Tossed in Space
When Pathfinder lobbed a bunch of inflatable habitats onto the surface of Mars, it created new worlds for spacesuit maker ILC.
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So imagine spending a couple days in a truly remote location, with only you and your family—or that special someone—with unprecedented views and the kind of sightseeing most people can only dream of. And the souvenirs—you’ll come home with things only a few people have ever seen.
That’s Mars, not some isolated island on this well-traveled rock. Though scientists continue to work on the journey, hoping to knock it down to a few months or so, engineers at ILC Dover have already prepared your accommodations.
Long known for its work in the space arena, ILC has fashioned a habitat that provides safe living with little set-up and minimal maintenance.
“The moon may be closer, but Mars has an atmosphere, and we might be able to find water there,” says Dave Cadogan, director of research and technology at ILC and the lead engineer on the habitat project. “If you go to the moon, you have to bring everything with you. On Mars, you might not have to do all that.”
Those of you who have followed NASA’s Mars probes know Cadogan is a bit optimistic. It’s not as if Pathfinder and Viking have brought back bottles of Little Green Men Spring Water and photographs of vast Martian lakes. But there is some microscopic evidence of water, so those guided tours to Mars may be only decades away. The good news is that by the time Martian vacations begin, ILC’s current habitats will be even better.
Judging by the success of a test staged in Antarctica in January 2008, ILC has come up with a habitat that could withstand just about everything the moon or Mars could throw its way. While even the harshest Antarctic conditions can’t replicate exactly a space environment, Cadogan’s travels with fellow ILC engineer Craig Scheir served as an analog environment for space living.
Cadogan and Scheir were joined by representatives of the National Science Foundation at the bottom of the world for 10 days in January 2008, culminating more than 15 years of work on such habitats.
ILC has worked on this kind of stuff since 1947. Its line of soft goods for space has many applications. ILC’s Lighter Than Air unit manufactures blimps that have military uses such as carrying radar packages and other intelligence materials. (The company won a contract from the U.S. Department of Defense in June to help Lockheed Martin field an aerostat-based radar system that provides real-time feedback to the warfighters on the ground to reduce improvised explosive device events.) And its Personal Protection line has products for law enforcement and first responder professionals who work in conditions with compromised air quality.
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