The BASALT team, in partnership with the FINESSE research project, embarked on their first science-driven field deployment under simulated Mars mission conditions. The team began pre-mission testing on June 13th, and then started their formal mission days on Monday, June 20th and ended on Friday, July 1. Over this time, the team investigated Big Craters and Highway flows in Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. The objective was to identify and sample altered basalts for the purposes of both geochemical and microbial studies related to defining the habitability potential of present-day Mars. The field excursions were conducted by two team members who simulated Extra-vehicular (EV) conditions related to human Mars mission conditions. They were supported by an Intra-vehicular (IV) team that was simulating being on Mars, albeit within a mission command center (and not on EV traverse) that was located 10’s of kilometers away from the EV team. The EV and IV teams communicated in real-time given their co-location on Mars. A remote Science Team also supported the EV activities. The Science Team was located in Arco, Idaho, which is approximately 60-km away from the EV team. The Science Team communicated with the IV team under latency (delay), which simulated average transmission times for messages passing from Earth to Mars and vice versa. These communication delays ranged from 5 to 15 minutes in duration.
The scientific research objectives of the deployment were complemented by an array of Operational and Technical research elements focused on identifying which human-robotic ConOps and supporting capabilities enable science return and discovery.
During the three-week mission, the BASALT-FINESSE team supported an outreach day in partnership with the National Park Service (NPS). This event was attended by several hundred individuals from the area and allowed the public to interact with researchers and tour the NASA Mission Command Center Trailer that was located in Arco.
The BASALT team is now readying for their next field deployment to Mauna U’lu on the Big Island of Hawai’i. Stay tuned for more news as the team heads out in November 2016 for their next trip to “Mars”!