The Spaceward Bound Program is an educational program developed at NASA Ames Research Center. More information here.
The objective is for participating scientific researchers, educators and students to visit remote and extreme environments in different parts of the world and conduct astrogeological/biological experiments, make observations and learn about the origin, sustenance and adaptation of living organisms within such biospheres.
Previous spaceward bound expeditions have been conducted in the Mohave Desert USA, North Dakota USA; Idaho USA, Western Australia, Namibian Desert, UAE, Antarctica; high Arctic regions, New Zealand. More information here
Traditionally, after the scientific theme of the expedition has been defined, (for example, hot acidic lakes, cold-dry desert, hot-dry desert, etc.), a team consisting of scientists, educators and students visits the site, each with their own objectives to accomplish.
The scientists collect samples, conduct preliminary on-site sampling, make observations, and the work usually results in publish worthy data. The educators acts as sciecne communicators and help bridge the scientists with the students and enable the participating students to observe and record important features and outcrops along the course of the expedition. The students absorb everything and engage in discussions with the scientists,sometimes also helping them conduct their experiments.
India offers a variety of locations that could be of interest to an astrobiologist. Some of these being:
- Kutch, Gujarat
- Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir
- Lonar Crater Lake and Western Deccan Trap Region
As a start, it was decided to select the Ladakh region for this programme. No comparative study between the sites was conducted and it is the intention to eventually revisit India and conduct astrobio/geological research at the other sites as well. Some of the factors that played a role for the selection of Ladakh region were:
- Availability of several astrobio/geologically interesting features within same region and coverable distances, such as: cold high altitude desert soils, hot springs, permafrosts, glaciers, saline and palaeo-lakes.
- Low human habitation/intervention which has resulted in pristine eco-systems, very appropriate for terrestrial analogue studies.
- High altitude environment for conducting human dexterity and performance based tests.
- Remoteness and difficult to access regions simulating the challenges of transportation, resource utilization and communication of Off Earth human missions.
- High altitude clear night skies for astronomy and astrophotography.
- Utilize the appeal and ‘out of this world’ landscape to complement the science education promotion goals of this pilot project.
- Our science definition members from Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeobotany have extensively covered this region.
The article first appeared on Spaceward Bound India 2016.