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World Space Walk simultaneously puts three Mars-capable spacesuits to the test

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October 15, 2013

The Aouda.X Mars space suit  simulator exploring in Morocco, February 2013

The Aouda.X Mars space suit simulator exploring in Morocco, February 2013

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On October 8, three teams in various parts of the world participated in an unprecedented simultaneous test of three experimental spacesuits. Coordinated from a mission control center in Innsbruck, Austria run by the Austrian Space Forum (OeWF), World Space Walk 2013 aims at setting standards for developing suits for the future exploration of the planet Mars.

At first glance, World Space Walk 2013 seems like a lot of grown men and women with too much time on their hands dressing up and playing spaceman, but there’s a serious purpose behind the cosplay. Mars isn't exactly the garden spot of the Solar System. The gravity is one third that of Earth's, the temperature ranges from −55° C (−67° F) to 20° C (68° F) at noon at the equator in the summer and as low as −153° C (−243° F) at the poles, and there's UV and cosmic radiation to contend with.

The atmosphere is almost all carbon dioxide, and at 0.6 percent the pressure of Earth’s atmosphere, it makes the summit of Mount Everest seem like breathing soup in comparison. This doesn't even take into account the utterly dry, corrosive soil and the planet-wide dust storms that last for months on end.

Aouda.X analog astronaut, Luca Foresta, starts the obstacle course (Photo: OewF/Claudia St...

To handle these conditions, a spacesuit for Mars will have to be one up on the old Apollo moon walk model. This is the aim of World Space Walk 2013; to help in developing a suit for future explorers of the Red Planet.

"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 terrains," says Gernot Groemer, the President of the Austrian Space Forum. "For World Space Walk 2013, we have had the amazing opportunity to work with four different teams who are developing spacesuits and to collaborate on the same set of tasks. This technical test is a simple, yet important, first milestone to compare different analogue suit systems worldwide and to contribute to a growing area of research."

World Space Walk 2013 is part of World Space Week, which was established in 1999 when the United Nations General Assembly declared that October 4-10 annually would be set aside "to celebrate each year at the international level the contributions of space science and technology to the betterment of the human condition."

The MDRS Analogue crew (Photo: Mars Society/ H. Mogosanu/ WSW2013 Mission to Mars Crew)

This year, the theme was "Exploring Mars, Discovering Earth." Among other research and education activities was World Space Walk 2013, which carries on the work of the Austrian Space Forum that conducted a mock or "analog" Mars mission in Morocco in February.

This time, three different teams in three parts of the world tested three different suits in simultaneous experiments coordinated from the Austrian Space Forum's Mission Control Center in Innsbruck. The purpose of the tests was to take the first step toward creating a universal standard for working on such analog suits – especially in regards to agility and dexterity.

Experiment designer, Alexander Soucek of the Austrian Space Forum, says, "In order to provide the safe environment needed by astronauts, spacesuits can be cumbersome and heavy. If future mission planners are to select the right suit for the right expedition, they need to have independent data for comparing and evaluating suits created by different teams."

University of North Dakota's NDX-2 suit tester, Tiffany Swarmer, negotiating the obstacle ...
The tests involved three suits:
  • The Aouda.X suit from the Austrian Space Forum, Innsbruck Austria.
  • The NDX-2 suit made by the Human Spaceflight Laboratory, University of North Dakota.
  • An analog suit from the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS), Utah.

Also taking part was deep-sea diving specialist company, Comex, based in Marseille, France, who monitored telemetry.

For the test, the teams had to complete three tasks in the suits and then without them for comparison:
  • Navigate an obstacle course, erect a tripod and mount a gnomon (the part of a sundial that casts the shadow) on it.
  • Navigate another obstacle course, remove a camera from the spacesuit pocket, and take photos of the wearer’s feet, then while pointing north, south, east and west.
  • Navigate a third obstacle course, remove a sample bag, collect, bag, and label the sample before placing it in a container.
The tests included suit dexterity (Photo: OeWF/Paul Santek)

"The World Space Walk experiments are designed to give a statistical measurement of the average time delay between performing typical activities wearing the spacesuit as compared to performing same activities unsuited," says analog astronaut, Luca Foresta, who tested the Aouda.X suit.

The results of World Space Walk 2013 will be published in Astrobiology early next year.

The video below is coverage of the World Space Walk 2013.

Source: Austrian Space Forum

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past.   All articles by David Szondy
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6 Comments

Such silliness! The biggest problem in design of a "space suit" is the pressure difference: high pressure air inside the suit balloons it outward making all the joints stiff. Here, they're not even attempting to simulate that.

Perhaps worse it that they're designing way too soon. It will be decades before we have technology to make anything other than a symbolic manned Mars mission. Material technology will advance (like everything else) and make today's designs obsolete.

Piling on: there's on photo of a woman wearing sun glasses inside her helmet. She can just remove the helmet if she needs to adjust or remove them because she's hiking around in Earth's atmosphere! If she were actually in a hostile near-vacuum, she'd be stuck the first time those things slid down her nose.

piperTom
15th October, 2013 @ 07:17 am PDT

This is great! Only wish they had a Biosuit to compare http://mvl.mit.edu/EVA/biosuit/

Seth Miesters
15th October, 2013 @ 07:31 am PDT

These are not space suits, they're costumes. I like the Ryan Herco PVC fittings on that one helmet. This is like Society For Creative Anachronism with acrylic helmets.

Satweavers
15th October, 2013 @ 09:20 am PDT

didn't they do some work with using elasticated material instead of pressurised gas to maintain body pressure (sort of like a very tight elasticated wetsuit with a conventional gas helmet). I can't find the study anywhere, but this would be vastly superiour to a gas pressurised suit. I imagine the elestication would be quite severe and putting it on in an already pressurised atmosphere would be akin to getting crushed (danger of stroking out).... but these issues could be overcome.

Simon Sammut
15th October, 2013 @ 07:37 pm PDT

@ piperTom & Satweavers

Just because the abrasion layer is loose does not mean that the suits do not contain pressure. Some of the suits use the skin tight system such as BioSuit which Seth Miesters mentioned and others use the traditional gas containment system.

My glasses never slide down my nose because I tie them onto my head, my mother's glasses don't slide down her nose because her earpieces wrap around the back of her ears. The idea that you cant wear glasses inside a pressure suit is just stupid.

I would go with a hard gas containment suit with a multilayer cloth abrasion cover.

Slowburn
16th October, 2013 @ 06:58 pm PDT

To simulate the lower gravity on Mars, why not tie a suitable sized Helium

balloon on a tether to the top of the space suit.

Of course on a day without any wind,

JE
21st October, 2013 @ 04:42 am PDT
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