SPACE BREAKTHROUGH: NASA and Google partner for MAJOR Mars exploration test

A manned mission to Mars has long been a staple of science fiction. But such ambitions are now becoming a reality thanks to incredible technological advances made in recent years. And now NASA has teamed-up with Google to train scientists and test technologies for future Mars exploration on a desolate Arctic island.

Although a manned mission to Mars remains a distant reality, US space agency NASA researchers are already preparing.

Google is helping us plan this future exploration of Mars

Dr Pascal Lee

And the best ways to prepare is for the brutally inhospitable Martian environment is by closely simulating the experience as much as possible.

This is why Devon Island – considered one of the most Mars-like places found on Earth is home to Haughton-Mars Project (HMP), a collaboration between NASA and Google - was chosen for the project.

The project’s planetary scientist Dr Pascal Lee, director of NASA HMP at Ames Research Centre, outlined the collaboration’s benefits to Express.co.uk.

Dr Lee said: “Going to Mars is a big challenge and it will take humanity working together to make that work.

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Haughton-Mars Project: NASA has teamed-up with Google to test Mars tech (Image: Getty)

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Haughton-Mars Project: The desolate Devon Island resembles Mars (Image: Getty)

“Google is helping us plan this future exploration of Mars.

“We are looking at Google as both a technology partner in regards to information and public outreach to share the information with the rest of the world and also as a technology partner for tools astronauts will use while they explore the moon and Mars.

“For example, how would you display a location map while you are exploring?

“We have Google Moon and Google Mars, which exist already, which can be adapted for use by the explorer.”

And in parallel to the science, the Haughton-Mars Project has an exploration program, learning how Mars can be explored in the future.

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Dr Lee said: “Space suits are one of the challenges we face with to send humans to Mars.

“It is often said that going to Mars is just a matter of political will and that the technology is all there.

“The truth is that there is quite a lot of work to be done still, on the technology side.

“And I don’t see any insurmountable obstacle, but there is still work to be done.

NASA and Google are currently testing the next generation of space suit on Devon Island.

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Haughton-Mars Project: he Echus Chasma, one of the largest water source regions on Mars (Image: Getty)

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Haughton-Mars Project: NASA has teamed-up with Google to train scientists on Devon Island (Image: Getty)

The planetary scientist said: “The space suit we have weighs 300 pounds and that is too heavy to take to Mars.

“Going to a place like Devon Island is a perfect place to develop a next generation space suit for Mars and put our current concepts to test.

“While some of us go about our field geology on Devon Island, we occasionally serve as guinea pigs for the next generation space suit and provide feedback for the designers.

And it is not only what astronauts wear that is undergoing tests.

Dr Lee said: “The future, in our view, is each astronaut has his or her own ATV, because it gives you much more flexibility and autonomy.

“Astronauts will later be able to live inside a pressurised rover, where they will not need to be wearing a space suit any more when they are inside.

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“On Devon Island, we are learning how to go on these long-range road trips.”

The Devon Island’s desolation is also revealing more about Mars.

Dr Lee said: “The project’s goal is two-fold: we are studying the site scientifically because we are learning about the Earth and we are also understanding better what we are seeing on Mars.

“For instance, on the science side we are seeing a number of giant valleys on Mars, and these side-canyons were likely made by ice.

“And like on Devon Island, there might have once been an ice sheet on Mars.

“So by comparing the geology of Devon Island with that on Mars, we are gaining some scientific insight about what might have once gone on on Mars.”

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