By Sara Ruberg
“Houston, are you seeing this?” Caroline Kostak said into the GoPro propped on her shoulder. The NASA engineer held up a rock she found during a traverse and showed it to the camera, twisting it and examining it in her hands. She’s usually a researcher for the Remote, In Situ, and Synchrotron Studies for Science and Exploration (RISE2) Program, but today she’s acting like an astronaut on the Moon collecting rock samples to bring back to Earth.
The earth has untold tales throughout its history – and so do other planets. Scientists like Ernie Bell of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center hope to uncover the stories embedded in the earth to help people gain a better understanding of other planets. That’s the premise that brought teams of scientists to check out seismic activity at Potrillo Volcanic Field in southern New Mexico.
Along with the human crew, the rocket blasting back to the Moon as part of the Artemis Project in 2025 will be carrying an array of highly sensitive gadgets to help the astronauts do dangerous and important jobs in space. Some of the machines used on Earth to analyze the features of analog sites like Kilbourne Hole in New Mexico will likely take the journey – or at least some instruments derived from those trusty monitors will.
The work that the Stony Brook University geologist took on in April 2022 – perched in a volcanic field in New Mexico with a machine that analyzes the composition of rocks – may help astronauts get back to the moon and, eventually, to the red planet. “It's all about, for me, just doing good work,” she said during a break in the RISE2 expedition to the Potrillo Volcanic Field. “Keep your head down, do good work.” That she did.
On a hot sunny day in the deserts of New Mexico, Alice Baldridge stood on the edge of a rock one morning under the late April sky and took scientists through simulation after simulation in a volcanic crater to learn the history of the site. The geologist and educator lives to tell stories — but not as a writer, as a geologist.
Professor José Hurtado knows all about working in the field. He’s completed research not just around the country, but around the world, as a seasoned geologist, from the Himalayas to New Mexico.
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