A team from the Austrian Space Forum is arriving back in Austria April 25, 2011 following a week testing its analogue space suit 'Aouda.X' in the semi-desert of Rio Tinto in Spain. This suit has been developed by the Austrian Space Forum over three years and is one of the best models of its kind worldwide.
The European Space Agency (ESA) also participated in this mission with the Mars rover 'Eurobot'. This 1.5 million Euro prototype was been transported from the Netherlands to Spain and passed its first test under field conditions on April 19.
Valuable scientific and technical data have been collected between during the tests, which ran from April 18 to 21. Aouda.X and Eurobot completed several activities together, demonstrating it was possible to test the man-machine-interface, which will play a vital role in a real Mars mission.
More than thirty people working in the Mission Control Centre in Innsbruck, Austria, coordinated the crew in Spain and delivered the daily mission planning. The new mobile technology 'Long Term Evolution' (LTE) connected the team to the 'Netz der Zukunft' ('Net of the Future') of T-Mobile Austria and therefore via 4G linked with space agencies and partners worldwide.
The trip was supported by the Europlanet Research Infrastructure under its Transnational Access programme, which enables planetary scientists to access state-of-the-art laboratory and field facilities in other European countries.
Analogue research describes the preparation for a real Mars mission under the most realistic conditions possible on Earth. The Austrian Space Forum focuses its efforts to contribute to this niche activity, preparing for human spaceflight ventures in the future.
"In Austria, people often state: What can we contribute internationally? The Austrian Space Forum shows that, with professionalism and dedication, it is possible even for volunteers to contribute to human spaceflight activities," said Dr. Rudolf Albrecht, astronomer and physicist, former leader of the European Hubble Space Telescope Coordinating Facility (ESA/ESO), Austrian Space Forum Executive Board.
"The search for extraterrestrial life is one of the basic questions that propel exploration of the solar system, and especially Mars. Landing one day on the Red Planet, we must not contaminate it with terrestrial material. Preventing such contamination and applying this knowledge to extreme habitats on Earth is the goal of one of our many scientific experiments we are conducting during the Rio Tinto mission," said Dr. Birgit Sattler, Professor for Ecology, University of Innsbruck, Scientific leader of the Rio Tinto mission.
"ESA as a partner of the Austrian Space Forum in this Mars simulation is impressed by the quality and professionalism shown here. Despite the limited means, this is high level analogue research combined with passion and enthusiasm. Organizations like ESA or NASA can profit from the experience gained here," said Frits de Jong, lead biomedical engineer at the ESA's European Astronaut Centre, Cologne.
"The work lasting for hours inside the spacesuit is very exhausting, but also one of the most fascinating tasks I have ever done," said Ulrich Luger, suit tester, during a live transmission from Spain to the Mission Control Center in Innsbruck.
"It is vital for the success of future missions that scientists have access to realistic analogues for the surface of Mars to test out equipment," said Dr Felipe Goméz Goméz of Europlanet RI.
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