A high Arctic island in Nunavut will once again fill in for Mars when U.S. and Canadian researchers return to the territory this summer to conduct field research that may contribute to space exploration.
Scientists from NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and the Mars Institute are gearing up for their 12th field season in the Haughton Crater on Devon Island.
Some of the team members, including Mars Institute chairman Pascal Lee and project manager Nick Wilkinson, are in Nunavut this week to discuss this year's plans with community members in Grise Fiord and Resolute Bay.
"Typically, we try to hire as many people from the communities as possible to help out in the activities," Wilkinson said in an interview Friday.
The Haughton Crater was created when a meteorite hit the Earth's surface 23 million years ago. It is a cold, bleak desert of rocks, frozen rubble, dry streambeds and deep canyons — making it a good earthly stand-in for Mars or the moon.
Last year, the research team tested two land rovers on the crater. Lee said they plan to conduct more field tests on a new rover and other vehicles.
"It's an interesting vehicle because it's a precursor of what might one day be sent to the moon or even Mars," said Lee, a research scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in California.
"This is going to be an interesting field test because this rover will be put to task on its own to map the ground — with a radar as well — looking for ice, if there's any."
Lee said the team will also study the impacts on the body of walking long distances in a space suit.
"We're going to start planning some scientific traverses as if we were on the moon, with the crew locked up in the vehicles for one, two to three days, going out there, collecting samples," he said.