NASA’s manned mission to Mars got a huge boost recently thanks to the government support that was announced by President Obama and while government is doing its part, a team of researchers in Hawaii is doing its part to help the space agency realise its goal.
Inside the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, researchers will be simulating sample collection on Mars by hiking around Mauna Ulu. The sample collection simulation is being pegged as a method through which NASA will be able to develop protocols for actual sample collection during manned mission to Mars. The protocol will involve identification of the samples, how to collect them, how to transport them and eventually store and protect the samples that could host life.
The project, which is known as Biologic Analog Science Associated with Lava Terrains, is being seen as a mixture of biology and geology. One of the primary reasons behind conducting this project is to tackle the possible situation of sample contamination. Chances are that during one of the stages of the sample collection, humans that are sent to Mars could end up contaminating the sample(s) and this could hinder the overall the goal of mission to find life on the Red Planet.
While sending humans to Mars is a goal in itself, it is a sub-goal of a much larger ‘find life on Mars’ goal and hence NASA wants to ensure that there is theoretically and practically no human-induced contamination of samples retrieved from Mars.
The reason why Hawaii was selected as one of the sites for this project – the other being Snake River plain in Idaho – is that the site has volcanic terrain similar to Mars and it will provide a great platform for the simulation based on which protocols could be developed efficiently.
While humans on Mars will be wearing space suits, the project in Hawaii won’t involve research wearing space suits, but a mission control will be setup for the overall management of the project. Further, communications will be set up such that there is a delay of five or 20 minutes to simulate an actual mission.