NASA Astrobiology Program

NASA Selects New Science Teams for Astrobiology Research

By Keith Cowing
November 9, 2020
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NASA Selects New Science Teams for Astrobiology Research

The NASA Astrobiology Program announces the selection of eight new interdisciplinary research teams today, inaugurating its Interdisciplinary Consortia for Astrobiology Research (ICAR) program.

The breadth and depth of the research of these teams spans the spectrum of astrobiology research, from cosmic origins to planetary system formation, origins and evolution of life, and the search for life beyond Earth.

ICAR is a new organizational structure for the NASA Astrobiology Program, developed over time to meet the needs of a rapidly-evolving field with an expanded scope and emergent questions driven by two decades of research and discovery in astrobiology. The program supports an interdisciplinary approach to a single compelling question in astrobiology, collectively addressing the goals of the agency’s Astrobiology Strategy.

“We are excited about these additions to the astrobiology research portfolio,” said Lori Glaze, Director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. “The astrobiology community continues to grow and is increasing their contributions to planning and implementation of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate flight missions. These new teams are central to ensuring astrobiology goals are cohesively integrated into those future missions.”

The awarded teams are:

Betul Kacar, University of Arizona: What life wants: Exploring the natural selection of elements

Daniel Apai, University of Arizona: Alien Earths: Which Nearby Planetary Systems Are Likely to Host Habitable Planets and Life?

Kevin Stevenson, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, Laurel, Maryland: The M-dwarf Opportunity: Characterizing Nearby M-dwarf Habitable Zone Planets

Timothy Lyons, University of California, Riverside: Alternative Earths – How to Build and Sustain a Detectable Biosphere

Burckhard Seelig, University of Minnesota: Emergence of a complex biochemical system: Evolutionary aspects of the path to coded protein synthesis

Sara Walker, Arizona State University : Planetary Systems Biochemistry

Donald Burke, University of Missouri: Bringing RNA to Life – Emergence of Biological Catalysis

Natalie Batalha, University of California, Santa Cruz: Follow the Volatiles: Tracing chemical species relevant to habitability from proto-planetary disks to exoplanet atmospheres

ICAR complements another infrastructure evolution of the NASA Astrobiology Program, the Research Coordination Networks (RCNs). The RCNs build on the success of prior organizational iterations and funding mechanisms of the Astrobiology Program and the Planetary Science Division, especially the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Those groundbreaking programs were vital to establishing astrobiology as a respected field of science and contributing to technology development for exploring worlds beyond Earth to assess habitability and search for life.

“Moving forward, ICAR and the RCNs will continue to cultivate and express these and new values, including increased mission influence and a robust, diverse future workforce.” said Mary Voytek, senior scientist and leader of the NASA Astrobiology Program.

During the past two decades, the astrobiology community has crystalized around its values of collaboration, mission relevance, development of early career scientists, and excellence in interdisciplinary communications.

The goal of NASA’s Astrobiology Program is the study of the origins, evolution, and distribution of life in the Universe. The Program is central to NASA’s continued exploration of our solar system and beyond, and supports research into the origin and early evolution of life, the potential of life to adapt to different environments, and the implications for life elsewhere. NASA, together with the science community, has developed an Astrobiology Strategy that describes the scientific goals and objectives of NASA’s Astrobiology Program.

Learn more about NASA’s Astrobiology program:

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