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Heather Smith


Other affiliation: Coop/ KIPR


Title: Research Scientist at KIPR

Professional  Biography:

Heather is currently a Research Scientist at KIPR in the Space Sciences and Astrobiology Division at NASA Ames Research Center. Her research areas include Mars, Phobos and Deimos, astrobiology instrumentation, and planetary protection. She is the former Mars Exploration Postdoctoral researcher at Ames Research Center. Her postdoctoral research in astrobiology instrumentation and life in extreme environments, in particular, microbial physical habitats at the rock soil interface and within the hypersaline salt crusts. Previously she was the Planetary Science Division Management Postdoctoral fellow at NASA Headquarters. Dr. Smith was introduced to the policy and management aspects of science through the National Academies of Sciences’ Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship as a fellow for the Space Studies Board after the completion of her Doctorate in Biological Engineering from Utah State University. Her dissertation involved the design of a native fluorescence life detection instrument for soils. Prior to her doctoral degree, she earned a Master of Science in Space Studies from International Space University analyzing the flight checkout data for the Surface Science Package onboard the Huygens probe. Before graduate school, she worked for several years at NASA ARC as a research assistant for The SETI Institute after earning an undergraduate degree in Physics from The Evergreen State College. Upon completion of a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of North Texas, she moved to California to work as a Space Camp counselor and volunteer at Ames Research Center beginning her career with NASA.


Ph.D. Biological EngineeringUtah State University, Logan, Utah

M.Sc, Space Studies, International Space University, Strasbourg, France

B.A. Physics (Physical Systems) The Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington

B.APsychology, Physics Minor, University of North Texas Denton, Texas

Research Areas: 

Life Detection Research and Technology, Planetary instrument development, Habitability potential, astrobiology analog research, and planetary surface processes.

Selected Publications:

Powers, L. S., Smith, H. D., Kilungo, A. P., Ellis Jr, W. R., McKay, C. P., Bonaccorsi, R., & Roveda, J. W. 2018. In situ real-time quantification of microbial communities: Applications to cold and dry volcanic habitats. Global Ecology and Conservation, e00458.

Clarke, J.D.A., Willson, D., Smith, H.  Hobbs, S.W., and Jones, E. 2017. Southern Meridiani Planum- A candidate landing site for the first crewed mission to Mars. Acta Astronautica 133 pages 195-220. 

Smith, H.D., McKay, C.P., Duncan, A.G, Sims, R.C., Anderson, A.J., and Grossl, P.R. 2014. An Instrument Design for Non-contact Detection of Biomolecules and Minerals on Mars using Fluorescence Journal of Biological Engineering, 8(16), 1-14. 

Smith, H.D., B Baqué, M., Duncan, A.G., Lloyd, C.R., McKay, C.P., and Billi, D. 2014.  Light transmittance and cyanobacteria comparison of hypolithic growth under five types of rocks in the Mojave DesertInternational Journal of Astrobiology, 13(3), 271-277.

Billi, D., Baqué, M.,  McKay, C.P., and Smith, H.D. 2013. Cyanobacteria from extreme Deserts to Space. Advances in Microbiology, 3(6A), 80-86.

Smith, H. D., Duncan, A. G., Neary, P. L., Lloyd, C. R., Anderson, A. J., Sims, R. C., & McKay, C. P.  2012. In situ microbial detection in the Mojave desert soil using native fluorescence. Astrobiology12(3), 247-257.

Rask, J., Heldmann, J.L., Smith, H., Battler, M., and C. McKay. 2011. The NASA Spaceward Bound field training curriculum, in Garry, W.B., and Bleacher, J.E., eds., Analogs for Planetary Exploration: Geol. Soc. Amer. Special Paper 483, p.157–163, 2011.

McKay, C.P., and Smith H.D., 2005.  Possibilities for Methanogenic Life in Liquid Methane on the Surface of Titan. Icarus, 178(1), 274-276.  DOI:101016/j.icarus.2005.05.018

Smith, H.D., and McKay, C.P. 2005. Drilling in Ancient Permafrost on Mars for Evidence of a Second Genesis of Life. Planetary and Space Science 53(12), 1302-1308.