In preparation for the big departure to Mars, NASA will conduct several Mars Training Missions inside the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The Hawaiian authorities approved NASA’s project as using the Volcanic Park as a training base for astronauts and scientists who will depart towards the Red Planet.
NASA selected two locations to conduct these Mars Training Missions, the first one being the Volcanoes National Park from Hawaii, while the other is Snake River Plain in Idaho. The first location is an ideal choice for a training base since the Natural Park resembles the volcanic soil of Mars.
As part of this new Mars training project, entitled BASALT (Biologic Analog Science Associated with Lava Terrains) NASA hopes to develop procedures and protocol for soil and rock samples retrieval. Over the next couple of months, teams composed of biologists and geologists will take long hikes along the Mauna Ulu volcano, and will collect rock samples on the go.
Given the volcanic aspect of the Hawaiian park, the scientists will actually feel like they are walking on Martian soil. One of this expedition’s highlights is the development of a procedure to retrieve and contain rock or soil samples which might hold biologic material.
One of the scientists participating in the BASALT project stated that devising sample retrieval protocols is crucial in the event that a manned crew discovers such objects on Mars. He also pointed out that getting the sample back home will be tricky since the risk of contamination is quite high.
John Hamilton, an astronomy member at the University of Hawaii and a member of this expedition declared that the aim of BASALT is to simulate all the conditions of an actual Martian expedition. However, the participating members will not wear space suits during their trek around Mauna Ulu, but they will set a mission control station at the military camp in Kilauea.
In addition, to add a certain degree of realism to the mission, all field communications will have a delay of 5 to 20 minutes.
To fund this project, NASA has issued a special grant, which will be administered through the Hawaiian State University. Furthermore, it would seem that the ISCES (International Space Center for Exploration Systems) will also participate in this expedition, along with 20 senior students from the University of Hawaii-Hilo.
All the members involved in the Mars training missions are confident that by the time the expedition is over, we’ll know what to do once we reach the surface of the Red Planet.
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