Workshop on Terrestrial Analogs for Planetary Exploration

Terrestrial analogs are an important part of the robotic and human exploration of the solar system. One of the main recommendations from a community survey conducted in 2019 was to hold a workshop to increase communication and share resources among scientists, engineers, data managers, educators, and students who are involved, or hope to be involved, in terrestrial analog studies.

The Workshop on Terrestrial Analogs for Planetary Exploration was held as a virtual conference from June 16–18, 2021, in coordination with the Annual Meeting of Planetary Geologic Mappers and hosted by USRA/LPI. The decision to coordinate these meetings was based on clear overlap in these disciplines and mutual support. These meetings were initially intended to be held in person in Flagstaff, Arizona, with an optional field trip to nearby analog sites. However, the meetings were changed to a virtual format in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The workshop had 245 participants, including 93 students, representing 16 different countries. The program included 64 oral presentations, 55 poster presentations, and 6 print-only abstracts.

The goals of the workshop were to share perspectives and lessons learned from a range of analog investigations, as well as to identify areas of focus, shared challenges, common strategies, and paths forward. The workshop covered scientific investigations of planetary analog processes and environments, exploration strategies, technology applications, training, and community resources.

Scientific investigations were categorized by planetary processes, including volcanism, impact cratering, sedimentology, glacial/cryogenic processes, and astrobiology. These broad categories allowed participants from various fields to share their results, which led to productive discussions about shared analog sites, techniques, and instrumentation. The session on exploration strategies covered many well-developed analog programs as well as the tools, techniques, training requirements, and operational constraints for analog mission simulations, with an emphasis on near-term human and robotic exploration. Field guides, training programs, and data repositories were also discussed to publicize and gather feedback on these community resources.

Based on discussions during both the analogs and mappers meetings, five breakout session topics were identified. The breakout sessions were originally scheduled for June 18, but were rescheduled for June 30 to recognize the new federal holiday, Juneteenth. The breakout sessions lasted for 45 minutes each and provided an informal opportunity for participants to discuss key issues as well as shared interests that arose during the course of the workshops, including integrating geologic mapping and analog work, technology applications in the field, considerations toward building safe and inclusive analog work environments, best practices for archiving and data access, and challenges facing new researchers. Summaries of the breakout sessions were presented during the closing discussion.

Collectively, this meeting highlighted how analogs continue to be an integral part of planetary science and exploration. With the steadily increasing variety and breadth of upcoming solar system missions comes an increased need for coordination across the community. Participants showed strong interest in more regularly scheduled workshops that focus on terrestrial analog investigations, ideally with a hybrid format (both in-person and virtual to enable increased participation) and field trips to key analog locations. Future coordination with the Annual Meeting of Planetary Geologic Mappers was deemed favorable, along with additional training opportunities. The community is interested in special publications to capture the wealth of information from analog work in recent years, but this needs to be balanced by the busy nature of field campaigns and exploration timelines (particularly after a year in which many projects were on hold). Participants also discussed the need for increased representation from the analogs community in NASA-sponsored working groups and assessment groups. This workshop’s broad interest and engagement signals growth in terrestrial analog research across the planetary science community and emphasizes the importance of terrestrial analog studies for future planetary exploration.

For more information about the meeting, including links to the program and abstracts, visit

— Text provided by L. A. Edgar, A. L. Gullikson, M. E. Rumpf, and J. A. Skinner Jr. (U.S. Geological Survey)