HUMAN EXPLORATION OF CANYONS ON MARS
Many of the locations on Mars that are of primary interest for study are not easily accessible by rover or walking. To explore canyon walls, caves, and caldera interiors, explorers will need to ascend and descent steep terrain. Mountaineering equipment such as nylon ropes and aluminum rappel devices now used on Earth can be adapted for use on Mars and need not be heavy, complex, or even expensive. The environment on mars, while much less extreme than the Moon, is more severe than that faced by climbers in the Himalayas. Still, weighing a third of their normal body weight should allow astronauts to safely explore some of the most important locations on Mars using Earth-based mountaineering techniques. If EVA is only conducted during the daytime, space suit thermal protection weight will be minimal and astronaut performance enhanced.
To safely rappel and climb, astronauts will need to see the front and sides of their waist to locate and operate equipment. Gear can be secured to the suit with carabiners and rigid nylon/plastic gear loops located at the hips and chest. The Mars climbing suit should 112 incorporate gloves with better dexterity than Shuttle EVA gloves and should allow leg range of motion for high stepping to at least mid thigh height. Rigid soled boots with sticky rubber and at least some foot dexterity are preferred, and the outer layer of the suit must resist tearing, especially at the knees, shoulders, and elbows. Initially, conservative climbing techniques with fixed ropes at the top of mountain or cliff will be employed. Astronauts will rappel from their rope anchor down to the site and then ascend the terrain and feeds the rope through an auto-locking belay device. Once safety is demonstrated and confidence is gained Mars walkers may venture up the steep terrain of Mars without fixed ropes, using traditional leading techniques.
Given the extent to which EVA is planned on a Mars mission it is likely that a Mars EMU will be flexible enough to afford astronauts the range of motion needed for mountaineering. The suit and life support systems will be rugged enough for climbing without increased risk and can easily be modified without hampering non-mountaineering EVA’s. Finally, the Mars EMU will almost certainly be compatible with traditional climbing equipment that can be worn over the suit without exceeding an acceptable operating weight or even hindering movement. Mountaineering is a key aspect of any human presence on this planet, which contains both the largest mountain and largest canyon in the solar system. Any manned mission that does not explore at least some of the rugged locations on Mars is a missed opportunity to fuel the spirit of adventure that made humans the dominant species in the solar system. We must evaluate mountaineering activities for use on a Mars mission now, so that they are acceptable to the NASA mission planners when the adventure finally begins.