NASA tests Mars space suit in Argentine Antarctica

BUENOS AIRES Mon Mar 21, 2011 3:32pm EDT

1 of 5. Argentine aerospace engineer Pablo de Leon, a NASA team member, collects samples as he tests a space suit designed for possible use in Mars at Argentina's Marambio base in Antarctica in this handout photo dated March 13, 2011. The NDX-1 space suit, designed by De Leon, endured frigid temperatures and winds of more than 47 mph (75 kph) as researchers tried out techniques for collecting soil samples on Mars.The $100,000 prototype suit, created with NASA funds, is made out of more than 350 materials, including tough honeycomb Kevlar and carbon fibers to reduce its weight without losing resistance.

Credit: Reuters/Nasa/Handout

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BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - A NASA team has tested a space suit in a setting with extreme conditions akin to some of those found on Mars -- an Argentine base in Antarctica -- for possible use on a visit to the Red Planet.

The NDX-1 space suit, designed by Argentine aerospace engineer Pablo de Leon, endured frigid temperatures and winds of more than 47 mph as researchers tried out techniques for collecting soil samples on Mars.

"This was the first time we took the suit to such an extreme, isolated environment so that if something went wrong we couldn't just go to the store" and buy a repair kit, De Leon told Reuters recently after returning from the one week expedition.

The $100,000 prototype suit, created with NASA funds, is made out of more than 350 materials, including tough honeycomb Kevlar and carbon fibers to reduce its weight without losing resistance.

During the "Mars in Marambio" mission, named after the Argentine air force base, a team of NASA scientists went on simulated spacewalks, operated drills and collected samples while wearing the gear.

De Leon himself wore the pressurized suit, which he said was bound to make anyone feel claustrophobic with its helmet and built-in headset for communicating with the outside world.

The researchers chose Marambio because compared with other Antarctic bases, they had easier access to permafrost, or soil that stays frozen most of the year.

De Leon, who heads the space suit laboratory at the University of North Dakota in the United States, said Antarctica was ideal for sample collection as it is one of the least contaminated places on earth and will also give clues about the suit's impact.

"Mars is a mixture of many different environments: deserts, and temperatures and winds like in Antarctica," De Leon said. "So we try to take bits of different places and try to see if our systems can withstand the rigors of Mars if we go there."

President Barack Obama said last year that by the mid-2030s it would be possible to send astronauts to orbit Mars and return them safely to earth. A landing on Mars would follow, he said.

But a manned mission to the most earth-like planet in the solar system may be even more distant, given NASA's tightening budget.

The U.S. National Research Council this month recommended that robotic missions to Mars and Jupiter's icy moon Europa should top the agency's to-do list for an upcoming decade of planetary exploration.

De Leon, however, remains hopeful that his space suit or even a part of it will be worn by astronauts when they take their first steps on Mars.

"Even if just one bolt of our space suit or one tiny bit of our design makes it to Mars, I'll be more than happy," he said.

(Editing by Hilary Burke and Philip Barbara)

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Comments (4)
VeronicaLodge wrote:
Maybe we should figure out how to live peacefully on earth, and to feed the hungry and house the homeless, before we go off and start to destroy other planets?

Mar 21, 2011 3:49pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Unclevertitle wrote:
“Destroy other planets?” As far as we understand Mars is most likely devoid of life. What ecosystem would there be to ruin on Mars? The atmosphere is already full of carbon dioxide. What would burning of fossil fuels would do over there? At worst in terms of “destroying” Mars we’d maybe cause global warming to occur over there (which would likely take centuries) however due to the fact that there is NO LIQUID WATER ON THE SURFACE the ice within the soil and at the polar caps MAY begin melting. Warmer temperatures, liquid water would only make the planet MORE suitable to life.

Seriously. In terms of ruining mars, we are CENTURIES, maybe even MILLENIA, away from that even being possible.

Should we learn how to live peacefully on Earth and feed the hungry and house the homeless? Hell yes we should. But going to other planets does not preclude this as a possibility. If ANYTHING it increases the possibility as it would require humanity to develop ways to live in more hostile climates and environments not even present on Earth. It would require us to learn and develop ways to be more efficient in developing food (it becomes cheaper to feed the hungry), to work together towards making nigh impossible goals a reality (living peacefully, at least more peacefully), and outward expansion relieves the economic pressure of increasing population growth (okay that’s not really helping the homeless, but it’s more a big picture issue here).

Living peacefully on Earth is indeed an issue for governments to work out. But feeding the hungry and housing the homeless? That’s something that the AVERAGE PERSON can do or help out with! And until a much larger portion of every population on the planet starts doing such work then these problems will continue on.

On the other hand few people are capable of designing and producing the technology needed to explore and learn about the vast reaches of space. Our world extends far beyond the atmosphere and it’s time we made more of an effort to do the same. The technology that needs to be developed to do so will benefit mankind along the way.

Have some vision.

Mar 21, 2011 6:18pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
GeoffWard wrote:
Was this Argentinan-claimed territory (1943 claim) or the same Territory claimed and allocated to Great Britain half a century earlier?

GB gave half of Antarctica to our erstwhile colonies, so we are not precious about it *as long as its use is for polar Research*.

Argentina is the only country to have militarised a part of Antarctica and have initiated warfare on the Continent, explicitly prohibited under world Agreements.

Mar 22, 2011 7:23am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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