The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Local News

February 22, 2008

NASA taps Danville native

Morrison to head lunar efforts

David Morrison, internationally renowned NASA astrobiologist, traveled around the world during his career — and out of this world in his research.

He rubbed shoulders with the likes of Carl Sagan during graduate school in the Ivy Leagues, and later won a Sagan Medal of the American Astronomical Society — only one of his many prestigious honors.

But he began his life in Danville, where some former classmates may remember him as a skilled percussionist in the Danville High School band.

Others may remember him as a connoisseur of amateur theater. Others still recall his studious ways — he was fourth in his class of 352 in 1958, graduating with a 4.99 grade point average.

“I was interested in space clear back to grade school,” he said, “from the time I was in eighth grade and sold my electric train to buy a telescope.”

The investment paid off.

The scientist from Danville has been appointed interim director of the new NASA Lunar Science Institute at Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. He also continues as the senior scientist at the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

LIFE ‘OUT THERE’

From 1996 to 2001, he was the director of astrobiology and space research at Ames, managing research programs in the space, life and earth sciences. Astrobiology — Morrison’s principal field of study — is the study of life in the universe.

But finding life “out there” requires first studying it here.

“We start by trying to understand the origin of life on Earth and how life operates,” he said.

Scientists have begun studying habitats on places where life may have existed once, such as Mars. From there, exploration for life in the universe will only continue, he said.

The moon has become in vogue again in the scientific community, many years after the Apollo missions made the exploration of the moon a household topic of conversation in the ’60s. Since the Apollo missions, space research interests have shifted to other planets — most recently Mars, — and now lunar research is at the forefront again, he said.

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