We tested science operations strategies developed for use in remote mobile spacecraft missions, to determine whether reconnoitering a site of potential habitability prior to in-depth study (a walkabout-first strategy) can be a more efficient use of time and resources than the linear approach commonly used by planetary rover missions. Two field teams studied a sedimentary sequence in Utah to assess habitability potential. At each site one team commanded a human “rover" to execute observations and conducted data analysis and made follow-on decisions based solely on those observations. Another team followed the same traverse using traditional terrestrial field methods, and the results of the two teams were compared. Test results indicate that for a mission with goals similar to our field case, the walkabout-first strategy may save time and other mission resources, while improving science return. The approach enabled more informed choices and higher team confidence in choosing where to spend time and other consumable resources. The walkabout strategy may prove most efficient when many close sites must be triaged to a smaller subset for detailed study or sampling. This situation would arise when mission goals include finding, identifying, characterizing or sampling a specific material, feature or type of environment within a certain area.
Yingst, R. A., Berger, J., Cohen, B. A., Hynek, B., & Schmidt, M. E. (2017). Determining best practices in reconnoitering sites for habitability potential on Mars using a semi-autonomous rover: A GeoHeuristic Operational Strategies Test. Acta Astronautica, 132, 268–281. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.actaastro.2016.12.018