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Carol Stoker

Carol Stoker

Research Scientist

Affiliation: NASA Ames Research Center (ARC)

Division: Space Science and Astrobiology Division (ST)

Branch: Planetary Systems (STT)


Phone: 650-604-6490

Read Carol Stoker‘s Interview

Professional Biography

My scientific research focuses on developing the tools and science strategy to search for life on other planets with a Mars emphasis. My research has led to extensive field work in Mars analog environments. My field research projects include exploration of marine environments with submarines in Antarctica, establishing a Mars analog research station in Arctic Canada, testing robotic drilling systems in Spain and a drilling rover in Atacama Desert Chile. These projects involved testing robotic systems and instruments to search for life. Mission experience includes the Voyager flyby of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, and the Mars Pathfinder and Phoenix missions to Mars. She led development of immersive 3-dimensional terrain visualization for the first NASA rover mission (Mars Pathfinder in 1996) that was later used on subsequent NASA Mars rover missions. She led the Biological Potential Science Working Group for the Phoenix mission that landed in the Mars North polar region and showed that the high latitude ground ice experiences habitable conditions periodically over the history of Mars and warrants a search for extant life. I have had key roles in the Icebreaker mission that drills into ground ice on Mars to search for signatures of modern life. A similar mission concept was proposed in the Origin Worlds and Life 2020 Decadal Survey report as the highest priority Mars mission after Mars Sample Return. I currently lead work with the TRIDENT drilling system that is planned for lunar and Mars missions. I have a career long interest in and advocacy of human Mars exploration. I am a founding member of the Mars Society that runs a program of human mission simulations in two analog habitats located on Devon Island Canada and in the Southern Utah desert.  I have led Mars mission simulation crews in both habitats. I contributed to the surface mission design for the NASA Mars Design Reference Mission studies that developed plans for human Mars exploration.


B.S. 1976, Physics (Cum Laude), University of Utah, Salt Lake City

Ph.D. 1983, Dept. of Astrogeophysics, University of Colorado, Boulder

Research Interests

Technologies and missions to explore planetary environments to search for evidence of life.

Life in extreme environments as analogs for extraterrestrial life with a special focus on subsurface life.

Planetary drilling to search for biosignatures of life and volatile resources.

Select Publications

Stoker, C.R., B.J. Glass, T.R. Stucky, A.I. Dave and others. A Mission Simulating the Search for Life on Mars with Automated Drilling, Sample Handling, and Life Detection Instruments Performed in the Hyperarid Core of the Atacama Desert (Chile). Astrobiology 23, 12, 2023.

Stoker, C.R. Life on Mars, can we detect it? Nature, comment 2023.  Quicklink:

Stoker, C.R., J. G. Blank, P.J. Boston and 9 others (with 65 cosigners). We should search for extant life on Mars in this decade.  White paper submitted to the 2020 NRC Planetary Decadal Survey.

Bywaters, K., C.R. Stoker, N. Batista Do Nascimento Jr., L.G. Lemke, Towards determining biosignature retention in Icy World plumes, Life 10(4), 40, 2020.

Gonzales, A. and C. R. Stoker, An efficient approach for Mars Sample Return using emerging commercial capabilities, Acta Astronautica 123, 16-25, 2016.

Clarke, J.D.A., and C.R. Stoker, Searching for stromatolites: the 3.4 GA Strelley Pool formation (Pilbara region, western Australia) as a Mars analog, Icarus, 224 (2), 413-423, 2013.

McKay, C.P., C.R.Stoker, Glass, al., The Icebreaker Life mission to Mars: a search for biomolecular evidence of life, Astrobiology, 13(4), 2013.

Stoker, C.R., Clarke, J., Direito, S.O.L. et al. Mineralogical, chemical, organic and microbial properties of subsurface soil cores from Mars Desert Research Station (Utah, USA): phyllosilicate and sulfate analogues to Mars mission landing sites. Int. J. Astrobiol. 10, 269–289, 2011.

Clarke, J.D.A., and C.R.Stoker, Concretions in exhumed and inverted channels near Hanksville Utah: Implications for Mars, Int.  J. Astrobiology, 2011.

Stoker, C.R., A. Zent, D. Catling et al. The habitability of the Phoenix landing site, J. Geophys. Res. 115, E00E20, 2010.

Stoker, C.R. et al. The 2005 MARTE robotic drilling experiment in Rio Tinto, Spain: Objectives, approach, and results of a simulated mission to search for life in the Martian subsurface. Astrobiology, 8, 5, 2008.

Stoker, C.R., D.R. Barch, B.P. Hine III, Undersea exploration in Antarctica using a robotic submarine with telepresence user interface, IEEE Expert, 10, 14-24, 1995.

Stoker, C.R. and C. Emmart (eds.) Strategies for Mars: A Guide to Human Exploration, AAS Sci. Tech. Ser., 86, 619 pg., 1996.

McKay, C.P. and C.R. Stoker, The early environment of Mars: Implications for life, Rev. Geophys. 27, 189-214, 1989.

NASA Missions

Voyager encounters with Uranus and Neptune

Mars Pathfinder

Mars Phoenix Polar Lander

Awards & Others

NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal (2008) for sustained leadership in developing technologies to enable subsurface access to planetary bodies and remote operations in extreme environments

14 NASA Group achievement awards for various team activities from 1990 to 2019