With NASA now actively seeking astronauts to head to Mars, the next generation of planetary space explorers is preparing to explore the red planet over the next two weeks at Western University.

In partnership with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Western is serving as mission control for a Mars rover simulation exercise November 16-27 that will assist in the training of 35 undergraduate students, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows from across the country.

Students from Western, York University, Saint Mary’s University, and the University of British Columbia will simulate various stages of a sample return mission currently underway at a field site in Utah, USA, including mission planning, commanding the Mars Exploration Science Rover (MESR) and identifying, characterizing and collecting rock samples all while remaining within MESR’s data, energy, and time constraints.

Built by Canadian robotics giant MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates (MDA), MESR is a six-wheeled rover equipped with a three-dimensional (3D) laser scanner and suite of cameras to provide contextual information and a robotic arm with a high definition 3D microscope and mini-corer to select and drill rock samples. Additional chemical and mineralogical analyses will be collected with handheld spectrometers.

As part of the collaboration, the Western-led science team will share their data and lessons learned with CSA to better inform future exploration projects while investigating the geology of this unique site.

The public is invited to an open house on Tuesday, November 24 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the lower level of Western’s Physics and Astronomy Building. Visitors will have the opportunity to tour mission control and take a look at various instrumentation being used in the simulation. Western Earth Sciences professor and Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration Director Gordon Osinski will also make a presentation.

Media are invited to a special sneak peek of mission control on Tuesday, November 17 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Western’s Physics and Astronomy Building, Room 24. Osinski, as well as representatives from CSA and MDA, will be in attendance and available for interviews.

A Mars sample return mission – to reveal insight into Mars’ geologic history while advancing the search for past life and investigate its current habitability and potential for future human exploration – is one of the top priorities of the international space community.

Through a Western-led Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) grant funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Osinski and his colleagues across the nation are training the next generation of science explorers to increase Canada’s readiness to support such missions.

For more information on CREATE, please visit http://create.uwo.ca/