NASA sent a team of researchers and scientists to test a spacesuit inside a volcano in Iceland, which mimics the polar regions of Mars. The spacesuit tested is similar to the one intended for use in future Mars mission with humans.
The MS1 suit, made by Michael Lye at the Rhode Island School of Design, is based on NASA’s Z-2 prototype spacesuit, which was first unveiled in 2014, and is designed to allow astronauts to walk around on the extremely hot surface of Mars.
A team of renowned explorers and researchers traveled to the remote location in Grímsvötn volcano, which lay on the Vatnajökull ice cap in mountain huts, with one room of bunk beds and no running water and lived there for six days.
While the Z-2 spacesuit is expected to weigh 143 lbs (65 kg), the MS1 suit weighs only 50 lbs (23 kg) – which is roughly what the Z-2 spacesuit will weigh in Martian gravity.
The MS1 spacesuit, also similar to the Z-2 design, will feature a hard upper torso and soft lower torso, a bubble helmet, and a rear entry hatch for easy access.
Particularly, the design is meant to be one-piece spacesuit in contrast to previous designs where astronauts had to separately wear the top and bottom portions, while the Russian Orlan suit has since used a rear hatch for entry in 1977.
The Z-2’s suit port, which is located at the back, allows astronauts to slide directly from within a pressurized vehicle into a spacesuit. The inner hatch cover and portable life support system (PLSS) are removed to gain access to the suit.
By the end of the testing period, researchers were able to say that they were able to test the spacesuit in comparable environments thanks to Iceland’s harsh weather conditions and unstable terrain of the Grímsvötn volcano.
In one of the exercises, the scientists determined that the spacesuit makes the wearer capable of performing a variety of motor skills such as sample collection. Furthermore, the suit was appropriate for climbing, with one of the researchers, Icelandic geologist Helga Kristín, climbing up the face of a glacier wearing the suit.
Despite enduring a few weather events and multiple technical failures, the mission overall was deemed a success.
The data they collected will inform the future of habitat and spacesuit design that can be used to train astronauts on Earth.
“To seriously explore the potential of long term human habitation on either the Moon, Mars, or beyond, it is essential to start the journey by conducting field research and concept operations among the diverse set of terrestrial analogs that exist here in Iceland,” said Daniel Leeb, Mission Director of the Iceland Space Agency.
Testing strategies for Mars exploration might seem impossible here on Earth, but our planet does indeed have some terrain that is comparable to what astronauts may encounter on the Red Planet.
The team worked in Iceland because the country “is an analog for Mars and for the moon,” Ryan Ewing, the leading scientist researching Mars-like Icelandic environments, said.
Scientists believed that before Mars lost its atmosphere and became the barren and frozen desert it is today, it had many things in common with Iceland.
By testing out space tech in places on Earth like Iceland, scientists can “put boots on the ground and test what [they] think can do on another world without going there first,” Erwin elaborated.
In a similar technical demonstration, NASA also sent a different team of scientists and engineers to test its Mars 2020 rover.
From July 8 to Aug. 5, the research team tested the prototype rover, which is a small, orange-and-white electric vehicle, and a drone meant to showcase the potential capabilities of the Mars 2020 helicopter, over the lava field located 62 miles away from the capital of Iceland, Reykjavik.
September 3: The post was updated to fix a typographical error in the title where it wrote Ireland instead of Iceland.