Imagine that you are planning an expensive trip to a remote, amazing location that you always dreamed about. A couple of days before your trip, already with your enthusiasm through the roof, you pack your bags with clothing, some electronics and a few treats. Then, you call the agency to discuss the final details, and they tell you that you will be able to drive your vehicle there, and you are welcome to sleep in it. The location is so remote that they do not have any building available for you. In addition, they cannot provide any water. Ah, and there is no gas station anywhere near.
You think a little bit, and realize that this means that you will have to carry with you all the water you need to stay there, and all the gas you need to come back. Furthermore, if you want to sleep in anything better than your car or a tent, you will need to bring with you all the materials to build a better habitat. Obviously, this solution is going to be very expensive because your car will not be enough to transport all of that: you will need a large truck, or maybe multiple vehicles.
However, you have always been quite brilliant, and you think of a possible solution that will allow you to still take your trip, at the cost of a little extra effort: you could figure out if there are water sources at your destination, maybe with the help of your friends who know some geology and some chemistry. Likewise, you decide that you might modify your car and make it capable of using some fuel that you will be able to find or produce at your destination. And if you could also find some building material, then you would need to carry only a few extra tools, but your car would still be enough to reach that breathtaking place!!! The beauty of this place, and the awe you will feel once you are there, are totally worth the work required to make the trip feasible.
This is exactly what all of the people involved in the effort of Mars exploration are doing. It is called ISRU, which stands for In-Situ Resource Utilization. It means that we will not carry everything we need with us, but we will study our destination, figure out what we can find or produce there, and how to do it. The geology research performed by crew 186 is supporting the study of potentially useful materials for ISRU on Mars. In particular, the crew is studying minerals that have been detected on Mars and that are used on Earth for construction and other applications (kaolinite, gypsum), in addition to materials that have geological interest (hematite spherules, sulfates) and occur in the same location. This is suggesting what ISRU materials could be find in regions of potential interest for human landing on Mars, and it will guide the choice of tools for collection of such materials.
The Geology report on Sol 1 described the goal of the geology project of crew 186 in technical details. Future reports will combine technical results and descriptions with other non-technical explanations (similar to this report) of the reasons for the research we do towards our common objective, so stay tuned!!!
Cesare Guariniello, PhD