The Antarctic Dry Valleys: one of the best Mars polar analogues! As part of the ASTEP IceBite project, we are testing a prototype Mars drill in the frigid and harsh Antarctic environment. So far we have tested two important aspects: teleoperation, and drilling to 1m and collecting samples from the entire depth. The teleoperation took place with a class of 5th grader’s, sitting in the California warmth and drilling in the Antarctic permafrost! The teleoperations performed great. As a follow up, we drilled to 1 m, in 10cm increments, in frozen basaltic ground. Drilling in 10cm increments allowed us to collect samples from each increment, and minimized the risk for the drill freezing into the ground.
While the above tests were around the McMurdo station, tomorrow we deploy to the Upper Dry Valleys: about 15C colder, drier, and an even better Mars analogue. There we will test drilling operations in a variety of materials, including pure ice, and possibly to greater depths.