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Final Mission Summary

Completing 2013-14 MDRS Field Season, Crew 141 Posts Final Mission Summary

The following is the final mission report of Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) Crew 141. A full review of this year's activities and research at MDRS will be presented at the 17th Annual International Mars Society Convention, to be held August 7-10, 2014 at the South Shore Harbor Resort in League City, Texas (outside Houston near NASA’s Johnson Space Center).

Introduction: The members of Crew 141 come from industry (Boeing), government (NASA contractor), and academia (University of North Dakota, University of Arizona, National Engineering University - Peru, Pontifical National University of Peru). This crew researched various facets of human exploration in a simulated Martian environment, including EVA rescue, non-verbal communication, human factors, human / rover interactions, in-situ plant growth, and astronomical observations. The international, intercultural, and interdisciplinary nature of this crew greatly enriched the research performed during their two-week rotation. 

Alejandro R. Diaz (Commander): As I arrived at MDRS for my fourth rotation, I did not know what to expect this time around. But as I pulled up to the Hab, I was again in awe of the beauty of this place. It is so inspiring and it makes you truly appreciate what we are doing here. As a team, it only took us a few days to develop a unique sense of teamwork and cooperation with each other. The crew performed very interesting research and completed an overall outstanding rotation. I was beyond impressed by my crew’s skills set, ability, initiative and work ethic. I consider it a genuine pleasure to have worked with such competent and interesting group of individuals. This experience has also rekindled my desire to utilize the Atacama Desert of southern Peru to establish a future Mars analog base (similar to MDRS). These deserts are the driest in the world and have great similitude to the surface of Mars; devoid not only of plants, animals or insects of any kind, but also of evidence of recent running water. I want to take this opportunity to thank The Boeing Company for funding my participation at MDRS. I also want to thank my family for their support during my time at MDRS, which gave me the impetus to successfully take part and enjoy this great experience.

Peter Morgan-Dimmick (Executive Officer):  Tomorrow morning our mission ends and we return to normal life. It’s been a fantastic two weeks with this crew, and I think such a project really brings home the point of how life on Mars will be. Onboard the Space Station the astronauts have access to phone calls, internet, video chat, and fresh food. They can look out the window and see home. Presumably any future return to the Moon would also incorporate these same home comforts. We’ll look up and see a blue-green marble in the black daytime sky – both awe inspiring and comforting. But Mars is different. Mars is far away and the crews that land there will need to be seriously self-sufficient in ways not yet required. Challenges await, but we can do it. And do it we did. The hand signals we came up with proved to be so beneficial that we incorporated their use on all of our EVAs. We grew plants as a test of in-situ resource utilization, saw firsthand how useful and complimentary an unmanned rover is to manned EVAs, and got more data points about how and how not to attempt an EVA rescue. And yet as I leave this place I have to remind myself that no one’s ever really been to Mars. We haven’t even been to the Moon in nearly 50 years! But I for one believe we have a bright future among the stars. A future that begins in just a few years’ time as we prepare for a new generation of flights beyond low Earth orbit. It’s been a pleasure.

Kavya Manyapu (Crew Engineer): It’s been 50 years since we have landed on the Moon and today, yet again we are making history by preparing ourselves to step on to the next frontier-Mars. MDRS has been at the front end to providing this opportunity to prepare ourselves. This was my second time at MDRS with a highly talented group of people. We performed several experiments, one of the main goals being EVA Rescue operations and Human factors assessments for psychological performance and crew dynamics. Additionally, gained experience working with multi-disciplinary crew on various aspects and supported experiments testing a rover from UND and designed hand signaling protocols for EVA operations. The experience at MDRS provided a rare opportunity to understand and appreciate the operational constraints of designing technologies for space exploration, particularly planetary exploration. I would like to thank Boeing for sponsoring my participation at MDRS and continuing to support space exploration as well as Mars Society for providing me this opportunity. I also developed new interests in other areas of space exploration while interacting with my crew members.

Humberto De las Casas Zolezzi (Greenhab Officer):  This was my second time here at MDRS. Last year, I was the Executive Officer and this year I was the Greenhab Engineer. I am very happy to have been able to take advantage of my experience at MDRS and perform research in a Mars-analog simulation. To be here is incredible, not only do you live and work as if you were on Mars, but you also dream of new ideas, projects and hopes, which makes you improve your skills and take the challenge of doing something important. I hope to come back next year with additional projects (i.e. rovers), and also plan to attend the 17th Annual International Mars Society Convention to talk about my experience at MDRS. I can see that MDRS has improved in many ways, from improving the simulation, the restrooms and some additional comforts for the crew. Spacesuits are a better color and helmets are smaller and also more comfortable. That said, there always room for improvement and I would like to help The Mars Society to improve the fidelity of the habitat and equipment.  

Josh Borchardt (Crew Biologist/HSO): During our two week mission, my primary objectives were to complete a Mars simulant plant growth study to compare with the results of my MS thesis, and to test MACHO, a complimentary rover to manned planetary missions.  The aim of the plant growth study was to test a new hypothesis on the limit of nutrient availability and the level of soil formation required for sufficient crop growth on an early Mars settlement (using in situ resources).  MACHO was then tested for its capability as a rapid science platform in a small package, habitat integrity reconnaissance, and as a means for communication when voice comms are out or malfunctioning. Both objectives were met after having solved many questions, proving plenty of technology, and as always: leaving much still to be answered.

Christopher Cokinos (Crew Journalist): My time at MDRS was incredibly productive, resulting in multiple blog posts (text and photos), some 30-35 pages of notes and four poems.  The notes will be instrumental in drafting an article this summer called “The Flowers of Mars,” which will argue for terraforming the Red Planet as part of increasing the carrying capacity of the solar system, one of six ideas I plan to explore in a new nonfiction book I am now tentatively titling Re-Civilization: Six Heresies to Keep the Planet Running.  The plant experiments will figure nicely into this piece and so I will be following up with Joshua Borchardt on his work.  The material on how to rescue astronauts will also be important. Curiously, I found that the times I was most “in sim” were while watching the video feed from the MACHO rover and when taking photos of others in their jumpsuits and helmets as they crossed terrain that had no visible vegetation.  I’m not quite sure what to do with that fact intellectually or creatively, but something is going on there that’s important to my work.  Though I was drawn back to Tucson due to the press of sudden work obligations, I have gathered great material for future work and am grateful for the chance to have been part of MDRS. 

Jorge Mirez (Continuing Crew 140 Researcher): Tomorrow I will be completing my 4-week stay at MDRS. I was Commander for Crew 140, but stayed another two weeks to perform additional EVA rescue operations research. For my bicycle/stretcher design (called ‘MPC 1’), I brought the main parts from Peru and assembled everything at MDRS. Tests were satisfactory during Crew 140 and Crew 141, and were performed on flat ground and spongy soil. The backpack design (called ‘Akunta 1’) was ergonomically designed and performed extremely well. I consider my stay at MDRS very rewarding, both from a professional and personal growth perspective. My time here included intense research, testing, and critical analysis, as well as times of personal reflection. I leave with a great feeling of satisfaction for the work we performed and look forward to come back some day in the future.