Scientists from NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., have visited Yellowstone National Park (located in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho) to conduct various kinds of research about living things. Hot springs and other locations at Yellowstone are places where scientists can seek and examine 'extremophile' forms of life. Extremophiles are organisms that thrive in extreme environments. If similar conditions exist on other planets, these extraterrestrial environments could contain life.
NASA researchers have used places in the Mojave Desert, east of Los Angeles as places to test robots and spacesuits over the years as well as examine geologic formations and study microbes.
Before scientists can hypothesize about life on Mars, they must first explain how liquid water can exist in such a cold, dry place. To search for clues, researchers traveled to the most Mars-like conditions on Earth. "We went to Earth's polar regions because they provide the best analogs for possible martian hydrology. By studying the springs, rivers and streams, we were able to develop models that show how liquid water could have persisted on Mars in freezing conditions," said Chris McKay.
Mono Lake in California is nearly 700,000 years old, making it one of the oldest lakes in North America. Throughout its long existence, salts and minerals have washed into the lake from Eastern Sierra streams, but there is no outlet. Fresh water evaporating leaves behind salts and minerals so that now Mono Lake is about two-and-one-half times as salty and 80 times as alkaline as the ocean.
Scientists from NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., have used the Atacama Desert in Chile – one of the driest places on Earth – as an analog for locations on Mars to study how life might exist there. Also, scientists and engineers have tested mobile robots, or 'rovers' in the Atacama to see how well they would operate in martian-like terrain.
"The Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) is an international interdisciplinary field research project centered on the scientific study of the Haughton impact structure and surrounding terrain, Devon Island, High Arctic, viewed as a terrestrial analog for Mars."
The Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in Utah is a location where NASA scientists and engineers as well as researchers from many other institutions have tested computer programs, robots and techniques that someday may be used to help explore Mars.
MARTE is the Spanish word for Mars. It also is an acronym that stands for the Mars Analog Rio Tinto Experiment. MARTE was three-year experiment conducted in southwestern Spain in collaboration with the Spanish Center for Astrobiology.
The High Lakes Project, funded by a grant from the NASA Astrobiology Institute to the SETI Institute, Mountain View, Calif., was a collaborative effort to investigate extreme lakes at the summit of high volcanoes and collect new knowledge about the biosphere of our own planet, the evolution of life and its adaptation to climate changes. The expedition was scheduled to run from Oct. 27, 2006 to Dec. 7, 2006.
NASA Studies Life's Limits in China's Extreme Deserts -- Searching for clues to the potential for life on Mars, NASA scientists recently explored microbial communities in some of the world’s oldest, driest and most remote deserts, in China’s northwest region, and found evidence suggesting that conditions there may be similar to those in certain regions of Mars (from NASA Ames news release, March 22, 2007).
Spaceward Bound is an educational program organized at NASA Ames in partnership with The Mars Society, and funded by the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. The focus of Spaceward Bound is to train the next generation of space explorers by having students and teachers participate in the exploration of scientifically interesting but remote and extreme environments on Earth as analogs for human exploration of the moon and Mars. 2006 was the first year of the program.