The performance of field scientists undertaking observations of early life fossils while in simulated space suit

D. Willson*, J. C. Rask, S. C. George, P. De Leon, R. Bonaccorsi, J. Blank, J. Slocombe, K. Silburn, H. Steele, M. Gargarno, C. P. McKay

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    We conducted simulated Apollo Extravehicular Activity′s (EVA) at the 3.45 Ga Australian 'Pilbara Dawn of life' (Western Australia) trail with field and non-field scientists using the University of North Dakota′s NDX-1 pressurizable space suit to overview the effectiveness of scientist astronauts employing their field observation skills while looking for stromatolite fossil evidence. Off-world scientist astronauts will be faced with space suit limitations in vision, human sense perception, mobility, dexterity, the space suit fit, time limitations, and the psychological fear of death from accidents, causing physical fatigue reducing field science performance. Finding evidence of visible biosignatures for past life such as stromatolite fossils, on Mars, is a very significant discovery. Our preliminary overview trials showed that when in simulated EVAs, 25% stromatolite fossil evidence is missed with more incorrect identifications compared to ground truth surveys but providing quality characterization descriptions becomes less affected by simulated EVA limitations as the science importance of the features increases. Field scientists focused more on capturing high value characterization detail from the rock features whereas non-field scientists focused more on finding many features. We identified technologies and training to improve off-world field science performance. The data collected is also useful for NASA′s "EVA performance and crew health" research program requirements but further work will be required to confirm the conclusions.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)193-206
    Number of pages14
    JournalActa Astronautica
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014


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