Dana Ilyse Burton

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

George Washington U.

Grant number

Gr. 9894

Approve Date

October 25, 2019

Project Title

Burton, Dana (George Washington U.) "Difference and Multiplicity in NASA’s Search for Life"

When NASA astrobiological scientists search for life beyond Earth, they look for evidence of extraterrestrial microbes. To prepare for interplanetary missions, scientists must find ways to imagine, detect, and contain extraterrestrial life’s presumed radical difference. As scientists work in laboratories on Earth to understand life on an interplanetary scale, how do their efforts reconfigure biology as a schema to account for the multiplicity of life? The astrobiological search for life is a collaboration between three groups of scientists, who each manage earth microbial life in an effort to prepare for the discovery of extraterrestrial life. Each division of NASA contends with the biological capacities of life on Earth in their efforts to launch life detection missions that can gather data about how life may be different in space. My research, an anthropological investigation of NASA’s scientific interplanetary endeavor, calls attention to the stakes of grappling with biological difference and reconceptualizing life as multiple. In so doing, my project will build on the sociocultural anthropology of space and the anthropology of science by analyzing how as Earth becomes part of an interplanetary ecological milieu, biology and its presumed expertise on defining life become destabilized as life becomes multiplied.