North-East Skills 2015

We’ve been to Mars.

Not literally. We’d be the radiation-fried husks of the team formerly known as ‘Think Physics’ if we’d tried, not to mention somewhat over-budget. No, this week we took a model of Mars to the North-East Skills event. Here’s what our stand looked like, and some of the things visitors did with us:

Our intrepid explorers tested their rover-wrangling skills and strained their talent for communication to the limit as they guided their robotic rovers across our simulated Martian surface. Which all looked a bit Blue Peter, we admit, but what we were doing was surprisingly close to what real Mars rover teams do. The Curiosity rover that’s currently driving around Mars is picking up significant wheel damage, and to understand what’s going on the NASA and JPL team have been driving a test rover around a ‘Mars Yard’ – literally a back yard decked out to look like Mars. Here’s a terrific article about the wheel damage, and the Jet Propulsion Lab’s Amanda Steffy walks through the engineering challenge in this film:

It’s not just the Americans who are building Mars rovers. Here in the UK, Airbus are building the rover component of the European Exomars mission. Here’s Abby Hutty of Airbus talking about her role in the project:

…and some more background about the science that the rover will be doing, including more clips of the Mars surface simulation just outside London:

So our simulation wasn’t too far off the mark, for a five-minute activity. We were also handing people fragments of meteorites, and talking to them about the skills and attributes they might use in a STEM career. We had hundreds of terrific conversations – big thanks to everyone who turned up the stand, it was a delight to meet you all.

For those of you who missed out, here’s our Mars Mission Flier (PDF, 1.2Mb).

Huge fun, and we’ll hope to see you again next year.

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