Connect With DRI

Follow DRI on FacebookFollow DRI on TwitterFollow DRI on InstagramWatch DRI videos on YouTubeView DRI photos on Flickr

Media Contact

Justin Broglio
Communications Officer - Northern Nevada

Office: 775.673.7610
Cell: 775.762.8320
2215 Raggio Parkway
Reno, NV 89512

Greg Bortolin
Director of Communications & Government Affairs

Las Vegas Office: 702.862.5409
Reno Office: 775.673.7465
755 E. Flamingo Road
Las Vegas, NV 89119

Festival Focuses On Mars – Mojave Desert Similarities

An article from InsideNPS by Cheryl Chipman

For Immediate Release: March 20, 2012

Hundreds of people descended on Death Valley National Park for the first ever “Mars and the Mojave Festival” on the second weekend of March. The event, which celebrated similarities between the Mojave Desert landscape and the Red Planet, was hosted by NASA and the NPS and reflects an ongoing partnership between NASA, the park, and other planetary science organizations.

The festival kicked off on Friday night with a standing-room only keynote presentation by planetary scientist Dr. Chris McKay, who talked about Mars Science Laboratory, the NASA mission that successfully launched a new rover, “Curiosity,” this past November. “Curiosity” will land on Mars this August and will study whether conditions there are, or ever have been, suitable for fostering life. Many festival activities elaborated on the same theme, introducing visitors to the types of environments, on Earth and Mars, which can harbor microscopic life. Dr. Susanne Douglas of the Planetary Science Institute led a field trip to Badwater, where she studies bacteria that dwell in salt crusts. Dr. Rosalba Bonaccorsi of NASA and the SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute showed visitors the water-sequestering clay minerals in short-lived ponds at the bottom of Ubehebe Crater, which can harbor the building blocks of life. Dr. Henry Sun of the Desert Research Institute presented a talk about microbes that eke out a living under the surface of granite and sandstone rocks in the Mojave Desert and Antarctica. All three of these scientists demonstrated the surprising conditions under which life occurs.

Other festival presenters focused on how researchers overcome the engineering challenges of doing science on other planets, by first testing Mars-bound equipment on Earth. Dr. Aaron Zent of NASA led a field trip to Mars Hill, where early rover models practiced maneuvering over rocky terrain. Dr. Luther Beegle of NASA spoke about testing a drill designed to collect samples on Mars at a mine site in Death Valley. Lucinda Land, the executive director of the non-profit Mars Society, described the mock Martian research station her organization runs in the Utah desert, where volunteer crews practice living and working on the Red Planet. The Mars and the Mojave Festival also featured an expo on Saturday afternoon where children could try their hand at driving a robot mini-rover, extreme microorganisms wriggled under microscopes, and equipment for detecting life-supporting conditions on other planets was demonstrated.

Other festival highlights included:

  • Dr. Joe Kirschvink of Caltech presenting the panspermia hypothesis, the idea that life evolved elsewhere in the universe (possibly on Mars), then traveled to earth on a meteorite billions of years ago.
  • Dr. Tyler Nordgren of University of Redlands offering an impassioned appeal for preserving natural darkness in the national parks and beyond.
  • A panel of planetary scientists sharing the positive implications of their research for human society here on Earth.

Death Valley National Park hosted the festival because it protects some of earth’s most extreme environments, from salt flats to chemically complex springs to dramatic volcanic craters – all scoured by intense winds, shaped by rare but violent floods, and baked by hadean temperatures. That life can survive and even thrive under such conditions is testament to its adaptability and tenacity. For these reasons, scientists have traveled to the Mojave Desert for decades to study the conditions that might foster life on Mars. NASA and the park hope to make this festival an annual event. Death Valley is a natural laboratory for testing out-of-this-world hypotheses and equipment, making it an ideal venue for the festival. Many other national parks host planetary analog research, and NASA is also interested in partnering with them to produce similar events. For more information, or to get in touch with relevant NASA representatives, email or call the park's education specialist at or 760-786-3226.

All DRI news releases are available at

Note to Reporters and Editors: DRI, the nonprofit research campus of the Nevada System of Higher Education, strives to be the world leader in environmental sciences through the application of knowledge and technologies to improve people’s lives throughout Nevada and the world.

Atmospheric Sciences (DAS)
Air quality and atmospheric research including meteorology, visibility and pollutant transport.

Western Regional Climate Center
Climate Information and Data Services
Providing jointly developed products, services and capabilities that enhance the delivery of public climate info.

Diversity at DRI
An Inclusive Mission of Research Excellence
Diversity at DRI
Offering a supportive and diverse environment for our students, faculty/staff and visitors.

Land and Life
Earth and Ecosystems Sciences (DEES)
Research into changing landscapes including the soils, plants, animals and humans that affect them.

K-12 Outreach and Education
Supporting Nevada educators in science-based, environmental education with free tools, resources, and training.

Renewable Energy at DRI
Discovering New Energy Production Methods
dri-renewable-energyExpanding renewable energy research throughout Nevada and around the U.S.

Hydrologic Sciences (DHS)
Study of the natural and human factors that influence the availability and quality of water resources.

DRI Nevada Medal Event
2015 Medalist - Dr. Christopher McKay
Proudly honoring outstanding achievement in science and engineering with gala events in Reno and Las Vegas.

Nevada Center of Excellence
Supporting Nevada's Economic Development
Center of ExcellenceCombining NSHE water expertise and IBM’s advanced technologies to grow tomorrow's workforce.