Research Overview

Mars is within reach.  The fourth planet from the Sun, the Red Planet, is the next great measure of our mettle.  Mars is a potential new world for humanity. It has all the stuff needed to sustain a substantial human presence. It has water, an atmosphere, mineral wealth. Simply exploring the surface of another world will teach us a great deal about our present one.  And Mars is no longer just a distant dream.  In the last decade, major strides toward feasible, affordable human missions were made. Sending humans to Mars is now the formal goal of NASA and the European Space Agency. The question is no longer, “Can we go?” but, “When will we go?”

The journey begins here, on the oldest continent, where we undertake comparative research and test surface exploration strategies and technologies in renowned Mars analogue locations. Our vision is to position Australia for a role in establishing a human presence on Mars.

One of the ways Mars Society Australia pursues this vision is by undertaking its own research projects, usefully contributing to the large body of knowledge that a human Mars mission will need to draw upon. Summaries of some of our major projects are given below. You can also view a full bibliography of MSA publications.

A Mars Analogue Research Station

The international Mars Society has established research stations on Arctic Devon Island and in the desert of southern Utah. The facilities are designed to be “flight-like”, similar to the kind of planetary entry, descent and landing habitats used in leading humans-to-Mars mission proposals. These allow realistic simulations to help test mission planning hypotheses. Three additional stations around the world will be built, including the Mars Australian Research Station (Mars-Oz). MarsOz will allow local and international researchers to help answer critical questions related to human Mars missions and will raise awareness of the opportunities awaiting at the Red Planet. MSA aims to raise at least Au$1,000,000 to proceed with MarsOz development and deployment.

A Human Mars Rover

In 2000 Mars Society Australia was one of three international groups awarded seed funding to develop a “flight-like” Mars rover vehicle to undertake unique analogue research. Project Marsupial is constructing a family of vehicles intended to assist with the design of future Mars rovers. The Starchaser Marsupial is the first vehicle in the series. The Starchaser Marsupial is based on a modified 4wd van chassis and will focus on human interactions research. The next vehicle in the series is an electric hybrid to investigate vehicle design issues.

Mars Analogue Site Database

Mars Society Australia is developing a valuable electronic database containing comprehensive information on sites of interest to Mars researchers around the world. Our geological studies (Jarntimarra) will involve experts in various scientific disciplines including geology and microbiology. It will develop the contacts and expertise to plan and execute field operations in the Australian outback, servicing the needs of other MSA projects (e.g. Mars-Oz and Starchaser Marsupial) and international Mars researcher teams.

Simulated Space Suits

Analogue simulation depends on subjecting crew members to the same kinds of constraints expected for human crews on the surface of Mars. A key element of this research is therefore a Mars analogue surface suit. Project MarsSkin will apply the latest research in such systems to develop realistic Mars suits for use in analogue research activities. Our particular interest is the Mechanical Counter-Pressure (MCP) suit concept proposed by Paul Webb in the United States in the 1960's.

Human Factors

The human element has been an important consideration in US, Russian and other space programmes to date. Particular issues have included the impact of microgravity on human biological systems, design of living quarters, and group interaction in confined spaces. These issues are even more important when considering the long duration space flight, communication lags and hostile environment to be faced by explorers on Mars. A number of areas of human factors research are currently under consideration by MSA. These include testing habitat design, crew interaction and crew selection on the proposed Mars-OZ site at Arkaroola. Also under consideration are techniques for measuring human performance variables such as attention, fatigue and ‘situation awareness’. Some proposed research focuses on human-machine interaction.