Theme 1Preparation for Exploration
Making Sense of Remote Sensing Data
By Kristen O’Neill
Theme 1 of the RIS4E project is focused on improving the analysis of remote sensing data – the information sent back to earth by satellites and rovers in space.
Airless weather and extreme temperature fluctuations in space can alter samples in ways we don’t experience on Earth. To best interpret what the remote sensing data means, scientists must first do a lot of in-depth laboratory analysis on meteorite samples and even lunar simulants, to understand what data results from weathering. This laboratory data will go into libraries where it will be used to better analyze future remote sensing data.
Theme 1 is specifically using infrared spectroscopy in the lab to compare with the remote sensing data, which shows how light interacts with different materials. Samples will be treated in a “moonbox,” a machine that shoots gamma rays and hydrogen ions at the sample to simulate conditions on the moon. Their five-year plan is to continue analyzing their huge amount of samples, and eventually test real lunar soil.
Timothy Glotch, the principal investigator for RIS4E as well as the lead for Theme 1, is also spearheading a shift to theoretical analysis. Using complicated programs on supercomputers at NASA Ames Research Center, Glotch is developing ways to have light interact with imaginary particles in a computer and see how the data reflected out matches up with remote sensing data from the Moon, or even laboratory data. This would allow analysis and alteration of lunar soil simulants to happen all on a computer, without wasting time manually grinding and mixing together the sample.
“My main goal with Theme 1 is to take these remote sensing data sets, even ones that have existed for years, and just wring as much science from them as we possibly can,” Glotch explained.
The Four Themes of RIS4E: Pathways to Space
Airless weather and extreme temperature fluctuations in space can alter samples in ways we don’t experience on Earth. To best interpret what the remote sensing data means, scientists must first do a lot of in-depth laboratory analysis on meteorite samples and lunar simulants to understand what data results from weathering. This laboratory data will go into libraries where it will be used to better analyze future remote sensing data.
RIS4E and the broader NASA initiative supporting it are about future exploration of planetary bodies. Theme 2—“Maximizing Exploration Opportunities”—is like a simulated advance team: Researchers going to places on Earth that are similar to the surfaces of the Moon and Mars to test and develop equipment that will help future astronauts know what to do when they get there. The expedition to Hawaii’s Mount Kilauea was Theme 2 in action.
It was the late 1960s, and the world was awed by what the United States was accomplishing in space. Landing men on the moon seemed the stuff of science fiction in 1969 but by the time the Apollo program ended three years later 12 American astronauts had firmly planted their space boots on the Moon’s surface, boldly stomping where no human had stomped before.
And kicking up a lot of lunar dust in their wake.
What were the conditions of the early solar system? How did life form? To investigate this, scientists working on Theme 4 of the RIS4E project are using X-rays to probe extraterrestrial material, like interplanetary dust and meteorites, which might contain answers, or at least clues, about the formation of the world as we know it.