David J. Smith [EMAIL]

Assistant Branch Chief (Acting), Space Biosciences,
NASA Ames Research Center

Dual-Title Ph.D., Biology & Astrobiology, UW (2012)

Astrobiology Areas of Interest: Life in Extreme Environments, Space Exploration


I am fascinated by life in extreme environments.  Several years ago, I helped discover terrestrial microbes floating and surviving in air hundreds of thousands of feet above the Earth’s surface. Our upper atmosphere may be one of the least explored places on the planet! I remain intrigued by the location because of its similarities to the harsh surface of Mars. Moreover, the scientific community has no idea where to draw the altitude boundary of Earth’s biosphere. One challenge exploring the upper atmosphere has been that, until recently, collecting samples was exceptionally difficult. To address this limitation, my NASA team developed two payloads that enable stratospheric exploration on scientific balloons. Someday, our efforts may improve NASA’s search for life on Mars or even the upper atmosphere clouds of Venus!

I was awarded a B.A. in Ecological & Evolutionary Biology from Princeton University (2007) and a Ph.D. in Biology & Astrobiology from the University of Washington (2012). Before starting graduate school, I spent the summer of 2007 as a Research Associate in the NASA Ames Astrobiology Academy. I was hired by NASA Kennedy Space Center that same year (2007) and began rotating my time between Cape Canaveral and Seattle, working on various NASA spaceflight projects in the Advanced Life Sciences Labs.  I am currently a Project Scientist in the Space Biosciences Research Division at NASA Ames Research Center, supporting Space Biology Program flight experiments. 



1.     Smith, D.J. et al. 2014. A balloon-based payload for exposing microorganisms in the stratosphere (E-MIST). Gravitational and Space Research. 2(2): 70-80.

2.     Castro, S.L., Smith, D.J., Ott, M.C. 2014. “A Researcher’s Guide to: ISS Microbial Research”, in International Space Station (ISS) Researcher’s Guide, NASA ISS Program Office (Houston, TX). (invited)

3.     Lineberger, K., Levitt, J., Smith, D.J., Nguyen, T.V., Peter, A.M. 2014. A systems engineering approach to quantitative comparison of molecular instruments for use on the International Space Station. Conference on Systems Engineering Research. doi:10.1016/j.procs.2014.03.042

4.     Smith, D.J. 2013. Microbes in the upper atmosphere and unique opportunities for astrobiology research. Astrobiology. 13(10):981-990.

5.     Smith, D.J., Timonen, H.J., Jaffe, D.A., Griffin, D.W., Birmele, M.N., Perry, K.D., Ward, P.D., Roberts, M.S. 2013. Intercontinental dispersal of bacteria and archaea in transpacific winds. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 79(4):1134-1139.

6.     Smith, D.J. 2013. Aeroplankton and the need for a global monitoring network. BioScience 63(7):515-516.  (invited)

7.     Smith, D.J. and Griffin, D.W. 2013 Inadequate methods and questionable conclusions in atmospheric life study. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. doi:10.1073/pnas.1302612110  (letter)

8.     Birmele, M.N., Smith, D.J., Morford, M.A., Roberson, L.B., Roberts, M.S. 2012. Evaluation of an ATP assay to quantify bacterial attachment to wetted surface in variable gravity conditions.  42nd ICES (AIAA 2012):3508.

9.     Smith, D.J. et al. 2012. Free tropospheric transport of microorganisms from Asia to North America. Microb. Ecol. 64(4):973-985.

10.   Smith, D.J., Griffin, D.W., McPeters, R.D., Ward, P.D., Schuerger, A.C. 2011. Microbial survival in the stratosphere and implications for global dispersal. Aerobiologia 27: 319-332.

11.   Smith, D.J., Griffin, D.W., Jaffe, D.A. 2011. The high life: Transport of microbes in the atmosphere. Eos 92(30):249-250.

12.   Smith, D.J., Griffin, D.W., Schuerger, A.C. 2010. Stratospheric microbiology at 20 km over the Pacific Ocean. Aerobiologia 26: 35-46.

13.   Smith, D.J. et al. 2009. Survivability of Psychrobacter cryohalolentis K5 under simulated martian surface conditions. Astrobiology 9(2): 221-228.