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Life on Mars


It was four years ago on this date that students, educators, curiosity seekers and the press flocked to far western North Dakota. The Badlands, with its rocky and uneven terrain, was chosen for its similarity to Mars, the Red Planet, for the unveiling of a Mars spacesuit prototype.

The North Dakota Space Grant Consortium worked for 14 months - with the benefit of a $100,000 grant from NASA - to design a lightweight spacesuit. Weighing in at around 50 lbs, the spacesuit was designed to improve on current designs used by NASA. The project's manager, and experienced spacesuit designer Pablo de Leon, explained, "We wanted to really concentrate on the suit to improve mobility and to create a planetary spacesuit instead of one for zero gravity." Past spacesuits have had problems with stiffness once pressurized, making simple finger movements difficult.

The Mars prototype, unlike past spacesuits, is bright blue, and designed to keep dust out. De Leon explained, "The dust particles on Mars are very small, like talcum powder. So it's going to be challenging to do several extravehicular activities and maintain a good level of containment."

Fabio Sau, a UND space studies graduate student from Sardinia, Italy, said the spacesuit was "very personalized" and made to his measurements. With help from fellow students, Sau was able to don the suit in about 15 minutes. Sau, decked out in the spacesuit, pulled a small red children's wagon across the Badlands, simulating the collection of geological samples.

The North Dakota Space Grant Consortium is a team effort, with students and faculty from five universities - UND, NDSU, Turtle Mountain Community College, North Dakota State College of Science and Dickinson State.

Shan de Silver, chair of the UND Department of Space Studies and the principal investigator in the project, stated, "A lot of people thought we were crazy to undertake this project - but its success unequivocally testifies to the hard work, perseverance, creativity, and ingenuity of North Dakota's young people." De Silver continued, "There really isn't anything that we can't accomplish here when we set our minds to it - and we're really eager and ready to be part of a future national space exploration effort."

From the frontiers of North Dakota, to the final frontier of space, the North Dakota Space Grant Consortium is boldly going where no one has gone before.

Dakota Datebook written by Jill Whitcomb


The Phrase Finder website-Space: the final frontier-

UND Aerospace Space Suit Laboratory website-

UND Press Room site-05/02/06- Spacesuit Prototype Trials Underway in North Dakota-Tariq Malik-5/5/ 2006-

UND Dimensions website- June 2006- Prototype Mars space suit gets trial run-