Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Martian test run in Austrian ice caves!

These amazing photographs are of a simulation experiment in ice caves located underneath Dachstein mountain in Austria that are serving as a test environment for space suits. Why would we need to test space suits in a cave? you ask. Well, so when we go to MARS we can see if perhaps life found a way to thrive underground.  

As you can see from these last two images, the trial also includes some rover robot testing. Pretty cool!

See caves are a great place for microbes to hang out because they benefit from a protected habitat that shields them from cosmic radiation, which is a known buzzkill when it comes to biology.

From Spiegal:
A dozen experiments are being conducted simultaneously in the caves. For example, the Magma Mars rover developed in Poland is navigating an ice surface. On board, it is carrying the Wisdom radar system, which is to be used on the next European Mars mission. The system can be used to analyze rocks at a depth of up to 3 meters (almost 10 feet). "Here in the ice, we can even examine as far as 10 meters deep," says project worker Stephen Clifford of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.

Without a doubt, though, the most spectacular test object is the "Aouda.X" Mars space suit. Tester Daniel Schildhammer is currently making his way in the space suit simulator through a giant cavern that is dotted with rocks. The shining silver suit, which weighs 45 kilograms (around 100 pounds), is also one of a kind, and is named after a Jules Verne character. In his classic novel "Around the World in 80 Days," the book's hero, Phileas Fogg, falls in love with the Indian princess Aouda.
Researcher Gernot Grömer, an astrophysicist at the University of Innsbruck goes on to talk about what makes caves ideal test environments.
"We've known for some time now that there are caves on Mars. And if there actually was life on its surface once, then they would have been the ideal places to retreat to." In astro-biological terms, there is certainly something to that: Cave systems, with their constant temperatures, elevated levels of humidity and, in particular, the protection they offer from cosmic radiation, seem the perfect refuge for simple life forms seeking a retreat. Still, the impressive images Dachstein has to offer were certainly a very pleasant side-effect for all the stakeholders.
Even got a little Jules Verne in there! Great stuff. Reminds me of another post a ways back.

This all is helping me close in on an idea I've had since that initial post on the crystal caves. Just amazing that we have these incredible images and research like this is actually being conducted. I'm in awe!

Image sources:
Spiegel Online

Props to Boing Boing

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