National Geographic aired “Journey to an Alien Moon” as part of its “Explorer” series last night. It describes how the first proof of Europa being an icy moon was obtained from Galileo spacecraft, how life was found to exist in various extreme environments on earth, and how ENDURANCE could be a precursor to smaller under-water robots that could be sent to Europa in search of life-forms.
Thank you all for your interest in this blog. Our 2008 expedition is complete and I take this opportunity to summarize the achievements for ENDURANCE. We will be writing papers on various aspects of the project and I will post the appropriate links here.
The ENDURANCE project is funded by NASA’s ASTEP (Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets) program. The objective of this program is to develop and utilize science and technology that will enable exploration and discovery of life forms on other planets and satellites. To develop and validate the technology, field testing is performed in extreme environments on the earth. Examples of such extreme environments on earth are the Antarctic Dry Valleys. Taylor Valley, where we performed our experiments is one of these dry valleys.
The achievements of this project for Nov-Dec 2008 can be divided into two categories.
1. Developed and demonstrated the technology for exploring under-ice lakes in Antarctica Dry Valleys for life forms
We demonstrated that current technology can be deployed to explore under-ice lakes on earth for life-forms. The under-water robot developed by Stone Aerospace measured the biogeochemical properties of water with an instrument package (profiler) all the way from the lake ice to the lake bottom. The profiler camera took pictures of the lake bottom that showed microbial mats, and hence confirmed the existence of life forms that have been found to exist through previous research.
Our vehicle was able to reach within 1 to 2 meters of a specified target and came back to within 2 to 3 meters of the melt-hole after travelling as much as 1700 meters. We developed a visual homing algorithm that consisted of (1) Finding a blinking light by moving in a spiral pattern and identifying it as a target to home to (2) A control algorithm to home to the identified target. This algorithm worked very well and allowed the robot to distinguish the target light source from other ambient light sources, to stay centered on the light source, and to rise through a melt-hole with tight clearances. We also demonstrated the ability to collect biogeochemical data along the entire depth of the lake and at any specified location in the lake. We demonstrated the ability to profile the lake bottom and glacier face using the data collected by the on-board sonar sensors.
The navigation, homing and data-gathering capabilities make the vehicle a unique and useful tool for scientific exploration of under-ice lake environments.
2. Gathered data for characterizing the water properties and for producing a 3D map of the subsurface of West Lake Bonney
Using the profiler, we measured the biogeochemical properties at 70 grid points in West Lake Bonney. We also gathered sonar data for mapping Taylor Glacier face and the lake bottom. This data will be analyzed by Peter Doran and John Priscu to confirm their hypotheses about the physical and biogeochemical structure of Lake Bonney and for building a 3D map of Taylor Glacier and subsurface of Lake Bonney. Andrew Johnson’s lab will be developing the visualizations for the data.
I reached Christchurch today after an 8 hour flight in a C-130. Chris and Kristof got bumped. I still haven’t figured out why they got bumped when a C-130 was flying and not a Hercules. Pictures in some time. The things I noticed when I got out of the plane and walked outside were (in that order)
- The breeze.
- The warmth.
- The birds flying in the sky and bird sounds.
- Trees and grass.