Two weeks ago, crew members from across the globe arrived in the remote, high desert town of Hanksville, Utah, home of the Mars Society’s ‘Mars Desert Research Station’ (MDRS) astronaut analog facility, in great anticipation for our MDRS-144 mission. In the two weeks that followed, this Mars analog research facility became a center for interdisciplinary research, creative outreach, and most importantly a training and proving ground for living and working within the confines of a simulated Mars surface exploration mission. We all believe, very soon, that humans will break the bonds of Earth to begin human-based Mars research exploration and settlement on the Red Planet.
There was a palpable sense of validation in our shared dream of Mars exploration, supported by the fact that despite coming from different nationalities (USA, UK, Brazil, Finland, Japan), age generations, genders, and professional disciplines, the crew is here together and willing to provide service to the advancement of space pioneerism. In addition to our MDRS mission, the team are finalist candidates for the Mars Arctic 365 (MA365) mission scheduled to take place at the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station (FMARS) in the Canadian Arctic in 2015. We are competing with two other highly qualified teams for the opportunity to test ourselves and demonstrate human capability to survive and thrive at FMARS.
Early in the mission the team, shared a common vision defined in our Mission Statement. This statement captures who we are, what our collective and individual goals represent, the direction we select, and how we choose to measure achievement.
Crew144 Mission Statement:
“We are a crew of seven interdisciplinary and intercultural Mars analog astronauts whose common bond is their desire to expedite humans to Mars exploration and future settlement.
We are gaining insight living and working in the physical, social, and psychological confines of an immersive mission simulation; this includes evaluating our capacity to conduct scientific experiments and designing experiences to coalesce our collaborative creativity.
We are committed to inspiring others to appreciate the necessity and rewards of human exploration and expand humanity beyond Earth’s cradle.”
Our team is comprised of an impressive assembly of scientists and technically oriented persons, and the array of research projects and investigations have applicability and promise for future Mars exploration:
Crew Scientist Juho Vehviläinen conducted a ground sensor-based study to investigate the spatial variations of measured soil moisture over different land cover types. These values will be compared with satellite data from European Space Agency’s Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity mission.
Crew Engineer Victor Luo, a NASA/JPL engineer, using an infrared stereo scanner, generated extra-ordinary 3D virtual representations of the MDRS Hab and GreenHab. He has made it possible for the entire world to share in the experience of flying through the interior of the facility, a Mars simulated-world as if they were actually present. Applications for this technology span from off-site astronaut training and facility design to world outreach. This research will soon include video photogrammetry, converting raw footage captured by a quadcopter into a 3D point cloud, enabling us to map field locations for traverse planning, integrate 3D models with other datasets, or record information from sites that may be unsafe for fieldwork.
Commander Greg Leonard is evaluating visible to near infrared spectroradiometric fidelity between in-situ, sunlit rock and soils with the same target materials measured under calibrated artificial illumination in the Hab. Field spectra will be used to calibrate-validate an Earth Observatory-1 Hyperion hyperspectral image acquired over MDRS. This work is essential for expanding the range of accurate aerial platform and space-based sensor mapping and monitoring.
Crew Biologist Yusuke Murakami’s investigation and outreach project is an observational analog survey characterizing geophysical and biophysical zones where extra-terrestrial life could exist, with promising sites selected in conjunction with school children in Japan. This project engages the imaginations and anticipations of children as they decide, with guidance, what sites may be best suited to host life. The work involved careful physical and photo-based surveying and site characterizations, supported by photomicrographic analysis of return samples.
Crew Geologist Toni de Morais Teles is evaluating spatio-temporal geomorphic, geologic, and biologic conditions as they correlate with the presence of organisms. Micro-environment life forms occur practically everywhere on Earth, and offer insight into possible or preferred life environments in extreme environments. These studies represent proof of concept investigations; we identify what works well, what does not, and make improvements. These projects will find applicability for further investigations at FMARS, and eventually on Mars.
Much of space and planetary exploration is confined to transiting spacecraft and within on-surface habitats like the MDRS Hab. Our mission also supported intra-vehicular (IVA) studies such as evaluation of returned surface samples, and human factors and psychological studies. HSO, Dr. Susan Jewell, in addition to assuring that all crew remained healthy, happy, and productive, began implementation of a quantitative pilot study for an IRB approved human trial that will investigate the feasibility and utility of yoga and mindfulness meditation to mitigate negative effects of isolation and confinement in extreme environments. The study will include use of innovative technologies such as Google Glass and 3D Virtual Reality as possible delivery platforms of the programs. Our crew participated as the “pre-testing” team, testing the videos and technologies. We found that both yoga and meditation could offer us some needed variety in daily activity, and also stress relief while we’re confined in simulation.
Executive (and GreenHab) Officer Heidi Beemer dutifully looked after the MDRS GreenHab facility, measuring and nurturing plants, (some of which graced our dinner table), initiating and troubleshooting the hydroponic growing system, and decluttering the once cluttered space there, leaving a well organized facility for subsequent crews. Heidi also managed the highly detailed crew scheduling roster, and produced an extensive, fully illustrated digital manual of MDRS Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that we hope will become an important resource for all subsequent crews. We all benefitted tremendously from Heidi’s and Susan’s experience in previous MDRS missions.
In addition to the SOP manual, the crew were involved with improvements to the MDRS facilities. We designed and built a professional-grade 7th stateroom in the Hab loft space (currently being been used by our 7th astronaut). We also re-leveled and cleaned up the ‘Antarctic’ pile platform and surrounding materials, making the site safer and less cluttered with ‘space junk’. Victor created an internal network share that helped us to efficiently manage project data, a practice that other missions could benefit from.
As stated in the final piece of our mission statement, we are committed to inspiring others and to spark the imaginations of all people; especially the next generation of space pioneers and explorers. To this end, we have been engaged with several outreach projects and have generated products to both inform and capture the imaginations of the world. We have developed an FMARS MDRS-144 Facebook page, translated mission journalist reports into Japanese, Portuguese, and Finnish languages, recorded a Q&A session that addresses questions submitted by school children from different countries, and produced an MDRS-based Sci-Fi adventure film trailer (soon to be short film). We are currently constructing a dedicated Crew 144 website which will be published very soon. This is in addition to Yusuke’s outreach project, and our individual outreach activities occurring within our respective international communities. We believe this is the most essential piece of our mission, to inspire others to move humans beyond Earth’s cradle, onto distant worlds...onto Mars.
Our crew has also appeared on a regional television report completed by Salt Lake City based KSL-TV that highlights both the MDRS and FMARS projects, and XO Heidi Beemer is soon to appear on CNN Newsroom to discuss her experience with MDRS-144.
Finally, our team has chosen to address mission adversity and team dynamics openly. As is the case with all missions, some mistakes occurred, individual and team mistakes; and we decided to acknowledge them directly and work to implement solutions to diminish or eliminate their recurrence. The crew faced mission adversity with courage and caution, including the requirement for all crew to wear anti-contagion masks for 48 hours to prevent possible spread of illness, managing well with an increasingly faulty toilet, and implementing water conservation measures and supply protocols when a water pump failed. More importantly, we’ve begun to establish a basis to resolve interpersonal and team dynamic issues. The willingness of this crew to be open, trusting, honest, and in support of one another is extraordinary, especially given the short time we’ve all been together. This is a vital piece of what pioneering exploration requires, going boldly together with deeper appreciation and understanding of the team dynamic and of individual motivations, anticipations, and actions. This is indeed an essential ingredient of ‘the right stuff’, a requisite to move forward together as a strong viable team. Onward to Mars we go.
We are grateful for the support of the Mars Society, MDRS Director Shannon Rupert, DG Lusko, Media Director Michael Stoltz, and all at Mission Support, without whom we could have never left the bounds of Earth.
MDRS-144 Related Links: