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Mars travel explored at MIT conference

Nearly 80 students and professionals interested in learning the latest in Mars-related research attended the fourth annual MIT Mars Week, a student-run conference from Oct. 4-6.

Ten speakers who represent the top talent studying the red planet were on the roster, including Vyacheslav Shurshakov, a representative of the Russian Space Agency; Orlando Figueroa, director of NASA's Mars Program Office; and Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society.

"MarsWeek is an opportunity to share ideas and interact with the community," said Figueroa. "There is clearly a great interest in Mars research. It's exciting to hear the various perspectives."

The event was hosted and organized by MIT students and the MIT Mars Society. Aeronautics and astronautics senior Joshua Neubert and graduate student Mirna Daouk co-chaired the conference.

"I've been interested in space and astronomy for as long as I can remember," said Neubert, president of the MIT Mars Society. "I fell in love with the idea of exploring the solar system and the benefits it could produce." Human space flight has provided many benefits, and further exploration of Mars will result in greater advances, he said.

"There are many reasons to go to Mars," Neubert added. "It's the best place beyond the Earth in the solar system to look for past or present life. Humanity is ready to leave the cradle and explore."

Zubrin noted MIT's leading role in the Mars Gravity Biosatellite project, an effort to study the effects of Martian gravity on mammals (see MIT Tech Talk, April 10).

Freshman Christina Edwards said she chose MIT because of the opportunities to do research and get involved with projects like the Mars gravity project.

"The conference was very informative," said Edwards. "[Shurshakov's] presentation on radiation factors made it clear that we need to work toward improving safety for human missions."

"The conference is valuable because I was able to learn about some of the key issues for Mars research as it relates to my field of study," said Madhusudhan Nikku, a graduate student studying geotechnical engineering in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. "I can only get that here, from these first-hand experts."

Mars Week received funding from the Undergraduate Association; the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics; the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences; the Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium; the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics; the Mars Society; and the National Space Society.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 9, 2002.

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