Early Habitable Environments and the Evolution of Complexity Principal Investigator - David J. Des Marais

Cosmic Distribution of Chemical Complexity

NASA MISSIONS                                 /  Science Investigations  /  News and Highlights  /

Louis Allamandola, Lead Co-Investigator

Co-Investigators: Scott Sandford, Andrew Mattioda, Murthy Gudipati
Ames Postdocs: Joseph Roser, Nathan Bramall, Michel Nuevo, Christiaan Boersma
Collaborators: Max Bernstein, Els Peeters, Jan Cami, Jamie Elsila Cook, Jason Dworkin



O/OREOS NanosatelliteNASA's first Astrobiology Small Payloads mission, Organism/ORganic Exposure to Orbital Stresses (O/OREOS), was launched into orbit November 19, 2010. The mission seeks to answer fundamental astrobiology questions about the origin, evolution and distribution of life in the universe. In addition to being the first Astrobiology Small Payloads (ASP) mission, O/OREOS is also NASA's first "CubeSat" with two distinct, independent science experiments on a single satellite. It is also the first CubeSat to conduct autonomous chemical and biological measurements in the exosphere. The two experiments aboard O/OREOS, Space Environment Survivability of Live Organisms (SESLO) and Space Environment Viability of Organics (SEVO) completed their primary mission in May 2011, surpassing all of their mission criteria.

SESLO is the microbiology experiment on the CubeSat. It is designed to characterize the growth, activity, health and ability of microorganisms commonly found in soil and salt ponds to adapt to the stresses of outer space by rehydrating, or "feeding," the microbes, which were launched in a dried and dormant state, and growing them in orbit using liquid nutrients. Scientists will compare the microbes' population density and the medium's color change at three different times during the mission to determine how and if their behavior changes with longer exposure to radiation and weightless conditions in space.

SEVO is the chemistry experiment aboard O/OREOS. It monitors the stability and changes in four classes of biologically important organic molecules as they are exposed to space conditions. Scientists selected organic molecules distributed throughout our galaxy, as well as organic "biomarkers" of life as we know it on Earth for the SEVO experiment. O/OREOS houses the organic samples in "micro-environments" relevant to space and planetary conditions. The experiment exposes the organic compounds to solar ultraviolet light (UV), visible light, trapped-particle and cosmic radiation. Scientists will determine the stability of the molecules by studying changes in UV, visible, and near-infrared light absorption. In addition to being the major source of radiation for the molecules aboard SEVO, the Sun also serves as the light source for the onboard spectrometer. O/OREOS is now in an extended mission phase for the SEVO experiment.

Cover of Astrobiology JournalSo far the O/OREOS mission has been presented in over 35 international talks, five referred publications and four conference proceedings. The December 2011 issue of the Astrobiology Journal features the O/OREOS spacecraft on its cover with the SESLO initial science results being published inside. The first results for the SEVO mission will be published shortly.

The Small Spacecraft Division at Ames manages the O/OREOS payload and mission operations with the professional support of staff and students from Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, California, in support of the Astrobiology Small Payloads program under the Planetary Science Division of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA's Headquarters in Washington.

For more information see: O/OREOS Mission.


Cosmic Distribution of Chemical Complexity
Disks and the Origins of Planetary Systems
Mineralogical Traces of Early Habitable Environments
Origins of Functional Proteins and the Early Evolution of Metabolism