Practicing for a Mars landing

Jul 10, 2003, vol. 27, no. 6
By Stuart Colcleugh



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Weeks ahead of the recent launches of European and U.S. unmanned space missions to Mars, a SFU-sponsored Martian exploration vehicle successfully landed on the Red Planet.

Okay, it didn't actually land on Mars. But the MARS-1 rover did put down on the closest thing to Mars on Earth - the Haughton impact crater and its environs on Devon Island, Nunavut.

The site is home to the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Haughton-Mars Project (HMP), an interdisciplinary, international research consortium including SFU that is experimenting with the MARS-1 this summer to gain insights into future pressurized rovers for human space exploration.

And the journey of the MARS-1 - a 4-tonne, modified AM General Corp. Humvee military ambulance with low-impact rubber wide-tracks - was treacherous. Not as scary as the 73,000,000 kilometre trek to our closest planetary neighbour, perhaps. But a frigid and harrowing 37-kilometre slog nonetheless, across the ice-covered Wellington Channel separating Cornwallis and Devon islands.

“This rover will be a mobile all-terrain laboratory from which we will be able to access and deliver data as we go about our scientific field work,” explains SFU's PolyLAB director Stephen Braham, HMP's chief field engineer and Canadian principal investigator.

“From that experience, we'll learn how to do the same thing for planetary exploration.”

PolyLAB is heading up a Canadian Space Agency-funded NASA/SFU collaboration. The group is using cutting-edge technologies from SFU and Calgary's Wi-LAN Inc. to develop the advanced power, computing and communications systems for MARS-1, as a study of the technologies required for future robotic and crewed Mars rovers.

The rover research will also be used by SFU communication professor Peter Anderson's (above) Telematics research lab as part of its management of the Canadian Space Agency's MarsCanada project.

The project aims to use a variety of technologies to improve space exploration operations in preparation for Canadian participation in missions to Mars.

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