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PISCES Selected for $4.2 Million NASA Project

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The Hilo-based Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems, or PISCES, is one of several organizations selected to complete a $4.2 million Mars research project in preparation for future human and robotic missions to the Red Planet.

The four-year project, called “Biological Analog Science Associated with Lava Terrains (BASALT), will be led by the NASA Ames Research Center with Dr. Darlene Lim as the Principal Investigator.  The collaborating partners include 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, and University of Hawaii at Hilo/PISCES.

Forty-seven proposals were submitted from around the nation to participate in the project.  The chosen group of researchers is one of only seven grant applicants chosen by NASA’s competitive Planetary Science and Technology Through Analog Research (PSTAR) program.

The BASALT research team includes select scientists, operations experts, and active astronauts, who will investigate the volcanic terrains and lava flows on the Big Island and in Idaho, both of which have striking geological similarities to Mars.  Researchers will compare terrestrial rocks and terrain to those found on Mars to determine the habitability of the Red Planet.


PISCES Operations Manager Christian Andersen, a Co-Investigator on the BASALT team says the project highlights Hawaii’s valuable role in the future of space exploration.

John Hamilton, PISCES Test Logistics/Education and Public Outreach Manager, who is also a faculty member with the University of Hawaii at Hilo Department of Physics and Astronomy, will employ a geology intern for the project, and recruit local teachers to be a part of the mission’s work.

“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.


The project will begin on the Big Island this Fall with a visit by BASALT crewmembers.


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