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FINESSE: Field Investigations to Enable Solar System Science and Exploration

Jennifer Heldmann
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Abstract Text: 

The FINESSE (Field Investigations to Enable Solar System Science and Exploration) team is supported by NASA’s SSERVI (Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute). FINESSE is focused on a science and exploration field-based research program aimed at generating strategic knowledge in preparation for the human and robotic exploration of the Moon, near-Earth asteroids, and Phobos & Deimos. We follow the philosophy that “science enables exploration and exploration enables science.”
The FINESSE Science Program is improving our understanding of the effects of volcanism and impacts as dominant planetary processes on the Moon, NEAs, and Phobos & Deimos. The FINESSE Exploration Program is aimed at understanding which exploration concepts of operations (ConOps) and capabilities enable and enhance scientific return.
Field deployments focused on volcanic studies have been conducted in 2014, 2015, and 2016 at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. Each year consisted of a traditional field geology deployment with scientists entering the field to collect data and samples. 2016 also saw the addition of a second field deployment conducted “in simulation” as an analog to a human space mission with a science backroom team, limited number of astronauts in the field, and working within the science and engineering constraints of conducting fieldwork on a planetary Target Body. The in-simulation deployment was led by our sister project BASALT (Biologic Analog Science Associated with Lava Terrains, funded by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate) and supported by FINESSE.
FINESSE targets for data acquisition included selected sites at Kings Bowl eruptive fissure, lava field and blowout crater; Inferno Chasm vent and outflow channel; North Crater lava flow; Big Craters lava flow and Highway lava flow. Field investigation included (1) differential GPS (dGPS) measurements of lava flows, channels (and ejecta blocks at Kings Bowl); (2) LiDAR imaging of lava flow margins, surfaces and other selected features; (3) digital photographic documentation; (4) sampling for geochemical and petrographic analysis; (5) UAV aerial imagery and DTM production; and (6) geologic assessment of targets and potential new targets.
Over the course of the 5-week field FINESSE campaign to the West Clearwater Impact Structure (WCIS) in 2014, the team focused on several WCIS research topics, including impactites, central uplift formation, the impact-generated hydrothermal system, multichronometer dating of impact products. The FINESSE team also used WCIS as an analog test site for crew studies of sampling protocols. This work highlights the importance of allowing specific time in astronaut timeline planning to collect specialized samples, that this time follow human or robotic reconnaissance of the geologic setting, and that crew member training should include exposure to the laboratory techniques and analyses that will be used on the samples upon their return to terrestrial laboratories.
In addition, ample rock samples were returned from West Clearwater for geochronology study. Geochronology work centers around laboratory analyses of these samples (and samples collected in the future or obtained from archives housed at the Canadian Geological Survey). Samples are now undergoing (U-Th)/He geochronology analysis and thin sections are being used for laser ablation 40Ar/39Ar research after neutron irradiation.

E. Schwieterman, University of Washington
SSERVI Identifier: 

Recognizing that science and human exploration are mutually enabling, NASA created the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) to address basic and applied scientific questions fundamental to understanding the Moon, Near Earth Asteroids, the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos, and the near space environments of these target bodies. As a virtual institute, SSERVI funds investigators at a broad range of domestic institutions, bringing them together along with international partners via virtual technology to enable new scientific efforts."