The People of RIS4E
The New Mexico field team in a composite of two separate images — the left taken with a standard DSLR camera, the right with the RISE4E team’s LiDAR equipment. The device is used to produce high-resolution 3D geological maps by scanning its surroundings with a laser beam and collecting detected objects in millions of points.
Photo illustration: Kevin Lizarazo / LiDAR operator: Patrick Whelley
A veteran of four spacewalks, Butch Wilmore spends most of his time these days helping NASA engineers design a new rocket to send American astronauts to Mars and other places. But when a call came in to Houston requesting an astronaut for simulated spacewalks in the desert, he jumped at the chance.
Jose Hurtado, a 43-year-old geology professor at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), is a RIS4E collaborator whose gold-plated resume and happenstance led him to the Potrillo volcanic fields of New Mexico.
On the morning of their second day at the Potrillo volcanic field, the RIS4E team set up its equipment on a low ledge at the brink of the vast Kilbourne Hole. Liz Rampe looked out across the ashy crater. For her, it was a moment of zen.
Dean Eppler remembers the day vividly: He was home in Nevada when a man from NASA’s Astronaut Selection Office called asking him to come to Houston for an interview. Eppler is one of several planetary geologists on the RIS4E team who have dreamed of going into space and come close to landing a spot.
Cowboy hats, baseball caps, straw hats and visors: For the RIS4E team, headgear is indespensible on scorching days in the field. Every scientist has a hat, and every hat has a story.