NASA Astrobiology Institute

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NASA Astrobiology Institute
Abbreviation NAI
Formation 1998
Headquarters NASA Ames Research Center
Carl Pilcher
Parent organization
$16 million (2008)

The NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) was established in 1998 by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)[1] "to develop the field of astrobiology and provide a scientific framework for flight missions".[2] The NAI is a virtual,[3] distributed organization that integrates astrobiology research and training programs in concert with the national and international science communities.[4] Since 2006, the director of the institute has been Carl Pilcher.[5]


Although NASA had explored the idea of forming an astrobiology institute in the past, when the Viking biological experiments returned negative results for life on Mars, the public lost interest and federal funds for exobiology dried up. In 1996, the announcement of possible traces of ancient life in the Allan Hills 84001 meteorite from Mars led to new interest in the subject. At the same time, NASA developed the Origins Program, broadening its reach from exobiology to astrobiology, the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe.[1]

In 1998, $9 million was set aside to fund the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI),an interdisciplinary research effort using the expertise of different scientific research institutions and universities from across the country, centrally linked to Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. Gerald Soffen former Project Scientist with the Viking program, helped coordinate the new institute.[1] In May,[4] NASA selected eleven science teams, each with a Principal Investigator (PI).[6] NAI was established in July with Scott Hubbard as interim director.[4] Nobel laureate Baruch S. Blumberg was appointed the first director of the institute, and served from May 15, 1999 – October 14, 2002.[7]

On 2 December 2010 the Institute announced that it had discovered the first microorganism able to live and reproduce using arsenic. The GFAJ-1 bacterium was found by NASA researchers at Mono Lake in California but other researchers questioned the findings.[8]


The NASA Astrobiology Program includes the NAI as one of four components, including the Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology Program; the Astrobiology Science and Technology Instrument Development (ASTID) Program; and the Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets (ASTEP) Program.[2] Program budgets for fiscal year 2008 were as follows: NAI, $16 million; Grants for the Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology Program, $11 million; ASTID, $9 million; ASTEP, $5 million.[4]


ake Maule and Jan Toporski use LOCAD-PTS in crater of Mutnvosky Volcano
Joint Russian-NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) expedition studying microbial life in extreme environments in the crater of Mutnovsky Volcano in Kamchatka, far east Russia.

NAI is a partnership between NASA and its NAI Teams or nodes. Past and present teams are:[9]


Selected, significant topics of interdisciplinary research by NAI as of 2008:[4]


  1. ^ a b c Bunk, Steve (1998-06-22). "Astrobiology Makes Debut Under NASA". The Scientist (Faculty of 1000) 12 (13). 
  2. ^ a b NASA Astrobiology Institute (August 31, 2010). "About NAI". NASA. 
  3. ^ J.K.B. (Nov 2002). "Changes Urged for Astrobiology Effort". Sky & Telescope (Sky Publishing Corporation) 104 (5): 23. ISSN 0037-6604. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Committee on the Review of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, National Research Council (2008). Assessment of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press. ISBN 0-309-11497-7. 
  5. ^ "About NAI". NASA. 2011. 
  6. ^ Lawler, Andrew (1998-05-29). "Astrobiology Institute Picks Partners". Science (American Association for the Advancement of Science) 280 (5368): 1338. doi:10.1126/science.280.5368.1338. 
  7. ^ Blumberg, Baruch S. (Nov 2003). "The NASA Astrobiology Institute: Early History and Organization". Astrobiology (Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.) 3 (3): 463–470. Bibcode:2003AsBio...3..463B. doi:10.1089/153110703322610573. PMID 14678657. 
  8. ^ Brown, Dwayme and Cathy Weselby, "NASA-Funded Research Discovers Life Built With Toxic Chemical", Nasa, 2 December 2010, retrieved on 3 December 2010.
  9. ^ Teams, NASA Astrobiology Institute

Further reading[edit]

  • Biever, Celeste (2003-07-05). "After a decade in the cold, SETI gets money from NASA". New Scientist (Reed Business Information Ltd) 179 (2402): 8. ISSN 0262-4079. NASA Astrobiology Institute awarded the SETI Institute $5 million spread over five years for 10 projects, including one that feeds directly into the search for intelligent life. This project aims to target specific solar systems that are likely to support life, and will use telescopes to screen a type of star called an M-star 
  • Dick, Steven J. (2005). The Living Universe: NASA and the Development of Astrobiology. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0-8135-3733-9. 
  • Grymes, Rosalind A. (Jan–Feb 2002). "The NASA Astrobiology Institute: Reaching Within and Beyond". Ad Astra (National Space Society) 14 (1): 12. ISSN 1041-102X. 
  • Lawler, Andrew (2007-01-19). "Astrobiology Fights for Its Life". Science (American Association for the Advancement of Science) 315 (5810): 318–321. doi:10.1126/science.315.5810.318. ISSN 0036-8075. 
  • Mecham, Michael (1999-06-14). "Astrobiology team taking shape at Ames". Aviation Week & Space Technology (McGraw-Hill) 150 (24): 211. ISSN 0005-2175. 
  • Sawyer, Kathy (1999). "Out of the Lab, And This World; Hands-On Nobel Laureate to Lead NASA Agency Studying Life's Origins". The Washington Post. p. A17.