NASA Haughton-Mars Project -- Summertime on a 'Planet' Close to Home
On the flanks of Haughton Crater.
Credit: Elaine Walker, courtesy of NASA Haughton-Mars Project 2004

The NASA Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) is an international field research project centered on the scientific study of a very special island in the Canadian High Arctic, Nunavut Territory. Devon Island is the world's largest uninhabited desert island. It is cold, dry, desolate and contains an amazing feature -- a 24-kilometer wide impact crater that is 23 million years old. All of this means that Devon Island is a very good environment for scientists studying what it would take to conduct a manned mission on Mars.

Looking into Haughton Crater from the rim is an awe-inspiring sight. It is like looking upon a vast Mars-like alien landscape that goes on as far as the eye can see. Dr. Pascal Lee (SETI Institute/Mars Institute/NASA Ames) recognized the beauty and value of Devon Island early on. Since 1997 Dr. Lee has been organizing expeditions to Devon Island for the NASA HMP. The HMP is headquartered at NASA Ames Research Center and is managed jointly by the SETI Institute and by the Mars Institute.

Every Summer during the HMP field season, scientists and graduate students from around the world are gaining important insights into the history of water and past climates on Mars, the effects of impacts on Earth and on other planets, and the possibilities and limits of life in extreme environments. The HMP Science program not only furthers our current understanding of Mars, but also offers insight into what astronauts might want to look for during real Mars expeditions in the future.

In parallel with its Science program, the NASA HMP supports an Exploration program aimed at developing new technologies, strategies, humans factors experience, and field-based operations which are key to planning the future exploration of the Moon, Mars and other planets by robots and humans.

In the summer of 2004, I was recruited by the Mars Institute to participate in the HMP as a photojournalist for their Education and Public Outreach Program. I had gone the year before as a representative of the Space Frontier Foundation and had been intensely inspired by the many Mars-related research projects being conducted. This year was even more exciting.

The DAME (Drilling Automation for Mars Exploration) project was organized by a team from NASA Ames and Honeybee Robotics. The full-scale Mars-prototype deep drill was tested this season under field conditions at a high-fidelity Mars-analog site within Haughton Crater. The Mars-1 HumVee Rover served as a drilling platform for the first drill site.

A team from Hamilton Sundstrand continued their research with their Concept Spacesuit for Advanced Planetary Exploration, primarily focusing on communications. The Autonomous Medical Care Initiative, being done between multiple NASA centers, collected data during several different tests, which included collaborations with Hamilton Sundstrand and the DAME team.

Among the more permanent structures at the NASA HMP Base Camp, the the Arthur Clarke Mars Greenhouse (donated by SpaceRef Interactive, Inc.), continued its research, now self-powered with two windmill structures and solar panels.

The Core Module of the new NASA HMP Base Camp configuration (the HMP X-1 Station) was built which will serve as a hub, connecting the tents into a star configuration. Many other science research projects were going on as well, both in and out of Haughton Crater.

The full Education and Public Outreach Journal from 2004 can be found on the NASA HMP website in the Field Reports section. There you can follow along with the day-to-day adventures on Devon Island and get a taste for what participants are experiencing and learning each year. Contact information can be found on the site for those interested in participating in the upcoming field season.

Elaine Walker is the founder and visionary of the electronic pro-space band called ZIA. She has served on the Board of Directors of both the National Space Society and the Space Frontier Foundation.