2012 Annual Science Report

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Reporting  |  SEP 2011 – AUG 2012

EPO Activity: Annual Report of GCA Education and Public Outreach

Project Progress

1. Panel Discussion with SciFi Authors

Ten scientists from the Goddard Center for Astrobiology (GCA) participated in an Astrobiology panel discussion, “Science Fiction & Science Fact: Extraterrestrial Life” on December 1, 2011 for a group of about 20 best-selling science fiction authors. The panel was arranged as a result of a Space Act Agreement signed in July 2011 with the GSFC Innovative Partnerships Program and Tor-Forge Books to develop and publish “NASA-inspired works of fiction” in an effort to introduce, inform, and inspire readers about NASA research and development. The scientists included GCA PI, Michael Mumma, and Co-I’s and Collaborators: Joseph Nuth, Jason Dworkin, Daniel Glavin, Jamie Elsila , Perry Gerakines, Michael Callahan, Avi Mandell, Aki Roberge, and Cynthia Cheung (EPO Lead). The topics ranged from the definition of life, life in extreme environments on Earth, methane on Mars, comets and meteorites, to the possible sociological impact of discovering extraterrestrial life. It was a lively exchange between writers and scientists as they discussed what life on other planets might look like, whether it was necessarily carbon-based, and would one recognize it. The most thought-provoking question of all was asked by one of the writers: “If E.T. called earth looking for inhabitants, would you pick up the phone and answer? Is E.T. hostile or benign? Would we endanger mankind by letting aliens know we exist?” Many authors considered the Astrobiology panel to be the highlight of their two-day’s visit to GSFC

Figure 1 – Sci-Fi Authors at the Goddard Center for Astrobiology

Sci-Fi Authors (L to R): Jim Born, Tess Gerritsen and Tom Doherty at December 1, 2011 Astrobiology panel discussion, “Science Fiction & Science Fact: Extraterrestrial Life”

Daniel Glavin and Melissa Trainer participated as panelists in a discussion on “The Potential for Life Beyond Earth: Exoplanets and Astrobiology” at the Nebula Science Fiction Awards in Crystal City, VA on May 18, 2012

2. Museum Exhibit: Astrobiology Walk at the GSFC Visitor Center

GCA started the planning last year to develop a permanent Astrobiology exhibit at the GSFC Visitor Center. The purpose is to showcase the latest scientific discoveries from the diverse topics in the GCA research theme “Search for the Origin and Evolution of Organics, and their Delivery to Young Planetary Systems” in the context of the time history of the Solar System. A “Walk Through Solar System Times” poster display debuted on Explore@NASA Goddard Day on 16 May 2011 along the 550 ft-long hallway of the GSFC Space Science Building as a dry run and remains on display. The poster display was revised and used as the storyboard for the exhibit. The GCA EPO Lead Cynthia Cheung presented a poster paper on the challenges of designing this exhibit at AbSciCon 2012 in Atlanta, GA, April 16-20. In September, GCA completed the competitive procurement and awarded the contract to C&G Partners, LLC/Exhbitology for the physical design, fabrication and installation of the exhibit. The first phase will consist of ten outdoor stations situated at time-calibrated points along the pathway around the Visitor Center rocket garden, each with a memorable iconic 3D object to convey the main scientific message [Figure 2, 3]. The topics include the origin of organic molecules, the formation and dynamic evolution of the solar system, the role of comets and meteorites in the delivery of prebiotic molecules and water to the early Earth, exoplanets, and the search for biomarkers on Mars. The installation of the outdoor stations will be completed by May 2013. The second phase will consist of two indoor stations that can be easily updated to reflect the latest scientific discoveries. In the third phase, the contents of two stations will be selected and developed into a traveling exhibit. Supplementary educational materials will also be developed to provide more in-depth discussion of each topic for different age groups.

Bird’s Eye View of Astrobiology Timeline Exhibit at the GSFC Visitor Center

Sketches of Astrobiology Timeline Walk exhibit stations with iconic objects on top

3. Public Outreach:

3.1 Public Lectures

Mike Mumma gave the plenary address at the 2012 Astronomical Society of the Republic of China at Taitung, Taiwan on May 26, 2012 on “Messengers from the Early Solar System – The Similarity & Diversity of Comets”.

Daniel Gavin gave a Soffen lecture at the GSFC Visitor Center on “Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life” on April 12, 2012.

Alexander Pavlov gave a Skye lecture simultaneously to seven branches of the Loudon County Library on June 26th on the survivability of subsurface microbial life on Mars. This lecture was part of the library’s 2012 summer reading theme “Invade Your Library” with an emphasis on “Aliens”.

3.2 TV, Video, and documentary

Daniel Glavin participated in the filming of NHK Japan’s National Public TV Special Documentary Series “Space 2012” in March 2012. Topics discussed included the detection of a cometary amino acid in samples returned from comet Wild 2 by the Stardust mission and the identification of extraterrestrial components of DNA in carbonaceous meteorites. Jason Dworkin, Jamie Elsila, and Michael Callahan (also participated in the filming.

In Mary 2012, ChemMatters, an online classroom magazine published for high school students by the American Chemical Society, interviewed Daniel Glavin on his meteoritic research..

Jennifer Eigenbrode was interviewed in February 2012 for a Goddard Innovator video to encourage the next generation of STEM students to be innovators. She was also featured in a Women@NASA video that was released on March 8, 2012.

The episode featuring Mike Callahan in “Through the Wormhole: Will We Survive First Contact?” on his discovery of nucleobases in meteorites in March 2012 was the 2nd highest rated hour in that time slot in the history of the Science Channel.

Stefanie Milam (GSFC) and Larry Nittler (CIW) were featured in an AGU video on “Amino Acids from Interstellar Space” in May 2012.

Daniel Glavin was featured in a Japanese documentary on NHK called “Cosmic Shore: Meteorshower” in June 2012 where he discussed his research on the discovery of the amino acid glycine in samples returned from comet Wild 2 by the Stardust mission.

“Lunch and Learn” Astrobiology Panel Discussion
GCA scientists M. Callahan, D. Glavin, and P. Conrad (Deputy PI) of the SAM Instrument on the Mars Science Laboratory joined Marc Kaufman, Washington Post reporter and the author of the highly acclaimed book “First Contact” in a “Lunch and Learn” panel discussion on May 17, 2012 for GSFC employees to provide an overview of the scientific endeavors in the search for life beyond Earth.

3.3 GSFC Science Jamboree

The EPO Lead Cynthia Cheung played host to the 6-year old National Spelling Bee contestant Lori Anne Madison who aspires to be an astrobiologist. Lori Anne and her mother participated in the GSFC Science Jamboree on June 5, 2012. They met with Michael Mumma and Jason Dworkin of the Goddard Center for Astrobiology, and toured the Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory and the Planetary Environmental Laboratory. The GSFC Office of Communication and Cynthia Cheung also provided a special tour of JWST and the Environmental & Engineering Test Facilities. Over 300 Astrobiology comic books were distributed to participants, including visiting Space Grant teachers during the Science Jamboree.

3.4 MSL/Curiosity Landing event at GSFC, August 6, 2012

GCA Collaborator Jen Stern, and MSL scientists (Melissa Trainer, Amy McAdam and Chris Johnson) gave public talks at the GSFC Visitor Center MSL/Curiosity Landing Event, “Mars at Midnight”, attended by a capacity crowd of over 350 people from the general public, including Congresswoman Ms. Donna Edwards and GSFC summer interns [Figure 4 and 5]. They also discussed he SAM instrument with several TV and radio stations for their MSL landing news coverage.

Congresswoman Donna Edwards (first one seated in front row) with capacity crowd at MSL/Curiosity Landing Event at GSFC Visitor Center.

GSFC summer college interns at the MSL/Curiosity Landing Event at GSFC Visitor Center

3.5 Laboratory Tours

Jason Dworkin and Jamie Elsila gave regular monthly tours of the Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory to visitors, including White House staff members and interns, teachers in professional training workshop, and the reporter/author Marc Kaufman.

In the week of July 23, 2012, Reggie Hudson, Mark Loeffler, and Perry Gerakines hosted visits to the Cosmic Ice Laboratory by scientists from the Centre de Recherche sur les Ions (France), Pontifícia Universidade Católica (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), the Netherlands and Greece, in addition to three hundred International Chemistry Olympiad students.