On October 8th, during the celebrations of World Space Week, it was tested for the first time: an Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA) designed for coordinated use among four analog spacesuit teams, in four different locations, in three different countries, all performing the same activities at the same time and coordinated by the Austrian Space Forum (OeWF), in Innsbruck.
The goal of the “World Space Walk 2013” was to compare the time it would take for each of the analog suit testers to finish a task, the practicality of the suits, dexterity and agility, as well as real time communication between each of the analog astronauts during the EVA. The results will help in the future to develop a universal standard to compare Mars analog suits.
The OeWF has spent many years developing the Aouda.X suit, which has been tested in long duration Mars simulations like the Rio Tinto Mission in 2011, and the Mars 2013 in Morocco. On this occasion, OeWF designed a series of tests to follow up with their analysis of analog spacesuits, and decided to simulate the first massive EVA ever. For this, they invited the University of North Dakota to participate with their NDX-2 suit, the Mars Society with their MDRS analog suit, and the company Comex with the Gandolfi suit.
The Gandolfi suit is designed to operate underwater, and on this occasion Comex decided to support the mission by monitoring telemetry and serving as a remote control center in France, so the Gandolfi suit itself was not tested in World Space Walk 2013. This entire activity was broadcast via Google Hangout, and Comex had the chance to introduce to the other teams to how the Gandolfi suit works through a video of their recently recreation of the Apollo 11 landing on the sea bed last September in the Marseille Bay.
The three analog spacesuits, Aouda.X, NDX-2, and MDRS, performed three different tasks that were aimed to test flexibility, agility, mobility, and the difference in time that it takes to perform the tasks with and without suits. The first task was to complete a specific obstacle course, collect a rock, put it inside a plastic bag that was stored somewhere in the suit, label the bag, and place it in a container. The second test was to complete the same obstacle course, pull out a camera from the spacesuit’s pocket, and take pictures of their feet and the horizon in the direction of the 4 cardinal points. The last test was to follow the same obstacle course, place a tripod, and mount a gnomon on the tripod.
These tasks could seem simple if performed without a spacesuit, but become highly complex while wearing a suit. It is important to understand and improve the designs of these suits in order to facilitate delicate tasks performance by future Mars travelers. This kind of task was studied during the last analog simulation in Morocco by the DELTA© experiments, where analog astronauts performed six experiments with and without suits to know the time difference between those two conditions. Now it will be interesting to compare those results with the ones of these three different analog suits.
Another interesting thing about this analog test was that for the first time, analog astronauts from three different locations were communicating amongst each other, and with Mission Control’s Capcom, at the same time. The time delayed communication that would be expected to occur during a real mission to Mars was not tested in this first walk, but it will certainly be tested in the future, increasing the complexity of the simulation.
In order to prove the good communication among analog suit testers, a pass phrase was designed to be delivered at the end of the analog. One word was delivered by each of the 4 teams, two in the US, one in Austria and one in France. The sentence at the end was clear and complete: “Space Research Connects People.”
“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. 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,” says Gernot Groemer, leader of the OeWF.
Below, video of the World Space Walk, courtesy of OeWF: