National Aeronautics and Space Administration + NASA Quest
+ Search Quest
 Find it at NASA
Spaceward Bound Expedition: Mojave
Scientists' descriptions of their work on the expedition:


Penny Boston
Jane Curnutt and I will both be looking at cave interiors as part of our collaboration on modeling microbial mats.  In addition, I will probably be helping Jut, as needed. If rovers will be there, it would be nice to try that in the cave.  Last year, when the rover was in the lavatube its battery was not functional so we were not able to try it. Plus, I plan to provide a Fan Club and Cheering Section for any tardigrades you may find. What could be more cool and adorable than these little guys?

Elaine Bryant
I will be collecting soil samples from the 7 original sampling sites that represent a west (high) to east (low) precipitation gradient. The samples will then be taken back to the Zzyzx lab used to inoculate Biolog sole-carbon-source micro plates.  This experiment allows the investigation of community differences as a function of carbon utilization.  DNA extractions of each sample will also be made for molecular analysis.  Given the time, we may be able to run PCR (polymerase chain reactions) on the samples to begin to distinguish different species of bacteria, archae and cyanobacteria.  Thus, there will be a day of field work and several days of laboratory work.

Rakesh Mogul
Overall, we are interested in the biochemical and oxidation properties of the soil.  The biochemical properties are the result of microorganisms that may live in the soil despite the harsh desert conditions of dryness, temperature, and sun exposure.  Related to this, is the degree of oxidants (molecules that oxidize) in the soil and their impacts on life in the soil.  Thus, we will be conducting simple chemical experiments to detect the presence of certain enzymes (that are produced by the microorganisms) and oxidants in the soil in order to address both the environmental health of the desert and requirements for potential life-detecting experiments that could be used on Mars and Europa.

Jim Nienow
My group will examine several aspects of the ecophysiology of desert algae.  First, we will look at moisture relations/recovery time in soil-crust and hypolithic algae communities using pulse-amplitude-modulated (PAM) fluorescence techniques.  Dried samples will be exposed to set moisture conditions and changes in their fluorescence parameters monitored over a period of several days.  Second, we will investigate small-scale pattern formation in desert crusts by mapping baseline fluorescence in rectangular grids.  The results will be compared with values obtained from simple mathematical models of the system.  Third, as time permits, samples of hypolithic and soil-crust associations will be examined microscopically to determine directly species diversity and presence.

Henry Sun
In addition to doing microscopy in the field with Dr. Nadeau, we may also measure the physical strength of desert crusts. We are interested in the question whether biologically covered soil surfaces are most resistant to wind erosion. We are not yet certain because the measuring device is still being made.

Jut Wynne
As part of phase 2 of the Earth-Mars cave detection program, we have selected the Pisgah lava beds as one of our study sites.  My plan is to deploy sensors once again in several caves (in which we would likely leave for long term monitoring), collect thermography over a 24 hour period from atop Pisgah crater, and test the ability to communicate with a rover underground (Mita and I were going to try this at Cima cave, but the rover’s batteries died and we had to scrub).  We will be testing a new QWIP (thermal IR) camera within the next couple of months here in Arizona, and I would plan to bring it to the Mojave.

 FirstGov  NASA

Editor: Linda Conrad
NASA Official: Liza Coe
Last Updated: April 2007
Teachers Contact: Liza Coe