On April 18th, a group of us will descend on a mystery location in Utah where will will spend five days roaming around the desert pretending to be Mars rovers for the GeoHueristic Operational Strategies Testing (GHOST) program. These rover tests have no actual rovers, as those are extremely expensive and logistically difficult to get out in the field. Rather, we have people pretending to be the rovers, and others (myself included) acting as the instruments onboard those rovers.
This year’s objective is to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of utilizing a walkabout approach to investigate the field site, instead of the commonly-used linear traverse.
Walkabout approaches simulate what a human geologist would do if plunked down at a site, and tasked with interpreting the geologic history of that area. Instead of starting to take detailed measurements, samples, etc. right off the bat, a geologist would first walk around the whole area to get a feel for what is there. They would then go back to key points and make more detailed observations to fill out the data set. This method was first utilized on Mars just recently, when Curiosity reached Pahrump Hills in Gale Crater.
Linear traverses have been used by Mars rovers because they allow the science team to go to a spot, gather data, and quickly move along to a new location, never to return again. While this may be faster, it might not be the best method, since something far more interesting/useful may go unnoticed if an initial site survey is not done.
Our 2016 field test will have three teams: one team of human geologists, and two separate “rover” teams. One rover team will conduct a linear traverse of our field site, while the other will assess the site using a walkabout approach. Both rover teams have “science teams” (AKA: Earth-based humans) who will be sequestered at base camp – unable to wander the site themselves. The science teams will have to interpret the geologic history of the area based solely on the data they get from their “rover” – just like planetary geologists do for Mars. At the end of the week, the rover teams will compare their results with each other, as well as with the team of human geologists that were allowed to wander the field site (and should therefore have the most complete picture). The accuracy and completeness of the rover interpretations will be assessed in conjunction with how much time their analysis would have taken if this were an actual Mars rover and science team. We may find that a walkabout approach results in a more complete geologic interpretation and is worth the extra bit of time it takes to double back to a location, which could influence how we conduct rover operations in the future.
Other 2016 GHOST rover posts: