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Internship at ESTEC: welcome to the lab

Massive red doors were in the way. Martin took his card and swiped it near the RFID reader. There was a short BEEP sound and the door clicked. It took a strong push to get them open - these door were guarding something very important. It took a second before my eyes adjusted for the bright light. And there I was, standing in middle of Mars! "Welcome to the lab."

It might be late to start blogging about my internship at ESTEC in the Netherlands when I am about to leave in a month. But I feel there is a lot of mystery about what is happening here for the people from the outside. Well, I usually respond to the quesitons that we do rocket science. But noone laughs to that joke anymore :). In next few weeks I want to introduce ESTEC, and particularly TEC-MMA aka Robotics section, where I have spent last half year.

Although it was nearly half year ago, the memory of my first day did not fade away. I arrived in Netherlands by bus a day before - it was a tiresome trip and I felt a bit sick. The bloody Dutch weather did not help - it felt like autumn (honestly, more like the end of the world) despite it was first of June. From all excitement I hardly got any sleep on that night; I probably looked like a zombie when I arrived at the ESTEC complex.

But seeing the labs for the first time was quite impressive moment. There are three labs at robotics section: planetary robotics, orbital robotics, and telerobotics. Planetary robotics lab is in the big hangar - the original purpose was Hermes - European space shuttle project canceled in 1992. Now, there is artificial Mars surface. Well, kinda high tech Mars surface - with three rovers roving around and Vicon system for localization.

Orbital robotics lab is completely new facility; it was built mainly with motivation to support Cleanspace and e.Deorbit. We have here the flattest floor in Netherlands. There we can emulate microgravity conditions in 2D. There was not much going on when I arrived but now it's getting busy with new air bearing platforms for the flat surface finally ready. This is where I was involved in the most.

Telerobotics lab is slighly more independent part of our section. They research mainly haptic feedback and human-robot interaction. It was a blast to see Andreas Mogensen to operate Interact rover from space station from the first row.

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