About science at NASA
NASA leads the nation on a great journey of discovery, seeking new knowledge and understanding of our planet Earth, our Sun and solar system, and the universe out to its farthest reaches and back to its earliest moments of existence. NASA's Science Mission Directorate
and the nation's science community use space observatories to conduct scientific studies of the Earth from space to visit and return samples from other bodies in the solar system, and to peer out into our galaxy and beyond. NASA's science program seeks answers to profound questions that touch us all:
This is NASA's science vision: using the vantage point of space to achieve with the science community and our partners a deep scientific understanding of our planet, other planets and solar system bodies, the interplanetary environment, the Sun and its effects on the solar system, and the universe beyond.
NASA Ames’ scientists perform research in world-class research laboratories on site at Ames, at field research locations across the globe and with NASA mission hardware throughout the solar system. The Ames science directorate
which houses many of our researchers is divided into three main branches.
- The Space Science and Astrobiology Division conducts research and mission-related activities concerning the study of the origins and evolution of stars, the interstellar medium, planetary systems and life on Earth and (perhaps) elsewhere. These address some of the most fundamental questions pursued by science involving our place in the universe.
- The Space Bioscience Division performs biological research and technology development necessary to enable NASA's long-term human exploration mission. Experiments relate to new technology to improve astronaut health and health monitoring while making scientific discoveries and developing technologies that also benefit life on Earth.
- Comprising the Atmospheric Science, Biospheric Science and Airborne Science branches, the Earth Science Division at NASA Ames seeks to see, known, and benefit the Earth, through observation, analysis and simulation.
In addition, Ames is home to NASA's two virtual science institutes, the NASA Astrobiology Institute
and the NASA Lunar Science Institute
Featured example: Airborne sciences
What kind of Earth and space science can you do from aircraft flying in the sky?
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Ames has long played a leading role in NASA airborne sciences
, conducting studies of the celestial sky and our own planet from airplanes. By flying above most of the water vapor in the atmosphere, airplanes with upward-looking infrared telescopes can peer into the Universe, unlocking important clues of star and planet formation. At these altitudes, IR telescopes operate in a near-space environment, and yet are able to return each morning to integrate new state-of-the-art instrumentation.
Ames is the science lead on SOFIA
, the world’s largest airborne observatory. The modified Boeing 747 features a 2.5-meter diameter infrared telescope provided by the German space agency. Flying above 40,000 feet, SOFIA gets above most of the atmospheric water vapor that otherwise impedes infrared radiation from the cosmos.
Featured example: Exoplanet discovery
How is Ames finding new planets?
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Ames is providing scientific and management leadership of Kepler
, NASA’s first mission to discover exoplanets
around stars beyond our sun. Launched in 2009, Kepler has already transformed humanity’s perception of the cosmos, having discovered thousands of planetary candidates in orbit around distant stars.
By the end of its mission, Kepler will determine the frequency of Earth-size and rocky planets in our home Galaxy. The most important of those planets will be found within the habitable zone of their parent star, where temperatures are conducive to the existence of liquid water. Most research suggests that the presence of liquid water and an energy source, such as heat from a star, are necessary ingredients for creating life – as we know it.
Featured example: Lunar science
What new things are we discovering about our moon?
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Ames has a long and successful history in managing NASA lunar missions
, and in catalyzing lunar science research. These missions have fundamentally changed our view of the Moon – and its potential resources.
NASA’s next mission to the Moon, the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE)
, will also be managed by Ames. LADEE will fly in a low orbit about the Moon and characterize the very thin lunar atmosphere and dust environment. Ames is also building the Ultraviolet/Visible Spectrometer, one of the three science instruments aboard LADEE.
As well as managing past and current lunar missions, Ames Research Center is also the host for the NASA Lunar Science Institute
, a virtual institute designed to catalyze interdisciplinary lunar research from around the country and throughout the world.