Mars: a more familiar frontier

Published May 2018

Purdue research to understand Mars — how to get there and get around there, and someday set up housekeeping there — has marked some serious milestones. Here's a glimpse at some of the Mars news that Boilermakers have been making.

Mars minus the rocket

The Boilers2Mars team, a Purdue crew of student engineers, geologists and a biochemist, simulated a two-week stay on Mars in early January. They lived in the two-story Mars Desert Research Station in Hanksville, Utah. It has a small living space, an astronomical observatory, a scientific laboratory and greenhouse. Purdue crew members wore sealed spacesuits when they left the station for outside work.

The seven team members recorded this video at the station during their mission

If you build it, they just might come

If people inhabit Mars one day, they'll need a place to live. That thought captured Purdue students' imaginations as well as the attention of NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Sadie Argus was among those students. Argus and other students researched and designed a prospective mission to build a 50-person Mars colony, from initial trajectory calculations for the spacecraft, to the systems needed to support life after the colony was inhabited.

Purdue RETH (Resilient ExtraTerrestrial Habitats) team is taking a multidisciplinary approach toward a prospective extraterrestrial home. The team is pursuing scientific answers to questions that stand in the way of a stable, safe and resilient habitat on other planets.

Purdue and Mars have history

Two Purdue alums and a professor were part of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, which landed the Curiosity rover on the planet's surface in August 2012.

Purdue alumnus Douglas Adams, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory parachute cognizant engineer, helped design, build, test and deliver the parachute decelerator system.

Continuing the quest for life signs

Briony Horgan, assistant professor of planetary science, and other Purdue planetary scientists, are working with NASA to help search for signs of life on the red planet.

Horgan uses data from NASA satellites and rovers to understand the geologic history of the Moon and Mars. She says Purdue scientists are working with NASA to design instruments and choose the landing site for the Mars 2020 rover, which will search for signs of ancient microbial life on Mars and collect samples to return to Earth.

Martian rings? Maybe once. Maybe again.

We all think of Saturn as the planet with the rings, but the red planet, Mars, may have had one once, and may get one again. At least Purdue scientists say that's possible. They say there's a chance something slammed into Mars 4.3 billion years ago and kicked up enough debris to form a ring. They also believe there's a chance the debris ring could have later clumped up and become a moon for a while.