NASA’s annual Spaceward Bound programme into the deserts of Earth in search of extreme life is soon to set-off for the far reaches of the United Arab Emirates.
The seven-day expedition to AL Gharbfield brings five NASA scientists, five UAE scientists, a select group of 20 local schoolteachers and 50 pupils together. Their mission — to inspire the next generation of space explorers and encourage children to choose science studies.
The teachers get to rub shoulders with top planetary scientists. This experience, it is hoped, will help the teachers to develop curriculum related to human exploration of remote and extreme environments. While the children get hands-on activities that enhance critical thinking and a chance to explore scientifically interesting but remote and extreme environments.
According to NASA, the trip entails
• Logistics and transportation
• Energy and life support
• Human factors
• Exploration and EVA activities
• Moon/Mars science and analog concepts and theory
The team will analyse salts in the desert groundwater, and set up year-round data loggers to monitor rain, fog and the growth of tough cyanobacteria found in the harsh climes of the desert.
“This microbiology shows the beginning of life, how life got started,” Asma al Ketbi, the head of the Emirates Geographic Society and a geography professor at UAE University, told the UAE daily The National. "That could be useful for understanding extreme environments on other planets.”
“The idea is that when comparing samples from the UAE to samples from other parts of the world and with samples eventually taken from Mars, similarities of the organisms might be found,” AbdulMajeed al Khajah, a UAE University medical microbiologist on the team told UAE Interact.