Mary Voytek


Director Astrobiology

Bio – Dr. Mary A. Voytek is the Senior Scientist for Astrobiology in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA HQ. Dr. Voytek came to NASA from the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, VA, where she headed the USGS Microbiology and Molecular Ecology Laboratory. She has degrees in Biochemistry, Biology and Ocean Sciences. Dr. Voytek’s primary research interest is aquatic microbial ecology and biogeochemistry and has worked in several extreme environments including Antarctica, the arctic, hypersaline lakes, deep-sea hydrothermal vents, and terrestrial deep- subsurface sites.

Abstract Title: Searching for Life beyond Earth: the Ladder of Life Detection

Abstract Body: The talk will describe the history and features of the Ladder of Life Detection, a tool intended to guide the design of investigations to detect microbial life within the practical constraints of robotic space missions. To build the Ladder, we summarize features of life as we know it, how specific they are to life, and how they can be measured, and sort these features in a general sense based on their likelihood of indicating life. The Ladder of Life Detection is not intended to endorse specific biosignatures or instruments for life-detection measurements, and is by no means a definitive, final product. It is intended as a starting point to stimulate discussion, debate, and further research on the characteristics of life, what constitutes a biosignature, and the means to measure them.