Mars is red and so is the Sahara desert, but the similarities between the two run deeper than that. Which is why the Austrian Space Forum (OEWF) dispatched a crew to Morocco, where they tested a series of communication, vehicular, wearable and other technologies that may eventually be deployed on the red planet, Gizmag reports.
The largest simulated space mission stemming from Europe, Mars2013 took place near Erfoud in the northern Sahara throughout February this year. During that time, scientists experimented with a simulated spacesuit called Aouda.X, a temporary emergency shelter, some rovers, and a slew of communication technologies, in addition to exploring other issues that might come up on a real Mars mission.
The Northern Sahara desert’s geology and topography sufficiently resembles that of Mars, according to Gizmag, that the OEWF could get a realistic sense of how both the astronauts and their tools would perform on the fourth planet from the sun – at least a 150 day journey to its closest point using existing technology.
Tests examined issues related to “engineering, planetary surface operations, astrobiology, geophysics, geology, life sciences and other fields,” according to Gizmag.
Albeit considerably lighter (and cheaper) than a genuine spacesuit, the Aouda.X helped astronauts understand how they would manage wearing a cumbersome, heavy (99lb) suit that restricts movement and puts stress on joints and fingers.
Mars2013 also tested a temporary emergency shelter designed by Vienna University of Technology students, which offers 48 hour protection in the event of a suit failure.
OEWF tested three rovers during their simulated mars mission, including the Cliff Reconnaissance Vehicle (CRV) or Cliffbot, the Magma White rover and “Puli” – an unmanned rover with whegs that optimize its mobility.
Establishing some kind of communication link between the base station and astronaut crew is essential to any interplanetary mission, and also deeply challenging.
The purpose isn’t just to maintain a link with mission control, but also to use the new technology to better manage multiple data and communication links between astronauts, machines and base.
More than just an Austrian mission, Mars2013 was made possible by input from 23 nations, including University College London, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Budapest.
For a more detailed analysis of the Mars2013 mission, please head over to Gizmag, from where this post is adapted.
All images via Katja Zanella-Kux from OeWF