NfoLD Rules of the Road

The Network for Life Detection (NfoLD) is a NASA research coordination network focused on advancing life detection research. A research coordination network is a virtual structure to support groups of investigators to communicate and coordinate their research, training and educational activities across disciplinary, organizational, divisional, and geographic boundaries. As such, this organization will serve as a safe place to support open communication.

1. Goals


NfoLD’s core goals are to: 

  • Advance Life Detection Strategy and Capability

    • Identify priorities for, and carry out, research and technology development that informs strategies and enhances capabilities for detecting evidence of life beyond Earth.

  • Catalyze Collaboration

    • Identify research and technology objectives that may be best or only achieved through interdisciplinary collaborations; create an environment and develop activities that promote and enable new collaborations.

  • Support NASA Programs and Missions

    • In keeping with the recommendations of the 2018 National Academies report on Astrobiology Strategy, improve the integration of life detection science and technology into all stages of planetary and astrophysical missions, from Decadal Survey and program planning to mission science definition, implementation, and interpretation. 

  • Foster Community Development

    • Increase scientific and demographic diversity in the life detection community, engage international participation, and facilitate the involvement of students and early career researchers in all aspects of NfoLD activities.

NfoLD members are expected to contribute actively and positively toward achieving these goals.

2. Communication


     NfoLD is built upon the principles of open communication, open access, and the free flow of data and information among members of the network.  NfoLD scientists have the privilege of regular communication and exchange of ideas with experts from widely varying disciplines and geographical locations. With this privilege comes added responsibility. Because the network is large and disperse, and because virtual, group communication can sometimes leave room for interpretation, extra vigilance is required to ensure that intellectual property is respected.

     Ideas are a form of intellectual property, and are shared in NfoLD communications in the spirit of collaboration.  It should not be assumed that information shared in NfoLD communications can be shared or used freely beyond the network.  Transparency and inclusiveness are encouraged as a means of avoiding issues. Open dialog about NfoLD-related projects and papers that teams are working on should reduce duplication of effort while also increasing collaborations between scientists with similar interests. We encourage PIs to share such information at NfoLD steering committee meetings where it will be recorded in meeting minutes.  To keep the communication open and unhindered, never copy or forward emails to non-members without the express consent of the originator(s) of the source material.

     NfoLD communications may take the form of oral communication during virtual or in-person meetings or workshops, or the recordings or minutes thereof; written communication in the form or reports, white papers, emails to NfoLD lists, group editing of documents, or content and conversations posted to collaborative workspace environments; and content posted to the NfoLD website or social media.  It is expected that the standards described above will be applied in each of these forms of communication within the network. Blatant violations will be subject to disciplinary action as described in Section 4, below.


3. Organizational Structure


The organizational structure of NfoLD is designed to facilitate progress toward NfoLD goals and objectives and enhance communication within NfoLD, between NfoLD and other NASA RCNs, and between NfoLD and NASA HQ:

  • Co-Leads

    • (Drs. Sarah Stewart Johnson, Britney Schmidt, and Tori Hoehler): In conjunction with the NASA representatives and the steering committee (see below) the co-leads are responsible for developing the overall strategic direction of NfoLD, and ensuring that specific activities and initiatives are well coordinated with that vision.  The co-leads also serve as the primary point of contact with and between the NfoLD membership and the NASA Representatives. The current Co-Leads were chosen by the NASA Representatives and will serve for a 5-year term. Co-lead membership may change or be augmented in the future at the discretion of the NASA Representatives.

  • NASA Representatives

    • (Drs. Mary Voytek and Lindsay Hays): NASA representatives provide a conduit for communication between NfoLD and NASA HQ SMD leadership.  The role of the Representatives is to keep NASA HQ SMD leadership apprised of NfoLD activities, and provide guidance to NfoLD membership on NASA HQ policy, initiatives, and funding.

  • Steering Committee

    • (PIs (or designees) of select life detection-themed NASA ROSES awards): The role of the Steering Committee is to work with the NfoLD Co-Leads and NASA Representatives to develop and implement the vision of NfoLD and to aid the Co-Leads in decisions and/or logistical matters.  In conjunction with the Co-Leads and NASA Representatives, the Steering Committee has overall authority over NfoLD activities and initiatives. The current Steering Committee is comprised of the PIs of 23 NASA ROSES awards that represent a balance of perspectives and approaches in life detection science and technology.  Going forward, ROSES proposers will be able to self-nominate for service on the Steering Committee. Steering Committee membership is expected to rotate as existing ROSES awards expire and relevant new ROSES projects are awarded.

  • Members

    • Research Team members (Co-Is, collaborators, postdocs and students) on the ROSES awards from which PIs are drawn for service on the Steering Committee.  Members may stand in for Steering Committee members during Steering Committee meetings. Members are encouraged, but not required, to participate in one or more Action Groups (see below) and in that capacity can propose, lead, or participate in NfoLD initiatives.   Additional guidelines for Members are outlined in the Membership Policy section below.

  • Affiliate Members

    • Individuals or groups working in the area of life detection science and technology who are interested in contributing to NfoLD goals and objectives may apply to become Affiliate Members.  It is expected that Affiliate Members will participate in one or more Action Groups (see below) and contribute actively to activities within those groups for the duration of their Affiliate status.  As participants in the Action Groups, Affiliate Members can propose, lead, or participate in NfoLD objectives.

  • Early Career Council

    • Students, postdocs, and early career professionals may self-nominate, or be nominated by any NfoLD Member, to participate in the Early Career Council.  The purpose of the council is to foster the development of the next generation of life detection scientists and technologists by providing visibility and engagement in community activities and a forum for identifying and discussing issues specific to early career individuals.  Members of the Early Career Council may also participate in Action Groups (see below) and in that capacity can propose, lead, or participate in NfoLD initiatives.

  • Action Groups: 

    • Each of the four main goals of NfoLD is reflected in a dedicated group that is tasked with driving progress toward that goal.  Action Groups should include at least one Steering Committee member and one Early Career Council member but can be led or participated in by any Member or Affiliate Member.  Action groups will appoint representatives to periodically update the Steering Committee on progress toward the goals and objectives of that group.

  • Working Groups: 

    • Action groups may convene Working Groups to plan and execute specific activities and initiatives.  Working groups report periodically on their activities to the Action Group leads or, at the discretion of those leads, to the Steering Committee.

4. Membership Policy


Collaboration, mutual respect, and the open exchange of information are vital to the success of NfoLD. To facilitate complete and timely sharing among members, members agree to protect all intellectual property shared at all telecons, virtual and in-person meetings, via e-mail exchanges, etc. The intent is not to limit information exchange but to enable it. Information is to be taken in its broadest context; including data, results, figures, text, code, ideas, plans, goals, speculations, etc.

In order to foster an atmosphere that encourages the free expression and exchange of scientific ideas, it is vital that all participants in NfoLD should enjoy an environment free from all forms of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. To that end, NfoLD participants shall collaborate under the philosophy of equality of opportunity and treatment for all members, regardless of gender, gender identity or expression, race, color, national or ethnic origin, religion or religious belief, age, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities, veteran status, or any other reason not related to scientific merit. Bullying or harassment, sexual or otherwise, is a form of misconduct that undermines the integrity of NfoLD collaborations.   Similarly, NfoLD members will conduct themselves in a manner that is consistent with the Ethics Policy adopted by the American Astronomical Society (AAS):

Blatant violations of NfoLD membership and communications policies will be subject to discipline as follows:


The NfoLD Co-Leads and NASA Representatives will resolve disputes. Violation of the standards for professional behavior by a member, as outlined above, will likely result in dismissal from NfoLD. Improper conduct also includes but is not limited to: attempting to publish, present results, or submit proposals independently of NfoLD if they are based on information presented to NfoLD by other team members, and sharing information with non-NfoLD members without the consent of NfoLD.

5. Publication Policy


Publications that arise from collaborative efforts between NfoLD scientists should follow the same basic protocols followed by other science investigations. The first author is the person who leads the investigation from conception to fruition and/or writes the bulk of the paper. Alternatively, the first author is the person who was selected by the co-authors to take the lead based on substantial merit.

All persons making a substantive contribution to the investigation, including the contribution of formative ideas, should be invited to co-author the publication, contribute text, and review the manuscript for technical accuracy. Authors should make every effort to recognize minor contributions in the acknowledgements section of the manuscript. It is highly recommended that lead authors receive a written communication from all co-authors stating that they have read the paper and agree with the applied methods and conclusions.

NfoLD scientists are encouraged to give ample opportunity for team members to author papers, especially those researchers in the formative years of their careers. We recognize that investigations forming the basis of a doctoral thesis require time to develop. It is expected that extra precautions will be taken to protect and encourage student research projects.

From time to time, problems arise. Most are the result of broken communication between individuals with good intentions. Occasionally, more serious conflicts arise. The NfoLD co-Leaders and/or NASA representatives are willing to help mediate such situations. Blatant disregard of the ethical protocols described above, determined on a case-by-case basis, will not be tolerated and will result in discontinued access to NfoLD mailing lists, web servers, telecons, and events.

Publications that benefitted from NfoLD collaborations should include acknowledgements to both your programmatic funding institution and to NfoLD.  The following statement should be placed in the acknowledgement section immediately after your programmatic funding information:

“The results reported herein benefitted from collaborations and/or information exchange within the Network for Life Detection (NfoLD) Research Coordination Network sponsored by NASA's Science Mission Directorate.”


Note:  The foregoing is modeled on the “Rules of the Road” document maintained by the NExSS research coordination network.  The leadership and members of NExSS are acknowledged and thanked for their efforts in developing content that has also proved useful not just within NExSS, but for NfoLD as well.