AMASE 2007: Arriving in Longyearbyen
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
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
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center