In a recent article for, NASA-funded scientists discuss recent field work in Iceland as part of the the SAND-E (Semi-Autonomous Navigation for Detrital Environments) project. SAND-E is focused on evaluating the use of automated terrain analysis on rovers alongside Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). This technology could help future missions navigate and select scientific targets for sampling.

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The field site in Iceland is in some ways similar to the challenging martian terrain that could be traversed by missions like the Mars 2020 rover. Because of this, the SAND-E fieldwork could provide useful insights for the Mars 2020 operations team.

The work is also providing valuable scientific results by characterizing sediments along a glacio-fluvial-aeolian sand transport pathway in Iceland. This data could help scientists interpret ancient geological features on worlds like Mars that could have been shaped by liquid water.

The work was supported through the Planetary Science and Technology from Analog Research (PSTAR) Program. NASA Astrobiology provides resources for this and other Research and Analysis programs within the NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD) that solicit proposals relevant to astrobiology research.

Mars 2020 is set to launch in July of 2020 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. When it lands in Mars’ Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021, the mission will collect samples from the martian surface and store them so that they can be retrieved by future missions and returned to Earth. Because of this, Mars 2020 will be the first spacecraft that is capable of accurately retargeting its initial point of touchdown. This technology could be important for future human missions to the Moon and Mars. NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration plans are focused on establishing a human presence on the Moon by 2028, and the knowledge gained from this exploration initiative will be used in the design of future missions to Mars.

Additional Resources:
The Mast Is Raised for NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover (NASAJPL)
Robotic Toolkit Added to NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover (NASAJPL)
Scientists Explore Outback as Testbed for Mars (NASA Mars Exploration Program)