A Mars simulation on Mauna Ulu volcano in Hawaii will help scientists practice collecting and protecting rock samples while dealing with a landscape similar to the red planet.
The Biologic Analog Science Associated with Lava Terrains, or BASALT, project will assist NASA and future Mars astronauts gather rocks that might have living bacteria, reported the Hawaii Tribune-Herald.
"Really, the whole reason of going to Mars is to see if there's life there," John Hamilton, an astronomy faculty member at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, told the Tribune-Herald about the current project at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. "There's a lot of great geology. But are we alone?"
The BASALT project began its fieldwork in Idaho and Hawaii last year in an effort to understand terrestrial volcanic terrains as analog environments for early and present-day Mars, according to its website. The missions were created to simulate similar constraints astronauts would have on the planet.
The current project started Nov. 1 and will run until Nov. 18. An extra-vehicular field crew will be working around Mauna Ulu while supported by a science team located at the Kilauea Military Camp, about seven miles away.
The Christian Science Monitor said scientist believe Hawaii's volcanic ridges are excellent substitutes for Martian landscapes, with the volcanic rock being made of same mineral that makes up most of Mars' surface. Communication with a simulated mission control will be delayed by up to 20 minutes, like it would be on Mars.
A new device, called the Bio-Indicator Lidar Instrument, will use light beams to detect bio-signals with minimal contamination, noted the Monitor.
NASA also used Hawaii for what it called its HI-SEAS project, which researched how isolation and lack of privacy in a small group would affect the social aspects of would be Mars explorers. In June 2015 six scientists completed eight months of isolation on top of the Mauna Loa volcano.
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