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TEMPE, AZ, July 15, 2014 /24-7PressRelease/ -- A student-initiated effort is building an analog Mars rover for testing in the Southwest desert. Arizona State University's Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS-ASU) have identified a critical juncture in the development of outer space, the need for a general purpose rover or tractor that forms the backbone of an industrial ecology, and are taking the first steps to realize it.
MarsTrac is adapted from the Open Source Ecology movement's LifeTrac tractor. MarsTrac adds to LifeTrac by creating a rugged human-robotic rover for general use within a student project using digital fabrication and other elements of Maker culture. The project's long term goal is to incorporate small-scale, local manufacturing such as 3D printing and solar-sintered extrusion of metal beams.
"Solving the problem of how we support dozens of people on the surface of another world has been firmly put in the hands of our generation," says Todd Gilbert, ASU Geology student and MarsTrac project director, "Our rover is built much like a kid's Erector set, each piece is designed for simple fabrication. This is absolutely essential if astronauts are going to build tools and shelter from local materials on Mars. All these pieces working together is what we call an industrial ecology."
MarsTrac is intended to provide the basis for a robotic tractor comparable in size to the Curiosity rover currently on Mars. The vehicle is the size of a sub-compact car and made of steel with a gasoline engine for Earth-based operations research. A follow-on rover could eventually land on Mars that is capable of aiding in construction and exploration tasks side by side with astronauts. MarsTrac is intended to test a range of abilities such as medical evacuation, sandbagging, plowing and leveling worksites. Gilbert says, "Whenever they show a buried human habitat on mars, they never show an astronaut with a shovel. We are going to need simple, yet capable tools to make Mars livable."
The MarsTrac team has created an Indiegogo fundraising campaign to support construction and is actively searching for sponsors to help fully realize the project, including participating in the Indiegogo Maker Challenge in celebration of the White House's Maker Faire this summer. Author of the award winning Mars Trilogy, Kim Stanley Robinson and other talented creatives are generously providing support for MarsTrac through donations of their novels and visual art. All of the artwork and books from the MarsTrac Indiegogo campaign are autographed with variations of "Thank you for supporting Open Hardware on Mars!"
MarsTrac takes a unique approach to both developing and building the new rover. The project uses open-source methods, meaning that the plans will be freely available to anyone. The first MarsTrac rover is being hand-built with common materials and assembly techniques adapted from the LifeTrac rover. Further versions will use elements of a growing industrial ecology of common tools and parts. Joshua Gigantino, ASU PhD student and MarsTrac Lead Designer says, "MarsTrac offers a unique, hands-on opportunity to bring elements of Maker culture together with the burgeoning field of new space exploration initiatives. Anyone with the tools and skills can build this type of free, hybrid physical-digital object. They are the way of the future."
Full MarsTrac construction was preceded by a 1/3rd scale wooden model for display purposes that was shown at the Phoenix Comicon in June 2014. The full-size rover is being constructed through the rest of the year, then tested in the rugged deserts of the Southwest.
Miekkal Clarkson, Systems Design student, cosplay enthusiast and MarsTrac Administrative Lead says, "I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that I was a geek before I was a scientist. Science fiction of all sorts definitely inspired me to take the path I'm on, and so when I see the real science being represented alongside the fiction at conventions it makes me super proud. Phoenix Comicon is one of the best examples of this, and I can't say how happy I am that my own groups, School for Earth & Space Exploration and SEDS-ASU, embrace the convention culture. They are always more than happy to connect the science to the pop culture fans know and love, and hopefully they inspire a few young budding scientists along the way."
MarsTrac is receiving generous support from Dassault Systemes, along with donations from over a dozen authors and artists including Hadrosaur Publishing. Authors supporting MarsTrac include Paige Braddock, P.J. Haarsma, Gary Hodges, Steve B. Howell, Jason McNamarra, Brandon Peterson, Kim Stanley Robinson, Stuart Sayger, David Lee Summers, and Matthew Alan Thyer. Visual artists supporting the project include John Eaves, Matt Goodall, Andy Kuhn, Leo Leibelman, Ant Lucia, Anabel Martinez, Billy Martinez, Anie Miles, Jason Pederson, and Jeff Pina.
The MarsTrac team is currently in the middle of its Indiegogo fundraiser and finalizing the rover design. Assembly is expected to be finished by December, 2014 for testing through the spring of 2015. Mr. Gilbert will be presenting MarsTrac at the 17th Annual International Mars Society Convention, August 7-10, 2014.
More information is available at www.marstrac.com.
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