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Planetary Science and Technology Through Analog Research

Field Exploration and Life Detection Sampling for Planetary and Astrobiology Research (FELDSPAR)

Completed Technology Project

Project Description

Field Exploration and Life Detection Sampling for Planetary and Astrobiology Research (FELDSPAR)
Extraterrestrial missions must, inherently, down-select the vast array of possible samples due to limited on-board consumables for in situ analyses or limited caching capability for sample-return missions. Therefore, an informed choice of a sampling site is crucial for the success of such endeavours. Previous studies (Amador, et al., Planet. Space Sci., 2014, Gentry, et al., Astrobiology, in prep) indicated that biodiversity varies over spatial scales in apparently homogenous locations. The proposed research advocates a study of the long-range and short range biological and chemical diversity of volcanic tephra sites, lava fields and other landscape features in Iceland that are similar to those encountered on Mars. Here, we propose to continue our student-initiated field work in Iceland by expanding our science via new field sites and new scientific techniques, and build upon our past work by adding temporal resolution to our spatial studies in biodiversity and missions operations. The Hóluhraun lava field created by the Bàrdarbunga eruption offers a particular interesting and comparatively accessible site for such studies. OBJECTIVES: Objective 1: Determine Spatial and Temporal Resolution of Biodiversity in Otherwise Homogenous Locations. We seek to understand how representative the biology and chemistry of a single sample is of its local and distant environment, particularly when that environment appears to be homogenous geologically, morphologically, and contextually. We also seek to understand how the biology and chemistry of that sample change over time, particularly with respect to re-colonization of terrestrial biome after a catastrophic geological event like a lava flow or ash cover. This objective not only has a strong stand-alone science aspect, but also informs mission operations in terms of selection of samples for analysis or return. Objective 2: Experimental Coordination of Multiple Field, Field Lab, and Home Laboratory Analytical Techniques. Extraterrestrial missions, like field expeditions, are limited in field techniques to what can be carried and deployed given the constraints of the mission. Therefore, ascertaining the relationships between scientific return from multiple levels of field techniques, field lab techniques, and home laboratory techniques is critical not only for successful field science campaigns on Earth but also for extraterrestrial missions. Objective 3: Field Testing New Analytical Instrumentation. This PSTAR effort would enable low-TRL preliminary field testing of technologies as they are developed under other awards (e.g. a microfluidic organic detection instrument for a Europan kinetic penetrator mission currently funded under PICASSO), which would additionally support Objectives 2 and 3. RELEVANCE OF THE PROPOSAL TO THE EXOBIOLOGY SOLICITATION: The proposed work includes a science component, a science operations component, and a technology component. The science investigation is designed to further planetary research in terrestrial extreme environments that may be analogous to those found on other planets, specifically to understand how to seek, identify, and characterize life and life-related chemistry. Our science operations study focuses on: decision-making protocols and sample acquisition and storage. Our technology is an instrument package that enables remote searches for and identification of life and life-related chemistry in extreme environments. More »

Primary U.S. Work Locations and Key Partners

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