What Is Life… According To NASA?

What exactly is life and how could we know if we ever spotted an alien? NASA has some ideas!


We often think of aliens as space monsters or little green men with laser guns, but what might alien life actually be like?

Here we take a look at NASA’s definition of life, and see how it’s being used in the exploration of the cosmos, as well as in the chemistry lab as researchers search for the possible pathway from simple chemistry to living cells.

For Teachers

The content of this video meets criteria in the following Disciplinary Core Ideas defined by Next Generation Science Standards. Use our videos to supplement classroom curriculum.


Our videos benefit from guidance and advice provided by experts in science and education. This animation is the result of collaboration between the following scientists, educators, and our team of creatives.

  • Jon Perry
  • Jeremiah Deasey
  • Anthony Danzl
  • Rosemary Mosco
  • Jordan Collver
  • Tyler Proctor
  • Christopher Parsons, MSc
  • Eric T. Parker, PhD
  • Ram Krishnamurthy, PhD
  • Nicholas V. Hud, PhD


Biochemist Seven Benner’s book,  Life, the Universe, and the Scientific Method, is the most comprehensive look at NASA’s definition as it applies to space exploration and life origin’s chemistry. I highly recommend it! Here is a shorter paper he did on the subject.

Dissenting Views On Nasa’s Definition Of Life

Scientists and philosophers are a wild bunch of free-thinkers, as such, not everyone jumped on-board when NASA put forth their definition