India and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) entered into a partnership in January 2016 to explore the environment of Ladakh under NASA’s Spaceward Bound programme.
Under the partnership, a team of scientists from NASA, the Mars society Australia and the Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeobotany, Lucknow will undertake an expedition to Ladakh in August 2016.
During their 10-day expedition, the scientists will study the similarities of certain parts of the region’s topography and microbial life to the surroundings of Mars.
Why Ladakh was chosen?
• Ladakh offers a cold, high altitude (3500 - 5500 meter above sea level), high UV exposed, dry ecosystem with Mars analogue topological features.
• The pristine Ladakh environment will tell us about the origin and evolution of Earth’s topological features and also about how microbial life has adapted itself to sustain itself in such harsh conditions.
• High passes, permafrost regions, glaciers, hot springs, shallow and palaeo lakes and high altitude night skies help the astrobio/geoscientsts to conduct experiments in order to find answer some of the most fundamental questions about life.
• India’s success in executing the Mars Orbiter Mission will be an added advantage for international scientists for achieving greater results as part of the collaboration.
About Spaceward Bound programme
• It is an educational program developed at NASA Ames Research Center in California, the USA.
• It mission is to train the next generation of space explorers by having students and teachers participate in the exploration of different regions on the planet.
• The regions are of scientifically interesting but remote and extreme environments on Earth as analogs for human exploration of the Moon and Mars.
• Previous spaceward bound expeditions were Atacama Desert (South America), Mojave Desert (the USA), Pavilion Lake (Canada) and Arctic region among others.
• Ladakh is the first region chosen for study in India under the programme.
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Who: Ladakh region