Science Mission Directorate

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The Science Mission Directorate (SMD) of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) engages the United States' science community, sponsors scientific research, and develops and deploys satellites and probes in collaboration with NASA's partners around the world to answer fundamental questions requiring the view from and into space.

The Science Mission Directorate also sponsors research that both enables, and is enabled by, NASA's exploration activities. The SMD portfolio is contributing to NASA's achievement of the Vision for Space Exploration by striving to:

  • Understand the history of Mars and the formation of the Solar System. By understanding the formation of diverse terrestrial planets (with atmospheres) in the Solar System, researchers learn more about Earth's future and the most promising opportunities for habitation beyond our planet. For example, differences in the impacts of collisional processes on Earth, the Moon, and Mars can provide clues about differences in origin and evolution of each of these bodies.
  • Search for Earth-like planets and habitable environments around other stars. SMD pursues multiple research strategies with the goal of developing effective astronomically-detectable signatures of biological processes. The study of the Earth-Sun system may help researchers identify atmospheric biosignatures that distinguish Earth-like (and potentially habitable) planets around nearby stars. An understanding of the origin of life and the time evolution of the atmosphere on Earth may reveal likely signatures of life on extrasolar planets.
  • Explore the Solar System for scientific purposes while supporting safe robotic and human exploration of space. For example, large-scale coronal mass ejections from the Sun can cause potentially lethal consequences for improperly shielded human flight systems, as well as some types of robotic systems. SMD's pursuit of interdisciplinary scientific research focus areas will help predict potentially harmful conditions in space and protect NASA's robotic and human explorers.


Nicola Fox is the Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate beginning February 27, 2023.[1] Recent Associate Administrators for the SMD include Edward J. Weiler (1998–2004, 2008–2011), Mary L. Cleave (2004–2005), Alan Stern (2007–2008), John M. Grunsfeld (2012–2016), and Thomas Zurbuchen (2016-2022). Stern resigned 25 March 2008, to be effective 11 April, over disagreements with Administrator Michael D. Griffin.[2]

  • Associate Administrator: Nicola Fox Assistant: Tricia Johnson
  • Deputy Associate Administrator: Sandra Connelly
  • Heliophysics Division Director: Margaret (Peg) Luce (acting)
  • Earth Science Division Director: Karen St. Germain Assistant: Jacob Griffin
  • Planetary Science Division Director: Lori Glaze
  • Astrophysics Division Director: Mark Clampin
  • Biological and Physical Sciences Division Director: Craig Kundrot
  • Resource Management Division Director: Holly Degn
  • Joint Agency Satellite Division Director: John Gagosian
  • Science Engagement and Partnerships Division Director: Kristen J Erickson


  1. ^ NASA names solar physicist as agency's science chief
  2. ^ Andrew Lawler, "NASA's Stern Quits Over Mars Exploration Plans" (subscription required), Science 320, 31 (4 April 2008). Retrieved on 3 April 2008.

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