by Joshua Mauldin

Carl Pilcher, former Director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, visited CTI last month to participate in the Winter Symposium. At the conclusion of this event he joined Joshua Mauldin for a conversation on the Fresh Thinking Podcast. Dr. Pilcher discusses the scientific challenge of astrobiology and how he became involved in the field as both a scientist and administrator. 

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Dr. Carl B. Pilcher has had careers in both academia and NASA management. He came to Ames from NASA Headquarters where he was the Senior Scientist for Astrobiology with overall management responsibility for NASA’s astrobiology program. His career began with bachelors and doctorate degrees in chemistry from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, respectively. While still a graduate student, he led scientific teams that discovered water ice in Saturn’s rings and on three of Jupiter’s Galilean satellites including Europa, now a high priority astrobiology exploration target because of its subsurface liquid water ocean. Upon receiving his Ph.D., he joined the Institute for Astronomy (and later the Department of Physics and Astronomy) faculty at the University of Hawaii, where he discovered and analyzed “weather” on Neptune and participated in the discovery of methane ice on Pluto. He also conducted research on Jupiter’s plasma torus and served as a member of the imaging team of NASA’s Galileo mission to Jupiter.

Dr. Pilcher became the NAI Director in September 2006. During his tenure he facilitated numerous multi-disciplinary collaborations—within the Origins of Life research portfolio in particular, steered the Institute toward a more directly supportive role in spaceflight missions, and in general provided superb executive leadership. In addition to leading and coordinating a scientific community of ~1000 members, he deftly managed the administrative team at NAI “Central” at NASAAmes Research Center.