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Pavilion Lake and Beyond: How to Effectively Explore Other Worlds?

Posted on July 7th, 2010 by Mike Gernhardt

Mike Gernhardt with the DeepWorker barge in the background

This is my third year as a submarine pilot/scientist on the Pavilion Lake Research Project (PLRP) and it is really exciting and informative to be part of this team and to watch the progression and trends in the science and operational methods that are being applied to this expedition.  I originally became involved in the PLRP because of the use of the dual DeepWorker submersible system as an operational analog to the dual Lunar Electric Rover system that my team at NASA is developing.  The really special thing about PLRP is that it’s not a simulation, its real world-class science and the methods that we use to plan the flights collect and analyze the data, and the lessons we learn are directly relevant to future space exploration. It’s also pretty cool that we are seeing things that human eyes have never seen before and in that sense it’s analogous to finding life on Mars or some other planet.

Mike Gernhardt and Bill Todd (front) work as CapCom on the surface vehicle, while Steve Wittig (back) captains the nav boat

The main contributions of our NASA Exploration Analogs and Mission Development team (EAMD) are to perform the operational research necessary to characterize the productivity and effectiveness of the operation and then systematically analyze the data and use the results to refine the operational methods over a multi-year period with the aim of achieving the highest level of scientific return from the human and machine assets deployed during the expedition.  To this end we have developed a variety of metrics that characterize the data, and observation quality along with the operational performance and timeline data.  These metrics are then correlated with the scientific merit metrics that we have developed with the PLRP team to understand the right balance between operational discipline and scientific flexibility. Is the right answer going to be totally rigid flight plans and flight rules to control every minute or the exploration dives, or complete scientific flexibility to explore whatever seems most interesting at the time? Probably neither,  the optimal mix is most likely  somewhere in between and this multi-year research program provides a unique opportunity to find that optimal mix here on earth so that we don’t have to learn those lesson out in space were the expense and consequences are much higher.

-Mike

Mike Gernhardt, ready for deployment in DeepWorker.

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