Space Policy and History Forum #19
Astrobiology in Action
by Dr. Michael Meyer
Lead Scientist for the Mars Exploration Program, Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters
The idea that a planetary neighbor could have life has invigorated space exploration for decades, and as we saw with Viking, “negative results” quenched missions to the red planet. However, finding life in “azoic” environments: hydrothermal vents, nuclear reactor cores, and deep subsurface, fueled the idea that a more sophisticated and measured approach would be fruitful in the exploration of extraterrestrial worlds.
In 1995, the Exobiology Strategy for Mars Exploration posited that Martian life was possible and developed a five-step plan for discovering the potential for life on Mars that required a multi-disciplinary approach. The credible scientific underpinnings and the 1996 announcement of evidence for life in the Mars meteorite ALH84001, boosted public interest and spawned the Astrobiology Program. In 2007, An Astrobiology Strategy for the Exploration of Mars reconfirmed the step-wise approach and that Mars sample return should be the number one priority for astrobiologists, much less other planetary scientists. Operating missions have furthered our concept of Mars’ biological potential and the 2020 caching rover will carry out Astrobiology priorities. The results of these missions will reveal whether Mars provided—and possibly still provides—a home for life, helping to elucidate our place in the Universe.
Dr. Meyer is responsible for the science content of current and future Mars missions, and Program Scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory – Curiosity rover mission. He was the Senior Scientist for Astrobiology and Program Scientist for the 2001 Mars Odyssey, Mars Microprobe mission, and for two Shuttle /Mir experiments. The Astrobiology program, started in 1997 with him as the Discipline Scientist, is dedicated to the study of the life in the universe. He has managed NASA’s Exobiology Program from 1994 to 1997. Dr. Meyer was also the Planetary Protection Officer for NASA, responsible for mission compliance to NASA’s policy concerning forward and back contamination during planetary exploration. Dr. Meyer has been an assistant research professor at the Desert Research Institute, University of Nevada, and has served as Associate Director and in Research for the Polar Desert Research Center, Florida State University. In 1982, he was a visiting research scientist at the Culture Centre for Algae and Protozoa in Cambridge, England. Dr. Meyer’s interest is in microorganisms living in extreme environments, particularly the physical factors controlling microbial growth and survival. He has conducted field research in the Gobi Desert, Negev Desert, Siberia, the Canadian Arctic, and veteran to six expeditions to Antarctica. His experience also includes two summers working as a professional diver / treasure salvager off the coasts of Florida and North Carolina. Dr. Meyer earned a Ph.D. and M.S. in Oceanography, Texas A&M University, and B.S. in Biology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Date and Time
June 6 (Monday), 4:00-5:00 P.M.
Location, Parking, and Access
The presentation will be held at the National Air and Space Museum, 600 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, D.C., 4:00-5:00 p.m. Space is limited to 50 attendees, so please RSVP to get your name on the list. This will be for access to the 3rd floor of the Museum, where we will be meeting in the Director’s Conference Room. You may check in and obtain a badge for access to the building at the guard desk just to the right as you enter the Independence Ave. doors. Parking is not available at NASM, and is limited elsewhere; we recommend using the Metro system for travel to the National Air and Space Museum—the Smithsonian and L’Enfant Plaza stops on the Orange and Blue lines are close by. Please RSVP to Nathan Bridges, Nathan.Bridges@jhuapl.edu.