rosalba-death-valley-540pxMy name is Rosalba and I am an interdisciplinary environmental scientist. I have worked as an Astrobiologist at the Carl Sagan Center/SETI Institute since 2008 and with scientists at at NASA Ames Research Center since 2005.

I enjoy doing science to advance our understanding of our universe, and to inspire old and new generations of my fellow humans – from any latitude, longitude and altitude – to pursue happiness through knowledge, exploration, and discovery.

My objective is to achieve a broad picture of where life and its signatures are most successfully distributed, concentrated, preserved, and detected. This knowledge helps us to understand how to search for life beyond Earth.

The SETI Institute is proud to collaborate and support the Spaceward Bound Expedition in New Zealand this year by sharing with the kiwi enthusiasts the fascinating research that we will conduct during the expedition. We aim to elevate public awareness about planetary analog research taking place on Earth, and the associated space missions such as Mars Science Lab and the upcoming Mars 2020 missions.

In a nutshell, here some expeditions facts:

Why: To explore, learn, test, and train the new generation of space explorers and novel astrobiologists.

Where/When: We will be visiting several locations in the northern Island. Our camp base will be at Te Takinga Marae, 402 State Highway 33.

Who: The local community, and scientists, educators, teachers and students from New Zealand, the US, Australia, and other countries for a total of 41 participants.

How: We are sponsored to conduct a variety of activities including field trips, outdoor and indoor experiments, geochemical analysis of collected samples, preparation of reports, lectures and interactions with media and the local Maori community.

The Expedition: We will explore new places and make observations.

The Science: We aim to understand habitability of planetary environments: hot, dry, acidic, minerals-laden, etc. We will look at their geochemistry (minerals, water, organics) resources to feed and support microbes and others. This will inform how we explore Mars, Moon, other places in the solar systems and exoplanets.

What we will be working on during the expedition: I am currently interested in investigating aspects of the astrobiology of clays and, particularly in establishing the habitability potential of Mars-like mineral and geological environments. During the Spaceward Bound Expedition, through exciting extraction experiments in the field, we will learn how to use the Lymulus Amebocite Lysate assay – LAL – to detect and quantify “Lipid A” in microbes from clays and volcaniclastic sediments. Specifically, we will look at clay-forming/volcanic sites and compare the findings with other sites in extreme environments around the world like Rio Tinto, Atacama, Death Valley, and the California coast.

The detection of Lipid A has several applications:

1 Planetary protection, to detect Gram negatives in contaminated environments, e.g., checking contamination in clean rooms, on spacecraft and the International Space Station.

  1. As testing bed for life-detection missions instruments like SOLID: The LAL assay was used in the Rio Tinto as mock up/supporting subsystem for SOLID, which measured Lipid A, by the way.


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