BRAILLE is a project funded by NASA which will complete astrobiology mission simulation activities at Lava Beds National Monument (LABE) in a series of two high-visibility field campaigns during Summer 2018 and 2019. By conducting field research inside lava tubes, BRAILLE’s findings can be used by NASA scientists and engineers on future missions in search of interplanetary microbial life.

The question of whether life exists on other planets is one of the most important questions in astrobiology research. As harsh surface conditions on Mars have destroyed any evidence of past microbial life, BRAILLE scientists have reasoned that Mars’ caves may be sheltered enough to protect remnants of former microbial communities, preserved as minerals on lava tube walls. These minerals would provide NASA with a geologic record of the types of microbial communities present in lava tubes. 

Lava tubes are a terrestrial analog for caves on Mars. While lava tubes at LABE are not an exact replica of those on Mars, they can still effectively be used to simulate an early Mars environment. BRAILLE will be the first project of its kind to combine the use of rover technology and remote science operations in an extreme environment like lava tubes, where there is limited light and resources.

If the BRAILLE team can successfully characterize the microbial life and biosignatures found in terrestrial lava tubs, this research will justify support for future expeditions of extraterrestrial caves.