UH Hilo students Niki Thomas and Colin Milovsoroff walk across a vast lava flow at Mauna Ulu on Hawaiʻi Island.

Two students from the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo are part of an international team of scientists working on a project to study the way future Mars astronauts might collect geology and biology samples when exploring the Red Planet.

Colin Milovsoroff and Nicolette “Niki” Thomas are working on a pre-mission survey on Mauna Ulu on Hawaiʻi Island this week in preparation for the arrival of a team of international scientists in November. Mauna Ulu is located on the east rift zone of Kīlauea.

The research project is called BASALT (short for Biologic Analog Science Associated with Lava Terrains: Con-ops Development for Future Human Exploration of Mars) and includes a global team of scientists, engineers, mission operators and astronauts studying human-robotic exploration of Mars.

Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho

In June, the BASALT team began their fieldwork in Idaho to understand the habitability of volcanic terrains as analog environments for early and present-day Mars.

Milovsoroff and Thomas were deployed for two weeks to the Craters of the Moon National Monument near Arco, Idaho. The BASALT team gathered there to sample altered basalts for the purposes of conducting both geochemical and microbial studies related to defining the habitability potential of Mars.

Geologist Molovsoroff was with the team for the full two weeks and astrobiologist Thomas joined him for several days.

“Colin made himself quite useful with the science team and was soon deemed indispensable,” says John Hamilton, instructor of physics and astronomy and logistics manager at the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems in Hilo.

Hamilton is the UH Hilo principal investigator of the NASA grant that funds the BASALT project. It is one of only a few Planetary Science and Technology Through Analog Research grants awarded by NASA.

The Idaho work focused on collecting foundational data for the project. These data included hyperspectral imaging and a variety of in situ measurements to characterize the diversity of alteration products in the Craters of the Moon National Monument region.

Students sitting on Mauna Ulu
Nicolette Thomas and Colin Milovsoroff

The next trip to “Mars”

As Milovsoroff and Thomas finish up their pre-mission survey on Mauna Ulu this week, the international BASALT team is readying for their next field deployment to Hawaiʻi Island. The team of scientists and students arrives in November for their next trip to “Mars.”

From UH Hilo Stories

—By Susan Enright