Mary Beth Wilhelm (in white cleanroom suit) samples ground-truth material obtained from an excavation pit, assisted by colleagues. (NASA)
The Atacama Rover Astrobiology Drilling Studies (ARADS) project completed its first deployment after one month of field work in the hyper-arid core of the Atacama Desert in Chile, the “driest place on Earth.” More than 20 scientists from the United States, Chile, Spain, and France camped together miles from civilization and worked in extremely dry, 100+ degree heat with high winds during the first ARADS field deployment.

During this deployment, scientists put several technologies through the paces: a Mars-prototype drill, a sample transfer arm, the Signs of Life Detector (SOLID), and a prototype version of the Wet Chemistry Laboratory (WCL), which flew on the Phoenix Mars mission in 2007.

Over the next four years, the ARADS project will return to the Atacama to demonstrate the feasibility of integrated roving, drilling, and life-detection, with the goal of demonstrating the technical feasibility and scientific value of a mission that searches for evidence of life on Mars.