The Goddard Center for Astrobiology

Starting in 2020, the focus of GCA has changed to maximize the scientific value of returned samples from space. Returned samples are critical to gaining knowledge of the formation and distribution of complex organic molecules in space. Understanding this prebiotic chemistry enables us to understand the underlying planetary processes that are responsible for the fidelity, resilience or detectability of biosignatures. As future scientists study the organic chemistry of returned samples, they will need to understand how the compounds they detect relate to the prebiotic chemistry of the parent object and its precursors.

Despite the importance of understanding the astrobiology and prebiotic chemistry relevant to returned samples, this work is generally beyond the scope of analyses by the mission science teams. Furthermore, individual ROSES awards are typically too narrow to simultaneously incorporate the necessary planetary and astrophysical background as well as to cross-compare lessons from different bodies and missions. The work here will investigate the chemical, isotopic, chiral, and spatial distribution of sample-return organics to ask our core question:

What do returned samples teach us about abiotic organic chemical evolution to guide the search for biosignatures?

We will conduct investigations outside the scope of current missions to maximize the value of returned samples. We will use a combination of laboratory experiments, observations, and models relevant to objects and locations of current and planned sample return missions and these include: