HILO (AP) - A program to test space vehicles on the Big Island is getting an infusion of millions of new investment dollars.
The state is putting $2.34 million into the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems to help the program prepare for missions to Mars or the moon.
Rob Kelso, the new director of the program, known as PISCES, said long-term plans call for a high-tech park in Hawaii for research into technologies related to space travel and colonization.
One project for the near term is developing a concretelike building material that can be used in space and on Earth. Kelso said there also will be continued testing and research of robotic systems being designed for use on the moon or Mars.
Some of the equipment on the Mars rover Curiosity was tested on Mauna Kea in 2008 because that terrain is so similar to the basaltic makeup of Mars, said Kelso, who is a former NASA space shuttle flight director at Johnson Space Center.
He joined other researchers and space enthusiasts at the annual PISCES conference in Waikoloa this week for discussions and demonstrations of robotic equipment designed to explore challenging space environments.
Another avenue for research would be to develop new ways to extract resources, including oxygen and water, from the terrain on Mars, which has a chemical composition strikingly similar to portions of the Hawaii island landscape.
The PISCES project was founded in 2007 and this year was shifted from the University of Hawaii at Hilo into the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.
Kelso said the state is looking for a site for a new research facility that initially would be home to PISCES and might one day become an "aerospace enterprise zone" based in the Hilo area.
In the meantime, the program plans to rent temporary office space in Hilo, Kelso said.