Astrobiology (general)

Leadership change for NASA Astrobiology

By Keith Cowing
September 12, 2008

Dr. Mary A. Voytek, a microbiologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, VA, takes charge of NASA’s Astrobiology Program effective September 15 as Interim Senior Scientist for Astrobiology in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA HQ.

Dr. Voytek takes over from Dr. John Rummel, who served as Senior Scientist for Astrobiology from late 2006 to August 2008. Dr. Rummel has taken a position with East Carolina University as Director of its Institute for Coastal Science and Policy.

Under Dr. Rummel’s leadership, the NASA Astrobiology Program recovered from the $31.3 million reduced-funding level imposed on it in Fiscal Year 2006 to the approximately $50 million level anticipated for FY 2009.

Dr. Voytek, who has also served as a member of the NASA Advisory Council’s Planetary Protection Subcommitee, joins the ongoing HQ Astrobiology Program team of Drs. Michael New and Natasha Johnson. In addition, Dr. Catharine Conley, NASA’s Planetary Protection Officer (acting), has joined the team as Program Scientist for the Astrobiology Small Payloads program established under NASA’s omnibus Science Mission Directorate’s Stand-Alone Missions of Opportunity Notice announcement of opportunity.

Dr. Voytek’s primary research interest is aquatic microbial ecology and biogeochemistry. She studies environmental controls on microbial transformations of nutrients, xenobiotics, and metals in freshwater and marine systems. She has worked in several extreme environments including Antarctica, hypersaline lakes, deep-sea hydrothermal vents, and terrestrial deep- subsurface sites. At the USGS, she heads the Microbiology and Molecular Ecology team ( She has conducted deep-biosphere studies at the Chesapeake Bay Impact Structure ( The most recent results of this research project were published in the June 27, 2008, issue of Science.

Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻