Penguin Powered

NASA astronauts study New Mexico soil

Field work good practice for analysis performed in space

The Santa Fe New Mexican

Friday, July 9, 1999

By Robin Martin

TAOS – Eight NASA astronauts are in northern New Mexico this week learning about planetary geology and helping map the groundwater resources of the Taos Valley.

The astronauts are helping a team of hydrogeologists from the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources in Socorro use gravity measurements in studying the depth of the aquifer under Taos.

Such experience in field studies could help them if they were to run scientific experiments on other planets. For instance, if humans could find water on the moon or Mars, they could use it to supply drinking water of break it down into oxygen for air supply and hydrogen for fuel.

The astronauts’ four-day trip through New Mexico includes studies of geologic areas such has the Rio Grande Gorge, the glacial valleys of the Sangre de Cristos and the towering sandstone cliffs near Ghost Ranch.

The goal is not only to help them recognize geologic features on other planets, but to recognize earth forms as they look down on our planet from space.

A human’s mind has the ability to recognize important patterns, sport essential attributes that even the most sophisticated satellite camera or planetary rover cannot recognize.

As part of their training, the astronauts compare rivers and mountains seen up close on Earth with photographs of the same land forms taken from space.

Leading their geology training is University of Texas professor Bill Muehlberger. He said his goal is to show them at least one of each of the geological processes that happen on Earth, from fossilized shells at the top of the Sandia Mountains to the active volcanic region in the Jemez Mountains.

In 1971 Muehlberger trained the Apollo 15 astronauts in the geology near Taos Junction Bridge, an area very much like their moon landing site at Hadley Rille.

The astronaut class of 1998 consists of 25 Americans and six internationals. About half have military training. Most are engineers, with a few physicists, chemists, doctors and a teacher. Their age ranges the early 30s to the mid-40s.

Their training lasts two years and includes both space shuttle and space station systems They have come to Taos to study in groups of eight.

The gravity measurement program they are helping with is part of a larger Bureau of Mines project mapping areas along the Rio Grande.

One important area of study is the geologic faults and depth of water-bearing sediments in the rapidly developing hillside villages of Talpa and Cañon south and east of Taos.

(see other local press coverage)


back to top

comments/questions to Paul Bauer