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NASA tests Mars space suit
Tue, 22 Mar 2011 04:51:22 GMT
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Argentine aerospace engineer Pablo de Leon collects samples as he tests a space suit designed for possible use in Mars at Argentina's Marambio base in Antarctica.
A team of NASA scientists has tested a space outfit in an Antarctic base with conditions similar to those on Mars, for possible use on the Red Planet.

Designed by Argentine aerospace engineer Pablo de Leon, the NDX-1 space suit proved to be resistant to frigid temperatures and winds of more than 47 mph, Reuters reported.

The suit is created with NASA funds and is made of more than 350 materials, including tough honeycomb Kevlar and carbon fibers to reduce its weight without losing resistance.

Researchers in the Argentine air force base of Marambio tried out techniques for collecting soil samples on Mars, wearing the $100,000 prototype suit.

The base was chosen because it has easy access to permafrost, or soil that stays frozen most of the year.

"This was the first time we took the suit to such an extreme, isolated environment so that if something went wrong we couldn't just go to the store" and buy a repair kit, De Leon said after returning from the week-long expedition.

NASA scientists, who took part in the 'Mars in Marambio' mission, went on simulated spacewalks, operated drills and collected samples while wearing the outfit.

De Leon said the suit gave a claustrophobic feeling with its helmet and built-in headset for communicating with the outside world.

Head of the space suit laboratory at the University of North Dakota also said that Antarctica was the ideal place for sample collection because it is one of the least contaminated places on earth and can provide clues about the gear's impact.

"Mars is a mixture of many different environments: deserts, and temperatures and winds like in Antarctica," De Leon said. "So we try to take bits of different places and try to see if our systems can withstand the rigors of Mars if we go there."

US President Barack Obama said last year that astronauts will orbit Mars and return safely by the mid-2030s.

Although Obama has promised Mars landing, NASA's tightening budget makes a manned mission to the Red Planet seem more far-fetched.

The US National Research Council suggested this month that robotic missions to Mars and Jupiter's icy moon Europa top NASA's agenda for an upcoming decade of planetary exploration.

De Leon, however, hopes that the NDX-1 space suit or even a part of it will be worn by astronauts when they first step on Mars.

"Even if just one bolt of our space suit or one tiny bit of our design makes it to Mars, I'll be more than happy," he concluded.

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