What is BRAILLE?
Projects funded by the NASA PSTAR program, such as BRAILLE, will address the importance of being involved in analog missions. BRAILLE will engage in astrobiology mission simulation activities at Lava Beds National Monument, in a series of two high-visibility field campaigns (Summer 2018 and 2019).
Lava tubes are a terrestrial analog for caves that exist on places like Mars and the moon, which have already been detected by satellites. While lava tubes located at LABE are not a perfect analog when compared to how arid surface conditions are on Mars, they are still a good analog environment for early Mars. BRAILLE will also 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.
By conducting field research inside lava tubes, BRAILLE’s findings through can help NASA scientists and engineers on future missions to caves on other planets in search for microbial life and biosignatures of interest, mitigating the risks associated with planetary exploration.
The question of whether life, specifically microbial life, exists on other planets has been to this day, one of the most important questions in astrobiology research. This goes back to the significance of investigating lava tubes: the caves are sheltered from harmful surface conditions that would otherwise have destroyed evidence of life. If microbes were to be preserved, they would be in minerals in the cave walls, and will provide NASA with a geologic record of the types of microbial communities that are present in lava tubes.
If we can characterize the presence of microbial life and biosignatures found in terrestrial lava tubes, in addition to having refined the procedures involved in remote science operations with a rover, we can justify support for future expeditions of extraterrestrial caves.