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- About the OeWF
While on a field trip to the European Astronaut Centre last year, I was introduced to the OeWF team and mission during an Aouda.X demonstration. I am absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to come be a part of it for a month this year!
I have now been in Innsbruck for three weeks. While the first week was a bit of a blur due to some intense jet lag (I was coming from the West Coast of the United States, and 9 hours is a huge time change!), I have been hard at work designing Aouda.X test campaign 17B. This campaign is going to study how locomotion is different on Mars, the Moon, and Earth while wearing the Aouda.X spacesuit simulator. This is incredibly exciting, because we don’t actually know much about extraterrestrial locomotion in a spacesuit. Our only real experience with it was back during the Apollo missions, the last of which was in 1972. Now, as various space agencies and companies prepare to go to the Moon and Mars, it is important that we learn all we can about what to expect when our astronauts get there and go out for their first EVA. This brings up a lot of questions. For example, what is the best way to move around on the Moon without a rover? Can we design our spacesuits to make movement easier? Is running in a spacesuit actually less challenging than running without one? We will try to answer all of these questions and more with this experiment!
We will do this by using some very cool space exploration analog technology. First of all, the OeWF Aouda.X spacesuit simulator will give us a great approximation of the movement restrictions faced by astronauts in pressure suits. As a part of the Aouda.X system, the analog astronauts (AAs) wear an exoskeleton that simulates the challenges of moving the joints in this type of spacesuit. This will be important for understanding the characteristics of locomotion in different gravity levels. Aouda.X also simulates the weight and bulk of moving around in a spacesuit on another planet.
We will then collaborate with DLR to use their vertical treadmill, which will simulate the gravity levels that astronauts will experience on the Moon and Mars. A vertical treadmill works by suspending the AA horizontally with a cable system (see video). This suspension system means that the gravitational forces of Earth won’t impact the gravity experienced by the AA while walking on the treadmill, which is placed vertically at their feet. The desired gravity is then simulated using a belt system that tethers the AA, similar to that used with the exercise treadmill on the International Space Station. The amount of pull-down force applied by the tether can be manipulated to be equivalent to the gravitational forces of other planets. When the AA is wearing Aouda.X and walks on the treadmill using this belt system, it will be very similar to what we can expect when our suited astronauts walk on Mars for the first time.
I have had a lot of fun working on this project and getting hands-on experience with space exploration analogs. I’ll spend the next week finalizing the protocols and working out more details, after which I will return to the United States to continue the work remotely. I am looking forward to seeing what all we learn when the experiment is performed!
Elizabeth Young, who has recently finished her master’s degree in Space Physiology and Health at King’s College London