Portrait photo of a young woman with long red-blonde hair, wearing a blue shirt and standing in front of a red brick wall.

Rebecca McCauley Rench

Program Scientist

Rebecca (Becky) McCauley Rench is a Program Scientist in the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters. She isthe Deputy Program Scientist for the Astrobiology Program and leads the Habitable Worlds Program, which supports scientific research on the characteristics and distribution of potentially habitable environments in the Solar System and beyond, and PSTAR, which addresses the need for integrated interdisciplinary field experiments as an integral part of preparation for planned human and robotic missions. Additionally, she is the Program Scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL, Curiosity) and the Planetary Data System (PDS), the NASA Liaison for MAPSIT, and has co-led the development of the Mars Future Plan and is a key member of the Science Mission Directorate's efforts in thinking forward to the science to be done by crewed missions to the Red Planet.

Previously, Becky served as a Policy Analyst on the NASA HQ Science Mission Directorate (SMD) Policy Team from 2016-2018. In this role, she assisted in partnership development as the SMD Agreement Manager, prepared Congressional reports, and supported strategic planning initiatives. This assignment was part of an Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) Appointee from the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, where she worked as a research fellow in the Center for Revolutionary Scientific Thought (CReST) from 2015-2016.

Becky describes herself as a scientist that enjoys the big picture, enabling science in the laboratory and field, in the pursuit of exploration and advancing humanity as a space-faring species. In pursuit of this, over the past two decades she has built connections with a variety of people and organizations. In 2006, she received the Truman Scholarship and has since been privileged to be a member of an excellent cadre of individuals dedicated to public service. She participated in the Truman Governance Fellows program in 2007 while concurrently completing a NASA internship at Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) with Dr. Paul Mahaffy focused on the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument that would fly on Curiosity.

Becky earned her bachelor’s degrees in biology and chemistry at West Virginia University and her doctorate at the Pennsylvania State University with thesis research focused on microbial communities in low-energy cave environments. In between undergraduate and graduate school, Becky served as an AmeriCorps member and was stationed at the American Red Cross in the San Francisco Bay Area, during which she taught disaster preparedness to school-aged groups and responded to community needs after wildfire emergencies.

Becky enjoys being a partner to her husband and parent to three wonderful children. She is an avid board gamer, puzzler, and escape room artist, and loves to host social gatherings. As a first-generation college-student, and native of Appalachia, she is an advocate for opening doors to individuals that want to break down unnecessary barriers.

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