Science Theme:The main science theme of FELDSPAR is to explore how habitability and biodiversity varies over multiple parameters, including environmental, geological, and microclimate parameters, as well as temporal and spatial scales in locations that appear homogenous.  By exploring these parameters, we can begin to inform on how well various in situ analytical tools perform in selecting the “best” samples as gauged by various metrics for return to Earth or the home laboratory.

Hypothesis S1: Some in situ analytical tools are better at predicting habitability than others. 

If we accept that, at least on Earth, biological colonization is the best indicator of the habitability of an environment, then the best way to assess the “predictability” of an analytical tool with respect to habitability is to assess the correlation between its measurements and the direct detection and analysis of biological colonization.  In our initial studies, we discovered that some bioanalytical tools had better spatial resolution than others in assessing biological colonization (e.g. qPCR and ATP bioluminescence).  We now seek to assess whether techniques that are less specific for terrestrial life (e.g. Raman, µCE-LIF) correlate with these measurements.

Hypothesis S2: Biodiversity varies to a statistically significant extent over spatial scales as small as 1 m even in samples that appear to have the same mineralogical, temperature, moisture and other context parameters. 

In our early work, we discovered that biological communities could vary over spatial scales as small as 1 m in samples that appeared to be homogenous in minerology, moisture content, temperature, and other environmental parameters.  We seek to confirm these assessments by doing more rigorous studies of the various environmental parameters that we can monitor by mission-analogous experiments including mineralogical stand-off Raman, XRD, temperature, water content, etc…

Hypothesis S3: Samples with the highest habitability can be logically selected by instrumentation included on current or future Mars rover platforms.

We predict that there is an instrument suite that can be built from instruments that have been selected for Mars missions that can enable this logical selection, but what is the minimum instrument suite?  What is the gold standard instrument suite?  By assessing performance of multiple instrument platforms, we can begin to help answer these questions.

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