Nathalie Cabrol

Nathalie Cabrol
Senior Research Scientist and Director of the Carl Sagan Center
Ph-D in Planetary Geology/Earth Sciences
Curriculum Vitae: 
Planetary Sciences, Astrobiology
A passion for exploration

Major Awards


NASA Group Achievement Award – Planetary Lake Lander Project Team, (2014); NASA Group Achievement Award – Mars Exploration Rover Science and Operations Team. Citation: For ten years of sustained exploration and scientific discovery on the surface of Mars with the Mars Exploration Rovers (2014); NASA Group Achievement Award – ARC Family 2013 (2014). American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Haley Space Flight Award for the Mars Exploration Rover Development and Operations Team (2012). New zooplankton species from the Licancabur summit lake (5,914 m asl) named after Cabrol: Scutiglypha cabrolae (2009); NASA Group Achievement Award for the MER  3rd and 4th extended mission (2008); NASA Ames Honor Award for Excellence as Contractor Employee (2005); NASA Group Achievement Award : MER extended mission Science/Science Support Team (2005); NASA Group Achievement Award for the MER Science Support Team (2004); NASA Group Achievement Award for the MER Science Operations Team (2004); Earth and Space Foundation First Exploration Award to the Mars Exploration Rover Team (2004); Gold Medal, International Water and Science Award (Unesco/European Parliament) (2000); NASA Ames Research Center Space Science Division Outstanding Achievements Award (1999); NASA-JSC Group Achievement Award for the Astronaut/Rover (ASRO) Project (1999); NASA Ames-IMG Outstanding Achievement Award for the ASRO Field Experiment (1999); Medal of the French Société d’Encouragement au Progrès for Scientific Research (1997); Medal of the Observatory of Triel (France) for PhD thesis research (1992).


Women Leadership:

International Women Leadership Association Award (2012); Wings WorldQuest Elected Carey Fellow (2007); Women of Discovery: Air and Space Award, Wings WorldQuest, (2005)


       Recent Honors (2005 - Present):

TED Conference 2015, invited speaker, Vancouver (2015); Keynote Speaker (2013) – First Astrobiology Conference, Universidad Andres Bello, Santiago (Chile) October 8-12, 2013: Lecture title: Pathways to Planetary Exploration; Keynote Speaker, (2013) – Conferencia International, Santiago (Chile), April 2013: Lecture title: From the Andes to Kepler – A Decade of Revolution in the Search for Life Beyond Earth; Session Chair, AGU Fall session (2012): Rapid Environmental Change and the Fate of Planetary Habitability (I, II, III); Invited speaker, AGU Fall session (2010); Invited speaker, 32nd, Microbiology Symposium, Antofagasta, Chile (2010); Session Chair and Invited speaker, SPIE Conference (2010): Instruments, Methods, and Mission for Astrobiology Session; Invited speaker, SPIE Conference, San Diego (2007); Science Organizing Committee, 41st Lunar and Planetary Science Conference; Science Panel, NASA Summer University, NASA Ames (2009); Invited speaker, NASA Ames Director’s  Colloquium Series (2007); Invited speaker, NASA Risk and Exploration Symposium, Monterey, CA (2005).

Invited speaker (Colloquium Series), NASA Goddard Flight Center (2005).




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 has been a Principal Investigator (PI) at the SETI Institute since 1998. She leads projects in planetary science and astrobiology, develops science exploration strategies for Mars, Titan, and the Outer Solar System icy moons, and designs robotic field experiments. She explores high altitude lakes in the Andes where environmental conditions are analogous to early Mars. With her team, she documents life’s adaptation to extreme environments, the effect of rapid climate change on lake ecosystems and habitats, its geobiological signatures, and relevance to planetary exploration.

Nathalie was the spokesperson for the selection of Gusev crater as the landing site for the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission Spirit rover and is a member of the MER science team since 2002. She was the Science PI of the NASA Nomad rover field experiment (1997), and other NASA ASTEP-funded science and technology projects including Life in the Atacama (2003-2006) and Subsurface Life in the Atacama (2011-2015). She is the PI of the NASA ASTEP Planetary Lake Lander project (2011-2015) that explores the impact of ice loss on planetary lakes using technology developed for the exploration of Titan. Since January 2015, she is the PI of the SETI Institute NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) team that seeks to understand the impact of rapid environmental change on habitability and biosignature potential on Mars. She counts over 340 peer-reviewed publications and proceedings of professional conferences. She is the author of 3 books, and 7 chapters of books on the subject of planetary science and exploration, astrobiology, and terrestrial extreme environments.

Nathalie's work is featured in the US and international media (e.g., Discovery Channel, NOVA, M6, BBC, National Geographic, Scientific American, Popular Science, New, New Einsteins, TED,, other) and in popular books (e.g., 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).

Nathalie is the recipient of NASA and other research awards. She was elected Carey Fellow in 2007, Women of Discovery (Air and Space) Wings Worldquest Fellow (2005), and received the International Women Leadership Association Award in 2012. Education and Public Outreach (E/PO) has a central place in her work. She mentors students in the field and in the lab., and meets with them in schools. All of her projects involve a large E/PO component. To date, she has given over 400 public lectures on the subjects of planetary science, exploration, and astrobiology. 

Technical Description of work: 

Planetary geology, physical environment and climate, and evolution of planetary habitability. Exploration of extreme environments (e.g., high altitude volcanoes and mountains, lakes, deserts. Deployment of environmental and geophysical stations. Geology, geomorphology, mapping, robotic field experiments.

« Back to Our Scientists | Douglas Caldwell »

Planetary Lake Lander

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.

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.