David Morrison

David Morrison

Dr. David Morrison is the Director of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe, at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. He is Past Director of the NASA Lunar Science Institute (NLSI) and a senior scientist in Astrobiology at NASA Ames Research Center. Prior to this position, he served at NASA Ames as Director of Space and as the Chief of the Space Science Division, leading one of the premier science organizations at NASA consisting of space scientists undertaking basic research in astronomy, planetary science, and exobiology. He received his Ph.D. in Astronomy from Harvard University in 1969 and has published more than 160 technical papers and a dozen books.

Dr. Morrison received the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal for his work dealing with the hazard of asteroid and comet impacts, and another NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal for his contributions to the Galileo Jupiter mission as its first Program Scientist. He was awarded the Dryden medal of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics for astrobiology research. He also received the Klumpke-Roberts award of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific for contributions of science education and the Carl Sagan medal of the American Astronomical Society for communicating science to the public. In 2010 he was named by the Civil Service system to the Presidential Rank of Meritorious Senior Professional. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the California Academy of Science. Asteroid 2410 Morrison is named in his honor.

Morrison is one of the founders of the multidisciplinary field of astrobiology. Astrobiologists today are primarily studying the history of microbial life on Earth and extremes of habitability. These studies are extended to analysis of the potential habitability of other planets, leading toward future efforts to detect the presence of life on other worlds, within our solar system or as part of distant planetary systems.

Morrison has also studied the process of mass extinctions, and in particular the asteroid impact in the Caribbean that caused the end-Cretaceous mass extinction 65 million years ago. He has been a leader for two decades in defining the asteroid impact hazard and devising ways to protect our planet [http://impact.arc.nasa.gov/]. NASA’s Spaceguard Survey has already shown that there is no “dinosaur killer” projectile to threaten us, and has also very nearly eliminated the risk of global ecological damage by impacts from mile-wide or larger asteroids. The next challenge is to survey the smaller asteroids and plan how to deal with impacts that might happen with very little warning.

Morrison is a passionate advocate for science education, and he is the author of several college textbooks on astronomy and planetary science. He has written extensively about the struggle against pseudoscience, such as the denial of evolution. He is the most outspoken scientist exposing the hoax of doomsday 2012, and has answered more than 1000 questions from the public, many of whom are frightened that the world is about to end [http://astrobiology.nasa.gov/ask-an-astrobiologist/intro/nibiru-and-doomsday-2012-questions-and-answers]. He is a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and a supporter of the National Center for Science Education.

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