UH Hilo students investigate “Mars” on the east rift zone of Kīlauea

This week, UH Hilo students are part of a global team of scientists, engineers, mission operators, and astronauts studying human-robotic exploration of Mars.

By Susan Enright.

About a dozen people at desks working on laptops, a mapping image is on an overhead screen at the front of the room.
While the field crew is working on “Mars” on Mauna Ulu, a science team (above) is located at the Mission Support Center (simulation of support from Earth) at nearby Kīlauea Military Camp

Budding student scientists from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo are part of an international team currently on Hawai‘i Island to study the way future Mars astronauts might collect geology and biology samples when exploring the Red Planet.

The students are part of a global team of scientists, engineers, mission operators, and astronauts studying human-robotic exploration of Mars. The team is conducting real science under simulated Mars missions to help enable a future NASA Journey to Mars.

The research project is called BASALT (short for “Biologic Analog Science Associated with Lava Terrains: Con-ops Development for Future Human Exploration of Mars”). The current field work is being done Nov. 1-18 on Mauna Ulu on Hawai‘i Island. Mauna Ulu is located on the east rift zone of Kīlauea.

This is the second deployment for the BASALT team; the first was in Idaho over the summer. Two UH Hilo students did preliminary work at Mauna Ulu in Oct. in preparation for this month’s work here.

While the extra-vehicular field crew is working around Mauna Ulu this month, a science team is located at the nearby Kīlauea Military Camp at the simulated Mission Control Center. The two groups are communicating and sending data via simulated Mars mission communication delays that range from five to 15 minutes in length one-way (or 10-30 minutes round trip delay), which will help the team identify operational concepts and capabilities that enable science and discovery when humans explore Mars.

Simulation astronauts on rocky landscape with backpacks and mist all around.
Simulation astronauts on “Mars” or Mauna Ulu.

Crew from UH Hilo

Throughout the two weeks, the UH Hilo students are being rotated as members of the field support teams, helping the simulation astronauts on the lava flows, and on the Earth backroom science team.

Current students:

UH Hilo alumni:

  • Sarah Benner and Brendan McQuillan (Geology)


  •  John Hamilton, instructor of physics and astronomy and logistics manager at the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES) in Hilo. Hamilton is working four roles on the BASALT project: the Science Backroom Team on image and video commentary, deputy for logistics and safety, press contact and outreach, and managing students and local volunteers.
  • Marc Roberts (Physics and Astronomy)

Brittany Fuemmeler, Kyla Defore, and Felicity Cross are members of the University Space Robotics Club.

Mission Support Center at Kīlauea Military Camp

In the photos below, working at the Mission Support Center (Earth simulation) located at Kīlauea Military Camp, Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, are UH Hilo students Felicity Cross (in green cap in the photos), Kyla Defore (green bands on arm) Niki Thomas (red next to Kyla), Michael Bailey (by door, same row last seat), and Colin Milovsoroff (blue).

The students are working on image tagging and as science stenographers transcribing and annotating dialogue between astronauts, the Mars base and Earth. Michael Bailey is on an instrument station, viewing chemical analysis data.

Courtesy photos, click to enlarge.

Large group of people at desks, looking to the front of the room.


John Hamilton.


About the writer of this story: Susan Enright is a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.