They're not really on Mars, of course-human missions there are not yet even in NASA's long-term schedule and are not expected to take place for at least two decades. So, in order to begin understanding the logistical, mechanical, scientific and psychological issues that a real crew of Mars explorers will someday face, teams have been practicing the details of Mars exploration in several Mars-base simulators in some of Earth's most Mars-like places. The most heavily used simulation is the Mars Society Desert Research Station, near Hanksville, Utah, which was built in 2002 by the Mars Society.
Engineering graduate students Zahra Khan and Phillip Cunio, from the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, began their stay at the Utah facility on Sunday, Feb. 17. Cunio is working on a project to develop a "smart" carrier to be used for research fieldwork in remote expeditions such as planetary exploration. The footlocker-sized container and its contents are fitted with radio-frequency ID tags, so that it constantly keeps track of its contents and can alert people if supplies are about to run out or if an item has been misplaced. Running out of supplies is not just an inconvenience-on a faraway planetary surface it could be a life-or-death issue.
Khan's job was concentrating on the logistics of making exploratory trips through the desert to carry out geological and biological research. The team uses all-terrain vehicles to travel around while wearing their simulated spacesuits and then takes soil samples and conducts other tests at various locations. Halfway through the planned two-week mission, Khan cut her stay short when she was unexpectedly called to Amsterdam for a job interview with the European Space Agency.
Although part of the mission's purpose is to find out about practical issues in working in difficult circumstances, the research itself is also very real. They have been looking for organisms that live in the hostile, dry and salty desert environment, both to develop techniques for conducting such biological research and to learn about how organisms survive in these somewhat Mars-like conditions.
Both Khan and Cunio would like to be involved in real Mars missions someday. Khan's research is on entry, descent and landing systems for human missions to Mars. These will require much gentler, more-controlled descents than past missions, such as the Mars rovers that hit the ground at high speed shielded by airbags and then bounced for several minutes before coming to a stop.
Khan says she would like to go to Mars herself, but thinks that with the slow progress of NASA's plans in that direction, "the odds may not be very good. I think it would be a good idea to send younger people," and by the time such missions take place that may leave her out.
"I'm an advocate of one-way trips to Mars," she says, because the logistics of such trips would be far easier without the requirement for all the fuel needed for a return. For a given spacecraft, she says, you could send six people on a two-way mission or 24 people for a one-way trip. "If you're going to go there, you might as well not waste the resources."Cunio's research studies the design of self-sustaining life-support systems for Mars colonists, as well as for missions to the moon or other destinations. "We're studying the commonalities in life support and environmental control systems," he says, so that planners don't have to start from scratch in planning missions to different places.
"We want to minimize the development costs and risks."
Anyone interested in following the progress of the Mars-like mission can observe the team in action by way of a set of web cams that display live images inside and outside the habitat, at www.freemars.org/mdrscam. Detailed daily reports on their activities can be found online at www.marssociety.com/mdrs/fs07/crew67 (click on "daily crew reports").
Cunio is also blogging about his experiences during the mission, mainly as a way of helping to inspire younger students to get interested in space exploration. His blog is at exepsilonmars.blogspot.com. Cunio has made contact with several schools around the United States and Canada, and will participate in real-time question-and-answer sessions with some of the classes during the mission.
Written by David Chandler, MIT News Office
Move over, lasers: Scientists can now create holograms from neutrons, too
21.10.2016 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
Finding the lightest superdeformed triaxial atomic nucleus
20.10.2016 | The Henryk Niewodniczanski Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.
In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...
'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.
Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine
21.10.2016 | Information Technology
21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences