1. NAI Newsletter 2014-12-23

    December 23, 2014 Issue






    Workshop on the Potential for Finding Life in a Europa Plume

    Artist’s conception of water vapor plume erupting from the icy surface of Europa, a moon of Jupiter, based on data from the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA/ESA/K. Retherford/SWRI Artist’s conception of water vapor plume erupting from the icy surface of Europa, a moon of Jupiter, based on data from the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA/ESA/K. Retherford/SWRI

    SAVE THE DATE: Wednesday, February 18, 2015

    The NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) and the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) will co-host the Workshop on the Potential for Finding Life in a Europa Plume at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California.

    Current Europa missions under study by NASA are focused on answering the question, “Is Europa habitable?”. However, the potential presence of water plumes on the satellite could present an opportunity to pursue the question “Is there life on Europa?” Answering this question is far more challenging because measurements currently possible may provide only ambiguous results from a mission that either orbits or flies by Europa at relatively high velocity. To that end, NASA’s Planetary Science Division is convening a workshop to consider strategies to investigate Europa’s putative plumes for evidence of life.

    A second announcement with further details and abstract submission instructions will be forthcoming, by early January 2015. Although participation in person is encouraged, provision will be made for remote participation. The workshop will be followed on Feb. 19-20 by a meeting of the Outer Planets Assessment Group that will also be held at the Ames Research Center.

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    Opportunity for Early Career Scientists to Participate in a Field Trip to the Key Astrobiology Sites of Australia

    The NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) is accepting applications from early career astrobiologists (graduate students, postdoctoral fellows or others within 5 years of their Ph.D.) to participate in an 11-day trip to astrobiology-relevant field sites in Western Australia. Included will be the extant stromatolites of Shark Bay, the 2.5 Ga banded iron formations and an associated iron ore mine of the Hamersley Basin, the putatively cyanobacterial stromatolites of the 2.7 Ga Fortescue Group, and the 3.35-3.49 Ga fossiliferous and other units of the Pilbara Craton with what is arguably the oldest convincing evidence of life on Earth.

    The expedition, from July 15 to July 25, 2015, will be led by Professor Malcolm Walter of the University of New South Wales, the founding director of the Australian Centre for Astrobiology (ACA). The trip is designed for scientists interested in the earliest life on Earth and early Earth environments. Additional information is available at http://aca.unsw.edu.au/

    The NAI will provide partial support of $5000 each, for up to three individuals, for fieldtrip expenses. Selected individuals will then be responsible for the remainder of the expenses: airfare, visa fees, ground transportation to/from airports, etc.

    Applicants should provide:
    —a short description of how participation in this trip will contribute to your research or training in astrobiology
    —a letter of support from your advisor/principal investigator

    Applications are due by January 19, 2015 to Dr. Melissa Kirven-Brooks, Staff Scientist at the NAI, melissa.kirven-brooks@nasa.gov.

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    Summer course “Life on Earth and Beyond – The History and Philosophy of the Origin of Life”

    Application Deadline: January 15, 2015, 23:59:00 UTC

    The course will take place May 4-6, 2015 on Ven Island, Sweden. The aim of the course is to give participants a thorough overview of the historical, philosophical and ethical questions arising in this field. It is co-organized by the Nordic Network of Astrobiology and the EU COST Action “Origins and Evolution of Life on Earth and in the Universe”. The course is open for students and scientists in humanities, natural, social and political sciences. It will, amongst others deal with the following themes:

    —Definition of life in a historical and philosophical context

    —Biochemical evolution

    —The tree of biological evolution

    —Search for life outside Earth

    —Philosophical, ethical and political questions arising with the quest for life on other celestial bodies

    Many highly merited researchers have agreed to teach at the course. Visit the website for all details: http://www.nordicastrobiology.net/Ven2015/

    Travel assistance for students and early career scientists (up to 8 years after their Ph. D.) from most European countries (see homepage for details) are available.

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    Release of Discovery 2014 Announcement of Opportunity

    On November 5, 2014, NASA SMD released the Discovery 2014 Announcement of Opportunity (NNH14ZDA014O). The full text of the AO and all appendices are available electronically at http://nspires.nasaprs.com/.

    Proposals are due February 16, 2015.

    NASA expects to select approximately three Discovery missions for Phase A studies and downselect to at least one to proceed into Phase B and subsequent mission phases. Comments and questions may be addressed in writing or by E-mail to: Dr. Michael H. New, Discovery Program Lead Scientist, Planetary Science Division, Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC 20546-0001; E‑mail: michael.h.new@nasa.gov (subject line to read “Discovery 2014 AO”); Phone: 202‑358‑1766; FAX: 202‑358-‑3097.

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    ROSES-14 Amendment 44: Release of a new call: C.21, Small, Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEx)

    The Small, Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEx) call supports the formulation and development of science investigations that require a spaceflight mission that can be accomplished using small spacecraft. All proposed investigations must be responsive to the goals of the Planetary Science Division as described in the 2014 Science Mission Directorate Science Plan available at “http://science1.nasa.gov/about‑us/science‑strategy/”:http://science1.nasa.gov/about‑us/science‑strategy/. Proposed investigations may target any body in the Solar System except for the Earth and Sun, in order to advance the objectives outlined in the Science Plan. Investigations of extra‑solar planets are not solicited in this NRA.

    Proposals to this program will be taken by a two-step process in which the Notice of Intent is replaced by a mandatory Step-1 proposal that must be submitted by an Authorized Organizational Representative. Only proposers who submit a Step-1 proposal will be eligible to submit a Step-2 (full) proposal.

    Step-1 proposals are due January 13, 2015, and Step-2 proposals are due March 13, 2015.

    On December 10, 2014, this Amendment (NNH14ZDA001N) was posted on the NASA research opportunity homepage at http://nspires.nasaprs.com/.

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    A Study in Nonfunctional RNA

    An artist's rendering of a Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) molecule.

 Credit: Nicolle Rager Fuller, National Science Foundation An artist's rendering of a Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) molecule.

 Credit: Nicolle Rager Fuller, National Science Foundation

    By comparing nonfunctional and functional RNA, scientists have uncovered new details about the potential chemical evolution of one of life’s essential molecules. The study could provide new insight into RNA’s role in the origins of life on Earth.

    The study, “RNA as an Emergent Entity: An Understanding Gained Through Studying its Nonfunctional Alternatives,” was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the NASA Astrobiology Program under the NSF/NASA Center for Chemical Evolution.

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    M-Dwarf Planets With Oxygen in Their Atmospheres?

    This artist's concept illustrates a young, red dwarf star surrounded by three planets. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-CalTech This artist's concept illustrates a young, red dwarf star surrounded by three planets. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-CalTech

    NAI astrobiologists from the Virtual Planetary Laboratory at the University of Washington, graduate student Rodrigo Luger and professor Rory Barnes, have shown that many terrestrial planets in the habitable zones of low mass (M dwarf) stars could have experienced extreme stellar heating for up to 1 billion years after planet formation. This could lead to oceanic evaporation and atmospheric oxygenation. The study has been accepted for publication in Astrobiology.

    Read more

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    Astrobiology Acupuncture

    Scientists have programmed a robotic arm to poke the sample with an acupuncture needle. Credit: GA Tech Scientists have programmed a robotic arm to poke the sample with an acupuncture needle. Credit: GA Tech

    Source: [astrobio.net]

    Researchers have turned to acupuncture in order to study samples from rough and uneven surfaces, such as rocks and meteorites. Using the technique, scientists have developed a robotic system that can collect samples from these non-planar surfaces.

    The system uses a 3-D camera mounted on a robotic arm to map the irregular surface of an object. Then an acupuncture needle pokes and probes a tiny spot selected by the scientists. A minuscule amount of material is collected at the tip of the needle and is carried by the robotic arm to a mass spectrometer.

    The work was supported by the Center for Chemical Evolution, a joint program from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NASA Astrobiology Program. Initial funding came from a NSF Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) Program: Instrument Development Program grant.

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    A Spark in Rapidly Freezing Saltwater

    Current apparatus being used for freeze-up experiments. Credit: Johnson et al. 2014 Current apparatus being used for freeze-up experiments. Credit: Johnson et al. 2014

    Source: [astrobio.net]

    Scientists have confirmed the existence of a process that causes the electrolysis of water, and which has the potential to drive the production of life in 'Snowball Earth’ scenarios and on icy satellites such as Europa and Enceladus.

    The process, known as the Workman-Reynolds Effect (WRE), occurs when a dilute aqueous solution of salt rapidly freezes, causing ions in the solution to assume a negative or positive charge at the interface between ice and water.

    The research was supported by the Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology element of the NASA Astrobiology Program.

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    Lack of Oxygen Delayed the Rise of Animals on Earth

    Chris Reinhard and Noah Planavsky conduct research for the study. Credit: Yale University Chris Reinhard and Noah Planavsky conduct research for the study. Credit: Yale University

    New research could explain why it took around a billion years for animal species to flourish on Earth after oxygen levels in the atmosphere began to increase.

    Animal life on Earth boomed around 800 million years ago at the end of the Proterozoic period, but scientists have long believed that there was sufficient oxygen in the atmosphere for this increase in animal diversity to occur much earlier. However, new findings published in the journal Science show that oxygen levels were only 0.1% of those we see today. The researchers theorize that oxygen levels were too low to support diverse species, and this delayed the rise of animals.

    The study was supported in part by the Exobiology & Evolutionary Biology element of NASA’s Astrobiology Program.

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    Titan Glowing at Dusk and Dawn

    High in the atmosphere of Titan, large patches of two trace gases glow near the north pole, on the dusk side of the moon, and near the south pole, on the dawn side. Brighter colors indicate stronger s High in the atmosphere of Titan, large patches of two trace gases glow near the north pole, on the dusk side of the moon, and near the south pole, on the dawn side. Brighter colors indicate stronger signals from the two gases, HNC (left) and HC3N (right); red hues indicate less pronounced signals. Image Credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF

    New maps of Saturn’s moon Titan reveal large patches of trace gases shining brightly near the north and south poles. These regions are curiously shifted off the poles, to the east or west, so that dawn is breaking over the southern region while dusk is falling over the northern one.

    The pair of patches was spotted by a NASA-led international team of researchers investigating the chemical make-up of Titan’s atmosphere.

    Titan’s atmosphere has long been of interest because it acts as a chemical factory, using energy from the sun and Saturn’s magnetic field to produce a wide range of organic, or carbon-based, molecules. Studying this complex chemistry may provide insights into the properties of Earth’s very early atmosphere, which may have shared many chemical characteristics with present-day Titan.

    The work was supported in part by NASA’s Astrobiology Program through a grant to the Goddard Center for Astrobiology, a part of the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

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    Research Associate Position at the Institute for Pale Blue Dots, Cornell University: Extrasolar Planet Characterization

    The Exoplanet team at Cornell University is seeking several Research Associate scholars to work on characterization of rocky exoplanets, from interior models, over Habitable Zone calculations in 1D and 3D, Mini to Super-Earth atmosphere with Earth-like and non-Earth like atmosphere composition models and the effect of life and extremophiles on the planet’s atmosphere. These positions are part of the new Institute for Pale Blue Dots at Cornell University. The successful candidates will work primarily with Professor Lisa Kaltenegger, Founding Director of the Institute, TESS Science Co-I, and NIRISS Science team member. There is considerable latitude in the science program that can be pursued.

    The position is for one year, with continuation for two more year contingent upon funding and performance. The nominal starting date is mid 2015 and is negotiable.

    Applicants should submit a CV (including list of publications) and a brief (1-3 page) description of research interests, and a research proposal (1-3 pages) all in a single pdf file, to Ms. Lynda Sovocool at lmk3@cornell.edu. (Please note “Exoplanet Research Associate” in the subject heading.) They should also arrange for three letters of recommendation to be sent to the same email address (Please note the applicant’s name in the subject heading). All materials should be received by December 30, 2014. Late applications will be accepted until the positions are filled.

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    Postdoctoral Opportunity in Mars Sample Science/Astrobiology at JPL

    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is looking to hire an early to mid career scientist in the Planetary Chemistry and Astrobiology Group. The candidate would be responsible for performing scientific research within the area of Mars sample science and astrobiology. For a complete description and application instructions, click here

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    Postdoctoral Fellowship Opportunity in Lunar & Asteroid Exploration Science – Petrology and Geochemistry

    There is no firm application deadline, although a review of applications will begin January 7, 2015

    The Universities Space Research Association’s Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI), invites applications for a postdoctoral fellowship in lunar and asteroid exploration science for a full-time exempt position in the Houston, Texas area. The successful candidate will join Dr. David A. Kring and over two dozen other scientists in the Center for Lunar Science and Exploration, which is one of nine national centers of excellence supported by NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute. The main goals of the Center’s activities are to address NASA’s highest lunar and asteroid exploration science objectives, including activities in preparation of robotic and crewed landings.

    Applications from those with recent Ph.D.s in the fields of petrology and geochemistry are encouraged to apply. The successful candidate will work at LPI and use the analytical facilities at the adjacent NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC). Previous experience with lunar samples, chondritic meteorites, and/or impact lithologies will be advantageous, but is not required.

    Interested applicants should apply to the posting at https://usracareers.silkroad.com/ and must submit a curriculum vita with list of publications, a two to three page statement of research interests, and a list of three references.

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    2015 Masters Opportunities at Luleå University of Technology (LTU) in Scandinavia

    Application Deadlines: January 15, 2015

    Luleå University of Technology is a global university, attracting students and researchers from all corners of the world. In 2015, LTU is offering two Masters programs of interest.

    Earths Atmosphere and the Solar System
    Research on the Earth atmosphere and the solar system is an exciting and relevant topic. During the program’s first year, you will gain knowledge of the physical processes in the Earth’s atmosphere and the Solar System and methods to observe these. During the second year you will deepen your knowledge through courses and by participating in various space projects. Your master thesis work will be performed at a space technology company, space organization, or an academic department in Kiruna or another part of the world. The lectures are given in English.

    Spacecraft Design
    A space research environment, unique for Europe, has been established in Kiruna. Here you find the Swedish Institute for Space Physics. The Institute builds satellite instruments for distant travel to other planets and celestial bodies. Sounding rockets and stratospheric balloons are launched from Esrange. Collaboration with these agents gives you the opportunity to evaluate satellite instruments with balloon flights to the stratosphere, shaking tests, and tests in vacuum chamber. Guest speakers from the aerospace industry and academia are also a common feature. The lectures are in English.

    Most of the Master programs are free to EU (European) students.

    Graduate Student Positions Exploring Major Evolutionary Transitions – NAI at the University of Montana (Admitting for Fall 2015)

    Graduate Admissions Deadline: January 15, 2015

    Project Descriptions:
    Evolution of complexity via multicellularity and cell differentiation in the green alga Chlamydomonas
    PI Matt Herron; matthew.herron@mso.umt.edu
    How and why organismal complexity increases are central questions in evolutionary biology. Although the vast majority of life forms remain simple, both the maximum and the average levels of complexity have increased from the origin of life to the present day. Large increases in organismal complexity resulted from a series of events in which existing individuals combined to become parts of a new kind of individual with components specialized for various roles. Such events are known as major transitions and include the emergence of cellular life from groups of interacting molecular replicators, of eukaryotes from two prokaryotes, of multicellular organisms from unicells, and of eusocial “superorganisms” from individual animals. Among such transitions, the evolution of multicellular organisms from single-celled ancestors set the stage for unprecedented increases in complexity, especially in land plants and animals. We have used the unicellular green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii to experimentally generate de novo origins of simple (undifferentiated) multicellularity in two separate experiments. Using these newly-evolved, multicellular Chlamydomonas, we plan to ascertain the genetic bases underlying the evolution of multicellularity, evaluate the role of genetic assimilation in the evolution of multicellularity, and observe the evolution of multicellular development in real time.

    An experimental model for eukaryogenesis: Co-evolution of Escherichia coli and its parasite Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus
    PI Margie Kinnersley; Margie.Kinnersley@mso.umt.edu
    Among the major evolutionary transitions, perhaps the most crucial to understanding extant biodiversity is the transition from prokaryote to eukaryote (eukaryogenesis). Because the timing of eukaryogenesis coincides with the phylogenetic origin of the mitochondrion, it has been hypothesized that acquisition of this organelle heralded the prokaryote-eukaryote transition and preceded the rapid diversification referred to as the eukaryotic big bang. By selecting for metabolic interdependence between the intracellular prokaryotic predator Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus and its host, an acetate-excreting strain of Escherichia coli, we plan to establish a simple, straightforward model for mitochodrial acquisition based on the “parasitism hypothesis” of mitochondriogenesis. This co-evolving system will be used to test hypotheses concerning ecological prerequisites for, early molecular events in, and evolutionary consequences of incipient endosymbiosis based on metabolic niche partitioning and energy generation, exactly the features that define the mitochondrion’s role in eukaryotic systems. Understanding these aspects of symbiogenesis is essential for truly understanding the prokaryotic/eukaryotic transition and thus is applicable to the study of myriad aspects of cellular and organismal diversity.

    The University of Montana
    UM is located in Missoula, MT, a college town in the heart of the Northern Rocky Mountains with a high quality of life. Missoula has excellent opportunities for outdoor recreation, an active music scene, a strong biking culture, numerous restaurants and breweries, and was listed among Outside Magazine’s “Best Towns” in 2011 and 2013.

    Application Process:
    Interested students should contact the PIs listed above with a CV (including research experience and outcomes, as well as a description of relevant coursework) and a short description of their research interests. Selected candidates will also need to apply for graduate admission to the University of Montana Cellular, Molecular and Microbial Biology or Organismal Biology and Ecology Program.

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    2015-16 Academic Year in Residence Opportunity with the Princeton Center of Theological Inquiry (CTI) on the Social Implications of Astrobiology

    Application Deadline: January 31, 2015

    Each year, the Center of Theological Inquiry welcomes a residential community of scholars who pursue fundamental questions of global concern. With support from the NASA Astrobiology Program, CTI fellows in residence in 2015-16 will join one another and leading scientists, in engaging with the societal implications of astrobiology. Many disciplines and diverse individual research projects are relevant to understanding the science of life and how it becomes part of daily experience and shapes the human future.

    Proposals from scholars in theology, religious studies, humanities, the arts, and social sciences who see the connections between their own research and the science of astrobiology are all welcome. The key requirements are a record of scholarly achievement, an original research proposal of high quality, and a commitment to the collaborative research community and sustained interdisciplinary discussion that daily work in the Center’s facilities makes possible.

    For all information regarding the position and the application details, visit: http://ctinquiry.org/apply

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    NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship (NESSF) Program Opportunity

    Deadline for NEW applications is February 2, 2015, and the deadline for RENEWAL applications is March 16, 2015

    NASA announces a call for graduate fellowship proposals to the NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship (NESSF) program for the 2015-2016 academic year. This call for fellowship proposals solicits applications from accredited U.S. universities on behalf of individuals pursuing Master of Science (M.Sc.) or Doctoral (Ph.D.) degrees in Earth and space sciences, or related disciplines. The purpose of NESSF is to ensure continued training of a highly qualified workforce in disciplines needed to achieve NASA’s scientific goals. Awards resulting from the competitive selection will be made in the form of training grants to the respective universities.

    The NESSF call for proposals and submission instructions are located at the NESSF 15 solicitation index page at: http://nspires.nasaprs.com/
    Click on “Solicitations” then click on “Open Solicitations” then select the “NESSF 15” announcement. Also refer to “Proposal Submission Instructions” and “Frequently Asked Questions” listed under “Other Documents” on the NESSF 15 solicitation index page.

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    Johannes Geiss Fellowship – International Space Science Institute (ISSI) Call for Proposals

    Submission Deadline: March 2, 2015

    The Johannes Geiss Fellowship (JGF) seeks to attract – for limited duration visits – international scientists of stature, who can make demonstrable contributions to the International Space Science Institute (ISSI) mission. JGF will offer a stipend, pay travel and living expenses for a stay at ISSI of 1 – 6 months, possibly in several separate intervals, to coincide with time availability on the university’s academic calendars. In return for the stipend, the JGF recipient would be expected to participate in the work of ISSI, be available to collaborate with academic and research institutes in Switzerland and neighboring countries, and possibly give public lectures.

    To find out more about this opportunity, click here

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    Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of Montana, Division of Biological Sciences

    Application Deadline: February 1, 2015

    A postdoctoral position is available with Dr. Matthew Herron in the NASA Astrobiology Institute at the University of Montana. Our group uses experimental evolution to explore fundamental questions in the evolution of multicellular development. Applicants should have a Ph.D. in biology or a related field and a track record of high-quality publications. Additional desirable qualifications include experience with experimental microbial evolution, molecular biology and next-generation data analysis, and the model green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii.

    For the full description and application instructions, click here

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    Jan 3-4 – Exoplanet Exploration Program Analysis Group (ExoPAG) Meeting https://exep.jpl.nasa.gov/exopag/exopag11/

    Jan 5 – Abstract Submission Deadline for Comparative Tectonics and Geodynamics of Venus, Earth, and Rocky Exoplanets http://www.hou.usra.edu/meetings/geodyn2015/

    Jan 6 – Abstract Submission Deadline for 46th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference http://www.hou.usra.edu/meetings/lpsc2015/

    Jan 6 – 12th Meeting of NASA Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG) http://www.lpi.usra.edu/sbag/

    Jan 7 – Abstract Submission Deadline for European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2015 http://www.egu2015.eu/home.html

    Jan 9 – Application Deadline for 2015 LPI Summer Intern Program in Planetary Science http://www.lpi.usra.edu/lpiintern/

    Jan 15 – Abstract Submission Deadline for Star and Planet Formation in the Southwest https://lavinia.as.arizona.edu/~kkratter/SPF1/Home.html

    Jan 22 – Abstract Submission Deadline for Workshop on Venus Science Priorities for Laboratory Measurements and Instrument Definition http://www.hou.usra.edu/meetings/venustech2015/

    Jan 31 – Proposal Deadline for 2014 NASA EONS Solicitation New Appendix http://nspires.nasaprs.com/external/

    Feb 2 – Application Deadline for NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship (NESSF) Program Opportunity http://nspires.nasaprs.com/external/

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