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Astrobiology at Goddard Space Flight Center

Astrobiology at GSFC stretches across all four of the divisions in the Science and Exploration Directorate: Earth, Astrophysics, Heliophysics, and Planetary Science. This is one of the strengths of Goddard, as it approaches this interdisciplinary endeavor with the full breadth of NASA science expertise.

GSFC personnel are involved at just about every level of every major astrobiology endeavor, from the incorporation of astrobiology into spaceflight missions and instrumentation, to the leadership of agency-level astrobiology initiatives, to leadership in international astrobiology organizations, to leadership of and participation in multiple successful peer-reviewed awards for research projects large and small.

GSFC has numerous groups, laboratories, and individuals conducting astrobiology research. Numerous opportunities for post-doctoral fellowships and some for internships exist.

Select one of the categories below to learn more about astrobiology at GSFC

Missions & Flight Instruments

A number of missions and flight instruments have a strong astrobiology component and are GSFC-led or have significant GSFC participation. Explore some of these missions and instruments below.

In Operation

Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope (HST), managed by GSFC, makes observations to provide clues about how planets form from dust and debris around stars, search for exoplanets, and observe bodies within the Solar System to investigate life’s potential in the Solar System.
Hubble Space Telescope above Earth.

MAVEN

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission, managed by GSFC, explores Mars’ upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar wind. An important aspect of the MAVEN mission is studying early Mars' atmospheric loss, which may have been partially responsible for its transition from a planet capable of supporting liquid surface water to the dry, desert world we know today.
A rendering of the MAVEN Spacecraft above Mars.

OSIRIS-REx

The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx), managed by GSFC, will return a sample from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu. Bennu is a carbon-rich asteroid that records the earliest history of our Solar System which may contain the molecular precursors to the origin of life and the Earth’s oceans.
A rendering of OSIRIS-REx near Bennu.

TESS

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), managed by GSFC, identifies and characterizes planets ranging from Earth-sized to gas giants, orbiting a wide range of stellar types and orbital distances. Characterizing the atmospheres of small planets is a key step in determining the potential habitability of extrasolar worlds that orbit distant stars.
A rendering of TESS with Earth and the Moon in the background.

Curiosity

Curiosity is focused on determining the past habitability of Mars. The Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument is supplied by GSFC performs chemical analysis of minerals, gases, and organic compounds on Mars.
A rendering of Curiosity on Mars.

ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter

The ESA ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) mission’s United States data center is managed at GSFC. TGO is orbiting Mars with the purpose of searching for trace gases-- methane, hydrocarbons, and their isotopes--important for astrobiology.
Illustration of ExoMars and its landing demonstrator module near Mars.

In Development

James Webb

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), managed by GSFC, will make observations on the composition of fait object in the Solar System and study the formation and evolution of habitable worlds, to improve our understanding processes that have shaped habitability in the Solar System.
A rendering of the James Webb Space Telescope in space.

Roman Space Telescope

The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, managed by GSFC, will make observations that could contribute to the discovery of new worlds beyond our solar system and advance the search for extrasolar planets that could be suitable for life.
A rendering of the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope in space.

ExoMars

The ESA Rosalind Franklin ExoMars Rover has a GSFC supplied component which will study organic compounds from the subsurface of Mars.
A rendering of the Rosalind Franklin ExoMars Rover on Mars.

Dragonfly

Dragonfly is co-led by a GSFC Deputy PI with GSFC supplied science instruments and components will explore diverse locations to characterize the habitability of Titan’s environment, to investigate how far prebiotic chemistry has progressed.
A rendering of Dragonly on Titan in front of a mountain.

Mars Sample Return

The Mars Sample Return campaign contains the Capture/Containment and Return System, managed by GSFC, which will return samples from the surface of Mars for study on Earth to search for evidence of past or present life.
A rendering of the Mars Sample Return vehicle on Mars.

Comet Interceptor

The ESA Comet Interceptor missions, with the US Co-PI at GSFC, consists of 3 spacecraft working together to perform the first close encounter to a long period comet in 2028-2032. One spacecraft will make remote observations of the comet from afar, while two other spacecraft will venture closer to the target with complementary instrument payloads.
Concept art of the Comet Interceptor's path in the solar system.

Leadership in Astrobiology Research Coordination Networks

Prebiotic Chemistry and Early Earth Environments Consortium

PCE3 is a community of researchers striving to transform the origins of life community by breaking down language and ideological barriers and enhancing communication across the disciplinary divide between early earth geoscientists and prebiotic chemists.

Nexus for Exoplanet System Science

The goals of NExSS are to investigate the diversity of exoplanets and to learn how their history, geology, and climate interact to create the conditions for life. NExSS will accelerate the discovery and characterization of other potentially life-bearing worlds in the galaxy, using a systems science approach.

Network for Life Detection

The goal of NFoLD is to build a cohesive life detection community whose research and expertise becomes integral to all stages of astrobiology-themed interplanetary and exoplanet mission activity, from inception to operations.

Network for Ocean Worlds

NASA has formed the Network for Ocean Worlds (NOW) to advance comparative studies to characterize Earth and other ocean worlds across their interiors, oceans, and cryospheres; to investigate their habitability; to search for biosignatures; and to understand life—in relevant ocean world analogues and beyond.

Research Consortia

Goddard Center for Astrobiology (GCA)

GCA, a member of PCE3, uses a combination of laboratory experiments, observations, and models to investigate returned samples and to enable us to learn about abiotic organic chemical evolution and guide the search for biosignatures.

Jason Dworkin
Principal Investigator

Laboratory for Agnostic Biosignatures (LAB)

LAB, a member of NFoLD, focuses on four features of life that do not presuppose a specific biochemistry, using these concepts to begin to build a framework for looking for life “as we don’t know it.” These features include patterns of surface complexity, elemental accumulation, and evidence of energy transfer.

Heather Graham
Deputy Principal
Investigator

Resolving Orbital and Climate Keys of Earth and Extraterrestrial Environments with Dynamics (ROCKE-3D)

ROCKE-3D, a member of NExSS, simulates the past climates of Earth, other rocky Solar System planets, and theorized exoplanets to broaden our understanding of planetary habitability, to use similar simulations to assess the habitability of rocky exoplanets, and to produce synthetic disk-integrated spectra and phase curves of these planets.

Michael Way
Principal Investigator

Virtual Planetary Laboratory (VPL)

VPL, a member of NExSS, develops and combines scientific models from many disciplines to constrain habitability for newly discovered worlds.

Giada Arney
Deputy Principal
Investigator

Sellers Exoplanet Environments Collaboration (SEEC)

SEEC, a member of NExSS, studies the broad diversity of exoplanet atmospheres and climate by generalizing atmosphere and solar wind models and radiative transfer schemes to simulate a wide range of planetary conditions, as well as work on improved simulations and analysis of future observations of exoplanets to better understand what we can learn about the diversity of planetary properties across space and time.

Avi Mandell
Principal Investigator

Ocean Worlds Science Exploration and Analogs (OSEAN) Task Group

OSEAN is dedicated to the development of investigations in support of enabling high-priority science related to ocean worlds. Our STG team members are advocates and progenitors of new avenues of scientific inquiry enabled by the rapidly advancing exploration of these astrobiologically relevant objects.

Conor Nixon
Principal Investigator

Research News

Follow NASA Astrobiology on social media NasaAstrobiology @NASAAstrobio

See the latest astrobiology news from GSFC

Ask an Astrobiologist with Dr. Melissa Trainer

November 24, 2020

Our guest is Dr. Melissa Trainer, a Deputy Principal Investigator (PI) for the Dragonfly mission to Saturn's moon Titan, and lead for the Dragonfly Mass Spectrometer (DraMS), an instrument supporting the Dragonfly investigation of Titan's surface composition!

Gravity Assist: Mars Takes a Breath, with Jen Eigenbrode

November 13, 2020

The Curiosity rover has been probing the secrets of Mars since its arrival in 2012. Its discoveries include chemical signatures that could be related to life – or, alternatively, to geological processes.

About Half of Sun-Like Stars Could Host Rocky, Potentially Habitable Planets

October 29, 2020

According to new research using data from NASA's retired planet-hunting mission, the Kepler space telescope, about half the stars similar in temperature to our Sun could have a rocky planet capable of supporting liquid water on its surface.

NASA Scientists Discover ‘Weird’ Molecule in Titan's Atmosphere

October 27, 2020

NASA scientists identified a molecule in Titan’s atmosphere that has never been detected in any other atmosphere.

OSIRIS-REx TAGs Surface of Asteroid Bennu

October 21, 2020

Captured on Oct. 20, 2020 during the OSIRIS-REx mission's Touch-And-Go (TAG) sample collection event, this series of images shows the SamCam imager's field of view as the NASA spacecraft approaches and touches down on asteroid Bennu's surface, over 200 million miles (321 million km) away from Earth.

OSIRIS-REx and the Origin of Life

October 14, 2020

A historic moment is on the horizon for NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission, OSIRIS-REx. On Oct. 20, 2020, the spacecraft will descend to asteroid Bennu’s surface, touch down for a few seconds and collect a sample of the asteroid’s rocks and dust, which will be returned to Earth for study.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Unlocks More Secrets from Asteroid Bennu

October 08, 2020

NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission now knows much more about the material it’ll be collecting in just a few weeks.

Where Rocks Come Alive: NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Observes an Asteroid in Action

September 09, 2020

Detailed observations reveal Bennu is shedding material on a regular basis.

Commemorating Women's Equality Day. August 26th.

Giada Arney, Research Space Scientist, Will Look for Life on Exoplanets

August 25, 2020

Giada Arney, Research Space Scientist, will look for life on exoplanets, including remotely observable signs of life called biosignatures.

Animation inspired by the bright, burning glow of meteors as they enter Earth's atmosphere.

Pristine Space Rock Offers NASA Scientists Peek at Evolution of Life’s Building Blocks

August 20, 2020

Asuka 12236 is one of the best-preserved meteorites of its kind. And now, NASA scientists have shown that it contains microscopic clues that could help them solve a universal mystery.

Artist's illustration of Europa's surface.

Ocean Worlds Week

August 17, 2020
Sequence of the sampling arm of OSIRIS-REx moving over a dark rocky surface.

A Successful Second Rehearsal Puts NASA’s OSIRIS-REx on a Path to Sample Collection

August 12, 2020

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft performed its final practice run of the sampling sequence, reaching an approximate altitude of 131 feet (40 meters) over sample site Nightingale before executing a back-away burn.

Rendering of TESS in space.

NASA’s Planet Hunter Completes Its Primary Mission

August 11, 2020

NASA's TESS has completed its primary mission, imaging about 75% of the starry sky during a two-year-long survey. TESS has found 66 new planets, nearly 2,100 candidates, and much more.