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"

DANA BURTON, then a graduate student at George Washington University, Washington, DC, was awarded a grant in October 2019 to aid research on ‘Difference and Multiplicity in NASA’s Search for Life,’ supervised by Dr. Ilana Feldman. Retitled ‘Interplanetary Microbial Encounters in NASA’s Search for Life,’ this project investigated the methodological strategies utilized by NASA astrobiologists in their efforts to search for evidence of life in outer space, Funding supported the portion of the project that began at Ames Research Center in California and expanded to include a multi-sited network of NASA centers across the United States, as well as many academic, scientific, and commercial communities and nonhuman entities that are connected to life detection efforts. The central research question that guided this project was: 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 data gathered contributed to a mapping of the interconnected webs of scientific knowledge producers. Specifically, scientists’ conversations about the fundamental requirements of life helped to clarify both the limits of life’s ability to survive in extreme environments on Earth, as well as the limits of scientists’ ability to define what life was and upon what it relied upon on Earth and beyond. The dissertation analysis of this data and the nuances therein are a significant source of information to advance current scholarship about the anthropology of outer space and STS.