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Final Mission Report

Mars Desert Research Station Crew 142 Files Final Report
November 24, 2014
For further information about the Mars Society, visit our website at www.marssociety.org

The following is the final report of MDRS Crew 142, which recently completed its rotation at the Mars Desert Research Station.

 
The 142nd crew rotation at the Mars Desert Research Station has just completed its ten day period in sim as part of the MA365 crew selection process and the crew are pleased to report a successful and productive mission in which nearly all of our mission objectives were achieved.

During our fifteen days at the hab, Crew 142 mounted a total of 9 in sim EVAs to sample and assess the terrain surrounding the hab for gene mining and to assess feasibility of sea ice and permafrost experiments at FMARS. We conducted experiments on the usefulness of flying drones to guide EVA activity and perform remote reconnaissance. We also used the greenhab to experiment with using cyanobacteria to convert Martian resources into a form that is suitable for plant growth, and to experiment with Martian soil amendments to determine the viability of growing food on Mars.

In addition, as the first crew of the season, we had the task of bringing the hab back online, including not only the expected amount of cleaning and organizing, but also creating inventories, and identifying and addressing a number of significant equipment deficiencies in order to achieve a state where we could conduct a full sim. All of this had to be done in the absence of an up to date operations manual, as the new one is still in the process of being prepared. A number of teething troubles still remained, such as unreliability of some ATVs and a very delicate toilet system.  But these are all issues that could occur on Mars, and were dealt with accordingly.

The crew operated in sim from the evening of Tuesday 4th November till the evening of Friday 14th following as faithfully as possible a regimen that would be likely to apply at a human outpost on Mars. This included first aid training and a number of safety drills/rehearsals, scrupulous water discipline (relaxed only where needed to keep the toilet running) and exercises to maintain physical fitness. We also hosted two media visits during our rotation, in addition to local media interviews before and after in France, Germany, Italy, England, and Australia.

Crucial to the success of the mission was the hard work and dedication of my crew who carried out their duties cheerfully and without complaint, making my job easy. They were a pleasure to work with and an honour to lead.

Some of the results of the work carried out by our rotation are as follows.
 
1. Martian Soil Planting and Cyanobacteria Experiments
Two of our projects aim at assessing the feasibility of growing plants on Mars from on-site resources. We grew plants in an analogue of Mars regolith with variables including processing regolith by boiling it, adding synthetic urine and/or adding a compost starter. Radishes and chard are growing in all tested conditions (with an unexpectedly fast germination and growth for radishes in all regolith-involving conditions). Results will continue to be collected after the mission. The second plant growth project involves cyanobacteria as an intermediate between resources available on Mars and plant substrates by leaching regolith, fixing nitrogen and producing organic material. Regolith simulant in water has been inoculated with cyanobacteria and growth was observed. This experiment will be completed in about 2.5 months, by another crew.
 
More than 30 rock and soil samples have been collected and site parameters (e.g., UVA and UVB radiation and solar spectrum) recorded, within the 'gene mining' project. Isolated microorganisms will be used as a source of resistance-conferring genes for microorganisms to be used in Mars-specific life support systems (see dedicated proposal) in CV's host lab at NASA Ames. This was also aimed at testing sampling while wearing a spacesuit. Even though it was awkward and time-consuming in the beginning, techniques and automatisms have been acquired and samples can now be collected almost as fast as when wearing regular clothes.
 
2. Solar Cooker Experiment
We successfully built a parabolic mirror that can be used as a solar cooker. The cooker works best at a sun-exposed spot during midday, when there is little or no wind. Once adjusted to the position of the sun, the cooker heats a pot of water to boiling point within half an hour. During morning hours, cloudy weather or strong winds the cooker is less effective, slowing down the heating process or inhibiting it altogether. The cooker seemed to be working inside the GreenHab too, although at a quite slow rate, but the experiment was ended by last days' weather conditions. All in all, the solar cooker provides a method of boiling water without extra energy input other than the sun. On Mars, where the strength of solar radiation is somewhat less that terrestrial levels, the solar cooker is still believed to work as it had during less favourable conditions on Earth.
 
3. Permafrost Study
We performed several temperature measurements at a number of sites. Depending on the site, we went to a depth of up to 18cm. The general trend is that ground temperatures are increasing with increasing depth during cold morning hours or in the shades, and temperatures are decreasing at sites with strong direct sunlight. These measurements were intended to provide insight into how feasible measurements in actual permafrost are, and we can conclude that the spacesuits are no bigger hindrance to measurements than appropriate winter clothing is.
 
4. Sea Ice.
As FMARS is located about 14km from the coast, sea ice studies would require long-duration EVAs, possibly on foot. We performed one long-duration EVA that lasted seven hours and involved walking a total distance of 12km. The reasons for not finishing a whole circuit of 28km lie in the frequent elation of the EVA participants in rocks covering the desert floor in abundance and not even frozen to the ground. However, it could be determined that most of the EVA participants would have no problem covering a walking distance of around 20 miles in one day, even while carrying several pieces of equipment.
 
5. Drone Based Reconnaissance and Mapping
A drone was flown during 5 EVAs. More practice is required to improve piloting skills. The EVA gloves result in a lack of tactile feedback, so continuous adjustments on the trim are required. A full range of telemetry (altitude and GPS location) if available, would allow accurate locating of the drone's real-time position during the flight. An extended range antenna would allow the drone to be piloted directly from the hab and assist with crew rescues in the case of an emergency. A geothermic camera, which was not present on the Hubsan X4 under test, which recorded mapping videos around the hab, would allow water and minerals in the soil to be mapped. Current drone flight time is limited to 8 minutes, and would need to be expanded to at least 2 hours for complete missions. In the light of the above observations and considering that the drone used was not the definitive one but a feasibility test, it is believed that the technology would be valuable to enhance EVA efficiency and safety.
 
6. GreenHab Report
The GreenHab is organized, setup, and ready for the 2014-2015 season. Lettuce seeds for they hydroponic system were started, but after 10 days, no germination had occurred, likely due to seeds not being viable. New seeds will be started in the coming days and hopefully there will be delicious bags of lettuce for the coming crews. The first experiment, Crew 142 Martian regolith experiment, began on November 5th and is currently running. Radishes grew quite rapidly in the regolith soil, while the chard got off to a slower start.  The beginning of this rotation had very warm weather, causing the GreenHab to get over 90°F, however a more seasonal change in the weather has allowed for moderate temperatures and much cooler nights.
 
Acknowledgments:

We would like to thank MDRS director Shannon Rupert, Hab Manager John Barainca, Judd Reed for the suits and other engineering projects, director of Science Sheryl Bishop and the Remote Science Team, and of course our CapCOM co-ordinator (and on-site welcoming committee) Chuck Killian,  plus Ken Sullivan, Steve Foss, and the rest of Mission Support for their patience and support. In addition, we would like to thank our flight surgeon Coordinator Michael Galagher, and local support Don Lusko for working in the background to keep our systems running

Last but not least, we would like to thank Robert Zubrin and the Mars Society for giving us the chance to participate in this inspiring project.
 
For further information about the Mars Society, visit our website at www.marssociety.org