luther beegleDr. Luther Beegle

Dr. Luther Beegle is the group supervisor for the Planetary Chemistry and Astrobiology Group. He is an experimental astrophysicist by training and is currently researching the potential distribution of life in the Solar System, including methodologies for identifying biosignatures. Dr. Beegle has extensive experience developing and designing instrumentation such as organic molecule extract techniques, charged particle optics, ion mobility spectrometers, and cylindrical ion trap mass spectrometers for space and terrestrial applications. Part of his astrobiology-related interest is how robotic sample acquisition techniques physically and chemically alter the components of samples on current and future in situ missions. Dr. Beegle is currently a Surface Sampling Scientist on the Mars Science Laboratory, where he works with the science team to identify suitable high valued scientific samples that will not damage the Sample Acquisition, Sample Processing and Handling (SA/SPAaH) on the MSL rover.

Description: Jennifer BlankDr. Jennifer Blank

Jennifer is a geochemist who likes to study life that walks on the wild side. Testing the extremes of biochemistry is more than just setting records, however. Since most of the worlds beyond Earth sport conditions that are far less friendly than those of our own, it may be that the vast majority of all life is, in fact, of the extreme variety. By heating and squeezing molecules in fluids, Jennifer has learned that some fluid-based organic molecules that would simply disintegrate when heated in a laboratory beaker maintain their structure when the fluid is under pressure. This could clearly be an encouraging finding for those who hope to find, for example, life near a hot vent at the bottom of a deep, alien ocean.

She’s also learned that if you apply sudden pressure (and concomitant heat) to organic molecules, some will survive, and others will often reassemble, or polymerize, into yet more interesting biologically relevant compounds. Imagine amino acids formed in the icy interior of a comet that later smashes into a planet. Some of the amino acids will survive the impact, and others will polymerize into peptides, which is also a biologically important compound. It seems that life’s precursors don’t mind getting smashed.

Description: r bonacorsiDr. Rosalba Bonaccorsi

Dr. Rosalba Bonaccorsi is an interdisciplinary scientist working at NASA Ames Research Center. In 2001 she obtained her Ph.D. in Geological, Marine, and Environmental Sciences from the University of Trieste (Italy). Since 2005 she has expanded her interest to the habitability of mineralogical Mars analogs and very dry desert regions worldwide, including the Mojave, Antarctica, Atacama (Chile), and Australia, often as a NASA Spaceward Bound team member. Rosalba joined the SETI Institute in 2008, and is keen to achieve a wide picture of where life and its signatures are most successfully distributed, concentrated, preserved, and detected. Since 2008, Rosalba has been working in Death Valley on the Ubehebe Volcanic Field. In 2012, Rosalba joined the Volunteer Program as Field Researcher in support of the Resources Management’s conservation effort in Death Valley Natiiona Park. In collaboration with NASA scientists, she is applying results from this research to Mars Science Laboratory mission objectives. Formerly a teacher, she has been involved with Education and Public Outreach with non-profit organizations since 1989.

Julia DeMarines


susanne douglasDr. Susanne Douglas

Dr. Susanne Douglas has a Ph.D. in Geomicrobiology from the University of Guelph in Canada. Her work since then has focused on determining the interrelationships between minerals, microorganisms, and geochemistry in the Earth's extreme environments. She has studied saline alkaline lakes in northern Canada, closed marine basins in the Bahamas, evaporative hot spring pools in Iceland and California, and endolithic microbial communities in various deserts including the Antarctic Dry Valleys. Her main research area at present is Death Valley National Park, where she holds an active research permit and conducts investigations of microbe-mineral interrelationships.

dr. haberleDr. Robert Haberle

Bob Haberle is a Space Scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center. He holds a Ph.D. in atmospheric science from the University of Washington and has been a NASA scientist since 1983. He has been active in the study of planetary atmospheres for his entire career and has participated in many of NASA’s Mars missions. He is currently a Co-Investigator on the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station on the Curiosity Rover.


carrie hearnCarrie Hearn

Park Ranger Carrie Hearn is a permanent National Park Service employee in Death Valley National Park. She holds a bachelor’s degree in archaeology from Cal Poly Pomona in Southern California, and a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction in Multi-Cultural Contexts (CIMC) from Azusa Pacific University. She has interned at Manzanar National Historic Site, where she was sent to work temporarily at the Channel Islands and Devil’s Postpile in California for short stints. She has been working in Death Valley for almost 5 years. She has worked at Scotty’s Castle doing living history tours, environmental education programs for students in and outside of Death Valley, and giving interpretive-based programs at Furnace Creek for the past couple of years. Carrie’s interest and family background in aerospace, science, flight, and science-fiction has drawn her to such field-studies as the extremes of Death Valley as related to Mars. She is currently working with and consistently trying to stay updated with the current NASA research as related to Death Valley National Park and Mars.

Teresa Jiles

Teresa is a Research Associate with Colorado State University's Cooperative Institute for the Research In the Atmosphere (CIRA). Her primary duties with the Night Skies team are night sky quality assessment fieldwork, park lighting projects, education outreach, and volunteer coordination. Teresa has a B.S. in Geology from Arizona State University with additional studies in astronomy and planetary sciences, as well as graduate research work in astrobiology. Prior to the joining the Night Skies team, Teresa's professional experience included working in research teams at NASA Johnson Space Center and The University of Arizona Steward Observatory. Teresa often spends June of each year, for the past 15 years, at The University of Arizona Alumni Association's Astronomy Teen Camps as a senior counselor. Her passion for astronomy education drives her commitment to share and preserve dark night skies for future generations. Teresa will never forget her first trip to Grand Canyon National Park as a freshman on a geology field trip. Standing on the edge of the south rim on a dark night, she witnessed a faint light beautifully reflecting off the light-colored rocks on the canyon walls. To her surprise the light was coming from the planet Venus. As she stood astonished, she recalled the Greek tale of Venus, the goddess of beauty and love. Watching it shine so brilliantly high in the sky, she finally understood why they believed this "little wanderer" was the goddess of true beauty.

andrea jonesAndrea Jones

Andrea Jones is an Education and Public Outreach (E/PO) Specialist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, based out of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. She conducts E/PO activities for NASA planetary missions, including the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission, and the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover mission as part of the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) team. Andrea is the Informal Education Lead for the NASA Earth Science E/PO Forum and Co-Lead for the NASA Planetary Science E/PO Forum Diversity Task Force. She received her undergraduate degree in Geology from the College of William & Mary, and a Master’s degree in Geosciences, with a focus in planetary geology, from the University of Arizona.

kirschvinkDr. Joseph Kirschvink

Joe was born and raised in the southwest United States, which does not necessarily explain his infatuation with geology and biology, but it helps. Rather than attending an undergraduate university on the East Coast, where all of the rocks are covered with green goo, Joe chose to pursue his undergraduate education in Pasadena, California, where the atmosphere itself in the early 1970s was capable of cleaning the rock surfaces to show the beautiful geology underneath. However, upon the advice of two mentors (one with his magnetic mind in the stars, and the other more mindful of the magnetic minerals made by microbes), he reluctantly agreed to serve time in the East among the Ivy leaves at Princeton for his Ph.D. Joe did this, however, by traveling through Australia for a year (he recently went back, and is shown here standing on the Hamersly banded iron formation), and by spending about 50% of this time as a graduate student somewhere "in the field". He abandoned his experiment with the East Coast in 1981, and has been on the faculty back at Caltech ever since.

Joe has a lot of fun creating "nutty" ideas like the snowball Earth, and confusing paleontologists by trying to convince them that the Cambrian explosion was caused by a series of interchange events in the orthonormal Eigenvectors of Earth's Moment of Inertia Tensor. (A good number of paleontologists actually know what a tensor is, and realize that a moment of inertia is not just what keeps them in bed in the morning.) Joe even pretends that animals can predict earthquakes, just to keep his seismological colleagues on their toes. His major claim to being a paleontologist is his prediction and discovery of magnetofossils, which are not very useful for biostratigraphy but are wonderful as a Martian biomarker and for increasing the NASA Astrobiology budget.

Joe likes to swim and ski, and to explore the hot mineral waters produced by Mother Earth. He is married to a neurobiological electron microscopist, Atsuko Kobayashi, and they have two children (Jiseki and Koseki), whose names mean "magnetite" and "gemstone" respectively in Japanese. As a result, the children will probably grow up to be bloodsucking lawyers. And his family still doesn't know if home is in Pasadena or Osaka.

saraj marcotteSarah Marcotte

Sarah Marcotte works for Mars Public Engagement at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA. A museum educator by training, Sarah provides museums with artifacts, spacecraft models, and training on robotics and the planet Mars. She has worked in at the Natural History Museum of LA County, the California Institute of Technology, and Kidspace Children’s Museum on projects as diverse as California archeology, a butterfly house and exhibit, and biologically-inspired engineering.


chris mckay Dr. Chris McKay

Dr. Christopher P. McKay is a Planetary Scientist with the Space Science Division of NASA Ames. He is a research scientist with the NASA Ames Research Center. Chris’ current research focuses on the evolution of the Solar System and the origin of life. He is also actively involved in planning for future Mars missions including human exploration. Chris has been involved in research in Mars-like environments on Earth, traveling to the Antarctic Dry Valleys, Siberia, the Canadian Arctic, and the Atacama, Namib, and Sahara deserts to study life in these Mars-like environments. He was a co-investigator on the Huygens probe to Saturn’s moon Titan in 2005, the Mars Phoenix lander mission in 2008, and the current Mars Science Laboratory mission.

margaret raceDr. Margaret Race

Dr. Margaret Race is an ecologist who works with NASA through the SETI Institute in Mountain View, CA. where she focuses on astrobiology, searches for extraterrestrial life, and science policy issues associated with space exploration and emerging technologies. Dr. Race specializes in planetary protection —how to plan robotic and human missions in ways that ensure environmental protection of both the Earth and locations in outer space. In addition to her astrobiology and planetary protection work, she is also involved in science education and public outreach through schools, science museums, libraries, and the mass media.

Dr. Race grew up in Boston, received her BA and MS degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, and came to California where she got her Ph.D. in Ecology from UC Berkeley. After a postdoc at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, she taught and did environmental research for many years at both Stanford (Human Biology) and UC Berkeley (College of Natural Resources)—and later joined NASA to work on astrobiology and societal issues.

(Believe it or not, she started out working on environmental impacts of nuclear and fossil fuel power plants and later studied introduced mudsnails in San Francisco Bay. From effluent pipes and mudflats, to Mars!)

judd reedJudd Reed

Judd Reed leads the engineering efforts at the Mars Society's Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in southern Utah. He has been associated with the Mars Society since 1992 and has served on several MDRS and Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station crews. He helped with the initial installation of the Musk Observatory and telescope at MDRS and also worked on their recent relocation and retrofit. He is the principal Engineer of the MDRS Habitat Activity Logger Prototype that is currently being tested at the Mars Desert Research Station. Judd has enjoyed a long career in the design and development of motion control systems, imaging devices, and image processing techniques. He holds numerous patents on medical imaging devices, image processing techniques, and volume rendering algorithms that enhance the diagnostic value of computed tomography. He currently does geospatial software engineering at a leading technology company in Silicon Valley.

Judd's spare time is spent developing robots and, most notably, robot vision systems.

Description: Florence TanFlorence Tan

Florence is the Electrical Lead for SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars). She has a Bachelors and Masters of Science in Electrical Engineering and a Masters of Business Administration. Florence has worked on other projects, including: ISTP/WIND instruments APE, ELITE, IT, CASSINI INMS & GCMS, NOZOMI NMS, CONTOUR NGIMS. Outside of work, Florence teaches yoga class for her fellow SAM-ites. She volunteers teaching asian cooking (Thai, Malaysian, Chinese, and Fusion) as a fund-raiser activity once a year and tutors pre-calc /calc classes for her neighborhood kids. She likes reading books by Bill Bryson and books about the English Language. Florence loves to go for walks and hikes with the SAM software lead and play many varied and interesting board games with her family and friends.

madhan tirumalaiDr. Madhan R. Tirumalai

Dr. Tirumalai has a Ph.D. in Microbiology from India. As a postdoctoral scientist in the lab of Professor George E. Fox, at the Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Houston, Texas, he has been focusing on a highly interdisciplinary area of research, including molecular evolution - from an ‘origins of life’ perspective, RNA structure, biology and evolution, comparative genomics of bacteria towards understanding the super radiation resistance of spore producing Bacillus species isolated from spacecraft assembly facilities, space microbiology – long term evolution studies on non-pathogenic E.coli MG1655 as a model system during long-term exposure to low-shear modeled microgravity.

Besides his research, Dr. Tirumalai also actively participates/volunteers in activities related to Astrobiology Education and Public Outreach, volunteers with the Disaster Assistance Teams of the American Red Cross Volunteer, has liaised between the Holocaust Museum of Houston and the University of Houston to organize events to create awareness amongst the student community about the Holocaust and genocides in general. He spends his spare time reading commentaries, and listening to debates on contemporary geopolitical events shaping our present, honing his writing and photography skills, and someday hopes to write science fiction-adventure novels for children.

david willsonDavid Willson

David is a research and development mechanical engineer at the NASA Ames Research Center, working on Mars exploration technologies for spacecraft sample handling, sample instruments, and subsurface drilling. Other projects include the effectiveness of undertaking field science in spacesuits, human perceived temperatures on Earth, Mars and Titan, dust and perchlorate management for human Mars exploration, and collaborated in a study of crater erosion in Death Valley for Mars applications.

David has been is a mechanical engineer with 17 years of experience designing and leading multi-disciplined teams to build equipment for the Australian mining industry including stackers, reclaimers, shiploaders, materials handling facilities, and chemical processing plants. He has functioned in industry as a design engineer, lead engineer, engineering design team leader/manager, and engineering site and commissioning manager on a large variety of projects.

He has also co-authored and published papers on Mars mission architectures, Mars Hab design, and rocket engine design and development.

Description: dr zentDr. Aaron Zent

Dr. Aaron Zent got his Ph. D. in Geology from the University of Hawaii in 1988, and has been at NASA Ames ever since. He has been involved with several Mars missions, most recently the 2008 Phoenix Lander. His research focuses on the physical and chemical interactions between planetary atmospheres and their surfaces.