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NASA's BRAILLE Project
Contrary to popular belief, NASA's BRAILLE Project has nothing to do with visual impaired individuals and the raised dots they utilize to read. Rather, BRAILLE stands for Biologic and Resource Analog Investigations in Low Light Environments, which is just a technical way to say that we are interested in finding signs of life in caves here on Earth. We are using caves on Earth as an analog to practice for future missions to other planets - such as Mars or the Moon.
The caves we are exploring are not just any kind of cave - they're lave tubes. Lava tubes were formed approximately 27,000 years ago from molten hot lava via erupting volcanos. As the hot lava flowed down to lower ground, large gas bubbles formed inside the lava - thus creating a hollow, tube-like structure when it finally cooled and hardened. What's so fascinating about these types of caves is that they have been detected on both the Moon and Mars! This is why lava tube caves here on Earth make excellent sites to practice for future extraterrestrial missions.
What do we do in the caves?
The BRAILLE Project is quite multifaceted - comprising of a multitude of scientific & engineering experiments. However, the most integral aspect of this project is the use of Boston Dynamics' Spot robot dogs. In fact, our latest field mission utilized a total of three Spot robots - two fully autonomous robots powered by NeBula autonomy software, & a third manual robot. The two autonomous robots looked for various artifacts in the caves, whereas the manual robot was equip with a 30x PTZ camera that we used to photograph and document various biomarkers on the cave walls. A couple of our engineers will be developing machine learning algorithms to further classify these biomarkers. We also had a handheld LiDAR that we used to map the cave. In turn, we were able to take the 3D map produced by LiDAR and develop a novel 3D Virtual Reality interface.
ABOUT MY ROLE WITH BRAILLE:
I am a Communications Specialists for the BRAILLE Project - in other words, I handle all things SciComm related. From developing & managing BRAILLE's website, to helping team members communicate about their activities, research, & science to a broader audience - I am the liaison between the public and our scientists and engineers.
I had the opportunity to attend BRAILLE's final field mission in May '22 at the Lava Beds National Monument, in Northern California. My time in the field comprised mainly of documenting the various experiments, capturing photos of the team and cave topology, and interviewing each team member about their role and scientific/engineering endeavors. My time with the BRAILLE team was nothing short of enlightening and I hope to continue documenting planetary analog missions here on Earth.
Below are some photographs I captured while at the Lava Beds National Monument.