Power of Science Fascinates NASA Researcher
Image of Orlando Santos. Image of Orlando Santos Credit: NASA Ames Research Center
"Find what you love and pursue it, regardless of what anyone says."

Those inspirational words reflect the determination of Orlando Santos, a space scientist who works in the space science and astrobiology division at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California.

Born in Havana, Cuba, Santos and his family immigrated to Florida when he was three years old. As a child, he remembers being fascinated by science and inspired by the Apollo missions, which he thought were clear demonstrations of the power of science.

Over the years, Santos became interested in biology and the habitability of environments. In college, he studied Zoology and received a bachelor of science from the University of Florida, Gainesville. Although it was difficult at times to stay in school for the next ten years, he earned a masters degree in population genetics, and a doctorate in microbiology and immunology, both from the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. He completed his post-doctoral studies at a cancer research institute at the University of California, Berkeley, Calif.

Santos began his career in the biotechnology industry. In the private sector, he helped pioneer monoclonal antibody based cancer therapeutics, developed the first synthetic angiogenesis inhibitor, and worked on anti-HIV clinical drug trials. Santos joined NASA in 2000. He has served as science lead for the Space Station Biological Research Project, a special assistant to the center director, scientific research coordinator for Fundamental Space Biology, and an Enterprise scientist at NASA Headquarters as part of NASA’s Leadership Development Program.

"Of course, my success also is a reflection of the opportunity the USA offers everyone," said Santos.

Other areas of Santos' research interests include planetary protection. NASA studies Earth microbes, which might be inadvertently carried aboard spacecraft and confuse life detection efforts. Clean room facilities are used to study assembled spacecraft and to fully catalog all microbial species present. These studies are based on modern molecular biology techniques to identify all organisms, not just those easily cultured.

Santos is now the chief of the Exobiology Branch at NASA Ames where he manages a group of scientists studying how life originated and how to detect alien life on other planets.

Santos said that his best advice to anyone who wants to become a NASA scientist is to "… read, read, read! Instead of a novel, read the classics, read non-fiction, read history…"

For further about Santos's research, please visit:

Ruth Dasso Marlaire
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.