MARS-1 Humvee Rover Arrives at Devon Island

Image credit: Mars Institute

The Mars Institute confirmed today that the MARS-1 Humvee Rover successfully crossed the frozen Wellington Channel reaching NASA Haughton-Mars Project on Devon Island. The odd-looking vehicle is a converted Humvee military ambulance with widened tracks for the snow, and will be equipped with scientific equipment for exploring the region. Devon Island, in the Canadian Arctic, is barren and remote and makes a great testing ground for learning what it will take to send a human mission to Mars.

The Mars Institute today announced that its MARS-1 Humvee rover has reached Devon Island in the Canadian high Arctic after successfully crossing the Wellington Channel, a 23 mile (37 km) stretch of treacherous sea ice separating Cornwallis Island from Devon Island at 75?N. The vehicle was driven and escorted by a team of four expeditioners led by Dr Pascal Lee, Project Lead for the NASA Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) and Chairman of the Mars Institute.

“We are very happy everything went well,” said Lee. The successful arrival of the rover on Devon Island represents an important milestone in the research effort Lee and his colleagues on the HMP have developed in the Arctic since 1997. “The MARS-1 Humvee rover is a powerful new tool for our scientific investigations on Devon. It will serve as a long-distance roving field lab and will also allow us to study the design and operation of future large pressurized rovers for the human exploration of the Moon and Mars”.

The distinctive orange MARS-1 Humvee rover is a unique experimental field exploration vehicle modified for the HMP by AM General, manufacturer of the famous High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) or Humvee. The refurbished four-wheel-drive all-terrain rover rolled out of AM General’s plant in Mishiwaka, Indiana, on May 14, 2002, bearing the one-of-a-kind serial number “MARS-1”. The vehicle configuration is based on a military ambulance HMMWV. To increase traction and tread lightly, the MARS-1 is equipped with wide tracks manufactured by Mattracks, Inc. The MARS-1 reached Resolute Bay on Cornwallis Island, high Arctic, the starting point of the expedition, on a C-130 transport plane of the United States Marine Corps.

“This rover will be a mobile all-terrain laboratory from which we will be able to access and deliver data as we go about our scientific field work on Devon Island. From that experience, we’ll learn how to do the same thing for planetary exploration” said Dr. Stephen Braham of Simon Fraser University (SFU), Vancouver, British Columbia, Chief Field Engineer and Canadian Principal Investigator for the HMP. Dr. Braham will lead a Canadian Space Agency (CSA) funded research program under the SFU-led MarsCanada CSA Support Study, totaling C$272,000, to develop the advanced power, computing, and communications systems for MARS-1, as a study of the technologies required for future robotic and crewed Mars rovers.

In addition to Lee who has spent five summers and a winter in Antarctica and was leading his eighth Arctic expedition, the team of four in the successful crossing comprised Mr. John W. Schutt, a veteran field guide of over thirty Arctic and Antarctic scientific research expeditions, and Mr. Joe Amarualik and Mr. Paul Amagoalik, two Inuit residents of Resolute Bay and highly experienced experts in Arctic land and sea travel working as a two-brother team. Joe Amarualik is a Master Corporal in the Resolute Bay Patrol of the Canadian Rangers, and Paul Amagoalik an expert in Arctic resources.

The team left Resolute Bay at 9:30 pm CDT on May 10, 2003, driving the MARS-1 and three snowmobiles with traditional Inuit komatik sleds on tow. After a 6-hour overland traverse under the midnight sun, they reached Read Bay on the east coast of Cornwallis Island (75?02’N, 94?36’W) and rested for the “night” inside the rover. The next day, May 11 at 3:30 pm CDT, the 8800 lb (4 metric ton) MARS-1 ventured onto the rugged sea ice off Read Bay, only to touch land again 3.5 hours later 23 miles (35 km) to the East, at Cape McBain, on the west coast of Devon Island (75?04’N, 92?13’W). The rover was driven in shifts by Lee and Schutt, both of whom received formal training in the operation and maintenance of military Humvees at the AM General plant prior to this Arctic trek.

“Things have come a long way since the ill-fated Franklin Expedition explored this area in the 1840s in search of the Northwest Passage. We planned our expedition carefully, but the Arctic remains an unforgiving environment and there was always some concern that disaster might befall us as well” said Schutt who, when not in the Arctic with the NASA HMP, is chief field guide for the National Science Foundation Antarctic Search for Meteorites (ANSMET) program. A geologist and experienced ice expert, Schutt was a member of the team that recovered the now-famous ALH84001 meteorite thought by some scientists to contain possible evidence of past life on Mars.

Original Source: Mars Institute News Release