Sleeping on the permafrost and drilling for ice doesn't sound like the ideal way to spend your summer.
It's remote, it's cold, and the very name carries unpleasant memories of prison camps. But it's also an ideal place to look for life-forms that have learned survival tricks that might be in use on the permafrost and polar caps of Mars, Europa, Callisto and other icy moons of the solar system.
Richard Hoover, of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, is headed to North Siberia for a two-month trek to hunt cryophiles, microbial extremophiles that love extreme, cold conditions like the Siberian permafrost. Already, he carries around a reminder that interesting things await: a vial of growing moss that remained alive yet dormant while frozen for 40,000 years in the permafrost of the Kolyma Lowlands of Beringia in northeastern Siberia.
It is in Kolyma that Hoover, solar physicist turned astrobiologist, will become a roughneck.
"I'll be turned into a driller's helper," Hoover explained, "after David Gilichinsky trains me. We'll be using aseptic drilling techniques to obtain deep permafrost and ice samples for microbiological research. We will examine the cores for viable and fossil diatoms, bacteria, cyanobacteria, yeast, fungi, actinomycetes and other microbial life-forms."
Gilichinsky, a member of the Institute of Soil Science and Photosynthesis of the Russian Academy of Sciences, is one of Hoover's partners in the Joint U.S./Russian Research in Space Science (JURRISS) Program. Their proposal was selected by NASA in May. In collaboration with Prof. Elena Vorobyova of Moscow State University, they proposed to conduct an in-situ study of permafrost as a microbial habitat.
Now that Siberia's brief summer is about to end, it's time for Hoover and
Gilichinsky to go hunting for small game. To understand where to look, Hoover
and Prof. Elena A. Vorobyova will study the microbial content of permafrost and
the structure of the interface between the so
Contact: John M. Horack
NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center--Space Sciences Laboratory