Last week was World Space Week, an international celebration of science and technology dating back to 1999. The focus this year was on exploring Mars and an event called World Space Walk, hosted by the Austrian Space Forum, demonstrated three concepts for suits that could protect future Mars explorers.
Mars has approximately a third of the Earth’s gravity, and temperature that ranges from -67 degrees Fahrenheit (−55° C) to 68° F (20° C) at noon at the planet’s equator during the summer. In some places, it can get as low as −243° F (−153° C). The atmosphere is nearly entirely carbon dioxide, only 0.6 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere, and contains an abundance of UV rays and cosmic radiation. Suits also have to protect against corrosive soil and planet-wide dust storms.
“If we are going to prepare for a human mission to Mars in the future, we need to have as much knowledge as possible on the practicalities and limitations of working in spacesuits on planetary terms,” Gernot Groemer, the president of the Austrian Space Forum, told Gizmag.
The teams that participated included the Human Spaceflight Laboratory from the University of North Dakota, the Mars Desert Research Station from Utah, and an entry from the Austrian Space Forum itself, located in Innsbruck, Austria.
Wearing their suits, the teams had to navigate three different obstacle courses that each ended in a task. The first involved setting up a tripod with a sundial; the second involved removing a camera from the spacesuit pocket and taking a picture; the third involved collecting a sample in a bag, labeling it and placing it in a container.
The teams then had to complete the tasks again without the suits to provide a comparison.
The suits are, of course, nothing more than just concepts and will need years of further testing and development. They don’t consider usability, durability or the critically important issue of life support systems.
Still, with more countries investing in Mars explorations and people signing up for a trip to the Red Planet with the Mars One project, it’s fun to imagine the kind of clothes early Mars explorers might be wearing.
The results will be published early next year in the next issue of Astrobiology, but you can watch video coverage of the event now on YouTube.