July 19, 1999 SFU senior researcher Stephen Braham embarks on the NASA-led Haughton-Mars Project, a Mars-like expedition that will further the university's exploration of high-speed, high-end collaborative information networking. SFU's participation in the 30-day field trip to Haughton Crater will also help make the university a world leader in developing a model for space-based communications connected to the Internet.
Braham, a research group director in the Centre for Experimental and Constructive Mathematics, left for the 23 million year old Haughton impact crater in the polar desert of Devon Island in the Canadian high arctic on June 24.
Created by a meteorite impact, the 20 kilometre wide hole in the earth's crust presents climatic and geological similarities with Mars such that NASA scientists are using it as an analogue site to understand geological, climatic and possibly microbiological processes on the Red Planet, and to test new communication technologies for collaboration between scientists.
NASA has been conducting Mars-related research in Haughton Crater for the last two summers. At the invitation of NASA, SFU is contributing the equivalent of about $150,000 in funds, time and expertise to the upcoming 35 person expedition. Canadian companies WiLan in Calgary; InfoSat in Coquitlam; TMI in Ottawa and the federal government are loaning communications equipment to the project.
"SFU's contribution to NASA's mobile exploration technology research could one day be part of the link that connects astronauts on Mars to the rest of the world on planet Earth," notes Pascal Lee, a scientist at NASA's Ames Research Centre in California and leader of the Haughton-Mars Project.
Braham's mission is to help NASA develop information networking models, including one of the world's first integrated wired, wireless and satellite communications system that will enable scientists traversing the crater in all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) to collaborate with each other.
"My job is to help study how well models of high-speed, collaborative networking work in a remote, harsh environment. The environment is similar to Mars in many ways, and the technologies we are using could easily be used there" says Braham, the director of SFU's PolyLab, which designs computer software and hardware to facilitate communications between scientists.
PolyLab is helping NASA develop the networking model being used in Haughton Crater in conjunction with SFU's Telematics Research Lab, which has already tested a similar model in emergencies and disasters, and is a Sun Microsystems Technology and Research Excellence Centre. "The networking needs of scientific expeditions, including even missions to Mars, are very similar to those in a disaster or emergency," says Peter Anderson, an associate professor of communication at SFU and director of the Telematics Research Lab. "In both cases you need a model that supports a minimum number of applications and allows for the integration of alternate, yet compatible network technologies in emergencies and remote areas."
During the expedition, Braham will maintain a web site which will describe the SFU contribution to the expedition, at http://polylab.cecm.sfu.ca/spacesystems/HMP.
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