The origin of the Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) goes back to the proposal presented to NASA by a group of Spanish and American scientists led by Juan Pérez-Mercader to join the recently created (1998) NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI).
After a thorough analysis and evaluation of the proposal and an exchange of letters at government level, CAB was integrated into the NAI in April 2000, thus becoming the first Associate Member of the NAI outside the United States.
CAB was created as a joint centre between the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and the National Institute of Aerospace Technology (INTA), and with the support of the Autonomous Community of Madrid (CAM). The former INTA president and Secretary of State for Defence, Pedro Morenés, and the president of CSIC, César Nombela, signed on 19 November 1999 the constitution agreement on the basis of the 1991 cooperation agreement between the two institutions, with Professor Emilio Varela as INTA’s Director General. Its initial objective was to establish a truly transdisciplinary research environment for the development of the new science of Astrobiology, with a new and specific contribution of a common methodology based on complexity theories and the application of the scientific method to Life.
CAB’s scientific activities began at the end of 1999, on a temporary site provided by INTA. A new building designed, constructed and equipped for the purpose was inaugurated in January 2003, and a 20 percent extension was added in December 2007.
The main CAB building and facilities are located within the INTA campus in Torrejón de Ardoz, and a second section in the ESA’s European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC), both close to Madrid. INTA, the reference Spanish institution in aerospace technology, with its nearly 80 years of existence, offers CAB a unique environment where synergies emerge easily. Similarly, the close contact with ESA’s Astronomy Center makes the involvement of our researchers in ESA’s missions a natural and fluent process.Currently, CAB has more than150 working people that include 55 civil servants, 75 contract employees, and 25 PhD students. We are functionally organized into four departments: Astrophysics, Molecular Evolution, Planetology and Habitability, and Advanced Instrumentation. Several laboratories are equipped with facilities and instrumentation for multiple techniques, such as: biochemistry, molecular ecology, DNA sequencing, microbiology, geology, geomineralogy, geochemistry, organic chemistry, stable isotope analysis, nano-dispensing and microarray capabilities, facilities for meteoritic impact simulation, high-vacuum simulation chambers, high-pressure chambers, a Mars wind tunnel and an environmental chamber, and a cryostat for IR detector development for astronomical applications. The highly multidisciplinary team (astrophysicists, planetologists, geologists, geochemists, chemists, geomicrobiologists, molecular microbiologists, engineers and system engineers), together with the diversity of facilities and techniques available, make CAB a unique research center where multidisciplinarity turns into true transdisciplinarity to tackle astrobiological questions.