field research in the extraterrestrial environment: implications for planetary scientists

By: Thomas M. Ciesla
Originally published in the proceedings of   lunar & planetary science conference, NASA/PLI ;March, 1988. Abstract has been reformatted for online publishing

Research programs often mature toa point where there is no subtitute for in-situ observation and testing. The eventual placement of a Lunar or Martian base camp will allow planetary scientists the opportunity to performed a variety of field expeeriments to test current theory and rapidly extend our knowledge of extraterrestrial environments {8}. As exciting as this potential of field exploration is, there are a number of serious implications for the planetary scientist requiring analysis during the years preceeding colonization. For this discussion, two categories are estalishe: the physical environment and the cosmopolitical environment.

The Physical Environment
The physica environment describes both the natural and the man made, each presenting the planetary scientist a special set of problems. Early Lunar bases, consisting of pressurized modules sent from Earth, will mimic early Antartic outposts with limited volume, power, adaptability and crew size. With a host of operational issues to resolve such as life support, excavation techniques and power generation {3}, the work of the planetary scientist may not command primary importance. Due to the limited crew size and space allocation {6}, competition will be high for what will be frustratingly few research positions at the Lunar base. The extended travel times, costs and logistics problems of a Martian outpost will make research positions there available to a select few who also possess other flight operational skills. The development of a selection system considering not only the reseaarch proposal but the ability of the individual to finction in the psycho/social atmosphere of the colony, must eb in place as the colony begins construction.

The natural environment of the Moon and Mars will impose lilmitations to the scientist that at present are unavoidable. The radiation environment on the surface of these bodies is a life threatening factor requiring special precautions. To ahere to the 5 REM/YR exposure limit for Earth-based radiation workers, limited surface excursions in enclosed vehicles must be imposed, with even shorter time allotments for extravehicular activities {1}. In the early years of the colony, long treks across the surface will not be advised due to unpredictable solor flare activity, when exposure limits are greatly exceeded {7}. For these longer excursions a network of sheilded shelters must be constructed along the way, or a system devised for quickly retreiving scientists from these trips.

The Cosmopolitical Environment
As the size and sophistication of the colony increases and the question of survival is no longer all-consuming, the cosmopolitical environment (which includes beaurecratic systems for policym government and funding), will begin to impose additionall limitations to the scientist. Increasing numbers of researchers moving into the field will necessiate establilshment of protocols for protecting the natural environment and prevent costly duplication of effort. To coordinate this activity a central agency must be established for the sole purpose of scientific mission support.

The success of the National Science Foundation in management of the U.S. Antartic Program could welll serve as a prototype for space cplony research activities, which eventually will include all scientific disciplines. In the initial colony, the severe environment of the Moon, the complexities of logistics and resupply and the early emphasis on geological research to nderstand the Moon itself {2} create a scenario very similar to early work in Antartica.

To say fiels research in the extraterrestrial environment is dangerous is stating the obvious; severe environment research is always contains that element. What is unique is that the danger is omnipresent with tital dependence on technology. In addition, the deadliest factor, the unsen radiation, limits the field geologist or geophysicist in what they love most -- exploring.

To say field research in the extraterrestrial environment will be cosly is also stating the obvious; remote locations are always expensive to access and maintaina permanent presence in. The degree of expense, however, will be unique to space research, with an estimated labor cost of $60,000/HR for the space station as an example {4}.

Though colonization remains decades away, ther is much prepatory woork that can be undertaken now to effectively handle the economic and cosmoolitical issues that are sure to arise. Dialogue begun in these development years while the colonies are still onthe drawing board wll allow inputs from the scientific community to be incorporated into the design baseline. At an estimated cost of 90 billion dollars for the Lunar base {5}, these early inputs should prevent costly subsequent modifications to an existing facility. For those planetary scientists with expertise that is transferable to direct colony issues (i.e. excavation procedures and equipment design, closed life support technology), this early involvement may ensure an early crew assignment based on facility construction needs. Ultimately, it will not be the physical hardships of the extraterrestrial environment, but rather the organizational infrastructure of exploration that may prove most frustrating to the planetary scientist.

1. Adams, J.H. (1985) Lunar Bases and Space Activities in the 21st. Century; pps. 315-327.
2. Duke, M.A. et al (1985) Space Policy, February, pps. 49-60
3. Fairchild, K.O. et al (1986) LPSC XVIII, pg. 281
4. Logan, J.S. (1987) Houston Post, December
5. Sellers, W.O. et al (1985) Lunar Bases and Space Activities in he 21 st Century; p[s 71-716
6. Schmidt, H.H. (1987), LSPC XVIII; pps. 880-881
7. Silberg, R. et al (1985), Lunar Bases and Space Activities in the 21st Century; pps. 663-669
8. Taylor, G.J. (1985), Lunar Bases and Space Activities in the 21st Century; pg. 129.

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