Need to test a space suit? Head to Iceland

how are you to prepare for a mission to the moon or Mars? You can’t take a quick walk to find out the place, so you have to find the next best thing. And there is nothing much better than our own part of the extraterrestrial world here on Earth: Iceland.

Known to be used by Apollo astronauts in the 1960s to prepare for their historic lunar excursions, Iceland’s unique features and terrain make it an ideal test for missions to other worlds. “You have underground ice. You have lava tubes. “You have areas of intense volcanic activity,” said Daniel Lieb, executive director of the Icelandic Space Agency’s (ISA) mission, a private research organization not affiliated with the Icelandic government. “Iceland has the most diverse set of terrestrial analogues in close proximity to each other that exist anywhere on Earth.

In 2019, ISA researchers used these traits to perform a dry run for a mission to Mars. Participants donned a spacesuit called Mars Suit 1 (MS1), made by the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and carried out activities that future astronauts may one day have to fight on the Red Planet. The costume provided this afterlife experience, with many feet on the ground.

Three “analogue astronauts” – a term for performing fictitious astronaut activities on Earth – spent up to three hours at a time in the MS1.5 suit for three days in Iceland.Photo: Vincent Fournier

Researchers have now returned to Iceland with an upgraded version of the suit called MS1.5 to follow in its footsteps. This time, the purpose of the study, conducted by ISA in partnership with private company AdventureX, was to test some of the components of the costume, given NASA’s Artemis program, which hopes to send people back to the moon’s surface later this decade. .

Activities include climbing and exiting lava tubes and collecting samples from the walls, such as bacteria, which may be a major part of lunar missions. The upgraded suit also tests new carbon dioxide sensors and biometric underwear that records data from astronauts, including their heart rate and respiration. There were some problems; the visor has received condensation from temperature fluctuations, for example, which are likely to be more extreme on the moon.

Expeditions focused on the search for underground ice and the study of lava tubes, both features and activities that are likely to be part of future missions to the moon and Mars.Photo: Vincent Fournier

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