Type 2 MMAMA Proposal: Integrated Field Science and Exploration Activities in a Relevant Underwater Environment

Grant #: NNX09AW12G
Senior Scientist: Darlene Lim

Senior Scientist: Darlene Lim

The Pavilion Lake Research Project (PLRP) (www.pavilionlake.com) is a multi-disciplinary underwater science and exploration endeavor with the aim to understand the factors influencing microbialite morphogenesis in Pavilion Lake, B.C., Canada (50º51' N, 121º44' W) (Fig.1), and the potential for biosignature preservation in these carbonate rocks. 

The PLRP's research goals directly address Mars science questions pertaining to the identification and characterization of mineralized biosignatures. The PLRP established a DeepWorker Science and Exploration (DSE) program to map Pavilion Lake with human explorers as the primary data gathering tool. At the heart of this program are two DeepWorker (DW), single person submersibles that offer Scientist Pilots (SP) an opportunity to safely map, study and sample the lake in a pressurized 1 Atm environment.

The challenges associated with the human scientific exploration of an underwater environment are analogous to those we will encounter on the Moon and Mars. The physical, mental and operational rigors associated with the SCUBA diving and DSE program at Pavilion Lake are directly relatable to astronaut EVA scenarios using spacesuits and pressurized rovers, respectively. Underwater, humans must do the following, as they often do in space: contend with limited connection to colleagues, maintain protection/isolation from the environment, and rely upon life support systems (LSS), all while exploring and conducting science in variable and unfamiliar terrains. These working constraints are not simulated, but real and inextricable from the DSE activities.

The objective of this Type 2 MMAMA study is to build upon the existing planetary/astrobiology analog science field program at Pavilion Lake to provide high-fidelity science, science operations, mission operations, and technology constraints to help NASA plan for future exploration of the Moon, Mars and other planetary bodies with humans. The work  supports integrated field activities and experiments with the Pavilion Lake Research Project (PLRP) that map to four MMAMA Fidelity Areas and yields important, scientifically grounded, and field-tested feedback to the Lunar exploration community that positively impacts our design of human missions to the Moon and Mars. This research has direct application to NASA Strategic Sub-goal 3C as well as Lunar Science Goals and OSWEG Priorities.