Preparing for Human Exploration of Mars: Missions to Earth-based Analog Sites

Planetary


Analog astronauts doing a geosampling in the field during the AMADEE-18 mission. Figure from Astrobiology Vol 20 No. 11 https://doi.org/10.1089/ast.2019.2038.

Planetary

While the recent successful landing of the Perseverance rover furthers robotic exploration of Mars, some scientists are preparing for the next kind of mission to the Red Planet: human exploration.

A recent study published in the scientific journal Astrobiology chronicles laboratory analyses of geologic samples collected during the AMADEE-18 mission, a human–robotic Mars expedition simulation in the Dhofar region in the Sultanate of Oman.

One of the mission goals was to analyze soil samples of the Oman desert using the same instrumentation and techniques that are being planned for a future human mission to Mars. The results show that the Dhofar region is a good analog for the Eridana Basin on Mars.

“In the past, Mars was covered by shallow oceans, followed by volcanic activity that left basaltic lava deposits over the Martian surface. Oman’s geology was once an ocean rift with similar lavas that have since evolved into a desert,” explains Dr. Pamela Such, co-author of the study and SETI Institute Affiliate. “These geological similarities, in addition to the extreme temperature changes of the region, makes Oman an ideal analog site for the AMADEE-18 mission and astronaut training”.

“In the past, Mars was covered by shallow oceans, followed by volcanic activity that left basaltic lava deposits over the Martian surface. Oman’s geology was once an ocean rift with similar lavas that have since evolved into a desert,” - Dr. Pamela Such, co-author of the study and SETI Institute Affiliate

The AMADEE-18 mission was a 27 day experiment conducted from Feb 1 - 28 in 2018 and was led by the Austrian Space Forum in cooperation with the Oman Astronomical Society and research teams from 25 countries.

“Field research in analog environments is a well-established tool for testing scientific workflow, evaluating operational concepts, and optimizing the efficiency of future planetary surface missions like those to Mars or the Moon,” says Dr. Emmanuel Lalla, lead author of the study and Researcher at York University in Canada.

“Field research in analog environments is a well-established tool for testing scientific workflow, evaluating operational concepts, and optimizing the efficiency of future planetary surface missions like those to Mars or the Moon,” - Dr. Emmanuel Lalla, lead author of the study and Researcher at York University in Canada

Dr. Dylan Hickson, a postdoctoral researcher at the Arecibo Observatory (AO) and a co-author of the paper, emphasized the importance of this workflow considering the approximate 20 minute delay in communications from Earth to Mars. “The AMADEE-18 analog mission demonstrated a novel approach to accommodating these communications delays to ensure efficient mission execution during complex human-robotic space exploration missions.”

Prior to any planetary mission it is important to consider which scientific instruments will best address that mission’s exploration goals. “The suite of lab-techniques used in the AMADEE-18 study demonstrated that the combination of multiple instruments provide useful, complimentary information allowing for a rich understanding of Martian geochemistry, biochemistry and possibly the origins of life.” Dr. Lalla concludes, “This can serve as a benchmark when instrument selection occurs for future Mars missions.”

Dr. Hickson explained how his research at AO is tied to future human and robotic exploration. “Planetary radar observations conducted by AO supported exploration missions through detailed landing site characterization, including the roughness, texture, and composition of the surface to help ensure successful landing operations.”

“This study highlights the synergy between remote sensing and in-situ observations of planetary surfaces with detailed laboratory characterization, all of which are paramount to fully appreciating the scientific value of space exploration” - Dr. Dylan Hickson, a postdoctoral researcher at the Arecibo Observatory (AO) and a co-author of the paper,

“This study highlights the synergy between remote sensing and in-situ observations of planetary surfaces with detailed laboratory characterization, all of which are paramount to fully appreciating the scientific value of space exploration,” summarizes Dr. Hickson. According to various co-authors of the study, including Dr. Gernot Groemer, Dr. Such, and Dr. Lalla, one of the most important insights from this study is that “understanding what can and will go wrong, and how the remote science support team can facilitate these challenges will be key for ensuring that the instruments, astronauts, and ultimately the missions can reach their full potential.” The next analog mission is planned for October 2021 in the Negev Desert of Israel.




Article written by Dr. Tracy Becker - AO Collaborator / SwRI Research Scientist Contact: tbecker@swri.edu


Arecibo Media Contact
Ricardo Correa
Universidad Ana G. Méndez (UAGM)
787-878-2612 ext. 615
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Preeminent Postdoctoral Researcher
Dr. Dylan Hickson
University of Central Florida / Arecibo Observatory
dylan.hickson@ucf.edu

Keywords: observatory, arecibo, mars, planetary, human, exploration, Groemer, hickson, lalla, Such, austrian, space,