The rover team preps the rover before taking it down to the shores of Mono Lake. The pinkish-reddish sand in the wheels is from JPL’s indoor sand box in Pasadena, and is actually crushed garnet, which minimizes dust. JPL also uses an outdoor “Mars yard” where final testing is done. (Photo: Greg Reis)
Earlier this month, Mono Lake, which has been employed numerous times as a western or disaster movie location, served as a stand-in … this time for something more off-world: Mars. According to a post on the Mono Lake Committee’s site by Information Specialist Greg Reis, on Sunday, Oct. 2, the Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a team from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) brought a prototype Mars rover to Mono Lake, staging it under tents at the Scenic Area Visitor Center while they prepared it for maneuvers close to the lake.
Reis said the plan was to test the solar-powered rover’s sampling equipment and procedures in an environment that, while not exactly like Mars, would provide Mars-like challenges. In the search for evidence of past life on Mars, scientists think that areas on Mars that had terminal lakes, such as Mono Lake, might have sustained life and possibly preserved evidence of it.
This isn’t the first time NASA has tested at Mono Lake. In August 1995, NASA used an underwater vehicle to take tufa samples. On this recent trip, JPL and NASA had the gregarious gadget collect core tufa and evaporite salt samples, both of which could trap bacteria and bacteria fossils.
The tests, however, were delayed by the weather. A light rain canceled Sunday’s outing, and Monday and Tuesday were also rain days. However, while scientific testing was on weather hold, the rover got to log some good public relations mileage. The team brought the rover over to the Lee Vining High School where elementary and high school students got to observe the coring of tufa samples inside.
After the Mars rover meandered the shores of Mono Lake, it was returned to its indoor sand box at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. More photos and details can be found at www.monolake.org. –MLC/AG