Robotic field investigation will bring new scientific understanding of the Atacama as a habitat for life with distinct
analogies to Mars. Our goal is to make genuine discoveries about the limits of life on Earth and to generate knowledge
about life in extreme environments that can be applied to future planetary missions. To conduct this investigation, we
will develop robotic astrobiology.
Field investigation over three years will use a rover to make transects of the Atacama with instruments to detect
microorganisms and chlorophyll-based life forms and to characterize habitats. The rover will integrate panoramic
imagers, microscopic imagers, spectrometers, as well as mechanisms for shallow subsurface access.Robotic
considerations in addition to instrument integration include platform configuration, planetary-relevant localization,
complex obstacle negotiation, over-the-horizon navigation, and power-cognizant activity planning. An architecture that
coordinates these capabilities, provides health monitoring and fault recovery, and allows for variability in the degree of autonomy
is vital to long-duration operations.
The measurement and exploration technique produced by this investigation combines long traverses, sampling measurements
on a regional scale, and detailed measurements of individual targets. When compared to the state of the art in robotic
planetary exploration, our approach will result in dramatic increase in the number of measurements made and data
collected by rover instruments per command cycle. This result will translate into substantial productivity increases
for future planetary exploration missions.
In conducting the first robotic astrobiology survey of the Atacama we have several objectives:
Seek and characterize biota surviving in the Atacama and analyze microhabitats. We will question the hypothesis that the most
arid regions of the Atacama represent an absolute desert.
Determine the physical and environmental conditions associated with identified past and current habitats, including the
search for structural fossils, the monitoring of current biological oases and microorganic communities, and learning how
these organisms have contributed to the modification of their environment.
Develop, integrate, and field test a suite of science instruments that form a complete payload relevant to the NASA Mars
Exploration Program and traceable to the Mars Exploration Program Payload Analysis group priority investigations and
measurements that will facilitate the exploration of favorable environments for life on Mars in upcoming missions.
To achieve our science objectives we must develop new technologies for robotic astrobiology:
Over-the-Horizon Navigation and Localization: Develop "over-the-horizon" navigation, specifically beyond the local field
of view of 1 km per command cycle and comprehensive localization based on odometry, sun position, and local feature/global
Efficient Resource Utilization: Advance run-time, resource-limited mission planning and sequence generation
(power and navigability) to address science objectives and constraints.
Autonomy and Awareness: Establish variable rover autonomy and effective remote scientific investigation
(telescience) over low-bandwidth, long-latency communication links. Develop rover self-awareness, monitoring hardware
and software elements, for fault detection and recovery.
For further information about robotic astrobiology see the Frequently Asked Questions or contact: Dr. David Wettergreen
at +1-412-268-5421 or firstname.lastname@example.org