There are numerous technological and scientific gaps that, if not addressed, will be an obstacle for the crewed exploration of Mars, as is being contemplated by space agencies and enterprises. These include psychology, physiology, medicine, mission operations, human factors, habitability, robotic operations and life support systems – which can be best addressed using terrestrial analogs.
The European MaRs Analog Station for Advanced Technologies Integration (ERAS) project is an extension of the Mars Society Mars Analog Research Station (M.A.R.S.) program, which envisions addressing the “Five Showstoppers for Mars” identified by the scientific community as:
- Need for Regenerative & Bioregenerative Life Support
- Martian Dust
- Planetary Protection (Forward- and back-contamination)
The objectives of ERAS are to provide:
- In-field assessment of hybrid/inflatable habitat technologies
- An effective test bed for key enabling technologies
- Effective implementations of human factors advanced research into habitat design
- An environment maximizing scientific productivity
- An effective means of results dissemination to the scientific community
- Effective outreach
- Inspiration for the next generation of space scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs
- A reference center for Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) wishing to test and integrate advanced technologies with potential space applications
ERAS is a system of systems, and a key enabler for Mars exploration. It will serve as a state-of-the art test bed for international researchers working on the five showstoppers.
Preliminarily to ERAS construction, IMS has started the development of an immersive Virtual Reality (VR) simulation of the station (V-ERAS). The major advantage of such virtualization is that it will be possible to undertake training sessions with a crew that can interact with its future environment before the actual station is built. This way a more effective design of the station and associated missions and a strong reduction of costs could be obtained. Many ergonomics and human factors will be considered in the virtual model in order to be verified and validated before the actual ERAS habitat construction.
The development effort is currently divided in three main activities:
- ERAS Station simulation using an appropriate game engine supporting a virtual reality headset
- Upper body and hands gestures tracking
- Integration of an omnidirectional treadmill
The final goal will be the construction of a classroom in which four (or six, depending on the targeted crew size) VR stations will be installed and the definition of appropriate crew rotations in which different training sessions will be performed.