Penny Boston


Dr. Penny Boston is the director of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute (NAI), at NASA Ames, Moffett Field. She leads the scientific activities of the institute’s member teams and all operational aspects of the organization. Her appointment was effective May 31, 2016.

“Dr. Boston is a leading astrobiologist and science explorer with a proven track record of leadership. I’m energized by her passion for NASA’s mission to seek signs of life in the solar system and beyond,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and recently retired associate administrator for the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “It’s an incredible time for all science, and especially astrobiology, as our current and future missions edge closer to answering the question: Are we alone?”

Penny leads the NAI in fulfilling its mission to perform, support, and catalyze collaborative interdisciplinary astrobiology research; train the next generation of astrobiologists; provide scientific and technical leadership for astrobiology space mission investigations; and develop new information technology approaches for collaborations among widely distributed investigators.

“The search for life elsewhere in our solar system and beyond is one of the great intellectual enterprises of our species,” said Penny. “The deeper understanding of the profound biodiversity and adaptability of life here on our own planet is part of the same continuum. I’ve devoted my career to these areas of science, and I’m delighted to now contribute to the field in this new leadership capacity.”

Prior to joining NASA, Penny, in 2002, founded and directed the Cave and Karst Studies Program at New Mexico Tech, Socorro, New Mexico, where she also served as a professor and led their Earth and environmental sciences department as chair. She also served from 2002 to 2016 as associate director of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute, a congressionally mandated institute in Carlsbad, New Mexico. She holds Bachelor of Arts and Master of Science degrees and a Ph.D. from the University of Colorado Boulder.

Penny replaces Carl Pilcher, former NAI director who retired in early 2013, after leading the institute for seven years, before returning in August 2014 on a part-time basis to serve as interim director. In addition to leading and coordinating a scientific community of more than 1,000 members, Carl managed the administrative team at NAI’s central office at NASA Ames.

My Sessions

Innerspace Astrobiology: Caves from Earth to Mars and Beyond

Main Stage

Exploring the amazing hidden environments that we have on Earth is helping us to contemplate and prepare for the Great Explorations to come beyond the planet of our birth. But it is not just exploration alone, but coupling that to science that results in the great discoveries and the expansion of the human understanding of […]