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Center for Life Detection (CLD)

An Ames-Goddard Collaboration

Center for Life Detection (CLD) – Research and Service


The search for life elsewhere is among NASA and SMD’s high level priorities (Science 2020-2024: A Vision for Scientific Excellence, Priority 1). The Center for Life Detection is designed to support the planning and implementation of missions that will seek evidence of life beyond Earth by:

  • conducting research on “detectability” to help inform target/sample selection and measurement strategies/requirements;
  • developing tools and engagement activities that enable members of the broader astrobiology to formulate their knowledge, research, and expertise in a way that facilitates use in mission planning;
  • supporting the instrument development community in mapping existing and emerging measurement technology to life detection science objectives, in order to establish science traceability and identify technology development needs.

CLD’s perspectives on life detection science and technology development are summarized in “Groundwork for Life Detection”, a white paper submitted to the 2023-2032 Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey.

The Center for Life Detection is supported by NASA’s Planetary Science Division.


The last few decades of exploration have revealed multiple worlds within and beyond our solar system that are considered potentially habitable by virtue of the presence of liquid water, and mission concepts to seek evidence of life on these worlds are being developed. To inform these concepts, it is essential to assess detectability – the extent to which life, if present, would express itself in characteristic, observable features. As Earth vividly illustrates, the abundance distribution of life and its products ranges over many orders of magnitude, as a function of multiple environmental and ecological factors. Similar variability can be expected both within and among inhabited worlds beyond Earth, if any exist, and understanding it can inform target selection, observing strategies, and measurement requirements for missions that seek evidence of life. The objective of CLD research is to develop a framework that constrains detectability as a function of spacecraft and/or telescope observables, with applications to Mars, ocean worlds, and exoplanets. 

In this research, we investigate the role of environmental factors in modulating biological potential – the abundance and productivity of life, including the production of diagnostic features, that could be supported in a given system, and biosignature potential, the extent to which a given system will express observable evidence of life based on preservation, degradation, or modification of biologically produced materials.  We combine insights and methodology from these complementary lines of investigation to assess biological and biosignature potential in ancient Mars surface environments as constrained by in situ mineralogy data from the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

This research is responsive to a recommendation in the National Academies Consensus Report on Astrobiology Strategy (NASEM ABS): “Detectability: NASA should support expanding biosignature research to address gaps in understanding biosignature preservation and the breadth of possible false positives and false negative signatures”.

The Life Detection Forum Project

The astrobiology knowledge that will be required for life detection mission concept development and science definition is diverse, often taking forms that do not map clearly to mission design, and diffuse, in that it is spread across many disciplines and a wide-ranging literature.  The Life Detection Forum (LDF) project seeks to develop a ‘living’, community-driven suite of tools to centralize the requisite body of knowledge and organize it in a way that streamlines its use in program planning, mission concept development, and interpretation of findings. CLD works actively to engage a diverse range of communities in the use of this tool, to harness valuable expertise that is not well represented in the traditional sphere of space science.

The LDF is being built as a web-based platform that can be populated and continually updated by a broad user base, in order to track the evolving state of knowledge regarding life detection science and technology. The core module of the system, released in early 2021, is the Life Detection Knowledge Base (LDKB). 

LDKB is a system for organizing user-provided knowledge about objects, patterns, or processes that might serve as evidence for life according to its bearing on the potential for false positive or false negative results. A technology-oriented counterpart to LDKB, the Measurement Technology Module (MTM) is currently in development. MTM is designed to house user-contributed information regarding current and emerging technologies that could be used to support life detection objectives. When combined, LDKB and MTM will provide a basis for establishing science traceability and identifying technology development needs.

This effort is responsive to the NASEM ABS recommendation: “NASA should aid the community in developing a comprehensive framework…to guide testing and evaluation of in situ and remote biosignatures.”


CLD-led Workshops

CLD has sought extensive community involvement in the development of LDF tools and early stages of LDKB content development, through a series of workshops and hands-on community engagement activities. 

Introduction to the Life Detection Forum Project (AbSciCon 2019)

  • Special session, approx. 130 participants
  • Introduction to, and feedback on, the LDF concept and a basic working model 

Criteria for Life Detection Measurements (Fall 2020)

  • Two community workshops, 60+ participants
  • Establish/vet the evaluative organizing basis for LDKB

The Life Detection Knowledge Base (January 2021)

  • Rollout of LDKB at a community workshop of > 150 participants

LDKB Content Development Groups (Spring-Fall 2021)

  • CLD-facilitated, community-based user groups (100+ participants, active 6-8 months)
  • Content provision in 5 theme areas, beta testing of LDKB, build & train user base 

Life Detection Science and Technology Workshop (Spring 2022)

  • Bring together scientists and technologists to discuss high-priority approaches to life-detection, define measurement requirements, and identify corresponding measurement technology gaps

Team Members

CLD is a collaboration among scientists and technologists from NASA’s Ames Research Center and Goddard Space Flight Center:

Will Brinckerhoff

Affiliation: Solar System Exploration Division at Goddard Space Flight Center
Title: Senior Scientist 

Tom Bristow

Branch: Exobiology


Title: Staff Scientist

Jared Broddrick

Affiliation: Space Biosciences Research Branch
Title: Scientist

Alfonso F. Davila

Branch: Exobiology

Title: Research Scientist


David Des Marais

Branch: Exobiology


Title: Principal Investigator

Jen Eigenbrode

Affiliation: Goddard Space Flight Center
Title: Interdisciplinary Astrobiologist

Richard (Craig) Everroad

Branch: Exobiology


Title: Research Scientist

Stephanie Getty

Affiliation: Goddard Space Flight Center
Title: Planetary Research Scientist 

Danny Glavin

Affiliation: Goddard Space Flight Center
Title: Space Scientist 

Tori Hoehler

Branch: Exobiology


Title: Research Scientist

Linda Jahnke

Branch: Exobiology 


Title: Senior Scientist

Melissa Kirven-Brooks

Branch: Exobiology


Title: Deputy Branch Chief

Michael Kubo

Branch: Exobiology – Coop/SETI


Title: Research Scientist/ Lab Manager

Barbara Lafuente-Valverde

Branch: Exobiology – SETI Institute
Title: Research Scientist

Graham Lau

Affiliation: Blue Marble Space


Title: Research Investigator 

Owen Lehmer

Branch: Exobiology – University of Washington
Title: Research Scientist

Marc Neveu

Affiliation: Goddard Space Flight Center
Title: Research Scientist 

Niki Parenteau

Branch: Exobiology

Other Affiliation: Research Scientist


Andrew Pohorille

Branch: Exobiology


Title: Principal Investigator

Richard Quinn

Branch: Exobiology

Other Affiliation: Research Scientist


Tony Ricco

Affiliation: Stanford University
Title: Chief Technologist

Andro Rios

Branch: Exobiology – Blue Marble Space Institute of Science


Title: Research Scientist

Svet Shkolyar

Affiliation: Goddard Space Flight Center
Title: Research Scientist 

Sanjoy Som

Sanjoy Som

Branch: Exobiology – Coop/Blue Marble Space

Title: Scientist / Engineer