Today the team traveled to a storage warehouse near Antofagasta to load up the expedition trucks with equipment. Daniel and I checked the shipments from Honeybee and found them to be in good order. All of the supplies we will need to set up camp for the first week, including generators, tents, tables, stoves, fuel and food are now ready to travel. Judging from the smooth logistics, it’s clear that we are working with professionals!
This evening, we had a team technical review and safety meeting. In the first phase of the expedition, we will be working in Salar Grande to collect both surface and subsurface samples. The surface samples will be collected from exposed salt nodules found on top of the dry ancient lake bed. The subsurface samples will be collected from an excavated outcrop of buried salt beds known as “The Wall.” Tomorrow’s drive to Salar Grande will take about 6 hours.
Honeybee Robotics is returning to the Atacama Desert in Chile, this time to field test prototype coring bits specially developed for the collection of geological samples for scientific analysis. Honeybee is part of an expedition team led by researchers from NASA’s Astrobiology Institute (NAI). The team will collect and study cores obtained from several different sites with specific subsurface conditions believed to most closely match locations on Mars with the greatest potential for containing indicators of past or present microbial life. These Mars analogue sites include the Salar Grande evaporites (salt deposits) and the El Tatio Hydrothermal deposits.
Satellite Imagery of Salar Grande in the Atacama Desert, courtesy JPL (ASTER)
By participating in the expedition, Honeybee will help answer open questions about :
What are the advantages and limitations of collecting samples with handheld equipment vs. dedicated drilling rigs?
How effective are Honeybee’s core break-off and capture features in a wide range of rock composition and hardness?
What other design features are compatible with sampling in unpredictable natural surfaces?
What drilling techniques can be used to avoid thermally altering the cores during collection?
What kind of decontamination procedures can be followed in the field to reduce the possibility of inadvertently introducing foreign biological material during the sampling process?
Day 1 (Oct 15, 2016): Team members and equipment are arriving in Antofagasta this weekend. Additional supplies for the expedition will be bought locally and loaded onto ground vehicles for the trip to the first camp near Salar Grande.