NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are currently following two explorers on a journey of more than 4000 kilometers through Antarctica. The goal will be to learn more about humanity’s ability to survive on Mars.
Antarctica to prepare for Mars
British explorers Justin Packshaw and Jamie Facer Childs continue their 80-day trek across Antarctica as part of the Chasing the Light mission. This expedition, led by NASA, Stanford University and the European Space Agency (ESA), aims to better understand the psychological and physical impacts of extraterrestrial exploration on the human body and mind.
Just like the extreme conditions encountered on other planets of our Solar System, Antarctica indeed offers an austere and particularly harsh environment useful for a range of human and biological research.
At the end of their trip, the two explorers will have traveled almost 4,200 kilometers from coast to coast of Antarctica, through the frozen heart of the continent. Meanwhile, researchers are collecting data from portable devices.
On site, the two explorers travel by ski, braving temperatures of -28 ° C. Occasionally, they deploy their kites, which, relying on favorable winds, allow a faster hike. They are also towing two 200kg sleds containing not only their food and equipment, but also blood, saliva, urine and faeces samples taken throughout the expedition.
NASA is also testing the ability of the two explorers to estimate their distances visually which can be put to the test in these types of conditions.
Indeed, we still know in mind the famous example of the Apollo 14 mission, in 1971. By collecting rock samples on the Moon, astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell had indeed set their sights on visiting a distant crater, before finally turning around after estimating that the latter was more than a kilometer and a half away. In fact, the two astronauts were only about fifteen meters away.
Finally, the two men were also tasked with obtaining environmental data, such as ice levels, radiation and wind speed. Since satellites do not fly directly over the South Pole, these measurements will fill in the gaps and could provide important information about climate change.
Note that originally this trip was supposed to be even longer, with an additional leg of the trip taking them to the “pole of inaccessibility” of Antarctica, the most difficult part of the continent to reach. In the end, the wind and snow got the two explorers right.
This is obviously not the first mission to try to evaluate our body’s response to this hostile Martian environment. More recently, for example, Russian researchers have developed the SIRIUS project, which aims to better understand the psychology of astronauts during long space flights. These simulations also suggest that future crews will quickly detach from the control center to evolve independently.