World Space Week event and press conference

On the 8th of October 2013, ABM Space Education and Mars Society Polska organised a joint event for World Space Week, which is globally coordinated this year by the Austrian Space Forum (OeWF), from their “mission control centre” in Innsbruck (the PolAres Spacesuit Laboratory).

On the grounds of a Wienerberger brick factory in Torun, some event participants were given a chance to control the Magma White rover with a mounted LIFE laser detector. Our hosts graciously helped us transform the huge piles of red clay, used for brick making, into a mock Martian surface. The results were better than we expected – the terrain was perfectly suited for the tasks we had planned for the participants and looked quite extraterrestrial.

With the help of the “mission control” in Innsbruck we also contacted a school in India and let the pupils take control of the rover in a simulated Martian research mission we had planned for them. Furthermore, the journalists assembled at the press conference had a chance to talk to the World Space Week coordinator Gernot Groemer, who told us that, at that point, over 120,000 people had taken part in Space Week events around the world.

We also established a live connection with the participants of the 4th Space Conference in Sieradz, where members of Mars Society Polska and ABM Space Education gave talks and showcased the Magma4kids educational rover.

Most importantly, however, we unveiled our plans to host…

The European Rover Challenge

The European Rover Challenge, or ERC, is an international competition organised by Mars Society Polska, ABM Space Education and the Austrian Space Forum. Institutions of higher education can form teams of students, graduates and faculty to enter the contest – the challenge is to design, construct and operate a rover that will most successful complete a number of Mars-exploration themed tasks designed by the organisers (inspired by the University Rover Challenge conducted by The Mars Society in the US).

The teams will have to face five tasks during the three day challenge: presenting their rover to the judges, terrain traversal, servicing a mock-up piece of equipment, assisting an astronaut, and obtaining and handling a research sample. In contrast to the tasks at the American URC, during one of the practical tasks the teams will have to control the rover off-site, from their academic institution.

Since, unlike the URC which takes place in the Utah desert, the ERC will be staged “closer to home(s)”, we plan to provide a space for on-site spectators, and transmit the event through digital media. We want to transform the Challenge from a relatively closed event, known only to hardcore enthusiasts, into an opportunity for reaching a wider audience, including the general public, non-participating students, teens and even children, to inspire more interest in space exploration. As a consequence, the ERC will be accompanied by a an educational event intended for the younger and less experienced fans of robotics and astronautics.

More information about the ERC will be soon made available on the MSP website and a separate website dedicated to the ERC. The detailed rules of the challenge should be released shortly. Currently, we are looking for the best location to host the first edition of the ERC and for sponsors who would want to support this ambitious undertaking.

To promote participation in the Challenge, we are planning a number of meetings with students, in universities across Poland. Furthermore, the event will be promoted through other European chapters of The Mars Society and partner organisations, to reach students throughout Europe. The Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education is helping us by generously providing some funds for event promotion.

There is a lot of work ahead and we welcome anyone willing to help make ERC a reality. We are hoping to motivate the student teams from Poland and the rest of Europe to prepare great rovers for the Challenge – to make the ERC a smashing success.