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Final Mission Report

Mars Desert Research Station Crew 150 - Final Mission Report

The following is the final mission report of Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) Crew 150. A complete review of this year's MDRS activities and research will be presented at the 18th Annual International Mars Society Convention, to be held August 13-16, 2015 at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Online registration is available. Please join us this summer!

 

Have you ever seen the skyline between Earth and Mars hiding behind the hills?

We are Crew 150, we are six Peruvian students who had a dream some months ago, having a great Martian experience MDRS. Now, we are here, we have learned to live a different but interesting life far from the Earth. This life put on our way some issues which we had to deal with using creativity and abilities during the simulation on Mars, and this have made us growing as a student, as human.

This experience will set a before and after in our professional life, because this will inspire us to get involved deeper in this theme.

This document pretends to inform the Mars Society how was our time and performance in the station during our rotation. We started our simulation on February 24, and here is our Martian life resume.

 

Day by Day

Both, the team work and the organization helped us to deal with daily life in an easier and more effective way. That´s why we established a schedule for all activities in our mission. During our rotation, days started at 8 am. At that time we had breakfast for 45 minutes. Then, at 9 am started our working time. We weren´t only in charge of our personal projects and EVAs, but also in the design and proposal of new ideas for the station. It was during this stage that we became more than partners: friends.

Every person in the mission shared their own ideas and experiences and so we could materialize many ideas that we now consider useful for future missions. In the next pages there is a more detailed description of them. We had lunch at 1 pm. We made two groups of three people for being in charge of the kitchen every day. Initially we doubted that the dehydrated food would taste good, but as days passed we found out that it was possible to cook delicious and even innovative dishes. Then, at 2 pm we started again our working routine. We looked after our projects or conducted EVAs. From 7 to 9 pm we had communication with the Mission Support and after that we had lunch. Our day finished officially at 10 pm, but actually it was never like that. We always had to prolong our schedule to reach all the daily goals.

 

Main Projects

·       Oxygen production analysis inside the Green Hab

 

The project is a system which allows Scientists to analyze the main factors involved in the cultivation of plants in Mars. Now, we´re able to measure the percentage of oxygen, humidity and temperature over a plant in an isolated space built of an acrylic titrated. Our goal during this rotation was to measure the efficiency in oxygen production during photosynthesis in the Green Hab plants. Nevertheless, some weeks before we came to MDRS almost all the plants were burned during an accidental fire in the Green Hab.

Despite of we do have the system ready for making experiments, we were able to test just one plant and got some interesting results.

Now we know, in contrast of we thought before, that the Hopes consume oxygen during the day. So, our recommendation is to put them near plants that consume oxygen during night.

Another of our goals was to cultivate three species of quinoa in order to analyze its adaptability to this environment. They are growing faster than we thought.

The next step in our project will be to automatize our system and have control over the conditions inside the isolated space. Our project will stay at the MDRS, so that in the future other missions will be able to take measurements over their plants. 

 

·       Planting and germination of sweet potato and radish plants

 

The search for food sources for crew members is a key factor to be investigated and even more attention should be on food whose production is possible and sustainable in the environment where the mission arises. This project involved the planting and germination of sweet potato and radish plants in the Green Hob and the objective was to find out the characteristics of growth and development of these plants in different conditions to our planet. Three types of sweet potato were planted: orange skin, white skin and yam. During the rotation, we discovered that the white skin sweet potato is the one that grows faster; although they have grown slower than in Earth. The radish plants have grown in the same speed than in Earth, even in soil taken from the dessert. We found out that the water has a significant contribution in the growth of the plants.      

 

·       Correlation between the organic content and the illization grade of clays in Martian analogue Utah desert

 

In this project we developed the sampling of regolith from different geological formations near the base. The places we´ve visited are Dakota, Summerville, Dakota Sandstone, Morrison and Mancos Shale Formation. There we looked after soils with clay that showed different degrees of illitization (ratio between illite and ​​smectite clays) in order to analyze its organic labil carbon content. We made a stratigraphic sampling and obtained about 10 g of clay for each sample. The clays will be taken to Peru in order to analyze their organic content and composition by XRD analyze.

 

The idea is to obtain a correlation between the type of clay and organic content. We´ll like to mention the big support from Dr. Saul Perez, Dr. Gino Picasso and Dr. Julio Valdivia and the Peruvian Astrobiology Group in order to accomplish this work.

 

·       Design of an Explorer Drone for Mars Surface

 

The Drone (quad copter) Project developed at MDRS has been settled to have good stability against air flow, and take photos of the desert to generate 3D surfaces by image processing on PC. The main project objective is to make a mapping and recognition of a specific zone before crew-members’ exploration on Mars. The quad copter’s controller is based on Arduino platform, it allows us to manage and adjust parameters easily. A Gopro camera was used for image acquisition, which was mounted under the drone. All of the images taken by Gopro are sent to a program developed on Matlab. As a result of the image processing we will get the relief of the required surface. The program bases his processing on some characteristics of the picture, like shadows, colors and tone variations on different scales and spectrums. The final results obtained at the Station showed us that average stones and small ramps can be seen on 3D reliefs. It helps to find accessible areas and paths for the settlement of humans in Mars.        

 

·       Felines gripping mechanism applied to the space walk

 

This concept try to apply the felines gripping mechanism to the human walking that can serve as a complement to the MDRS EVA suit to facilitate researching projects in the environment near the base, as well as giving stability to future bystander astronauts over Martian soil.

The exoskeleton prototype developed, stretch and contract the prongs using servomotors, according to the pressure between the foot and the ground, related to the voltage variations caused by a flexometer located on the foot.

There were achievements with this project, for example it permitted to carry more weight without doing more effort, and the automatized claws, placed at the sides of the foot, avoided slips over certain soils.

On the other hand, there were some unexpected situations like the lack of tools and equipment to make needed modifications, or some pitfalls. So, wits and creativity were put on test to redesign and repair parts of the mechanical and electronic system using tools at hand. 

Some redesigning ideas raised after having this great experience on the MDRS environment, for example: design a packing method to make easy transporting in motor vehicles, or use torque sensors to have more control over the servomotors according to the pressure made.

 


Additional Projects Proposed for MDRS

·       Warming system for the Hab

One of the main challenges that we´ll have to deal with in Mars will be the intense cold. The problem is not in technology itself, but is in how we feed it. That´s why we proposed and modelled an alternative energy system to warm the Hab. As summary, our system is constituted by a solar thermic panel that heats up and saves water during the day. The hot water flux is conducted through a tube covered of glycerin inside the Hab. This substance dissipates the heat slowly. Then the water is conducted again to the thermic solar panel with a pump that works with a photovoltaic panel. This is how we will have a system that warms the Hob only with solar energy and some chemistry and physical principles. During our rotation we built a model of this system using Nutella instead of Glycerin, whose heat dissipation is also slow. The model gave us interesting data and results that we provided to the Mission Support.

·       Shoe-cover dispenser

When we came back from EVAs it was very common to have our shoes dirty and filled of wash. That way we made the Hob dirty and generated more work for us. That´s what impulse us to build an automatic shoe cover dispenser. The covers were made of plastic boxes. So, the explorer is able to come back to the Hob without worrying about making it dirty.  

 

Additional Contributions

·       Green Hab metal fence

During our rotation we built a fence for the ventilation hole from the provisional Green Hab. The idea was to avoid some unexpected animal to get inside and eat the plant samples.

·       Cover for the electric outlet in the kitchen

Near the sink at the kitchen there was an electric outlet with no protection. We considered that dangerous because any contact with water could produce a short cut. That´s why during our rotation we designed and built a cover to avoid accidental watering over this zone and avoid risks

·       Headphones accessory for radio communication

 

When we conducted EVAs, it was important to keep the radio communication always. However, it was usual that our head- and microphones fall into the helmets, even if we pasted them with scotch tape and in the middle of a simulation it was difficult to put them on again. This is why we designed an accessory for the headphones so that they can be adjusted to head. It works excellent.

 

·       Static tank water meter

Part of the engineer´s daily routine was to control the water levels at the station. Nevertheless, monitoring the quantity of water from the static tank was a little bit difficult, thus there was no measuring instrument. With the intention of making engineer´s work easier and more precisely, we designed a water meter specialized for static tank. We hope it to be useful for future missions, like it was for us.

·       New recipes

Peruvian food is known around the world not just for its flavor, but also for its creativity. And is that creativity what helped us to create delicious recipes with the ingredients available at the Hob and it´s nice for us to share them in the cookbook for future missions.

 

Conclusion

It has been an honor for us to participate in this great experience. Having taken part of this mission has placed us a step closer to our dreams. We lived good and bad many situations, but we gave our best and boarded them with intelligence and creativity.

In space investigation Peru is very belated in comparison with the potencies. Let’s think for example that Sputnik, the first satellite sent into space, was placed in orbit in 1957. In contrast, the first Peruvian satellite went into space on 2013. The difference is enormous. Nevertheless, having Peruvians in this kind of rotation will help our country to impulse in space ambit.

We also like to take advantage of this opportunity to show our big interest in the project of La Joya desert in Peru. We compromise to support completely this proposal. Building a station in this zone will generate a nexus between Peru and the Mars Society and will also mean an advancement for our country.

We would like to thank all the Mission Support Team for the given help these three weeks. You were fundamental in the consecution of our goals. We are proud about having worked with people like you. Crew 150 wasn´t conformed just by six people.

Daniel Rivas  

Commander Crew 150