"Really, the whole reason of going to Mars is to see if there's life there," said Hamilton. "There's a lot of great geology. But are we alone?"
NASA's Mars mission preparations are covered by the ongoing Biologic Analog Science Associated with Lava Terrains project, or BASALT for short. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the mission will last for two weeks, with geologists and biologists working together at Mauna Ulu and looking for ways to stop the aforementioned rocks from getting contaminated. As NASA tries to see if extraterrestrial life is possible on Mars, the agency wants to avoid false positives or missed positives and plans to do this through the Bio-Indicator Lidar Instrument, a device that spots bio-signals with very little risk of contamination.
The Christian Science Monitor report adds that the BASALT mission will accurately simulate crewed NASA Mars missions in many ways. These include delaying communication with mission control and the fact that Hawaii has many volcanic ridges and geographical features that accurately mimic Mars' own surface geology. The mission's name is quite apropos, as basalt is the most common volcanic rock, as well as the same mineral that makes up a good chunk of the Martian surface.
A report from Popular Mechanics (c/o the Associated Press) also cites UH-Hilo's Hamilton, who provided additional information on the specifics of BASALT, which runs on funding and support from both UH-Hilo and the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES).
According to Hamilton, participants in Project BASALT won't wear any spacesuits, although the project will come with its own "mission control" at Kilauea Military Camp. NASA will also be assisted by "as many as 20" UH-Hilo students.