Marsfest 2017 Program Schedule

Friday, March 10, 2017

Time Event
7:00pm - 7:25pm WelcomeMike Reynolds, Superintendent, Death Valley National Park; David Blacker, Executive Director, Death Valley Natural History Association; Rosalba Bonaccorsi, SETI Institute/ NASA Ames Research Center (ARC)
7:30pm – 8:30pm

Keynote SpeakerPenny Boston, NASA Astrobiology Institute

The Planet Within: Caves from Earth to Mars and Beyond.

We are using the spectacular underground landscapes of Earth caves as models for the subsurfaces of other planets. Many types of caves exist and we are using these to understand possibilities for cave formation on other planets like Mars, icy moons around gas giants, and even someday exoplanets. Some of the most spectacular and chemically extreme caves on Earth are inhabited by an amazing array of microorganisms. Some eat their way through bedrock, some live in extreme acid conditions, some produce unusual biominerals and rare cave formations, and many produce compounds of potential pharmaceutical and industrial significance. We study these unique lifeforms and the physical and chemical biosignatures that they leave behind. Such traces can be used to provide a “Field Guide to Unknown Organisms” for developing life detection space missions. Additionally, lavatube caves clearly present on Mars and the Moon can also provide the basis for future human habitations on those planets.

Penelope J. Boston is a speleologist. She is associate director of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute in Carlsbad, New Mexico, and founder and director of the Cave and Karst Studies Program at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro. Among her research interests are geomicrobiology of caves and mines, extraterrestrial speleogenesis, and space exploration and astrobiology generally. In the mid-1980s, Boston (then a graduate student at the University of Colorado Boulder) was one of the founders of the Mars Underground and helped organize a series of conferences called The Case for Mars.[3][4][5] In March 2016 Boston was named the Director for NASA Astrobiology Institute.[6] Her appointment is effective May 31, 2016.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

EXPO - Furnace Creek Visitor Center Patio

9:00 am - 5:00 pm Meet scientists, view first-hand demonstrations, and ask in-person questions
Guided Walks — Meet at each location’s parking lot; see map. Please Carpool!
8:30 am - 9:30 am

Mesquite Sand Dunes - The Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity) Among Sand Dunes, Past and Present
Aaron Zent, NASA Ames Research Center (ARC)

The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), a.k.a. Curiosity, has been exploring Gale Crater in the martian tropics since 2012. While much of the focus has been on sediments deposited in water, the rover has also found that the shallow lake recorded in the Gale sediments was succeeded, eventually, by extensive sheets of sand dunes that remain as sandstone deposits. Moreover, sand dunes still wander around the floor of Gale Crater, complicating rover operations. We'll gather at Mesquite Dunes to examine the physical processes that create dunes, and see how those processes leave evidence that can be used to identify a sandstone as a former dune field. We'll also talk about why the dunes in Gale Crater appear so dark, and why you never see dark dunes on Earth. Finally, we'll look at why sand dunes are a hazard for Mars rovers, and why mission managers will go great distances, quite literally, to minimize driving on them.

Aaron Zent got his Ph. D. in Geology from the University of Hawaii in 1988, and has been at NASA Ames ever since. He has been involved with several Mars missions, most recently the 2008 Phoenix Lander. His research focuses on the physical and chemical interactions between planetary atmospheres and their surfaces.

10:30 am - 12:00 Noon

Badwater Boardwalk - The Life and times of Badwater Microbes
Susanne Douglas, Planetary Science Institute

Susanne Douglas (Planetary Science Institute, PSI) has a Ph.D. in Geomicrobiology from the University of Guelph in Canada. Her work since then has focused on determining the interrelationships between minerals, microorganisms, and geochemistry in the Earth's extreme environments. She has studied saline alkaline lakes in northern Canada, closed marine basins in the Bahamas, evaporative hot spring pools in Iceland and California, and endolithic microbial communities in various deserts including the Antarctic Dry Valleys. Her main research area at present is Death Valley National Park, where she holds an active research permit and conducts investigations of microbe-mineral interrelationships.

10:30 am - 12:00 Noon

Badwater Boardwalk - Chasing storms in Death Valley: How Wet, How Hot?
Rosalba Bonaccorsi, SETI Institute/NASA ARC

Climate change research by NASA Ames has occurred at Badwater Basin for a decade. This extreme environment, along with other research locations, helps provide scientific evidence of climate change and temperature extremes. During this trip, we will visit the NASA Ames weather stations at Badwater and see how a rain gauge can help us measuring rainstorms. The discussion will cover what the implications and applications of this research are for environmental, astrobiological, and comparative planetary studies.

Rosalba Bonaccorsi (SETI Institute/NASA Ames) is an interdisciplinary scientist working at NASA Ames Research Center. In 2001 she obtained her Ph.D. in Geological, Marine, and Environmental Sciences from the University of Trieste (Italy). Since 2005, she has expanded her interest to the habitability of mineralogical Mars analogs, and very dry desert regions worldwide, including the Mojave, Antarctica, Atacama (Chile), and Australia, often as a NASA Spaceward Bound team member. Rosalba joined the SETI Institute in 2008, and is keen to achieve a wide picture of where life and its signatures are most successfully distributed, concentrated, preserved, and detected. Since 2008, Rosalba has been working in Death Valley on the Ubehebe Volcanic Field. In collaboration with NASA scientists, she is applying results from this research to Mars Science Laboratory mission objectives. Formerly a teacher, she has been involved with Education and Public Outreach with non-profit organizations since 1989.

12:30 am - 1:00 pm

Artist Drive Entrance - Dynamic Desert Processes: Alluvial Fans, Ventifacts, Desert Pavements, and Desert Varnishes: How Similar are Death Valley and Mars?
Aaron Zent, NASA Ames Research Center (ARC)

We'll meet at the long ridge opposite the entrance to Artist's Drive (no sign at the Exit), to see how effectively the wind can sculpt the desert. It's also an excellent place to see a variety of alluvial fans on the east side of Badwater Basin, discuss how they grow and evolve, and see how their surfaces acquire their characteristic pavement and varnishes. Next, we'll travel a few miles down the road to the Gower Gulch fan (0.7 mile away from Golden Canyon) and see what happens when the delicate equilibrium of a fan surface is disturbed.

TALKS - Furnace Creek Visitor Center Auditorium

1:30 pm - 2:30 pm

Panel Discussion: Robots and Humans: Exploring, Searching For, and Protecting Extant Life on Earth, Mars, and Beyond
Margaret Race, SETI Institute; Penny Boston, NASA Astrobiology Institute; Rosalba Bonaccorsi, SETI Institute/NASA ARC

2:35 pm - 3:05 pm

Missions to Explore Ocean Worlds
Morgan Cable, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Recently, we have discovered that several moons in our solar system have global liquid water oceans underneath their icy exteriors.  These moons appear to have all of the ingredients needed for life – water, chemistry and energy.  With the search for life in mind, several NASA missions have been proposed to visit these ‘Ocean Worlds’.  We will summarize the goals and architectures of these missions, and also discuss the implications of the new discoveries they may make

Dr Morgan L. Cable is a Research Scientist in the Instrument Systems Implementation and Concepts Section at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. She is also a Project Science Systems Engineer for the Cassini Mission, which has been exploring the Saturn system for over 10 years. Morgan’s research focuses on organic and biomarker detection strategies, through both in situ and remote sensing techniques. While earning her Ph.D. in Chemistry at the California Institute of Technology, she designed receptor sites for the detection of bacterial spores, the toughest form of life. As a NASA Postdoctoral Fellow at JPL, Morgan developed novel protocols to analyze organics such as amines and fatty acids using small, portable microfluidic sensors. She is currently working as a Collaborator on the Mapping Imaging Spectrometer for Europa (MISE), an instrument selected for NASA’s next mission to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa; this spectrometer will map Europa’s surface and search for organics, salts and minerals. She has also performed laboratory experiments to study the liquid hydrocarbon lakes of Titan, a moon of Saturn. Morgan has explored several extreme environments on Earth that serve as analogs for other places in the solar system, such as Mars. She was involved in research expeditions to the driest desert in the world, the Atacama Desert in Chile, and to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Morgan has also co-led a team of young researchers on multiple expeditions to Iceland to study how life colonizes a fresh lava field.

3:10 pm – 3:40 pm

Mars Surface Exploration from Viking to Mars 2020
Luther Beegle, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Luther Beegle (Jet Propulsion Laboratory, JPL) is a research scientist and the deputy section manager of the Planetary Science section at JPL. Dr. Beegle is science team member of the Mars Science Laboratory where he is a Surface Sampling System (SSS) Scientist. As a member of the SSS team, he works with the entire science team to identify suitable high-value targets that can be acquired, processed, and delivered to the scientific instruments. He has developed instruments to detect and characterize organic molecules, one of which has been proposed to the next Mars mission that is scheduled to launch in 2020. This instrument is designed to characterize samples for caching and eventual return to Earth as part of a future Mars sample return.

3:45 pm - 4:15 pm

Protecting Specia Places on Earth and in the Solar System
Margaret Race, SETI Institute

Centuries ago, explorers and adventurers didn't think twice about desecrating a sacred or historical site-- and artifacts of all types were routinely removed as souvenirs or museum pieces. In contrast, today's visitors are reminded about the importance of preserving and protecting special environments, locations, and cultural sites. What can we learn from current approaches for safeguarding special places on Earth-- and how do we apply them to locations on other planetary surfaces? Compare your ideas with a recently published NASA report on how to preserve and protect human heritage sites on the Moon. The suggested guidelines may surprise you.

Dr Margaret Race is an ecologist who works with NASA through the SETI Institute in Mountain View, CA. where she focuses on astrobiology, searches for extraterrestrial life, and science policy issues associated with space exploration and emerging technologies. Dr. Race specializes in planetary protection —how to plan robotic and human missions in ways that ensure environmental protection of both the Earth and locations in outer space. In addition to her astrobiology and planetary protection work, she is also involved in science education and public outreach through schools, science museums, libraries, and the mass media. Dr. Race grew up in Boston, received her BA and MS degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, and came to California where she got her Ph.D. in Ecology from UC Berkeley. After a postdoc at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, she taught and did environmental research for many years at both Stanford (Human Biology) and UC Berkeley (College of Natural Resources)—and later joined NASA to work on astrobiology and societal issues. (Believe it or not, she started out working on environmental impacts of nuclear and fossil fuel power plants and later studied introduced mudsnails in San Francisco Bay. From effluent pipes and mudflats, to Mars!)

4:30 pm - 5:30 pm

Curiosity Hour Update and Q&A: The Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover
Andrea Jones, Planetary Science Institute/NASA GSFC; Luther Beegle, NASA Jet Propulsion Lab: moderated by Rosalba Bonaccorsi, SETI Institute/NASA ARC

7:30 pm - 8:30 pm

Keynote Speaker - Christopher McKay, NASA Ames Research Center
Planetary Vision 2050

NASA is conducting a series of workshops to define a very long-range vision of what planetary science may look like in the future. This seems like a timely exercise. A possible list includes: characterizing extant life found elsewhere in the Solar System, long term research bases on Mars investigating the feasibility of terraforming, and an astrobiology probe to Proxima Centauri.

Chris McKay Planetary Scientist with the Space Science Division of NASA Ames. Chris is a research scientist with the NASA Ames Research Center. His current research focuses on the evolution of the Solar System and the origin of life. He is also actively involved in planning for future Mars missions, including human exploration. Chris been involved in research in Mars-like environments on Earth, traveling to the Antarctic Dry Valleys, Siberia, the Canadian Arctic, and the Atacama, Namib, and Sahara deserts to study life in these Mars-like environments. He was a co-investigator on the Huygens probe to Saturn’s moon Titan in 2005, the Mars Phoenix Lander mission in 2008, and the current Mars Science Laboratory mission (2012).

Children’s Programming — Furnace Creek Visitor Center
2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Kids Corner - Exploring Connections Between Death Valley and Mars
Andrea Jones, Planetary Science Institute/NASA GSFC; Lora Bleacher, NASA; Brandi Stewart, Death Valley National Park

 Andrea Jones (NASA Goddard Flight Center, GSFC) is an Education and Public Outreach (EPO) Specialist for the SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) instrument on the Curiosity Rover. She earned her undergraduate degree in Geology from the College of William & Mary in 2005, and a Masters degree in Geosciences, with a focus in planetary geology, from the University of Arizona in 2009.

 Lora Bleacher is the Solar System Exploration Division's Education and Public Outreach Lead. She shares the excitement of GSFC's planetary science research and missions with educators, students, and the public through authentic experiences, professional development, and opportunities to interact with GSFC's subject matter experts. A planetary scientist by training, Bleacher enjoys communicating about the practice of science and NASA STEM careers with the audiences she reaches. She is also dedicated to enabling scientists and engineers to effectively engage with learners of all ages.

 Brandi Stewart is the Education Program Coordinator at Death Valley National Park. She earned her Master’s degree in environmental education from Western Washington University. She is continually motivated by the students that visit the park and find their own source of inspiration and knowledge of the natural world.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

EXPO - Furnace Creek Visitor Center Patio

9:00 am - 3:00 pm

Meet scientists, view first-hand demonstrations, and ask in-person questions

Guided Walks — Meet at each location’s parking lot; see map. Please Carpool!
9:30–10:30 am

BYO Brunch at the CraterNews and Views About the Ubehebe Volcanic Field: a Journey into the Crater

During this guided walk we will descend into the Ubehebe Crater to check out some of its Gale Crater-like features. We will explore the young clay-rich pond deposits (sandstone and claystone) similar to those being investigated by Curiosity at Gale Crater, discuss their origin, and then explore the ancient sediment of the crater wall.
In partnership with Death Valley National Park Resource Management, we have been monitoring the crater floor, which is a valuable natural laboratory. Here, we can test observation-based hypotheses on the origin and distribution of sediments and minerals also seen or expected on Mars. This research benefits the planetary sciences and also provides a better understanding of the geology of the Park.
Rosalba Bonaccorsi, SETI Institute/NASA Ames Research Center

10:45–11:45 am

BYO Brunch at the CraterExploring the Little Hebe Crater

During this guided walk to the Little Hebe Crater, we will have an overview of the Ubehebe Volcanic Field, a place of breath-taking beauty also sacred to the Timbisha Shoshone tribe.

The Ubehebe Volcanic Field includes a dozen craters formed by steam explosions during the last few thousand years. The craters can serve as analogs for upcoming astrobiology-driven missions at several Martian sites, including the Gale Crate, where Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover landed in August 2012. The terrain of the Ubehebe Volcanic Field presents a variety of geologic environments, from volcanic ashes to coarse-grained river stones, and clay-bearing lake deposits (sandstone and claystone) similar to those being investigated by Curiosity at Gale Crater. With precipitation patterns in Death Valley perhaps similar to a “warmer and wetter” early Mars, and a similar variety of minerals and sediment present, the Ubehebe Volcanic Field offers an ideal test site for formulating hypotheses about the potential of minerals, rocks, and sediment to support microbial life in dry, hot deserts on Earth, and possibly, on Mars.
Rosalba Bonaccorsi, SETI Institute/NASA Ames Research Center

Furnace Creek Visitor Center Auditorium Talks

1:10 pm - 1:40 pm

Titan, the Mojave, and Death Valley
Michael Malaska, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Saturn’s moon Titan is the most Earth-like world in the Outer Solar System. Just like Earth, Titan has a thick nitrogen atmosphere. The Cassini spacecraft discovered that underneath Titan’s haze layers are familiar features like dunes, mountains, canyons, plateaus, rivers, lakes and seas. But unlike Earth, frigid Titan’s rainfall is methane, the lakes and seas are liquid hydrocarbons, the dunes and plateaus are organic sediments, and the mountains are made of rock-hard water ice. In this presentation, we will explore the amazing landscape of Titan and see how it compares to some of the places in Death Valley and the nearby Mojave Desert.

Michael Malaska is a scientist in the Planetary Ices Group at NASA/JPL. His career path to JPL is atypical. He obtained his undergraduate degree in chemistry from MIT, his PhD in chemistry from UC Berkeley, and performed postdoctoral research in neurochemistry at Mayo Clinic Jacksonville in Florida. After a 20 year career in the pharmaceutical industry inventing new drugs, the images sent down by the Cassini spacecraft ignited his passion in planetary science, and he went from being an interested amateur, to a part-time volunteer researcher, to finally changing his career to planetary science and astrobiology. His research program combines laboratory simulation, spacecraft remote sensing, and field geology to explore planetary processes. His current work includes mapping Titan’s surface, examining evidence for dissolution geology in labyrinth terrains on Titan, and laboratory work measuring dissolution of Titan’s surface materials in cryogenic hydrocarbon liquids. He is an associate of the Cassini spacecraft RADAR Science Team.

1:45 pm - 2:15 pm

Mars Exploration from the Pilbara (Australia) to the Himalayas

David Willson, KISS Institute for Practical Robotics/ NASA Ames & Mars Society of Australia

The Mars Society Australia (MSA) is a highly active and practical Australian organisation undertaking Spaceward Bound expeditions to Arkaroola (South Australia), the Pilbrara (Western Australia), Rotorua (New Zealand), and the Ladakh region in the Karakorum (India). These expeditions were to Mars analog regions operated in collaboration with NASA Spaceward Bound, where planetary scientists go to the field, perform investigations, bringing along teachers and students, and visit schools and communities with the goals to inspire and train the next generation of space explorers and explore new ways to educate about science. In addition to planetary geology and astrobiology science, The expeditions have field-tested technologies such as spacesuits, robot rovers, and quad-copters.

In addition MSA has projects such as a crewed analog Mars rover under construction, the development of the A4 nano-rover, a space-rated mini robot for future Moon and Mars missions, landing site selection for crewed missions, and design of systems for an analog research station.  These projects are in collaboration with Australian Universities and overseas institutions.

David Willson David is a research and development mechanical engineer at the NASA Ames Research Center, working on Mars exploration technologies for spacecraft sample handling, sample instruments, and subsurface drilling. Other projects include the effectiveness of undertaking field science in spacesuits, human-perceived temperatures on Earth, Mars and Titan, dust and perchlorate management for human Mars exploration, and collaboration in a study of crater erosion in Death Valley for Mars applications. David is a mechanical engineer with 17 years of experience designing and leading multi-disciplined teams to build equipment for the Australian mining industry including stackers, reclaimers, shiploaders, materials handling facilities, and chemical processing plants. He has functioned in industry as a design engineer, lead engineer, engineering design team leader/manager, and engineering site and commissioning manager on a large variety of projects. He has also co-authored and published papers on Mars mission architectures, Mars Hab design, and rocket engine design and development.

2:20 pm – 2:50 pm

Mars Society‘s Executive Director ( to be confirmed)

Children’s Programming — Furnace Creek Visitor Center, SETI Institute's Booth
9:30 am - 10:30 am
11:00 am - Noon

Kids Activity 1 - Planning a Human Mission to Mars; Margaret Race, SETI Institute

Kids Activity 2 - Searching for ET Life—and imagining what it might be!