Press Release

SETI Institute Selected as NASA Astrobiology Lead Team

By SpaceRef Editor
June 26, 2003
Filed under , ,

Mountain View, CA – The SETI Institute, a leader in the
detection of life’s bio-signatures, received a special
recognition of its work this week from the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration, when it was selected
as a new Lead Team of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute (NAI),
the international research consortium coordinated through
NAI’s offices at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

The SETI Institute is one of twelve teams that were
selected, each of whom will receive five-year awards at an
average annual funding level of approximately one million
dollars. The SETI Institute’s winning proposal included a
variety of research projects examining global-scale
processes that have shaped, and been shaped by, the
interaction between life and its environment. Some of the
funded research will help SETI Institute scientists choose
the target stars for the SETI Institute’s next-generation
search for signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life.

Dr. Christopher Chyba, holder of the SETI Institute’s Carl
Sagan Chair for the Study of Life in the Universe, will lead
a team of fourteen SETI Institute co-investigators along
with their collaborators from other academic and scientific
research institutions.

“Speaking on behalf of the Co-Principal Investigators who
developed our proposal to the NASA Astrobiology Institute, I
can say we are proud to join this remarkable group of
institutions, representing some of the finest scientists and
engineers in the field of astrobiology,” said Chyba. He
went on to add, “The SETI Institute brings unique strengths
and scientific investigations to the NAI, and membership in
the NAI should in turn provide SETI Institute scientists
with new insights and opportunities. This is a tremendous
win-win.”

The SETI Institute has conducted astrobiology research since
its inception in 1984, pursuing this research within the
framework of a formula devised by SETI pioneer, Dr. Frank
Drake, in an equation bearing his name. Institute
researchers study the many questions underpinning the
scientific search for both primitive and intelligent life on
other worlds. While the Institute has historically referred
to this area of science as “Life in the Universe” research,
all of this work falls within NASA’s astrobiology mandate to
“study the evolution, distribution and future of life on
Earth and in the universe.”

“This exciting opportunity to join the NASA Astrobiology
Institute is the culmination of nineteen years of building a
multi-disciplinary institution focused on the various
sciences that comprise astrobiology. All of us at the SETI
Institute look forward to this new level of partnership with
NASA and the other NAI team members,” said SETI Institute
CEO, Thomas Pierson.

Areas of research covered by the proposal include:

– high-altitude terrestrial lakes as analogs to early Mars;

– the surface geology and ocean chemistry of Jupiter’s moon
Europa, and the survivability of bio-markers on its surface;

– the habitability of planets orbiting cool M stars, which
may enlarge the list of stars targeted for SETI searches;

– the biotic and abiotic mechanisms behind the “oxygen
transition” on early Earth;

– the prebiotic and biotic nitrogen cycle on Earth and in
laboratory simulations of Mars;

– the role of iron in protecting anoxic life on early Earth
against UV radiation.

Another important component of the proposal includes
Education and Public Outreach initiatives that will:

– fund teacher training and professional development
workshops;

– collaborate with the California Academy of Science on new
astrobiology exhibits;

– further engage the public, including underserved
audiences, with the science that underlies the funded NAI
research.

In addition to the SETI Institute, other institutions
selected for membership in the NAI include the Carnegie
Institution of Washington; Indiana University, Bloomington;
Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole; NASA Ames Research
Center; NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; Pennsylvania State
University; University of Arizona, Tucson; University of
California, Los Angeles; University of California, Berkeley;
University of Colorado, Boulder; and the University of
Hawaii.

As part of its commitment to the new NAI award, the SETI
Institute announced today that Dr. Frank Drake will assume
administrative responsibility as Director of the SETI
Institute’s Center for the Study of Life in the Universe.
This will free the present Director, Dr. Chyba, to focus his
efforts as lead Principal Investigator for the NAI team.
Chyba will also continue to hold the endowed Carl Sagan
Chair, providing visionary leadership to this and other SETI
Institute efforts.

“We couldn’t find a more seasoned professional than Frank
Drake to take on the responsibilities of Director for the
Center,” said SETI Institute Board of Trustees Chairman, Dr.
Greg Papadopoulos. “He brings a magnificent skill set to
the enormous task of steering a remarkable group of
scientists and engineers. We’re fortunate that Frank was
excited about accepting this critical role at such an
important time in the life of the SETI Institute.”

Recently named ‘Chairman Emeritus’ of the Institute’s Board
of Trustees, Drake looks forward to his new role, and
comments, “As Chris Chyba accepts the responsibility of
Principal Investigator for the SETI Institute’s NAI Team, I
look forward to working closely with him and the many
scientists, researchers and staff who work on over three
dozen projects in our Center for the Study of Life in the
Universe. I couldn’t have a more committed group of people
to work with nor a more compelling scientific program than
the search for life, in all its forms, on our planet, within
the solar system and beyond.”

-End-

WEB RESOURCES

Drs. Christopher Chyba and Jill Tarter discuss the NAI
research (multi media clips) visit:
http://www.seti.org/seti_nai/voices.php

Complete list of SETI Institute NAI co-investigators and
project descriptions (including downloadable images) visit:
http://www.seti.org/seti_nai/team_members.php

SETI Institute media release:
http://www.seti.org/seti_nai/media_release.php

NASA media release:
http://www.seti.org/about_us/info_for_media/press_releases/nasa/seti_nai.html

The NASA Astrobiology Institute is an international research
consortium with central offices located at NASA’s Ames
Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. NASA Ames
is the Agency’s lead center for astrobiology, the search for
the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in
the universe. For further information about the NAI, visit:
http://nai.arc.nasa.gov

SpaceRef staff editor.