1. About NAI

    Introduction and Overview

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    Astrobiology is the study of the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. This interdisciplinary field requires a comprehensive, integrated understanding of biological, geological, planetary, and cosmic phenomena. Astrobiology encompasses the search for habitable environments in our Solar System and on planets around other stars; the search for evidence of prebiotic chemistry or life on Solar System bodies such as Mars, Jupiter’s moon Europa, and Saturn’s moon Titan; and research into the origin, early evolution, and diversity of life on Earth. Astrobiologists address three fundamental questions: How does life begin and evolve? Is there life elsewhere in the Universe? What is the future of life on Earth and beyond?

    As part of a concerted effort to address this challenge, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) established the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) in 1998 as an innovative way to develop the field of astrobiology and provide a scientific framework for flight missions. NAI is a virtual, distributed organization of competitively-selected teams that integrate astrobiology research and training programs in concert with the national and international science communities.

    NAI Mission

    NAI’s mission is to:

    • carry out, support and catalyze collaborative, interdisciplinary research;
    • train the next generation of astrobiology researchers;
    • provide scientific and technical leadership on astrobiology investigations for current and future space missions;
    • explore new approaches using modern information technology to conduct interdisciplinary and collaborative research amongst widely-distributed investigators;
    • support learners of all ages by implementing formal, informal, and higher education programming and public outreach

    NAI’s teams are supported through cooperative agreements between NASA and the teams’ institutions; these agreements involve substantial contributions from both NASA and the team. The executive summaries from each team’s latest annual report describe their recent contributions to astrobiology research.

    Currently, the NAI has 10 teams including ~500 researchers distributed across ~100 institutions. It also has 13 international partner organizations. The Director and a staff at “NAI Central,” located at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, administers the Institute. Each team’s Principal Investigator, together with the NAI Director and Deputy Director, comprise the Executive Council. Its role is to consider matters of Institute-wide research, space mission activities, technological development, and external partnerships.


    NASA Astrobiology Program

    The NAI is part of the NASA Astrobiology Program.