Astrobiology of Returned Samples

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Reference Code
Application Deadline
3/1/2022 6:00:00 PM Eastern Time Zone

Returned samples are critical to gaining knowledge of the formation and distribution of complex organic molecules in space. Understanding this prebiotic chemistry enables us to understand the underlying planetary processes that are responsible for the fidelity, resilience or detectability of biosignatures. As future scientists study the organic chemistry of returned samples, they will need to understand how the compounds they detect relate to the prebiotic chemistry of the parent object and its precursors.

Despite the importance of understanding the astrobiology and prebiotic chemistry relevant to returned samples, this work is generally beyond the scope of analyses by the mission science teams. Furthermore, individual ROSES awards are typically too narrow to simultaneously incorporate the necessary planetary and astrophysical background as well as to cross-compare lessons from different bodies and missions. The work here will investigate the  chemical,  isotopic,  chiral, and  spatial distribution  of sample-return organics to ask our core question:

What do returned samples teach us about abiotic organic chemical evolution to guide the search for biosignatures?

We will conduct investigations outside the scope of current missions to maximize the value of returned samples. We will use a combination of laboratory experiments, observations, and models relevant to objects and locations of current and planned sample return missions and these include:

  • The  Artemis  project will return material from potentially volatile-rich polar regions of the Moon.
  • Samples from organic rich-asteroids returned from C-type asteroid Ryugu by the JAXA  Hayabusa2  mission and B-type asteroid Bennu by  OSIRIS-REx.
  • Samples from the martian moon Phobos will be returned by the JAXA  MMX  mission in 2029.
  • Samples from Mars will be collected by the  Perseverance  rover from the Jezero region and returned to Earth by the Mars Sample Return campaign.

Goddard Space Flight Center
Greenbelt, Maryland

Field of Science:Astrobiology

Jason P Dworkin
+1 (301) 286-8631

Jamie Elsila Cook

Steven Charnley

Daniel Glavin

Reggie Hudson

Natasha Johnson

Amy McAdam

Stefanie Milam

Joseph Andrew Nuth

Eric Parker

Noah Petro

Geronimo L. Villanueva

Kelsey E. Young

Christopher Kroboth Materese
(301) 286-7502

Hannah Kaplan
(781) 799-1097

Applications with citizens from Designated Countries will not be accepted at this time, unless they are Legal Permanent Residents of the United States. A complete list of Designated Countries can be found at: Eligibility is currently open to:

  • U.S. Citizens;
  • U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents;
  • Foreign nationals who are in the U.S. at the time of application and on a valid J1 visa; and,
  • Foreign nationals, asylees or refugees in the U.S. at the time of application with a valid EAD card and pending I-485 or I-589 forms.
These temporary eligibility limitations have been put in place due to inaccessible U.S. consulates and travel restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Foreign nationals have made many substantive contributions to NASA, as well as to the greater scientific community throughout the life of the NPP. Therefore, we look forward to the time when the program will be open, once again, to all qualified scientists and engineers.

Eligibility Requirements
  • Degree: Doctoral Degree.
ORISE ORAU Pathfinder

Whether you are just starting your career or already at a senior level, ORAU offers internships, fellowships, research opportunities, and contract positions that can provide you with invaluable experience. Download the ORAU Pathfinder mobile app and find the right opportunity to propel you along your career path!