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Exploring Earth's alien spaces

3:00pm, September 20, 2013

Analogs for other worlds are right here at home. Studies of survival in these places, which mimic the conditions of other planets, can help to prepare for future interplanetary missions.

When Nathalie Cabrol was little, her grandfather gave her a pair of binoculars he had picked up as a soldier in Germany after the liberation of France. It was her first real glimpse at the wonders of the moon and stars. “Later,” Cabrol says with a laugh, “my toys became more elaborate and complex.”

Today she uses robots to hunt for alien life. Cabrol is a planetary geologist and astrobiologist at the SETI Institute’s Carl Sagan Center and NASA’s Ames Research Center, both in Mountain View, Calif. When she’s not using autonomous robots to explore extreme environments, she’s jumping into mountaintop lakes herself using specialized scuba gear. Her goal is to understand the conditions under which life on Earth can exist and apply them to searches for life on other worlds, such as Mars or Saturn’s moon Titan.

Right now, Cabrol is receiving e-mails from a boatlike robot that floats on a lake in the high Chilean Andes. The

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