Entertainment Magazine

Aliens of the Deep


As a senior scientist for the Jet Propulsion Lab’s astrobiology research element, PAN CONRAD’s job is to figure out ways to look for life on other planets.

To do this, she learns about the chemical clues life leaves on Earth through time and tries to figure out how well these clues survive under various environmental conditions.

These clues help her decode which features of life on Earth might be universal to life on other planets and how we might look for those features throughout the galaxy.

Pan’s favorite place to look for the evidence of life is inside rocks and sediment (including ice)—especially as she seeks out evidence that shows how living things adapt to changing environments.

Pan is presently engaged in a threeyear field campaign to make measurements of chemical biosignatures with non-contact (short-range remote sensing) instruments intended to detect subtle chemical signatures of microbial life that dwells on and in rocks and sediment. This field campaign has her running between the Arctic and the Antarctic.

Ever since working with the “Aliens of the Deep” project, Pan can’t wait to get back to the seafloor, which she considers one of the coolest places ever.

The success with McDUVE (her research instrument highlighted in the film) on the MIR submersibles has inspired Pan to see what more she can learn about hydrothermal vents that might be relevant to solar system exploration. She is also committed to public outreach and education, drawing on her prescience career as a writer and producer of educational media. Summers always bring a host of visiting students to her labs at JPL.

But it’s not all the fun and games of data reduction and computer programming. Pan’s education and former career in music have prepared her well when she’s called upon to present her findings and argue scientific theory with the brightest minds in the world.

DIJANNA FIGUEROA is a Ph.D. graduate student in the Interdisciplinary Program in Marine Science at the University of California Santa Barbara. She grew up in Long Beach, California, and graduated from David Starr Jordan High School. She obtained her B.S. in Marine Biology from UCLA in 2001. While at UCLA, she studied pathogenetic mechanisms of muscular dystrophy as part of the university’s Center for Academic Research Excellence.

During her last year at UCLA, she interned at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and was introduced to the complex questions associated with life in the deep sea. Her current work focuses on the physiology and ecology of organisms adapted to some of the most extreme environments on Earth. Over the past few years, she has had the opportunity to conduct research at various deep-sea hydrothermal vents around the world. Since she began working in deep-sea environments, she has spent over 130 days at sea and participated in 12 manned submersible dives.

When not at sea or in the lab, she enjoys spending time with her family, reading, and ballroom dancing. She is also very committed to the promotion of science education and its access to all members of society, regardless of class or ethnicity. She credits her parents, Joe and Dion Smotherman, for encouraging her to pursue her dreams.

KEVIN HAND is a graduate student in the Department of Geological & Environmental Sciences at Stanford University and President/Founder of Cosmos Education, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to grassroots science education in developing regions of the world. He is also an astrobiologist for the SETI Institute. Kevin’s research focuses on the origin, evolution, and distribution of life in the solar system.

Specifically, his Ph.D. dissertation involves both theoretical and experimental work on the habitability of the putative Europan ocean. He was born and raised in Manchester, Vermont, and has bachelor’s degrees in physics and psychology from Dartmouth College and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford University. He anticipates finishing his Ph.D. in 2007.

MAYA TOLSTOY was born near New York City, but spent much of her childhood in the wilds of Scotland. After earning a B.Sc. Hons. in Geophysics at the University of Edinburgh, she returned to the U.S. for graduate school and earned her Ph.D. in marine seismology from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1994. She moved to Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in 1996 as a post-doctoral fellow and is now a Doherty Research Scientist there. Her myriad research areas include: seafloor earthquakes, hydroacoustic monitoring, mid-ocean ridges, seafloor instrumentation and the impact of anthropogenic sound on marine mammals.

She is particularly enthusiastic about the link between earthquakes and life. She has participated in 25 research cruises throughout the world’s oceans and loves going to sea, but loves playing with her 21-month-old son even more. Maya attributes “the little success she has had and occasional brushes with sanity,” to two wonderfully supportive parents.

Her father is a scientist (underwater acoustician) and her mother a theologian, which, she says, “provides a nice balance, or at least a split personality.” She lives in New York City with her brilliant son, Jason, and enjoys walking in Central Park and reading Green Eggs and Hamover and over and over again.

TORI HOEHLERis a chemist turned oceanographer turned astrobiologist, who now works at NASA’s Ames Research Center, in Mountain View, California. Tori’s life has been intertwined with the water since birth. He was born and lived in the Bahamas until age six and, according to his father, could swim well before he could walk. He did his first open-reef snorkeling at age four and was hooked forever. He subsequently became a water safety instructor and certified advanced diver. He has dived reefs, wrecks, and caverns in three oceans, for a combination of fieldwork and pleasure.

After leaving the Bahamas, Tori lived in Florida for seven years and spent his summers on a lake in southern Quebec. The family moved to Germany when Tori was 13, and he spent the next four years there—being several hours from the North Sea represented the furthest he has ever lived from the ocean. Between high school and college,

Tori spent nine months sailing the Caribbean as crew on the S/S Norway—the largest cruise ship in the world, at the time. Additional time spent at sea has taken him across the equator and across 80o north, and to ports in more than 30 countries. These experiences combined with a love of natural science led to a strong interest in oceanography.

Following an undergraduate degree in chemistry, Tori completed a Ph.D. in marine sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His dissertation focused around fieldwork, conducted principally by SCUBA, along the North Carolina coast. This work has also led to research cruises in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic oceans.

Tori’s work in oceanography aligned strongly with NASA’s interest in the emerging discipline of astrobiology, and the two arrived at NASA–Ames Research Center almost simultaneously in 1998. Tori is a permanent research scientist with NASA and a principal coinvestigator within the NASA Astrobiology Institute. His work seeks to understand how living organisms affect the chemistry of their environment (as humans do, for example, when they breathe in and out), on local and planetary scales.

By seeking chemical signatures that are unique to life, this work may ultimately help in identifying worlds outside our own solar system where life may be present. Tori’s work also relates to understanding how the availability of energy (the most fundamental commodity for any imaginable form of life) shapes the nature and distribution of life. Both aspects of this work focus strongly on microbial communities.

Since coming to NASA, Tori has been heavily involved with education and outreach programs and frequently gives talks for school kids, teachers, and professional groups. He has given interviews for BBC TV, Tech TV, Norwegian Public TV, National Public Radio, and Earth & Sky radio, and his work has been covered in numerous newspapers, magazines, and web outlets internationally.

DR.KELLY SNOOK is a Planetary Scientist specializing in Mars science and exploration at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Most of her research focuses on designing, conducting and evaluating expeditions on Earth that serve as analogs for missions to the moon or Mars. She also studies the dust in the atmosphere of Mars using computational radiative transfer models. Her work takes her from polar deserts to island volcanos and oceanographic research vessels. She works to reduce the cost and risk of NASA’s planetary exploration missions by applying lessons learned from the science, technology development, and operations research conducted at analog sites. The expeditions of “Aliens of the Deep” were a remarkable analog for space exploration.

In association with these expeditions, Kelly created and led the NASA Oceanographic Analog Missions Activity (NOAMA) to study elements of exploration such as traverse planning; sample collection, processing, and curation; remote science operations; exploration communications; crew time scheduling; rea

l-time hardware design, manufacture, repair, and integration; crew psychology; and human factors. Kelly has since moved to NASA Headquarters in Washington DC to apply her knowledge of space analogs to the development of NASA’s presidentially mandated “new vision for exploration” for missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond. In her spare time, Kelly pursues a passionate interest in music. She enjoys music composition, production and engineering at It’s Not Rocket Science Studios, which she owns and operates. She is currently working on a project to model the solar system using sound and music.

LORETTA HIDALGO has a master’s degree in Biology from Caltech and a bachelor’s degree in Biology from Stanford. She is the cocreator of Yuri’s Night, the World Party for Space (yurisnight.net) and is currently the President of the Space Generation Foundation.

This year, she worked for the X PRIZE Foundation to create the events leading up to the Foundation’s awarding their 10-million-dollar private space-flight prize to SpaceShipOne. She flew nine times as cabin crew for the parabolic flight company ZERO-G. Between degrees, Hidalgo interned at NASA in the Astronaut office, worked on the International Space Station, and served as the North American Representative to the Space Generation Advisory Council.

She has spoken to children about science in Africa during the total eclipse of the Sun, worked with NASA in the Arctic looking at life in extreme environments, and studied Space Tourism in Chile with the International Space University. She is passionate about bringing together people who want to use space to make a difference for the planet.

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