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AMASE 2007: Arriving in Longyearbyen
08.08.07
 
I became more and more excited the closer I got to Longyearbyen, Svalbard. After a busy year working in the SAM Lab at NASA Goddard I am returning to the arctic as part of the Arctic Mars Analog Svalbard Expedition, otherwise known as AMASE 07. No longer a 'newbie' to AMASE, I know I am quickly approaching long work days, sleepless nights and instrument malfunctions. I am also approaching jovial camaraderie, new experiences and the most beautiful landscapes I have ever set eyes on.

The SAM team is participating in the second year of a three year grant to test planetary mission instruments and techniques in Mars analog sites on AMASE. Last year was a great learning experience as we set out into unknown territory with a brand new field instrument. We had a successful expedition, but as to be expected came up with a long list of improvements to our instrumentation and refinement of our science goals. After spending a year in the lab conducting organic analyses of our samples and designing and building new hardware, the SAM team is back in Svalbard to expand our exploration.

With increased capacities on all instrument teams this year, AMASE will be simulating rover mission operations as part of the expedition. This means a 'remote science team' will stay holed up on the ship while the cliff-bot rover from JPL is deployed in an unknown location. Using only images from the rover‚s onboard camera, the remote science team will drive around and select targets for sampling. Each instrument team will then analyze the selected samples to characterize the habitability of the field site. Conducting science through a rover's eyes is quite different than a human simply walking around a field site -- humans are able to turn and look at a moments notice and pick any number of rocks with their hands. Practicing rover science will be a useful exercise for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) scientists, in particular, who are looking forward to selecting targets through the eyes of the MSL rover in 2010. Steve Squyres, the Principal Investigator of the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER), has also joined AMASE this year to help direct and provide advice during this process.

I managed to get a window seat on the flight from Tromsø to Longyearbyen. Most of Svalbard was covered in clouds this year so I did not get many views of the landscape. Just before landing in Longyearbyen, however, I caught a few glimpses of glacier filled valleys, dark moraines and barren mountaintops. Shortly thereafter the plane touched down and I was back in Svalbard!

 
 
Kirsten Fristad
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center