Work aboard E/V Nautilus and at the Inner Space Center in 2018 may assist in the search for extraterrestrial life, as exploration of iron-rich hydrothermal vent systems on Lō‘ihi Seamount (Figure 1) informs the design of future science-focused missions across our solar system. From August 21 to September 12, 2018, this research program was conducted by the SUBSEA (Systematic Underwater Biogeochemical Science and Exploration Analog) team, which is supported by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research. Our mission comprises three research elements: science, operations, and technology. Both natural and social sciences anchor the SUBSEA program, providing the basis for the operations and technology domains to design and implement their studies and supporting capabilities.
Mid-Cayman Rise objectives were built on exciting results from a flurry of recent expeditions that investigated hydrothermal sites in the region (German et al., 2010, 2012). The 2013 E/V Nautilus cruise explored oceanic core complexes (OCCs), tall, smooth-sided hills that rise from the seafloor on the flanks of some mid-ocean ridges. Dives (Figure 1) explored the full extent and nature of life around the Von Damm hydrothermal field, previously discovered there, as well as the geology to further understanding of the vents’ origins, and to survey the OCC summits that had never before been investigated by a deep diving vehicle. This 2013 study was the first Nautilus cruise to have more scientists participating in the expedition from locations on shore than from the ship, tripling the size of the science party.