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May 27, 1992 (Phone: 202/453-1549) Michael Mewhinney Ames Research Center, Mountain View, Calif. (Phone: 415/604-3937) RELEASE: 92-73 COMPLETE ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION
Three U.S. scientists, including one from NASA's Ames Research Center, Mountain View, Calif., recently completed the first joint U.S./Russian Antarctic expedition since the breakup of the former Soviet Union. The purpose of the expedition was to investigate the physical, chemical and biological properties of ice-covered lakes in the Bunger Hills Oasis of East Antarctica. This was the first time U.S. scientists have explored these lakes near a Russian research station. The scientists participated in the 37th Russian Antarctic Expedition. The U.S. participation in the expedition was sponsored by the Exobiology Implementation Team of the U.S.-Russian Joint Working Group for Space Biology and Medicine under the 1987 U.S.-U.S.S.R. Civil Space Agreement. "This effort is part of a broader research program at Ames that includes research on microbes living in extreme environments. It also uses telepresence to explore these same environments," said Dr. Donald DeVincenzi of Ames, a team Co-chair. "Research in the Antarctic using telepresence is helping to define the technologies we will use during future missions to Mars." Telepresence allows a remotely operated robotic vehicle to become a researcher's eyes and hands. Wearing a video headset, the researcher's senses can be extended to remote locations through a camera mounted on a remotely-operated robotic vehicle. The researcher points the camera with head movement and steers the vehicle with a pair of joysticks or with body motion. - more - 2 "We developed a very successful working relationship with
the Russians," said Dale Andersen, a Lockheed Engineering and Science Co. employee and U.S. Field Team Leader. "We showed that we can work together in very remote and hostile environments while collecting a high degree of good science," added Andersen, who works at Ames. The scientists traveled to and from Antarctica aboard the Russian ship Akademik Fedorov, a 16,200-ton icebreaker designed for research in polar latitudes. The team left Montevideo, Uruguay in November 1991 and returned to the United States this month. Although NASA scientists have conducted research in the dry valleys near the main American base in Antarctica for more than 20 years, this is the first time they have had an opportunity for an in-depth look at these ice-covered lakes in the Bunger Hills Oasis. Anderson said robots and tethered human divers conducted underwater studies during the expedition. Previous studies of ice-covered lakes in the McMurdo Dry Valleys on Ross Island south of New Zealand have shown the lakes' similarity to lakes that may have existed on Mars in the past. While at Bunger Hills, scientists also mapped the location of lakes that have long since dried up and studied the role of ice in the formation of shoreline features. Similar features will provide clues to the location of ancient lakes on Mars. Scientists studied the temperature, chemical composition and gas content of the water in the lakes. Andersen said the data collected is useful in the study of factors controlling lake formation and ice-cover development, gas dynamics within the water column and sediments, sediment formation and the preservation of biological samples in sediments. During the expedition, scientists continuously collected meteorological data and sent it by satellite to Ames using a solar battery-powered transmitter. The transmitter will continue sending data for the indefinite future, providing the first long-term, year-round data base for this region of the world. "We also had a direct electronic mail link between Antarctica and our colleagues at Ames," Andersen said. The Principal Investigator for the expedition was Dr. Robert Wharton of the Desert Research Institute at the University of Nevada. Dr. Christopher McKay of Ames is a Co-investigator. Joining Andersen on the expedition were graduate students Jim Rice from Arizona State University and Peter Doran from the Desert Research Institute at the University of Nevada. - more - 3 Three Russian exobiology researchers -- Dr. Valeri Galchenko and Dr. Nikolai Chernekh of the Institute of Microbiology at
the Russian Academy of Science and Dr. Dimitri Bolshiyanov of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in St. Petersberg -- also were part of the expedition. A team will travel to Antarctica again this fall to continue the research begun at Bunger Hills Oasis. U.S. participation in the expedition was funded by the Exobiology Program of NASA's Office of Space Science and Applications, Washington, D.C. Additional funding was provided by the Institute of Microbiology of the Russian Academy of Sciences. - end -