Nathalie Cabrol

Nathalie Cabrol
Senior Research Scientist
Ph-D in Planetary Geology/Earth Sciences
Curriculum Vitae: 
Planetary Sciences, Astrobiology
A passion for exploration

Major Awards

[2009]: New zooplankton species from the Licancabur Lake named after Cabrol: Scutiglypha cabrolae [2008]: NASA Group Achievement Award for the Mars Exploration Rover 3rd and 4th extended mission.[2007]: Wings WorldQuest Fellow.[2005]: NASA Ames Honor Award for Excellence as Contractor Employee. [2005]: NASA Group Achievement Award for the Mars Exploration Rover extended mission Science/Science Support Team. [2005]: Women of Discovery: Air and Space Award. (Wings WorldQuest), ]: Elected Carey Fellow. [2004]: NASA Group Achievement Award for the Mars Exploration Rover Science Support Team; [2004]: NASA Group Achievement Award for the Mars Exploration Rover Science Operations Team. [2004]: ASIP certificate of appreciation for outstanding mentorship for the Athena Internship Student Program, MER mission. [2000]: Gold Medal, International Water and Science Award (Sponsored by Unesco/European Parliament). [2000]: 18th Digital Avionics Systems Conference: Best Paper of Session Award (Results of the First Astronaut-Rover (ASRO) Interaction Field Experiment and Recommendations for Future Planetary Surface Exploration.[1999]: NASA Ames Research Center Space Science Division Outstanding Achievements Award.[1999]: NASA-JSC Group Achievement Award for the ASRO Project. [1999]: NASA Ames-IMG Outstanding Achievement Award for the ASRO Field Experiment. [1997]: Silver Medal of the French Société d’Encouragement au Progrès for Scientific Research. [1997]: CMU Award for the Lead of the Science Experiment of the Nomad Rover Field Test. [1996]: Bronze Medal of the Ecole des Mines of Douai (France) for education and public outreach activity.[1994]: Medal of the City of Triel (France) for educational and public outreach at the Observatory of Triel. [1992]: Silver medal of the Observatory of Triel (France) for research work.


    Exploration, whatever its focus, is limitless, multi-facetted, and exquisitely complex. The understanding of how and why planets evolve, whether they could have hosted habitats for life, how climate change impacts their habitability - and for Earth, its biodiversity - are questions that need to be addressed through a synergetic approach by looking at many different and complementary angles simultaneously. Nathalie’s vision of exploration reflects this philosophy. Exploration takes Nathalie from Mars to the summit of the highest volcanoes in the Andes, to the bottom of lakes, and to the most arid deserts in the world. She bridges planets by deciphering their past from the present and their present from their past, and builds a vision of their future.

Nathalie is a planetary scientist, an explorer, and a leader of research projects in astrobiology and extreme terrestrial environments, planetary missions and robotics. She is a science team member of the NASA Mars Exploration Rover mission and was the main advocate for the selection of the Gusev crater as the landing site for the Spirit rover on Mars. She is the Principal Investigator (PI) and the expedition leader of the High Lakes Project, a NASA Astrobiology Institute-funded project exploring the highest volcanic lakes on Earth at close to 6,000 m elevation (20,000 ft). Their exploration includes extreme scientific scuba and free diving and has brought new insights into poorly known ecosystems. With her team, Nathalie documents life adaptation to extreme environmental conditions and the effect of rapid climate change on habitability whether here and now on Earth, or in the past on early Mars. She also develops and field test exploration strategies for rover field experiments. She was the science lead of the NASA-funded Nomad rover (1997) and Life in the Atacama projects (2003-2006).

Currently, she is the PI of the Planetary Lake Lander project that will develop an adaptive probe as well as exploration strategies to explore the lakes of Titan, while monitoring the impact of deglaciation on terrestrial lake habitat and biodiversity in the Chilean Andes. In turn, results from this investigation are expected to provide insights into habitability and life potential on Mars during similar geological periods when glaciers were still present at the surface. She is the Science PI for the Subsurface Life in the Atacama project, (PI, David Wettergreen CMU), which will deploy a rover-mounted drill in the Atacama desert to characterize subsurface life in a Mars analog environment. Both projects are supported by the NASA ASTEP program (2011-2014).

Nathalie counts over 309 publications and professional communications. She authored three books and several chapters of books and is the co-editor with Dr. Edmond Grin of Lakes on Mars (2010, Elsevier). Her work is being cited by the medias, whether TV, radio, web, and printed press (e.g., Discovery Channel, NOVA, BBC, National Geographic, Popular Science, New, New Einsteins) as well as in books (The Martian Race, Gregory Bendford, Warner Books; Almost Human: Making Robots Think, Lee Gutkind, Norton & Company, Inc; Are We Alone? Gloria Skurzynski, National Geographic Society; Mapping Mars: Science, Imagination, and the Birth of a World, Macmillan). Education and Public Outreach has a central place in her work whether in the field, in the lab., or through visits to schools. All of her projects involve a large E/PO components. She is also listed on professional speakers bureaus and has given over 400 public conferences since 1986 on the subjects of planetary sciences and exploration, and astrobiology.




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Exploring Planetary Habitability and Life

Our overarching goal is to continue to foster a new vision of planetary exploration for NASA by developing new science exploration strategies and tools that will increase the science return of future missions, and support the science of ongoing and upcoming missions.

Exploration of Planets Past, Present, and Future Habitability

With this task, we pursue our research in sedimentology related to the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission (mission data and terrestrial analogs), which has now entered its third extended mission and the interpretation of orbital imagery focusing on the basin deposits of the martian highlands. Our objective is to characterize and map potential life habitats from the ground and orbit.

Exploration of Planets Past, Present, and Future Habitability

Planetary habitability is the measure of a planet's (or a satellite’s) potential to develop and sustain life. While life beyond the Earth is still uncertain, planetary missions show that conditions for habitability (i.e. water, energy, nutrients) were met in the past, and still possibly today in specific environments on Mars and on several moons of the outer solar system. Central to our investigation is the notion that habitability evolves with time. For instance, some planets could have been habitable in the past and may not be anymore; the Earth, that is not only habitable but has developed life, has seen its broad range of habitats change over geological times through climate cycles and planetary-scale catastrophes (e.g., asteroid and comet impacts) that were followed sometimes by near complete extinctions and the redistribution of habitats and dominant species. Currently, Global Warming is showing how rapidly habitats and species can disappear following climate change. Yet, humanity’s ability to explore and understand its environment can have positive consequences, which is in the case of our planet, to reduce human-induced biodiversity loss, and for other planets, to explore and engineer apparently sterile worlds (e.g., the Moon and Mars) to make them habitable and productive for future generations.