MDRS Crew 136 Final Mission Summary
This report marks the end of our rotation at the Mars Desert Research Station as the 136th crew, Mission to Mars UCL. We had been preparing for a long time and we were really glad to see this project through. We’ll soon go back to Belgium having learnt a lot and start the formation of a next crew.
These two weeks were first and for all an excellent life experience. We had worked together for nearly one year getting ready for the mission, but living in such close proximity with all six of us for 15 days was even stranger than we expected. We are all easy going people though so it went without a problem despite the lack of intimacy and personal space.
Another aspect we had to get used to is the food and the imposed limitations. We usually eat too much food and we had to restrict our consumption once we arrived in the station. The transition was a little harsh at the beginning but it rapidly begun a new habit. Same goes for the fact that it’s mostly freeze dried food: it was a complete change but adaptation only took a few days.
The other restrictions on resources were mostly about the water and internet but we were prepared and had no problem dealing with those. We paid strict attention to every one of our water usages to be sure to spare this resource every time it was possible while maintaining good hygienic conditions.
We had four main projects during this rotation and every crew member was working on at least two of them to make the best use of every crew member abilities. Those projects were an astrophotography and spectrometry project, a geological survey, a geomorphological study and an experiment in altitude using a helium balloon.
The first project main goal was to image the two recent supernovae in M82 and M99 as often as possible to be able to do some differential photometry to observe the diminishing magnitude of the two supernovae. We also took the opportunity to image some other beautiful objects such as galaxies, nebulae and clusters. The second objective was a spectrometry study of the Sun and its reflection on planets to determine their composition. The Sun spectrum was also compared to some other stars’ spectra. The composition analysis requires the use of a database we have no access to in the Hab so we sent the data to Earth and will get them there.
The second project consisted in collecting mineral samples and analyzing them under UV light or exposure to acid to identify them as evaporitic minerals. Those particular minerals are characteristics of past streams or water bodies that evaporated, leaving evaporites behind. The identification of such minerals could indicate the presence of water in the past without having to rely on erosion traces. The project had some results but couldn’t locate past water bodies because of the clay in the soil. The minerals found were the result of sedimentation by rivers that had picked them up upstream. The environment around the station caused problems in this case and prevented our geologist to ascertain the location of past water bodies even if their existence was confirmed by the presence of evaporitic minerals.
The geomorphology project was a continuation of a previous experiment about a dry modern streambed. We wanted to be able to estimate the quantity of water that was previously flowing on this surface based on erosion traces only as we would need to on Mars. We used the Manning Formula to establish a model and reached satisfying results on the past flow, velocity and infiltration of the water while the streambed was still active.
The last project we pursued was the launch of a helium balloon to record some data in altitude. We had to keep it captive so we could only take measurements under a 100m limit in altitude. The variations were not significant on this scale but the recording protocol was perfectly working and could be implemented on higher and larger scale with regular launches for workable data. The captors were recording the wind velocity, altitude, atmospheric pressure, humidity and temperature. The final goal was to establish a model of the high altitude winds and weather profiles.
With these results, most of our projects went well and we could draw conclusions about the initial objectives or more importantly the protocols used while experimenting on analog-Mars. We were aware that in a two weeks’ time, we were limited in the results we could obtain on our projects and that’s the reason we put our first priority to following simulation conditions at all time.
We are all really glad we could take part in this experience and are planning to pursue our goal of a long term project at our university and begin the selection and formation of the next crew as soon as we get back in Belgium. A new application will be sent next year and we hope to be able to let other experience the challenges of a Martian life. As for us, we’ll get ready for the next part of our mission: to let know others of what we were doing here by giving conferences and organizing different kind of events: we’ll share this amazing experience!