Mars mission to Iceland – Part 2
“Oh Hey – There is Orange Soil”
Two main discoveries on Day 3 of our analogue mission to Mars:
(1) Despite looking for Mars we’ve found an awful lot of the Moon. This isn’t that surprising given that our EVA’s today were mainly over dark basaltic lava flows searching for good alteration targets for our instruments. But it’d better for our Mars prototype camera and research if we stuck to the right planet. Note to Iceland – stop being so geologically-interesting.
(2) We have definitely found water on our Mars analogue site, but the trouble is it seems to be coming downwards from the sky. Obviously, as a tough Manchester lad this isn’t a problem for me and my webbed feet, but might be a problem for our instruments that need good sunlight.
But, I realised that on yesterday’s mission log I completely neglected to mention my fellow analogue astronauts or the reason that we’re on this mission. The almost constant sunlight at our landing site can play tricks on a gin-addled memory.
So, in charge is Commander Jennifer Harris, a Birkbeck PhD student looking at hyperspectral remote sensing techniques and the habitability of Mars. Cmdr Harris has organised this whole trip and is the boss in the field. The rest of us are here to support her mission goals first and foremost.
First Officer Dr Claire Cousins, a grizzled Iceland vet. with so much field experience that she could walk us around Iceland blindfolded. She should stop it though, it’s getting dangerous. FO Cousins is an astrobiology researcher at the University of Edinburgh.
Chief Engineer Matt Gunn, our resident technology guru, photographer extraordinaire and expert in, well, everything to be honest. Gunny, as I’ve just called him for the first time, is based at Aberystwyth University.
And me, the Northern Optimist.
The goal of today’s EVA was all about geological context. Before heading out with close to 50 kg of kit (most of which has to go on Cmdr Harris’ back) we have to make sure that we can find and safely navigate to suitable targets. Anything that is not dark basalt is a good start. Areas venting steam are great for alteration, but bad for a spectrometer (too much water). Oh, and although this is a habitability mission, life doesn’t half get in the way of geology on this planet. So anything green is out.
But that didn’t stop us spotting some fantastic martian-style geology today. From hyaloclastite to welded tuffs, there is plenty of evidence of volcano-ice interaction on this planet. Although you could probably tell that from looking out of the window of the cruise stage. But my favourite find was probably the gypsum veins, which looked strikingly similar to those seen by our sister mission Opportunity on Mars last year.
Later on this afternoon, in the midst of a barren Moonscape of endless basaltic flows, we had our own Jack Schmitt moment. Orange (and every other colour) soil.
The weather tomorrow is looking a bit Scotch Mist, so that seems like a good time for a log update on the instruments themselves.
In the meantime, we also discovered Tatooine today, with a positive identification of our very own Pit of Sarlacc.
Also finally, and for the official log record, I honestly can’t believe that we forgot to bring a corkscrew.