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PSTAR Selects BASALT Team to Conduct Mars Research in Hawaii and Idaho
The Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems, or PISCES, is one of several partners that will execute a four-year, $4.2 million Mars research project designed to help prepare for future human and robotic missions to the Red Planet.  

Called Biologic Analog Science Associated with Lava Terrains (BASALT), this project is spearheaded by the NASA Ames Research Center, with Dr. Darlene Lim as the Principal Investigator, in collaboration with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA Kennedy Space Center, BAER Institute, Wyle Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Purdue University, Leiden Measurement Technology, Idaho State University (ISU), Cornell University, Arizona State University (ASU), and University of Hawaii at Hilo/PISCES.

Out of 47 proposals received nationwide, this elite team of researchers is one of only seven grant applicants chosen by NASA’s highly competitive Planetary Science and Technology Through Analog Research (PSTAR) program.

BASALT crewmembers consisting of scientists - both senior researchers and students - operations experts, and active astronauts will investigate volcanic terrains and lava flows on the Big Island of Hawaii and in Idaho, both of which serve as Mars analogs. 

Numerous studies show the Red Planet’s past was filled with volcanic activity, with Hawaii’s lava terrain having similarities to early Mars, and Idaho’s flows resembling present-day Mars. Researchers will compare and contrast their geochemical properties to rocks on the Red Planet and evaluate microbial communities to understand the habitability potential of Mars.
“This project stresses the importance of Hawaii with regard to its valuable role in the future of space exploration, and expands our understanding of the universe around us,” said PISCES Operations Manager Christian Andersen, a Co-Investigator on the BASALT team.

PISCES Test Logistics/Education and Public Outreach Manager John Hamilton, who is also a faculty member with the University of Hawaii at Hilo Department of Physics and Astronomy, will also serve on the BASALT Science Team. His tasks include helping improve STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in Hawaii by employing a local geology intern for the project, recruit local teachers to experience and participate in the missions, and coordinate BASALT outreach events.

“Connecting lands in Hawaii and Idaho via their physical similarity to Mars will broaden this relationship facilitating STEM learning in areas of astronomy, chemistry and geology,” said Hamilton. “By utilizing the excitement of space exploration as a continuation of Polynesian voyaging, this project has multicultural facets that showcase volcanic basalt as the underlying connection between heaven and earth – ‘kalani a me ka honua’.”

The BASALT team will conduct their research in Hawaii starting with a reconnaissance trip this Fall.

Christian Andersen

PISCES Operations Manager, BASALT Co-Investigator

Dr. Darlene Lim

Research Scientist and Project Leader at NASA Ames, BASALT Principal Investigator

John Hamilton

PISCES Test Logistics/Education & Public Outreach Manager, BASALT Science Team Member


The surface of Mars, as shown above, closely resembles the volcanic landscape of certain rift zones on Hawaii Island and a portion of the Snake River Plain in Idaho. Studying both analogs will enable space explorers to better understand what the Red Planet was like in its youth as well as in its present form, which will ultimately help researchers answer the question - did life once exist on Mars?
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