Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

MIT students living on 'Mars' via Utah

27.02.2008
Last week, two MIT students began living, working and communicating with the outside world as if they were on a mission to Mars. Whenever they go outside their small, round habitat where eight people are spending a two-week "mission," they don spacesuits and pass through an airlock. When they send e-mail, it takes 20 minutes before the recipient can see it-the time it takes for radio waves to travel to and from the red planet.

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

Elizabeth A. Thomson | MIT News Office
Further information:
http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/www
http://www.freemars.org/mdrscam
http://www.marssociety.com/mdrs/fs07/crew67

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht New quantum liquid crystals may play role in future of computers
21.04.2017 | California Institute of Technology

nachricht Light rays from a supernova bent by the curvature of space-time around a galaxy
21.04.2017 | Stockholm University

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

Im Focus: Quantum-physical Model System

Computer-assisted methods aid Heidelberg physicists in reproducing experiment with ultracold atoms

Two researchers at Heidelberg University have developed a model system that enables a better understanding of the processes in a quantum-physical experiment...

Im Focus: Glacier bacteria’s contribution to carbon cycling

Glaciers might seem rather inhospitable environments. However, they are home to a diverse and vibrant microbial community. It’s becoming increasingly clear that they play a bigger role in the carbon cycle than previously thought.

A new study, now published in the journal Nature Geoscience, shows how microbial communities in melting glaciers contribute to the Earth’s carbon cycle, a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New quantum liquid crystals may play role in future of computers

21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A promising target for kidney fibrosis

21.04.2017 | Health and Medicine

Light rays from a supernova bent by the curvature of space-time around a galaxy

21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>