NASA tested the life support of the rover in the cruel Chilean desert

NASA tested the life support of the rover in the cruel Chilean desert

The Atacama Desert in Chile provides conditions reminiscent of Martian, which also makes it a great place to prepare for the search for life on the Red Planet.

Atacama Desert is home to several astronomical observatories. The height of the region and rare precipitation provide a crystal clear sky for impeccable observation conditions.

But this high desert also offers an unprecedented approach to conditions on Mars. In a harsh and dry environment, as well as with intense ultraviolet radiation, most of life exists in the form of microbial colonies underground or inside rocks. Because of this, the desert is an ideal place to practice the search for life on Mars.

The NASA Atacama Rover Astrobiology Drilling Studies (ARADS) team has just completed a second season in Chile, testing its KREX-2. 35 researchers, scientists, engineers and support staff spent a month testing this prototype, sending it to various missions to use the tools for drilling and searching for life. Being in tough conditions, they were able to demonstrate the technical feasibility and scientific value of the mission.

“Sending instruments to determine life in a complex analog environment on Mars will help us find the best methods to search for past or present Martian life, if it exists,” said Dr. Brian Glass, a NASA scientist and lead researcher at ARADS. He also led the first expedition in 2016. “The presence of both the depth of the underlying surface and its mobility should significantly increase the number of places for biomarkers and vital points that we can select in Atacama.”

NASA tested the life support of the rover in the cruel Chilean desert

A rover in its mobile configuration with a raised drill (hand) and closed tools on the front of the image.

Glass said the team tested the drill and the KREX-2 robotic arm, and also assessed the driving possibilities.

“He was great in the field,” he said. “It was a stable platform that allowed us to drill deeper than we expected.”

The KREX-2 repeater is equipped with a light, low-power two-meter drill, as well as a robotic sample transport lever. This year, the team checked three life-measuring devices located nearby, which were sampled using a rover drill.

Among the instruments was a laboratory of wet chemistry. This is a tool developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which was present at the 2007 Phoenix mission on Mars and the Signs of a Detective of Life at the Center for Astrobiology in Spain. He uses biochemical tests to search for 512 different biological compounds.

NASA tested the life support of the rover in the cruel Chilean desert

ARADS team members (NASA's Atacama Rover Astrobiology Drilling Studies project) begin the day with a rover installation for test runs in the Atacama Desert, Chile.

Another device that made the first trial run is the JPL Microfluidic Activity Analyzer, processing incredibly small samples of any water under or inside rocks. It can secrete amino acids (the building blocks of life). These three tools of ARADS were looking for signs of present or past life. Scientific evidence provides insight into how life exists in the high desert today and how it first developed in this environment. Geological and soil minerals have also shown that extremely dry conditions persist in the Atacama Desert for 10–15 million years, and possibly much longer.

The goal of the ARADS team is to pave the way for future rovers, which will help answer some fundamental questions of mankind about life outside the Earth: was Mars a place for microbial life in the past and is it still today. These tests allow you to plan the work of the instruments on the Mars rover Mars 2020.

This year’s expedition was the second of four annual trials scheduled before the beginning of 2019. Next year, the team hopes that the rover will be controlled by the life-detection devices themselves, along with the drill tested this year.

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