Sciences and Exploration Directorate

Hannah L McLain


Hannah L McLain's Contact Card & Information.
Phone: 301.614.6920
Org Code: 691
Mail Code 691
Greenbelt, MD 20771

Brief Bio

Hannah McLain is an astrobiologist with the Catholic University of America at NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center in Maryland. Her work focuses on the search for life in outer space looking for the building blocks of life in extraterrestrial materials, including meteorites, asteroids, extinct comets, and lunar samples. 


In 2013, Hannah McLain joined the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. In 2015 and 2017 she received the NASA Group Achievement Award for her work with the Mars Science Laboratory mission for her work with pyrolysis gas chromatography mass spectrometry of mars simulants for comparison to the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument.


In recognition of Hannah McLain’s meteorite research, the International Astronomical Union named an asteroid after her, asteroid (117614) Hannahmclain.


In 2015 Hannah McLain started working heavily with the OSIRIS-REx mission with their contamination control team to make sure that the sample that was returned is as pristine as possible for the people that are looking for signs of life in outer space. This work with the OSIRIS-REx team lead to Group Achievement awards in 2017, 2020, and 2022. Since the sample returned to earth in 2023 Hannah McLain has received a piece of the OSIRIS-REx sample and has started the search for the building blocks of life in the OSIRIS-REx return sample.


In 2019 Hannah McLain continued her search for life in outer space with the JAXA (Japanese Space Agency) completing two rehearsals with the soluble organic analysis team in Fukuoka, Japan before the sample was returned and she was able to analyze the first Hayabusa2 sample in 2021. Her analysis of the JAXA Hayabusa2 samples was awarded the Special Thanks and Recognition in 2022 and the Robert H. Goddard award in 2022.

Current Projects

Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx)


Hannah McLain is a Science Team Collaborator in the Sample Organics Analysis Working Group Team that is investigating the organic composition of the samples that returned to Earth from asteroid Bennu in 2023.

Lunar Environment And Dynamics for Exploration Research (LEADER)


Hannah McLain is collaborating with surface scientists to constrain the origin of small organic compounds by simulating the lunar environment and measuring the survivability of those compounds on the lunar regolith

Survivability of amino acids under ionizing radiation in Mars-Like conditions


Since the presence of amino acids in future planetary samples is indicative of extraterrestrial life, it is imperative to determine the timescale of radiolytic alteration. Hannah is working with realistic Mars analog samples to determine the survival of biomolecules at various depths on Mars. 



Collaborated with JAXA to determine the initial amount of amino acids and amines in the JAXA allotted sample (2021) and was able to search for amines and amino acids in a larger specifically allotted sample in 2023.

Meteorites of Opportunity


Analysis of amines and amino acids in the Aguas Zarcas, Tarda, Murchison, Asuka 12236, Saricicek, and Dingle Dell meteorites.

Titan Chemistry Simulations


Simulate conditions that are observed when Dragonfly arrives in the atmosphere of Titan. These analyses include the simulation of Titan like conditions in the laboratory and the detection of amino acids, amines, and nucleobases from these laboratory simulations.


Research Scientist

The Catholic University of America and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center - Greenbelt, MD

October 2013 - Present

Research Scientist

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Chamblee, GA

May 2010 - May 2011


Masters of Science (Chemistry -2010) Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA

Bachelors of Science (Chemistry – 2006) Warren Wilson College, Asheville, NC


Selected Publications


2018. "OSIRIS-REx Contamination Control Strategy and Implementation." Space Science Reviews 214 (1): 19 [Full Text] [10.1007/s11214-017-0439-4] [Journal Article/Letter]

2018. "Effect of polychromatic X-ray microtomography imaging on the amino acid content of the Murchison CM chondrite." Meteoritics & Planetary Science 54 (1): 220–228 [Full Text] [10.1111/maps.13188] [Journal Article/Letter]

2016. "Aliphatic Amines in Antarctic CR2, CM2, and CM1/2 Carbonaceous Chondrites." Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 189 296-311 [Full Text] [10.1016/j.gca.2016.06.018] [Journal Article/Letter]

2016. "Evaluation of the robustness of chromatographic columns in a simulated highly radiative Jovian environment." Planetary and Space Science 122 38-45 [10.1016/j.pss.2016.01.004] [Journal Article/Letter]

2015. "DISTRIBUTION AND ORIGIN OF AMINO ACIDS IN LUNAR REGOLITH SAMPLES." 46th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (2015) [Proceedings]

2015. "The origin of amino acids in lunar regolith samples." Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 172 357-369 [Full Text] [10.1016/j.gca.2015.10.008] [Journal Article/Letter]

2015. "Amino acid analyses of R and CK chondrites." Meteoritics & Planetary Science 50 (3): 470-482 [Full Text] [10.1111/maps.12433] [Journal Article/Letter]

2010. "Guanine, Adenine, and Hypoxanthine Production in UV-Irradiated Formamide Solutions: Relaxation of the Requirements for Prebiotic Purine Nucleobase Formation." ChemBioChem 11 (9): 1240 [10.1002/cbic.201000074] [Journal Article/Letter]