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PISCES, NASA Team Up for Simulated Human Mars Mission

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
November 9, 2016
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PISCES’ John Hamilton (r) in the field at Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho, with two simulation astronauts. (Credit: PISCES)

PISCES’ John Hamilton (r) in the field at Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho, with two simulation astronauts. (Credit: PISCES)

HILO, Hawaii  (PISCES PR) — This November, PISCES is partnering with NASA’s BASALT research group to conduct a full-scale Mars simulation exercise on the rugged lava terrain in Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park (HVNP). BASALT (Biologic Analog Science Associated with Lava Terrains) is one of NASA’s prestigious PSTAR (Planetary Science and Technology Through Analog Research) grant programs, combining their Science Directorate and Exploration Mission Directorates.

The main goal of BASALT is to develop the mission technologies and protocols necessary for anticipated human missions on the Red Planet. Future Mars astronauts will be able to use these valuable methods to research and operate on the Martian terrain, extracting samples for geologists, geochemists and astro-biologists to search for potential signs of microbial life.

The BASALT program is focused on researching different aspects of Mars’ environment by studying two locations on Earth: HVNP on the Big Island of Hawai’i and The Craters of the Moon National Monument lava fields in Idaho. Flows in Hawai’i are representing “wet Mars,” or the early Martian landscapes characterized by widespread basaltic volcanism and interactions with water. The Idaho lava fields are serving as analogs to present-day Mars or “dry Mars,” where basaltic volcanism is rare and most evidence for volcano-driven hydrothermal activity is relict.

The November BASALT exercise at HVNP will be rehearsed with two simulation astronauts on the lava flows of Mauna Ulu. Real-time communications will link these astronauts, while messages to and from scientists back on ‘Earth’ will see 5 and 20 minute time-delays to simulate the real-life signal delay between planets. Kilauea Military Camp at HVNP will serve as Earth mission control. Selected University of Hawai’i at Hilo students and PISCES interns will be part of the mission excitement.

“We are extremely excited to be involved in this cutting-edge project to lay the ground work for a human mission on Mars,” said PISCES Education and Public Outreach Coordinator, John Hamilton. “And to be playing our role to help NASA and our country set foot on the Red Planet.