Skip to Main Content

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.


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.


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.


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 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.

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.

In Development

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.


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 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

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

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

sealed apollo 17 samples being taken out of freezer

NASA Goddard Scientists Begin Studying 50-year-old Frozen Apollo 17 Samples

May 3, 2022

Scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, recently received samples of the lunar surface that have been curated in a freezer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston since Apollo 17 astronauts returned them to Earth in December 1972.

Could the Blueprint for Life Have Been Generated in Asteroids?

April 26, 2022

The discovery, by an international team with NASA researchers, gives more evidence that chemical reactions in asteroids can make some of life’s ingredients, which could have been delivered to ancient Earth by meteorite impacts or perhaps the infall of dust.

NASA-Funded Study Extends Period When Mars Could Have Supported Life

February 2, 2022

The surface of Mars is barren and inhospitable, but perhaps it wasn’t always that way. Billions of years ago, when life emerged on Earth, the climate of Mars could have been Earth-like as well, with a thicker atmosphere than today and oceans of liquid water.

With First Martian Samples Packed, Perseverance Initiates Remarkable Sample Return Mission

October 12, 2021

NASA, along with the European Space Agency, is developing a campaign to return the Martian samples to Earth.

Chemical Complexity as a Sign of Life as We Don't Know It

May 25, 2021

NASA is exploring potential signs of life that could be very different from what we have on Earth.

Everything You Need to Know About the OSIRIS-REx Mission to Bennu & Back

May 21, 2021

Join us for a special panel episode all about the OSIRIS-REx mission, which just left asteroid Bennu with asteroidal material on its way back to Earth! This episode's guests are all collaborators on the OSIRIS-REx mission: Drs. Eve Berger, Jason Dworkin, and Scott Sandford.

Salts Could Be Important Piece of Martian Organic Puzzle, NASA Scientists Find

May 20, 2021

A NASA team has found that organic salts are likely present on Mars and may be detectable.

Avi Mandel Focuses on Worlds Out of This World

May 18, 2021

Acting Director Avi Mandell, of the Sellers Exoplanet Environments Collaboration, focuses his attention on worlds out of this world.

NASA Study: To Find an Extraterrestrial Civilization, Pollution Could Be the Solution

February 10, 2021

If there's an advanced extraterrestrial civilization inhabiting a nearby star system, we might be able to detect it using its own atmospheric pollution, according to new NASA research.

Key Building Block for Organic Molecules Discovered in Meteorites

December 18, 2020

Scientists from Japan and NASA have confirmed the presence in meteorites of a key organic molecule which may have been used to build other organic molecules, including some used by life. The discovery validates theories of the formation of organic compounds in extraterrestrial environments.

Asteroid Ryugu Dust Delivered to Earth; NASA Astrobiologists Prepare to Probe It

December 07, 2020

NASA Astrobiologists Prepare to Analyze Dust Delivered from Asteroid Ryugu

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.