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NASA prepares for Mars on a lava field in Iceland (photo)

Located at the foot of Langyokul, Iceland’s second largest glacier in the west of the island, the Lambahraun lava field for three weeks in July was the site for fifteen scientists and engineers sent by the American Space Agency.

In the volcanic island, lost in the middle of the North Atlantic, there is something Martian, with black sand of basalt, its wind-shaped dunes, black rocks and peaks of the surrounding mountains.

“We get exactly the type of templates and materials that scientists want to see,” said Capt. Adam Deslaurier, head of the space services and space service instructions department for missions Adam Delaurier.

This Canadian company from Ottawa commissioned by NASA to test a prototype astronomical vehicle as part of the SAND-E (Semi-Autonomous Navigation in Detritus) project.

A small electric car with white walls and an orange chassis moves with all-wheel drive, is driven by two side motors and works like an excavator with 12 small car batteries hidden inside.

“This rover is fundamentally indestructible,” says Adam Deslauer. “Those we have on Mars and the Moon will be much more sensitive to the environment and conditions of Iceland: the lunar rover is completely unprepared for rain,” he says … in the rain.

Data classification

Equipped with 3D sensors, a computer, a camera with two lenses and scientific instruments, the rover or remote control with remote control moves its 570 kg to about 20 cm / s.

“This is only for security reasons, because it takes a long time to return images from another planet,” says Mark Vandermeilen, a robotics engineer. However, it is 2–4 times faster than the speed of movement on the red planet.

The robot collects and classifies the data of its environment thanks to the images that it sends to engineers who are in the trailer a few hundred meters from the car.

Then they collect data and transmit it to scientists, who are in a tent attached to the trailer to simulate how information will be transmitted from Mars to Earth.

Then the researchers go to the area studied by the astromobile, armed with radiation surveys, a double decimeter and sampling, because the prototype cannot do this yet – but its final version will be able to collect and store the samples.

Similar territories

Places were chosen to study how sand and stones change both in chemical composition and in physical properties when moving from a glacier to the nearest river.

Before Mars becomes an inhospitable frozen desert, where the average temperature fluctuates around -63ºC, scientists think that it is very similar to a subarctic island.

“The mineralogy in Iceland is very similar to the one we could find on Mars,” says Ryan Ewing.

A professor of geology and geophysics at Texas A&M University in the United States refers to many dark, so-called mafic substances, that is, rich in magnesium and iron, like olivines and pyroxenes already found on Mars. , "In addition, there is little vegetation and it is cold."

Iceland has already served as the backdrop for NASA exercises. On the occasion of the Apollo missions, 32 astronauts received life-size geology training on the volcanic island in 1965 and 1967 on Askya's lava fields, in the center of the highlands or near the island crater. Crafla in the north of the country.

Planetary analogue campaigns allow NASA to test equipment and procedures (and those who will perform them) under the extreme conditions that simulate those that astronauts or robots will encounter in space.

It is planned that Flight Management will return to Iceland to test the new robot next summer, and NASA's Mars Rover mission is scheduled for the period from July 17 to August 5, 2020.

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