Open main menu

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]

NASA Astrobiology Institute
HeadquartersNASA Ames Research Center
Penelope Boston
Parent organization
$16 million (2008)

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]


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).[5] 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.[6]

On 2 December 2010 the Institute announced that one of its funded projects at the US Geological Survey, had discovered the first microorganism able to incorporate arsenic in its DNA instead of phosphate.[7] The GFAJ-1 bacterium was found by team researchers at Mono Lake in California, but other researchers questioned and debunked the findings.[8][9][10][11]


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]


Joint Russian-NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) expedition studying microbial life in extreme environments in the crater of Mutnovsky Volcano in Kamchatka, far east Russia.

As of 2018, the NAI has 10 teams including about 600 researchers distributed across ~100 institutions. It also has 13 international partner organizations. Some past and present teams are:[12][13]

International partnersEdit

NAI has partnership program with other international astrobiology organizations to provide collaborative opportunities for its researchers within the global science community.[14]

Associate PartnersEdit

Affiliate PartnersEdit


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. Bibcode:2002S&T...104e..23B. 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 978-0-309-11497-4.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Brown, Dwayme and Cathy Weselby, "NASA-Funded Research Discovers Life Built With Toxic Chemical", Nasa, 2 December 2010, retrieved on 3 December 2010.
  8. ^ "Studies refute arsenic bug claim". BBC News. 9 July 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-10.
  9. ^ Tobias J. Erb; Patrick Kiefer; Bodo Hattendorf; Detlef Gunter; Julia Vorholt (July 8, 2012). "GFAJ-1 Is an Arsenate-Resistant, Phosphate-Dependent Organism". Science. 337 (6093): 467–70. Bibcode:2012Sci...337..467E. doi:10.1126/science.1218455. PMID 22773139.
  10. ^ RRResearch By Rosie Redfield. January 16, 2012
  11. ^ Marshall Louis Reaves; Sunita Sinha; Joshua Rabinowitz; Leonid Kruglyak; Rosemary Redfield (July 8, 2012). "Absence of Detectable Arsenate in DNA from Arsenate-Grown GFAJ-1 Cells". Science. 337 (6093): 470–3. arXiv:1201.6643. Bibcode:2012Sci...337..470R. doi:10.1126/science.1219861. PMC 3845625. PMID 22773140.
  12. ^ Teams, NASA Astrobiology Institute Teams. May 29, 2018.
  13. ^ NAI Introduction and Overview. December 7, 2014.
  14. ^ a b c NAI, International Partners. April 13, 2015.

Further readingEdit