Humans living on Mars is soon to be science, not fiction, proclaimed a recent announcement made by National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials. New estimates report that humans could be on Mars within two decades. But there”s much to be done in the meantime.
Helping out in the process is the University”s School of Engineering. The school is working on the Mars Rover, a terrain vehicle that will assist human exploration on Mars, serving as a mobile home and research center for three people for up to two weeks.
The team, consisting of almost 50 University students, the majority of whom are undergraduates, is currently working on their first rover named Everest. After finishing Everest, they will go on to build a more complex vehicle, called Olympus, which will be completely remote controlled.
“What we are doing is building a vehicle that would be necessary when humans travel to Mars,” said Anna Paulson, the project manager of the University”s Mars Rover Project. “In order to explore the surface, they need to be able to get around the vehicle that we are building can travel 600 miles.”
After they are complete, the rovers will head to Nevada to a Mars testing station, a simulated environment where they will encounter the same obstacles they would on the actual planet.
Paulson said neither Everest nor Olympus would likely make the actual journey to Mars, but testing them on the Mars habitat could prove useful when designing new prototypes.
“We expect the process of building a rover to take several prototypes,” said Paulson. “We expect that in a few years when an actual Mars rover is going to go to Mars, it will be based on our design.”
The project started last year when Mars Society had a design contest to build a vehicle that could also function as a living space and laboratory. The University was chosen as one of three teams to work on the project.
The Everest is scheduled to be unveiled at the Mars Society Convention at Stanford University August 23-26. Students can view interior and exterior pictures of the rover on the web at marsrover.engin.umich.edu.
One of the biggest challenges facing the team initially was the amount of space allotted for the vehicle.
“The vehicle had to fit into a C-130 spacecraft it has very tight space requirements, width and height,” said Engineering senior Warren Strong, one designer of Everest. “We figured out all the different types of things that would go into the vehicle and tried to find the optimal arrangement for the smallest possible size.”
Despite the various challenges, Strong said it was a good experience for him to work on it at the undergraduate level.
“There”s no class on Mars robotic design, and a lot of things that you learn in class are not directly related to this project,” he said. “This project is a lot different than some of the other student projects on campus. We”re not about competition. The goal of our project is pure research. It”s a higher goal than a straight competition.”