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Aouda.X test in the Kopperbrüller cave at Obertraun, Austria
Some of the first documents of human history are paintings found in caves, like in the Spanish Altamira cave. Those paintings date back to 30 000 years! So what does this fact have to do with OEWF space suit simulator Aouda.X? Easy: quite possibly, the first humans on Mars will not live on the surface, but start by building an infrastructure below the surface. This has been shown by recent study done by participants of the International Space University at the NASA Ames Research Center, where Forum member Olivia Haider was involved (ACCESS-Report 2009).
For a few years it has now been known that cave systems exist also on Mars. They are among the most interesting places on the red planet in the astrobiological society. On the one hand, they offer protection from radiation, but also obtain stable conditions. Just as a little comparison: changes of 80°C on the surface of Mars within a couple of hours are common, while this is not the case for the caves. Reason enough for the PolAres Aouda.X team to extend their studies of testing the space suit in cave systems (the first test was performed in the artificial caves near Mendig, Germany). This time, a natural cave system provided the testing area. “In Obertraun, a part of Upper-Austria, is the “Koppenbrüller” cave within the Dachstein area. “This is an ideal surrounding for such tests.“ Explains team leader Gernot Grömer. “We therefore tested our prototype in this cave, accompanied by a camera team.”
After the first tests (done in cooperation with the European Space Agency) it was pointed out that the communication within the hematite containing stones is a critical element. This time, the team focused mainly on mobility in the partly shallow caves. A new container which should allow a very sterile sample taking was tested. Ulrich Luger, team member of the contamination team of the PolAres program, custom built this equipment in the new suit lab of the Austrian Space Forum. The container consists of several departments to store samples in, and has Aluminum spades which can be operated even with the big suit gloves of Aouda.X. Direct contact with the sample was therefore minimized.
Eva Hauth of Aouda‘s OBDH-team (On-Board Data Handling), Ulrich Luger, Stefan Hauth and Klaus Bickert were all part of the „expedition“ crew. Several drilling equipment was made available from the University of Innsbruck. Both problems with the on board communication (only the basis-telemetry was working) as well as the low temperatures were challenges for the OPS – the control centre for extravehicular activities. Only three of six laptops were actually able to work, the others would not run in the low temperatures on site. Also, the usage of a touchpad became a challenging task!
A first step? „YES – and one, which has not been done before: to use a space suit inside a cave. This has very different requirements than on a planet’s surface.” Summarizes Gernot Grömer.
P.S.: on 29th of March 2010, at 19:45, a documentary of the tests will be shown on Servus TV.
This article is available in: German
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