Spain stands in for Mars in spacesuit test

An arid mining area in Spain stood in for Mars last month as scientists tested a spacesuit simulator called the Aouda.X.

European scientists try out the Aouda.X, the latest fashion for the Red Planet

What would you wear to explore the brutal and unforgiving surface of the Red Planet?

While a mission carrying astronauts to Mars might be a long way off, some European scientists have been putting their minds to that question. Recently, they had the arid mining area of Rio Tinto in Spain stand in for the planet as they tested a spacesuit simulator.

Despite bad weather in Andalusia, and rains not seen for decades, the research team, made up of scientists from the European Space Agency and the Austrian Space Forum, liked what they saw of the Aouda.X suit.

"We were able to accomplish most of our aims," Gernot Groemer of the Austrian Space Forum, who led the Rio Tinto test, wrote in an email Wednesday.

"We developed a much better understanding of the tear-and-wear patterns and how the suit would best interact with the rovers."

While the simulator has elements that are "Mars-fit," such as a thermal control system, as a whole, it wouldn't actually stand up to Martian conditions.

"Currently, there is no spacesuit system worldwide qualified for Mars … surface activities," Groemer said. "Even the Apollo suits would not stand up to the task."

But Aouda.X is "more advanced" than other suits currently in use, especially for its electronics and other features.

Groemer said there are still a few engineering challenges to tackle after the recent tests, such as the effectiveness of the thermal control system.

But he was "very, very satisfied with the stability of the data telemetry and telecommand infrastructure."

"Basically, starting the day with the satellite-link briefing with 'Earth' felt like opening a book with blank pages and writing the first chapters of our generation's biggest, most complex and challenging journey to another world one day."

The Rio Tinto tests took place between April 18 and April 22.

Below is a look at some of the features of the Aouda.X.