The latest stop in the mission to Mars is none other than the Aloha State.
Earlier this week, scientists working with NASA’s Biologic Analog Science Associated with Lava Terrains (BASALT) mission descended upon Mauna Ulu, a volcano located in Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park to study how to canvas for life on the “Red Planet.”
The Christian Science Monitor reported that the project is being administered through the University of Hawaii, and researchers will stay at the location for two weeks. Teams of geologists and biologists are collectively seeking ways to prevent contamination of living organisms living on the volcano’s rocks.
Geologists and biologists will work in tandem, searching for new ways to prevent the contamination of rocks that might host living bacteria. Because contamination can potentially lead to false or missed positives, NASA introduced a Bio-Indicator Lidar Instrument, a device that uses light to detect bio-signals.
NASA chose Hawaii for the mission because it bears similarities to Mars. The state's volcanic ridges are similar to the Martain landscape. "High elevation stunts plant growth, and volcanic rock is mostly basalt – the same mineral that makes up most of the surface of Mars,” wrote the Christian Science Monitor.
Project BASALT also announced that from Nov. 1 to 18, a team will set up simulated mission control operations at nearby Kilauea Military Camp. Teams in the volcano and military camp will conduct communication exercises with delays of up to 20 minutes, similar to what would occur on the actual Mars mission.
Volcanoes National Park is also the site of NASA’s HI-SEAS project. Nearby Mauna Loa, another volcano, has played host to a group of astronauts undergoing year-long isolation missions in efforts to test astronaut’s psychological limits.
The whole reason of going to Mars is to see if there’s life there,” said John Hamilton, an astronomy faculty member at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, to the Hawaii Tribune Herald. “There’s a lot of great geology. But are we alone?"