Mars is the most accessible place in the solar system. Exploring Mars provides the opportunity to possibly answer origin and evolution of life questions, and could someday be a destination for survival of humankind.
The Mars Desert Research Station in Utah is a facility dedicated to investigating the possibilities for human exploration of the Red Planet. And it’s the perfect place for Northeastern University students to test their prototype Mars rover.
“We’re trying to figure out, once we have astronauts there, how rovers can best interact with them,” says Tom Degen,
a fourth-year mechanical engineering student who is the team lead on the rover project.
At the end of May, their hard work will be put to the test in the Utah desert at the Mars Society’s University Rover Challenge. The competition challenges university students to build rovers capable of picking up and delivering objects to astronauts, servicing equipment, navigating autonomously across rough terrain, and searching for life in samples they collect.
The Northeastern rover, known as the Watney Mark 1, can be reconfigured to accomplish each task. While many of the teams in the University Rover Challenge have returned year after year, this is Northeastern’s first time entering the competition.
They’ve also relied on designs and research available from NASA. They continued to refine the design as they tested the rover on different obstacles around Northeastern’s Boston campus. “The hardest part has been integrating all the different aspects,” Degen says. When the revised 2019 rules were released, the life-detection team, led by Rebecca Holleb, a third-year mechanical engineering student, had its hands full making last-minute adjustments.
The rover is already on its way to Utah, and the team will be following soon. If they win, they will receive a cash prize, an opportunity to present at the International Mars Society Convention, and a year’s worth of bragging rights.