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V-ERAS is a project of the Mars Society Italy, in which a virtual Mars base will be simulated to develop a concept for a european Mars analog station similar to the Mars Desert Research Station der of the american Mars Society. I have heard from the call for volunteers for the first crew on the website of the Mars Society Germany and spontaneously I decided to send in my CV. After I did not hear anything for about 3 months and had almost forgotten the issue, in the beginning of November 2014 I received a notice that I am selected as a crew member. The simulation took place from December 7th to 14th 2014 in Madonna di Campiglio in the Carlo Magno Hotel, which generously sponsored our stay, including all meals! Not to forget the very nice spa, which we sadly could not use as often as we wanted due to our mission tasks.

The V-ERAS 1 team, consisting of crew and Mission Support: from the left Vito Gentile (crew), Franco Carbognani, Ezio Melotte,
Tanja Lehmann (crew), Alexandre Mangeot (crew), Marc Wylie (crew) and Yuval Brodsky

Franco by the way created the motto of the mission: To Mars with style!
More infos can also be found here: Mars City.

Health Monitor

It was planned to monitor the following body functions of the participants during the mission simulation: Breathing, ECG, pulse, oxygen saturation in the blood and body movements. For this task we had a system called "e-health", which can be purchased through the internet. The participants were supposed to take turns wearing the system, with each participant wearing it for an entire day.

Emergency training (here measurement of blood pressure) as preparation for the mission

The breathing sensor was found to be not very practical, and generally the data cables in the whole system were found too short without a possibility to make them longer. Additionally the system was very susceptible to disturbances and very few usable data could be acquired. This was the reason to abandon this system after the 2nd day.

A very successful task was the emergency training with telemedicine support from a doctor located in South Africa.

Vito wears the e-health system, but without the breathing sensor


The first task of the mission was to explore the virtual habitat with a gamepad. To see the surroundings in three dimensions, a software called Blender was used together with a 3D computer headset (Oculus Rift version 1).
After the first tests it was clear that the software programming has to be improved, to avoid jittering and to correct problems in the 3D vision. This was done right away, but took a whole lot of time (like usual, when something new is developed and tested).

Vito at the console, Marc (l) and Franco are watching

This is the view from the virtual reality headset (as a view in 3D)

EVA simulation

Not only the habitat from inside,but also the virtual Mars landscape outside was to be explored. For this a device called Motivity, together with the tracking device Kinect (Version 1, known from video games) and the virtual reality headset, was used. The Motivity is a passive device to enable walking on one spot and through this, move through the virtual landscape.
Here as well we were plagued by software problems, therefore at the beginning this was a very common position in the Motivity:

Starting position for the tracking

Then the tracking information must be integrated in the Blender software, the first stage looks like this:

Franco tests the tracking

This is how a good tracking looks like

This is the final result, when Blender is running and it is possible to perform a virtual EVA:

Me in the EVA simulation

In the headset I can see my virtual hands, as shown on the screen (each picture is for one eye to produce a 3D impression). The avatar is controlled by one's own body movements.

But most of the time it looked like this:

Endless programming work, until something is finally running


To simulate a locomotion in Mars gravity (1/3 Earth gravity), a modified version of the Motivity called MotiGravity was used. For this simulation it was necessary to wear a climbing harness, which then was attached to an unloading mechanism. This mechanism allowed to walk with 1/3rd body weight on the feet.

Here I am in the simulated EVA in the Mars gravity simulator

Simulated Mars landscape with rock

The Mars gravity simulation too needs improvement:
The climbing harness is uncomfortable and because there is only an unloading in the center of mass, the whole thing does not really feel like Mars gravity.

A video of real Mars gravity in a parabolic flight can be viewed here.

Mars rover

Also a Mars rover was part of the programme. The rover could be driven through virtual reality headset and gamepad or keyboard.

We also practiced the remote driving of a real rover. This was the Husky rover, located in Canada, at the university of London/Ontario.

Here we control the Husky rover in Canada

The canadian rover team

The hotel

Some impressions of the hotel:

The hotel has a professional robotic telescope

During a morning walk I saw this nice moonset

View from the hotel to the mountains

Our simulation room

Mateo Matturi, son of the hotel owner family, professional astronomer and owner of the above mentioned telescope, has arranged our stay.

What a surprise, he flew one year before me on the ESA Student Parabolic Flight campaign

Visit from the TV

The italian local TV station RAI TV visited us towards the end of the mission week.

Mars City

Mars Society Germany (german)

Mars Society Italy

For the TV the simulation EVA suit of the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah was demonstrated...

...but getting into the helmet with the virtual reality headset was not easy!

RAI TV has done interviews with Alexandre and me, their questions were very mission-oriented and also covered other space-related subjects in an understandable manner.