An international team of researchers led by Mars Institute scientist Dr. Pascal Lee successfully reached the arctic community of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, Canada on Friday, 17 April, after an 8-day, 500 km vehicular trek on sea-ice along the fabled Northwest Passage. The team of five departed Kugluktuk, Nunavut on 10 April aboard the Mars Institute's Moon-1 Humvee Rover and two snowmobiles, and logged a record-breaking total of 494 km, the longest distance ever driven on sea-ice in a road vehicle.
The expedition is an integral part of the Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) on Devon Island, High Arctic, where research in space science and exploration is being conducted by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the Mars Institute, the SETI Institute, and other partnering organizations. The primary goal of the Northwest Passage Drive Expedition was to transport the Mars Institute's new Moon-1 Humvee Rover from Kugluktuk to Devon Island. The rover serves as a concept vehicle simulating future pressurized rovers to be used by humans on the Moon and Mars.
During their traverse from Kugluktuk to Cambridge Bay, the field team encountered challenging weather and ice surface conditions, including a 40-hour whiteout, unseasonably thick snow cover, massive rough ice, and treacherous snow-covered leads (open cracks in the sea-ice exposing liquid seawater). At one point, the rear of the Moon-1 sank into one such hidden lead, but the vehicle was saved by the team's immediate actions and thanks to the Humvee's unique capabilities and equipment. "For a moment there, I thought this might be it, but we had come prepared and trained, and our rover is an incredible machine," says Lee.
Because of the unusual amount of late snow covering the region this year which prevents efficient progress on sea-ice and dangerously obscures open leads, the Mars Institute has decided to pause the Northwest Passage Drive Expedition in Cambridge Bay and is now seeking to airlift the Moon-1 Humvee Rover the rest of the way to Resolute Bay. Once in Resolute, the driving expedition will resume in order to transfer the rover from Cornwallis Island to Devon Island, where it will be used for lunar exploration research for NASA at the Haughton-Mars Project Research Station this coming Summer and beyond.
During this past week's trek, the scientists have already collected important scientific and technical data that will help plan and implement future long-range rover traverses on the Moon and Mars. In addition, snow samples were collected to study the potential biological impact of humans exploring pristine environments, a study that will help understand the potential for forward contamination in future Moon and Mars exploration. Snow and sea-ice thickness measurements were also made that will feed into Climate Change studies and the long term monitoring of the Arctic environment. Throughout their voyage, the expedition stayed in periodic contact with Dr Stephen Braham at Simon Fraser University who served as the mission's 'Capcom'.
While visiting the Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay communities, the Northwest Passage Drive Expedition team was greeted by local government representatives and gave talks at high schools. Throughout its journey, the Moon-1 Humvee Rover has received remarkable interest and support from northern communities in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. "The value of understanding Earth and space are things that humans from all cultures can relate to, but in the North, there is first hand experience with the challenges of living in extreme environments, and our expedition strikes a chord with Arctic communities" says Marc Boucher, CEO of the Mars Institute.
The Moon-1 will remain in Cambridge Bay until it catches its flight northward to Resolute Bay.
Partners and official sponsors of the Mars Institute Haughton-Mars Project and Northwest Passage Drive Expedition include NASA, Canadian Space Agency, Air National Guard, SETI Institute, Simon Fraser University, National Space Biomedical Research Institute, Cornell University, University of Alberta, University of Florida, AM General, ARB, Bassett Petroleum Distributors of Yellowknife, Bombardier, First Air, Hamilton Sundstrand, Kikiak of Kugluktuk, Kitnuna of Cambridge Bay, Mattracks, Mountain Hardwear, Musk Foundation, Pelican Signs, Pull-Pal, RTL Robinson Enterprises, Shokolade Cafe, Sorel, SpaceRef Interactive, and Jules Verne Adventures.