CAT/SP VIP Person Nr. 11 – Joan Oró – NASA missions to Mars

Joan Oró (Lleida, October 26, 1923 – Barcelona, September 2, 2004) was a biochemist whose research has been of importance in understanding the origin of life. He participated in several NASA missions, including Apollo mission to the Moon and the Viking lander. He received the Oparin Medal, awarded by the International Astrobiology Society for his contributions to the field of origins of life.

Oró completed his undergraduate studies in Biochemistry at the University of Barcelona and moved to the United States in 1952. Four years later he obtained his PhD in Biochemistry in Houston. He became a full professor in University of Houston in 1963 where he founded and directed the department of biochemistry and biophysics. From the 1960s he worked with NASA on the Viking missions which explored the planet Mars. His work was essential in the analysis of samples of Martian soil, questioning early suggestions that life might have been detected. He also served as a science advisor for many USA projects and committees, including those involved in the International Space Station and the future missions to Mars.

He was also the first scientist pointing towards comets as key carriers of organic molecules to our early biosphere. This conjecture (formulated in 1961) is largely accepted today.