Thursday, August 01, 2013

ÖWF, PolAres, and Aouda Spacesuit Lab in Innsbruck, Austria

My Visit to the Austrian Space Forum

Earlier this week, on Tuesday, July 29, I had the honor of visiting the ÖWF  (Öesterreichisches Weltraum Forum), the Austrian Space Forum! Just how did I come by this terrific experience? Twitter! That's right...I mentioned something about JUST arriving in Innsbruck too late and missing an awesome European space tweetup (a meeting in person for those who have met online and share / tweet about similar interests) and the fantastic Remco Timmermans (@timmermansr ), head of World Space Week (another link explaining the event HERE), saw my tweet and wrote that while I was in Innsbruck teaching, I should try to meet a few Austrian spacetweeps and he gave me their twitter handles. As it turned out, the wonderful, witty, and sweet Olivia Haider (@olidax ), chief financial officer and social media guru of the ÖWF, wrote me back! So, after teaching a while and getting my bearings in Innsbruck, we made a plan to meet at the forum office so I could see the PolAres program and see the Aouda spacesuit lab! Needless to say, I was very excited!!!
Olivia Haider
From the website: "The OeWF is The Austrian Space Forum (Österreichisches Weltraum Forum, OeWF) is a national network for aerospace specialists and space enthusiasts. Our organization serves as a communication platform between the space sector and the public; it is embedded in a global network of specialists from the space industry, research and politics." ~

It has a history and habit of outreach to young people in Austria and beyond!
They told me some of the plans for the following day included setting up a telescope with a solar filter in the Old Town near the
Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof) for the morning and a city park for the afternoon. The goal was to give young people....or any people really, a glance at the sun and to talk to them about the sun and space! How COOL!

Some of the OeWF's recent projects include:
PolAres field simulations - In February 2013, the team went to Morocco to do testing in high temperatures and arid environment. They conducted an analogue Mars field simulation to prepare for future Mars missions.
Stratospheric balloon tests
Aouda - Aouda.X Analog spacesuit prototype for planetary surface exploration

Phileas - a rover built for robotic work and in cooperation with astronauts

When I arrived, the president of the board of the OeWF, Dr. Gernot  Grömer, and Olivia Haider greeted me. We went upstairs to Dr. Grömer's office to chat for a bit. He is charming, brilliant, funny, and very hospitable. We talked about how the ideas of space exploration, and in particular, Mars exploration, are becoming more widely accepted in places like Austria and how the forum is expanding its outreach and media efforts across all ages. He mentioned that now, instead of saying IF we go to Mars, more people are saying WHEN we go. That is a giant leap of progress!
Dr. Gernot Grőmer, President of the Board of the OeWF in his office w/ a lovely Alpine setting
Next, we went into the lab and I saw a 3-D printer that they had assembled. This was a treat for me as I had not yet seen one in person. Dr. Grömer told me that they had a previous opportunity where people could write code for the printer and send it to the OeWF. What resulted was that some people wrote code to make it move and used the different pitches of the printer's movements to create music. One such piece that someone wrote for was the Star Wars "Imperial March"!   HAHAHAHA!

Following this, I met "Dignity" the grandfather of the Phileas rover that was given to the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2009.
It was very special that I got to play with the rover. My goal was to move it across the floor and pick up a candy bar.....which just happened to be a Mars bar :-)
SUCCESS! I did it :-)
Proof that I did picked it up off the ground :-)
Now it was time to see the Aouda spacesuit!
I was able to touch it and ask questions about the suit. Analogue means that it is the practice /ground version of  the suits the astronauts wear and not the real one. Nor is it always hooked up to working cameras, air systems, etc.

Inside was a rather low-tech piece of blue pillowed cloth and I wondered what it was for.
Dr. Grömer told me that when you begin to sweat in the suit, your nose begins to itch. The stripe of pillow cloth is actually for you to scratch your nose! I also got to see some of the garments worn by astronauts. In particular, an inner layer for underwear, has a unique cooling cloth which was very interesting.
We talked a little about upcoming projects including an event for World Space Week where the OeWF Innsbruck office and lab will be the hub of activity for Austrian space events. THIS IS SUPER EXCITING!!!! They will include live feeds interacting with the OeWF for a number of events.
Mars meteorite at the OeWF
I cannot thank Gernot and Olivia enough for taking their time out to visit with me and to let me play with their rover and see the lab! I had a wonderful time. For more information on the OeWF, see the links above or contact them! Know that space exploration, serious and recognized research, and tons of science is being done in Austria at the OeWF sites! They are an inspiration!

Follow them on Twitter!!! @OEWF and @halidax

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