A team of volunteers spent five days at the end of April test-driving spacesuits and planetary rovers inside the ice caves of the awesomely/terrifyingly named Eisriesenwelt — German for “World of the Ice Giants.” On Mars, explorers might run up against limestone caves or ice caverns, and Eisriesenwelt, a series of labyrinthian caves in central Austria cold enough to freeze all water inside, has both. The Martian incarnations are cold but temperatures are stable, there’s less humidity than on the surface of the Red Planet, and they provide shelter against radiation from space — the ideal recipe for sustaining life.There was a slip-up during testing when one volunteer’s headset fell off; researchers opened up the helmet to repair it, which isn’t exactly what you want to do while on Mars. That and a few other things offered some lessons. Gernot Grömer, president of the Austrian Space Forum, toldAstrobiology Magazine “yes, we can do subsurface exploration, but we need to adjust our way of conducting Mars exploration significantly.” When the real deal happens, it’ll take astronauts 20 minutes to get a message across to home, and there won’t be anyone except other explorers there to help.
The researchers’ next test run will be in the northern Sahara in Morocco in February 2013.