms, planetary compositions, and host stars. The result of this team effort will be a library of astronomical biosignatures against which spectral and photometric data returned by missions such as JWST can be cross-referenced to check for signs of life.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology team led by Roger Summons asks, "If we cannot detect complex life on Earth when it first arose, how can we hope to detect life on other planets?" This team examines the history of complex life by studying Earth's rock record, particularly fossil, isotopic, and molecular evidence. Its focus is taphonomy--the combination of processes and conditions that preserve biological signatures. The team uses the insights it develops to guide how and where to look for evidence for life elsewhere, particularly at Gale Crater on Mars, site of the Curiosity Rover Mission.

The team at the University of Wisconsin, led by Clark Johnson, seeks to enhance our overall capability to identify and interpret specific biosignatures and the ancient environments in which they formed. Focusing in particular on how interaction of life's biomolecules with rock substrates can affect the detection of those signatures, the team will develop new instrumentation for the identification of biomolecules, and integrate techniques such as genomics and organic and isotope geochemistry. They will also approach the characterization of life's past environments by mineral proxy, studying ancient clays, iron-silica oxides, and carbonates to infer paleoenvironmental conditions and biological processes.

The University of Illinois team, led by Nigel Goldenfeld, builds upon the research of Carl Woese, a team member who revolutionized our understanding of the diversity of life on Earth through his pioneering studies of ribosomal DNA. The team will probe beyond the last universal common ancestor at the root of the tree of life, delving into that early space where it is thought life was dominated by collective phenomena. The team seeks to identify general principles underlying the emergence and subsequent evolution of living matter, a field called "Universal Biology." Using field and laboratory investigations into collective community dynamics as well as theoretical and computational studies of co-evolution in both natural and digital life systems, the team will inform our view of how life emerged, both here and elsewhere in the Universe.

The University of Southern California team led by Jan Amend is focused on the intraterrestrials, a vast community of micro-organisms that make up Earth's subsurface biosphere. They ask, "How do we search for microbes in the subsurface?" They answer, "By drilling, of course!" Their investigations begin with drilling operations in unique and distinct geological environments, and continue with the deployment of new in situ instruments for biomass detection directly into the boreholes. The team will then utilize novel techniques to culture the notoriously unculturable intraterrestrials and study the energy flow in these communities.

These five new teams join ten continuing teams led by the University of Hawaii, Arizona State University, the Carnegie Institution of Washington, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Pennsylvania State University, the Georgia Institute of Technology and teams at NASA Ames Research Center and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, as well as two teams at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.


NASA Selects Science Teams for Astrobiology Institute

NASA has awarded five-year grants totaling almost $40 million to five research teams to study the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe.

The newly selected teams are from the University of Washington; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; University of Wisconsin, Madison; University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; and University of Southern California. Average funding to the teams is almost $8 million each. The interdisciplinary teams will become members of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI), headquartered at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

"These research teams join the NASA Astrobiology Institute at an exciting time for NASA's exploration programs," said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "With the Curiosity rover preparing to investigate the potential habitability of Mars and the Kepler mission discovering planets outside our solar system, these research teams will help provide the critical interdisciplinary expertise needed to interpret data from these missions and plan future astrobiology-focused missions."



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