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The Past, Present, and Future of NASA Research into Microbes in Space

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Space microbiology, or the study of microorganisms in space, has significant applications for both human spaceflight and Earth-based medicine. This thesis traces the evolution of the field of space microbiology since its creation in 1935. Beginning with simple studies to

Space microbiology, or the study of microorganisms in space, has significant applications for both human spaceflight and Earth-based medicine. This thesis traces the evolution of the field of space microbiology since its creation in 1935. Beginning with simple studies to determine if terrestrial life could survive spaceflight, the field of space microbiology has grown to encompass a substantial body of work that is now recognized as an essential component of NASA' research endeavors. Part one provides an overview of the early period of space microbiology, from high-altitude balloon and rocket studies to work conducted during the Apollo program. Part two summarizes the current state of the field, with a specific focus on the revolutionary contributions made by the Nickerson lab at the Biodesign Institute at ASU using the NASA-designed Rotating Wall Vessel (RWV) Bioreactor. Finally, part three highlights the research I've conducted in the Nickerson lab, as well as continuing studies within the field of space microbiology.

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2016-05

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Informing Mars sample selection strategies: identifying fossil biosignatures and assessing their preservation potential

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The search for life on Mars is a major NASA priority. A Mars Sample Return

(MSR) mission, Mars 2020, will be NASA's next step towards this goal, carrying an instrument suite that can identify samples containing potential biosignatures. Those samples will

The search for life on Mars is a major NASA priority. A Mars Sample Return

(MSR) mission, Mars 2020, will be NASA's next step towards this goal, carrying an instrument suite that can identify samples containing potential biosignatures. Those samples will be later returned to Earth for detailed analysis. This dissertation is intended to inform strategies for fossil biosignature detection in Mars analog samples targeted for their high biosignature preservation potential (BPP) using in situ rover-based instruments. In chapter 2, I assessed the diagenesis and BPP of one relevant analog habitable Martian environment: a playa evaporite sequence within the Verde Formation, Arizona. Coupling outcrop-scale observations with laboratory analyses, results revealed four diagenetic pathways, each with distinct impacts on BPP. When MSR occurs, the sample mass returned will be restricted, highlighting the importance of developing instruments that can select the most promising samples for MSR. Raman spectroscopy is one favored technique for this purpose. Three Raman instruments will be sent onboard two upcoming Mars rover missions for the first time. In chapters 3-4, I investigated the challenges of Raman to identify samples for MSR. I examined two Raman systems, each optimized in a different way to mitigate a major problem commonly suffered by Raman instruments: background fluorescence. In Chapter 3, I focused on visible laser excitation wavelength (532 nm) gated (or time-resolved Raman, TRR) spectroscopy. Results showed occasional improvement over conventional Raman for mitigating fluorescence in samples. It was hypothesized that results were wavelength-dependent and that greater fluorescence reduction was possible with UV laser excitation. In Chapter 4, I tested this hypothesis with a time-resolved UV (266 nm) gated Raman and UV fluorescence spectroscopy capability. I acquired Raman and fluorescence data sets on samples and showed that the UV system enabled identifications of minerals and biosignatures in samples with high confidence. The results obtained in this dissertation may inform approaches for MSR by: (1) refining models for biosignature preservation in habitable Mars environments; (2) improving sample selection and caching strategies, which may increase the success of Earth-based biogenicity studies; and (3) informing the development of Raman instruments for upcoming rover-based missions.

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2016