To go where no man has gone before was a trend first established by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. But now a group of University students hope to continue that trend in helping to put the first man on Mars.
The Michigan Mars Rover is a converted Army Truck capable of withstanding the low pressure on Mars and sustaining human life. University engineering students have been working on the project since before 2001, when the Mars Society, a national organization that promotes the exploration of Mars, held a contest for the design of a vehicle able to bring human exploration to Mars.
The University’s design was chosen along with two others – the University of Queensland in Australia and a combination team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Toronto.
This summer the vehicle, after $500,000 worth of donated materials, is closing in on its final design stages. Three student team members will live in the Rover during the last two weekends in June to test living conditions before it is sent to the society’s station in Utah for final testing.
National Mars Society President Robert Zubrin said students are working “to produce a workable vehicle that simulates many of the operational characteristics of a Mars pressurized rover and which can be used in the field in conjunction with the operations research conducted at one of our Mars research stations.”
Engineering senior Anna Paulson said the challenge is fitting a large amount of material into a small amount of space. “The biggest challenge is that you have to launch this vehicle, so it has to be small and lightweight, but that you also have to fit in all equipment for living and working,” Paulson said.
The final product is a pressurized rover allowing three humans to live on Mars for two weeks. The rover’s capability to cover a lot of terrain as well as carry humans gives it the advantage over robotic exploration currently in use by NASA. Engineering students equipped the rover with everything necessary for life and work on Mars, including a small kitchen, a computer workshop and a pressurized glove box for doing scientific study in. “We will be installing cameras to watch the humans inside the rover because that’s what this project is for – to observe,” Paulson said.
Besides the opportunity to have a hand in new inventions and discoveries, this project has given team members practical experience and a chance to have fun in their field and with their peers. “I really enjoy the problem solving involved,” Engineering senior Dan Winterhalter said. “It’s a lot of fun to see something go from a conceptual problem to something that works.”
Paulson said she enjoys the chance to apply engineering principles to a functional product, adding that “it’s really good hands on experience. We get to learn how to build things. I just learned how to weld last week.”
Before the Mars Rover makes its long-distance trek to Utah, team members want to make sure area students have had a chance to see it up-close. They’ve taken the rover to 38 Michigan high schools, allowing students to see the design. Paulson emphasized the importance of getting the Rover out into the school systems. “We want to educate people and promote human exploration in Mars,” she said.

Paul Wong
The Michigan Mars Rover is entering its final stages of development before going on to Utah for testing.
Photo Courtesy of www.umrover.org

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