Who should I contact to learn more about the NASA Astrobiology Program?Mary Voytek
is the Senior Scientist for Astrobiology at NASA
and is the Program lead for Scientific Leadership & Collaboration. Dr. Voytek is also Program Officer for PSTAR
Lindsay Hays is the Deputy Program Scientist for Astrobiology and is the Program lead for Organizational Excellence. Dr. Hays is also Program Officer for Exobiology and PSDNASA Earth and Space Science Fellowships.
Daniella Scalice is the Program’s lead for Communications. The Astrobiology Program aims to inform researchers, students, educators, decision makers and other public audiences about the results of research funded by the program.
Melissa Kirven-Brooks is the Program’s lead for developing the Future Workforce. The Astrobiology Program is a diverse and inclusive research enterprise that uses its position to build the global workforce in Astrobiology and interdisciplinary science.
Mitch Schulte is the Program Officer for Habitable Worlds.
Points of Contact for other NASA programs can be found at: https://science.nasa.gov/researchers/sara/program-officers-list
Funding Astrobiology Research
How does NASA fund astrobiology research?
Several of the NASA
Planetary Science Division’s R&A programs, described in SMD’s Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences (ROSES)
solicitation, focus on astrobiology, including Exobiology, Habitable Worlds, Exoplanet Research, and Planetary Science and Technology from Analog Research.
How will the NASA Astrobiology Program continue to support large, interdisciplinary research teams?
Proposals will be solicited that describe an interdisciplinary approach to a single, compelling question in astrobiology, and may address a single 2015 Astrobiology Strategy
goal or several Science Strategy goals, for projects larger than the scope of the individual research programs, but within the scope of the Research Coordination Networks. The NASA
Astrobiology Program will fund these types of awards through a new solicitation called Interdisciplinary Consortia for Astrobiology Research
). When applying to this program, proposing teams will be able to specify which RCN
topic their research would be relevant to, and if selected, which network they would join. ICAR
calls will occur on the order of every two years, and will stagger RCN
topics that will be included.
How will the Astrobiology Program support science workshops?
Support for community meetings that advance the goals and objectives of the Astrobiology Program will be provided either directly by the Astrobiology program (e.g. limited support for virtual meetings), or for specific aspects of in-person meetings (e.g., travel support or registration fee support for early career scientists) by the ROSES
call for proposals for Topical Workshops, Symposia, and Conferences (TWSC
). For TWSC
, two of the stated goals are 1) to increase the efficiency of investigators through the open exchange of ideas, and 2) expose investigators to new subject areas.
How will the Astrobiology Program support early-career researchers?
Early-career scientists are encouraged to apply to any research program relevant to their research interests, and to contact the appropriate program officers if they have any questions. In addition to relevant research programs, NASA
offers a variety of awards to support early- career scientists, such as:
NESSF: Graduate students working towards a Masters or PhD and interested in astrobiology research fields (including the core context, ‘Searing for Life Elsewhere’ in NASA’s 2018 Strategic Plan) can apply to the NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship (NESSF) program.
NPP: The Astrobiology NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP) is available for applicants working with Principal Investigators funded by any program under the Astrobiology Program. This includes Exobiology, Habitable Worlds, PSTAR, PICASSO, MatISSE, and ICAR awards.
ECA: The Planetary Science Division’s Early Career Awards (ECA) program (formerly Early Career Fellowship, ECF) is currently being revised, and therefore was not solicited as part of ROSES in 2018. When the revised program is solicited, it will provide support for researchers in the first stage of their career to set up a research program.
Where do I apply for support if I’m interested in…
… Technology Development?
PSTAR: If the technology is focused on exploring environments on Earth that are potentially analogous to habitable environments on other planetary bodies, the research would be most relevant to Planetary Science and Technology Through Analog Research (PSTAR).
PICASSO: If the technology is part of instrument development in the early stages, the research would be most relevant to Planetary Instrument Concepts for the Advancement of Solar System Observations (PICASSO).
MatISSE: If the technology is part of maturation of instrument concepts through to the point where they could be proposed to future mission Announcements of Opportunity, the research would be most relevant to Maturation of Instruments for Solar System Exploration (MatISSE).
… Analog Research?
PSTAR: If the research is focused on the science environments on Earth that are potentially analogous to habitable environments on other planetary bodies, the research would be most relevant to Planetary Science and Technology through Analog Research (PSTAR).
… Understanding Habitability?
HW: Research that seeks to use the knowledge of the history of the Earth and life on it as a guide to determine habitability of environments beyond Earth, specifically on Mars, ocean worlds or exoplanets, would be most relevant to the interdivisional program, Habitable Worlds (HW).
… Building a Habitable Planet?
EW: Research into the formation of our Solar System, including studies of all aspects of materials and processes occurring in and affecting the protoplanetary disk, including those occurring on bodies of any size that may have formed at this stage of Solar System evolution and studies related to the accretion of Solar System bodies after dissipation of the protoplanetary disk, would be relevant to Emerging Worlds (EW).
HW or SSW: Understanding how processes that occur after planet formation may lead to habitable planets (e.g. volcanism, magnetospheres, global climate change, etc.), would be most relevant to Habitable Worlds (HW) or Solar System Workings (SSW).
… the Distribution of Volatiles in the Universe?
EW: Research into processes underlying the chemistry and physics of large and small bodies in the Solar System, and that lead to current distribution of volatiles in the Solar System up to the time that large planetary bodies were in or near their modern configuration, would be most relevant to Emerging Worlds (EW).
EXO: Research into developing, testing, and elaborating biosignatures and how they might contribute to the search for life in the Universe would be most relevant to Exobiology (EXO). Research on understanding technosignatures, as specific types of biosignatures, would also be relevant. However, since the Exobiology Program does not solicit proposals to apply biosignatures to particular environments, proposals to search for technosignatures are also not solicited. It should also be noted that the use of ground-based telescopes is funded through the National Science Foundation and the use of space-based telescopes is funded through NASA’s Astrophysics Division.
… Prebiotic Chemistry?
EXO: Research, both laboratory and theoretical, into the chemical systems that served as precursors for biological molecules on the Earth or elsewhere, would be most relevant to Exobiology (EXO).
… the Evolution of Advanced Life?
EXO: Research specifically into the biological and environmental factors that lead to the origin of eukaryotes, multicellularity and the distribution of complex life in the universe, as well as those that are essential to multicellular life, would all be relevant to Exobiology (EXO). However, the evolution of intelligent life is not included. Additionally, research into specific groups of advanced organisms, or processes and features of this life that are not broadly applicable to life throughout the Universe are not included.
XRP: Research into the compositions, dynamics, energetics and chemical behaviors of exoplanets, as well as the detection and characterization of other planetary systems, would be most relevant to the Exoplanets Research Program (XRP).
HW: Research (theoretical, experimental or field) that improves scientific understanding of the potential for the environment to support life on potentially habitable exoplanets that have conditions roughly comparable to those of Earth (i.e., an Earth analog), would be most relevant to the Habitable Worlds Program.
EXO: Research into biosignatures aimed at identification and characterization of signals on extrasolar planets that may harbor life would be most relevant to the Exobiology Program.
APRA: Laboratory (experimental) and computational efforts to explore the spectroscopic properties of atoms and molecules and particulate matter, as well as their chemical, physical, and dynamical properties under astrophysical conditions that could directly impact our understanding of exoplanetary systems in the current epoch would be most relevant to the Laboratory Astrophysics category of the Astrophysics Research and Analysis Program (APRA).
Will awards larger in scope than those appropriate to the current set of SMD R&A programs still be solicited?
The NASA Astrobiology Program will fund grants for large teams with multi-year research plans through a new ROSES solicitation tentatively named “Interdisciplinary Consortia for Astrobiology Research (ICAR).
What process is used to prioritize and select funded investments?
A variety of factors influence how NASA
prioritizes its funding investments and those priorities are expressed in NASA’s solicitations. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS
) Decadal Surveys, science community input, identification of knowledge gaps, new scientific discoveries, and the overall strategy of NASA
and the program influence the goals of solicitations, such as Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences (ROSES)
. Once the scope of research solicitations have been announced, scientific merit, as advised through the peer review process. helps to identify and prioritize appropriate astrobiology research to select for funding, while also weighing budget, programmatic and other priorities.
Will there be another NAI CAN for Cycle 9?
No. Proposals will be solicited through a new call, tentatively called Interdisciplinary Consortia for Astrobiology Research (ICAR
), for projects beyond the scope of the individual Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences (ROSES)
programs (such as Habitable Worlds or Exobiology), but within the scope of the Research Coordination Networks. This solicitation will call for proposals for projects taking an interdisciplinary approach to a single, compelling question in astrobiology, addressing a single 2015 Astrobiology Strategy
goal or several Strategy goals. The NASA
Astrobiology Program will fund ICAR
grants. When applying for ICAR
grants, teams will be able to specify which RCN
their research would be relevant to and which network they would join if selected.
I was previously a member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Will the Astrobiology Program continue to solicit multi-million dollar, 5-year awards for astrobiology research?
Yes. In the future, the NASA
Astrobiology Program will fund these types of awards through a new solicitation tentatively called Interdisciplinary Consortia for Astrobiology Research (ICAR
). Proposals will be solicited that describe an interdisciplinary approach to a single, compelling question in astrobiology, and that may address a single or several 2015 Astrobiology Strategy
goals, for projects larger in scope than individual ROSES
programs (such as Habitable Worlds or Exobiology).
I am an early-career scientist and have benefited from NAI support. Will the Astrobiology Program continue to provide this support to Early Career Scientists?
A variety of programs, detailed in Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences offer support to early-career scientists including:
NESSF: Graduate students working towards a Masters or PhD and interested in Astrobiology research fields (including the goal from NASA’s 2014 Strategic Plan to ascertain the content, origin, and evolution of the solar system and the potential for life elsewhere) can apply to the NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship (NESSF) program.
NPP: The Astrobiology NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP) is available for applicants working with PIs funded by any program under the Astrobiology Program. This includes Exobiology, Habitable Worlds, PSTAR, PICASSO, MatISSE, and ICAR awards.
ECA: The Planetary Science Division’s Early Career Awards (ECA) program (formerly Early Career Fellowship, ECF) is currently being revised, and therefore was not solicited as part of Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences (ROSES) in 2018. When the revised program is solicited, it will provide support for researchers in the first stage of their career to set up a research program.
Will the Astrobiology Program continue have international partnerships?
Since its earliest days, the Astrobiology Program through the NAI
has established international partnerships to further the goals of the Program. Potential partners could request association with the NAI
at a government-to-government level (associate partners) or at the institute-to-organization level (affiliate partners). Both of these partnerships are conducted with no exchange of funds and consist primarily of collaborative scientific exchange, outreach and education activities, and early career training opportunities. The Program is committed to bringing a diversity of perspectives and resources to the field, and will continue to engage international partners. Associate partnerships will remain, but when the NAI
is wound down, affiliate partnerships will need to be renegotiated through agreements managed by NASA’s Office of International and Interagency Relations (OIIR
How has Astrobiology Program funding responded to emerging topics and shifting programmatic priorities?
The Astrobiology Program budget is designed to afford the flexibility necessary to respond to the dynamic, fast-changing discipline of astrobiology and NASA’s readiness for developing missions in the search for life. The Astrobiology Program’s annual budget is approximately $65 million. This budget is used to fund research proposals selected from Research & Analysis programs, (e.g. Exobiology, Habitable Worlds, etc.) and associated research activities (e.g. workshops). It is a common practice among funding agencies, when presented with meritorious proposals and a programmatic priority exceeding the planned budget, to seek funding from other sources or to adjust the focus of their funding to achieve agency strategic goals. Additionally, funding allocations can be adjusted to accommodate changes in program priorities linked to programmatic needs, or in response to emerging topics or fields.
The Astrobiology Program has developed transient research opportunities to address specific technological or research topics. For example, NASA in collaboration with NSF released LExEn to solicit proposals on the topic of Life in Extreme Environment. The Astrobiology Program also partnered with NSF and KnowInnovation to use an alternative solicitation and review mechanism to encourage high risk, high reward proposals in the area of the origin of translation, a heretofore recalcitrant topic that unifies a central dogma in biology.
More recently, the Astrobiology Program has allocated increasing funds for research in the emerging field of exoplanets system science in order to support the study of habitability and life detection on exoplanets. This resulted in the selection of 5 teams from recent NASA Astrobiology Institute Cooperative Agreement Notices (CANs) along with 13 teams funded from Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences (ROSES) solicitations in PSD and APD, to become part of the first Research Coordination Network, NExSS. Adjustments in Astrobiology Program funding priorities, in this case to provide administrative support for this RCN, are managed by the Senior Scientist for Astrobiology, Mary Voytek, with concurrence by the Planetary Research & Analysis Lead, Stephen Rinehart, and the Planetary Science Division Director, Lori Glaze.
Coordinating Astrobiology Research
What mechanisms does the NASA Astrobiology Program employ to coordinate its research investments?
For the past 20 years, one of the major roles of the NASA
Astrobiology Program at NASA
Headquarters was to support and catalyze collaborative interdisciplinary research in astrobiology across a range of science disciplines and organizations. The primary program element supporting this goal was the NASA
Astrobiology Institute (NAI
), established as a Virtual Institute (VI). Moving forward, the new Astrobiology Research Coordination Networks will take over much of this role. Additional successful mechanisms of coordinating research that will continue include hosting and sponsoring workshops (e.g., building on the success of Mass Independent Fractionation of Sulfur Isotopes
, Upstairs Downstairs
, Exoplanet Biosignatures
, Exoplanetary Space Weather
), provide funding to relevant community meetings, and organize the community to update the Astrobiology Strategy every 5 years. The Astrobiology Program will continue coordinating research investments with partners, such as the NASA
co-sponsored interdisciplinary Ideas Lab that brought together scientists interested in the origin of life. The aim of this Ideas Lab
was to facilitate the generation and execution of innovative research projects aimed at identifying and funding potentially transformative research to addressing the origin and early evolution of the modern, two-polymer life system.
What is a Research Coordination Network (RCN)?
A Research Coordination Network (RCN) is a virtual collaboration structure that helps support groups of investigators to communicate and coordinate their research across disciplinary, organizational, divisional, and geographic boundaries. NASA has modified a mechanism utilized by NSF to achieve the research goals for the Astrobiology Program.
The NASA Astrobiology RCNs are a mechanism for community collaboration. Each RCN will have a steering committee comprised of the PIs of all teams who have elected to join to join, both from large teams selected from the ICAR solicitation as well as smaller teams from relevant ROSES R&A programs. Additionally, the NASA Astrobiology Program, along with representatives of relevant research elements and SMD Divisions, will identify co-leads and potential members of the RCN and provide funding to support the logistical requirements of the RCN. The Astrobiology RCNs will be regularly reviewed (~5 years) by a Senior Review-like independent panel of experts to provide input to any decision to continue, modify, or sunset the RCN. Because RCNs are only a method for coordination, the sunsetting of an RCN will have no effect on the primary research award, which will continue through the original duration. New RCNs may also be established as the science in astrobiology evolves, new missions come on line, or the priorities of NASA shift.
Expected outcomes for the Astrobiology Program RCNs:
- Investigators carry out and propose interdisciplinary research that addresses new topics through new collaborations.
- Produces a plan for utilization of current mission data (if applicable).
- Spawns ideas for new and exciting missions, and encourages participation in and contributions to missions from planning through operations (if applicable).
- Identifies new targeted technologies or instrumentation needed, but not yet reported elsewhere.
- Influences Decadal Surveys for all NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD) Divisions
- Enhances international engagement.
- Supports continued development of the astrobiology community.
How does the RCN model differ from the Virtual Institute (VI) model?
While the purpose of an RCN
is similar to that of a VI, RCN
s differ from the VI model in several ways.