• May 4, 2017

MarsSuit Project – New-Generation Spacesuit for the Next Step on Mars

Teamwork, group learning, problem solving, and epic challenges. Solutions for living and working on Mars. This is what NASA Epic Challenge is all about. However, there is always room for new challenges and innovations. This is why the University of California, Berkeley, decided to challenge its students to the new MarsSuit Project. The students are mentored by Lawrence “Larry” Kuznetz, Professor at UC Berkeley and former NASA engineer, and their goal is to win NASA’s official bidding contest by offering them a next generation spacesuit that is developed particularly for Mars.

As in the Epic Challenge training program, the students are supported by NASA and Valamis, which also collaborate closely with the team. In January 2017, Janne Hietala, CCO at Valamis, joined NASA and UC Berkeley to celebrate the kick off of the challenge.

“It is great to be part of this program again, to see how professionals and students alike approach this challenge with such commitment and enthusiasm! This is a demanding but one-of-a-kind opportunity for the students, who get to build networks with professionals in the field and learn through collaboration”, Janne Hietala describes his thoughts after the event.

As in the previous challenge, UC Berkeley wants to encourage students from different fields to share their fresh ideas and seek a career in the aerospace industry that is potentially facing mass retirement. And what could be a more epic way to incorporate and reinvent these goals than to challenge the students to design and implement a real, functional spacesuit by 2023? Of course, the spacesuit has already been invented, but a traditional spacesuit will not be of much use on Mars.

“The aim of the MarsSuit Project is to solve problems relating to, for example, weight and temperature regulation. It is impossible to move on Mars wearing a traditional spacesuit because of Martian gravity and the lack of oxygen. This is why we wanted to design a new kind of spacesuit that would “balance out” gravity and supply breathable air though the helmet. The rest of the suit could contain non-breathable gas for heat regulation and insulation. Our solution will probably be based on this kind of a hybrid dual system”, Larry Kuznetz reveals.

Students use the Valamis – Learning Experience Platform

The term “Massive Open Online Project”, coined by NASA Astronaut Charles Camarda, summarizes the nature of the project – a massive project that will accumulate the expertise, knowledge, collaboration and solutions by various specialists over several years. In order to accomplish this goal, the project must have an efficient digital platform that monitors its progress, collects data and creates a supportive network for the ideas, questions, and solutions of the students.

The tool used as the platform for new information, solutions, and resources is a familiar one: The Valamis – Learning Experience Platform. Valamis matches innovations with social learning and digital work and that makes it an excellent choice in this challenge. In particular, its Collaboratory feature will shine in this project; having all the information and material available in one place is a major asset when designing the new spacesuit and promoting digital work.

With Valamis, the students at UC Berkeley can collaborate across continents and time zones. They also have access to information that they have learned themselves from the other team members and various experts. Moreover, the learning environment is connected with the massive and innovative network of the Epic Challenge program that contains an impressive amount of expertise, skills, and passion for digital solutions, space, and aerospace technologies. The students of UC Berkeley can easily join this international team of diverse individuals, bringing their own innovations and energy to the table.

All in all, the scalable Valamis – Learning Experience Platform supports social learning and can help those working on the challenge to stay tuned with the latest trends in learning. In addition to experience-based and social learning, these include digitalized learning and problem-solving methods. The tool provides the students with an ample selection of problem-solving tools.

MarsSuit Project is an amazing way to familiarize students with working life and the world of aerospace, allowing them to take their inventions and expertise from a digital learning environment all the way to Mars. We are eager to see the next generation spacesuit that the UC Berkeley team will create. Will it win the NASA bidding contest and help the astronauts who will land on Mars?

*The quotation is based on comments by Larry Kuznetz in an article by Leonard David: “Mars Spacesuits: Designing a Blue-Collar Suit for the Red Planet”.

Sonja Siekkinen
Communications trainee