Title: Clean drilling for the Atacama Rover Astrobiology Drilling Studies (ARADS), Atacama DesertOn September 6 thru September 24

Rosalba Bonaccorsi (SST) traveled to the Atacama Desert (Chile) to join the Atacama Rover Astrobiology Drilling Studies (ARADS) team led by Brian Glass (Code TI). The objective of the 4-year ARADS project was to design and test analytical suites, techniques, and science operations in one of the most life-barren region of the Mars-like Atacama Desert.

Mission simulations like ARADS inform strategies to prepare for planned life detection missions such as Icebreaker (Pi: Chris McKay), which will drill ca. 1 meter-depth into the ice grounded soil of Mars (nearby former Phoenix Mission site). Rosalba was the Contamination Lead tasked to mitigate and monitor the organic and biological contamination during the 3-week simulated mission with the K-REX2 autonomous rover-mounted robotic drill.  An important step following cleaning is that of certifying the achieved cleanliness after microbial reduction and sterilization practices of the drill string, the sample handling system, prior the multi-instrument analysis of biomarkers in the drilled playa samples. Contamination free samples were distributed to the team for follow up analysis and studies are underway.

Contamination control field experiments will provide key feedback to life detection Icebreaker mission planning/concepts because they will help addressing “Category IV” Planetary protection requirements.  Furthermore, analysis of aseptically retrieved samples will protect integrity of science results, thus improve our scientific understanding on the distribution of hidden and/or rare life in these Mars-like grounds.