NASA Astrobiology Research: Astronaut, Scientists Explore Lake to Learn More About Life


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MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. - News media are invited to share the excitement on Friday, June 27, 2008, as scientists and astronauts dive more than 200 feet deep in single-person submarines into the clear, blue depths of Pavilion Lake, in British Columbia, Canada.

The Pavilion Lake Research Project (PLRP) science team will conduct rigorous scientific research of life in extreme environments from June 23 to July 3, 2008 using DeepWorker submersibles to study towering, freshwater reef-like structures built by bacteria, along the bottom of the lake. While gathering their underwater samples, scientists and astronauts hope to learn collection techniques of interest to future lunar and space exploration missions.

"This is an exciting year for the Pavilion Lake Research Project," said Darlene Lim, who leads the project, works as a research associate at NASA's Ames Research Center, and is a principal investigator for the SETI Institute, Mountain View, Calif. "We will finally get a chance to address two of our main science goals: mapping the lake and retrieving deep water samples for geochemical analyses."

NASA Ames Research Center and the University of British Columbia (UBC), Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, established the Pavilion Lake Research Project in 2004. In addition to Lim, the project is led by UBC's Bernard Laval and Greg Slater from McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and aims to support continuous, multi-disciplinary, international science and exploration efforts to better understand the development, extent, and preservation of Pavilion Lake's bacterial structures.

Spaceward Bound was developed by the Education Division at Ames and is funded by the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA's Headquarters in Washington. The project is tied directly to NASA's goal of engaging students through participatory educational activities. This year's Pavilion Lake Research Project is in partnership with the Canadian Space Agency; McMaster University; the University of British Columbia; British Columbia Parks; the Pavilion First Nations Band and Nuytco Research Ltd., Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

WHO: Spaceward Bound Pavilion Lake Research Project Expedition participants include:

  • Mike Gernhardt, NASA astronaut
  • Darlene Lim, Ames research associate and principal investigator at the SETI Institute
  • Chris McKay, Ames planetary scientist, Spaceward Bound Expedition lead;
  • Patt Montgomery, Spaceward Bound Expedition Education and Public Outreach lead;
  • Scientists from universities and research institutes around the world.
  • Teachers and students from elementary schools near Pavilion Lake, Canada.

WHAT: An opportunity to interview NASA scientists, astronauts, teachers and students as they study and explore the unique underwater formations in Pavilion Lake in support of science research about life in extreme environments.

WHEN: Friday, June 27, 2008

10 a.m. - 5 p.m. PDT: Media open house.

10 a.m. - 3 p.m. PDT: NASA scientists and elementary school children snorkel Pavilion Lake.

Media interested in attending or arranging telephone interviews should contact Rachel Prucey, Ames public affairs specialist, at 650-604-0643 or 650-930-6149 no later than 4 p.m. PDT, Monday, June 23, 2008.

WHERE: Pavilion Lake, British Columbia, Canada.

For information about the NASA Spaceward Bound Project and this year's participants, visit:

http://quest.nasa.gov/projects/spacewardbound

For more information on NASA and its programs, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov


Editor's note: NASA Ames Public Affairs has dropped the ball again. They did not bother to mention the word "astrobiology", Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets (ASTEP), or the NASA Astrobiology Insitute. Yet this entire activity is all about Astrobiology. Nor did they bother to link to the Pavilion Lake Research Project's website or to the SETI Institute or the Deep Worker's provider, Nuytco Research.

Why they'd omit any mention of this signature activity at Ames is simply baffling.

As for the project itself, this description should provide a better overview of why this research is being done in the first place:

"The Canadian Space Agency, NASA's ASTEP (Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets) program within the Science Mission Directorate (SMD), and Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) have partnered to sponsor a science driven field exploration campaign designed to help us understand life on early Earth, and how we will eventually use technology to support research on the Moon and Mars.

Field campaigns such as the Pavilion Lake activity are driven by science using technology that has been developed to support scientific investigations relevant to Astrobiology and to test life support and operational scenarios important to keeping the future scientist-astronauts alive and healthy while they explore. By exploring the Earth's extreme environments with both humans and robotics it is possible to develop a sound technical and scientific basis to search for life on other planets .

In addition to science relevant to Astrobiology, the underwater environment at Pavilion Lake provides a useful analog for studies of 1) human performance in intrinsically lethal environments, 2) optimization of human and robotic interactions in an environment where human mobility is encumbered, 3) comparison of teleoperated and robotic assistant modes, 4) testing and operational use of scientific instrumentation and tools for extending human senses in an environment where the normal human senses are impaired."

Editor's note: Here is a video of the vehicle that they will be using.

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