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Final Mission Summary

Mars Desert Research Station Crew 153 Files Final Report
April 26, 2015
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The following is the final report of MDRS Crew 153. A full review of this year's activity at the Mars Desert Research Station will be given at the 18th International Mars Society Convention, which will be held August 13-16, 2015 at the Catholic University of America, Washington DC.  Registration is now open at www.marssociety.org.

Final Report

Crew 153, Mission to Mars UCL

We are Crew 153, a team that consists of 6 Belgian students from the UCL, the Catholic University of Louvain. One year ago, we had a dream: having an enjoyable and enriching stay on Mars or rather in the MDRS located in the Utah desert. We postulated and have been chosen a few months ago. And here we are, at the end of April 2015, we’ve completed our dream. What a fantastic experience we live in this small station, both from the relational and scientific points of view.

The aim of this final report is to develop what we learned during our stay in the MDRS. In the first part of this report, I will try to summarize our organization during the days and how we manage our time to avoid or minimize conflicts within the crew. In the second part, I will focus on the experiments we worked on, the major issues we encountered and the main results we obtained.


1.     Relations within the crew

Unlike most of the crews that live in the station, we’ve chosen to keep a kind of individuality between each other. I mean that I’ve never constrain someone to wake up at a given time and in the same manner, there was no curfew: everybody was free to sleep whenever he wanted. Generally, we were all awake at 9:00 am to be ready for the EVA of the day around 10:00 am. All the dishes were eaten together to keep the atmosphere at the higher level possible. During the afternoon, we worked on our experiment, sometimes alone and sometimes we created groups. We actually try to manage our time so that each experiment could progress as fast as possible. This way of working also helped to create a kind of dynamic within our simulation: no day was like another.   

Concerning the life in the station, we tried to distribute the common tasks in a fair way. To achieve this goal, we did a tasks planner at the beginning of our rotation we spread the station cleaning, the engineering tour (every day one crew member helped our Engineer during his tour), the cooking and the dishes washing. It was really easy to do and it helped us to spare time every day. 

Now that our rotation in finished, I’m proud to say that our choice seems to be a good one: no relation issue has to be reported. Days have gone so fast that we didn’t even have had the time to argue during our rotation. If the situation had to be described briefly, I’d say that we’re not only partners but rather friends. 


2.     Experiments conducted at the MDRS 

2.1. Communication signal mapping

The project was to study and map the quality of a communication signal around the MDRS by taking into account the distance and relief. Our first idea was to dispose some communication relays that will capture the communications and transmit it to the hab or to another relay nearer. It should therefore increase the activity range and ensure a better link during an EVA. 

To reach this goal, we created a device able to log GPS location and Wi-Fi transmission intensity. The Wi-Fi router may also be equipped with an antenna allowing the signal to be focus in one specific direction. This system should enlarges the communication range.

Gaspard took some measurements around the station to map the Wi-Fi reception intensity with and without this special antenna. It appears as planned that this antenna doubles the communication range. Thanks to these measurements, he was also able to confirm the theoretical effects of distance and relief. Thanks to the created map, we are now able to place Wi-Fi relays according to needed and desired transmission rates. 

Future improvements might be achieved by creating a robot that moves the directional antenna according to user's position. This should therefore allow a better transmission.


2.2.Astrophysics experiment

The first goal of this experiment was to measure the redshift of galaxies in order to assess the distance between galaxies and the Earth. This project needs a spectroscope coupled with the MDRS-telescope and a precision of 0.1 nm. Due to budget constraints, it was impossible for us to find a spectroscope of such accuracy and we finally obtained a device that allow unfortunately a smaller precision and without any prefabricated interface. Martin has therefore chosen to change the initial objective of this experiment. 

The goal of the modified experiment was then to build an interface for this spectroscope (Ocean's Optic USB 2000) with a view to take measurements of planet's and star's spectra. The interface has been realized and the optic fiber alignment was good. There was just a major issue: the fiber of the spectroscope is too small to perfectly align the fiber with the beam of the telescope if the focus is optimal. Anyway, Martin found a solution to this issue: the idea is to “defocus” the telescope to increase the area of the beam but it appears that the number of photons detected is therefore too small to obtain good spectra (the noise was actually too big …). With a more sensitive spectroscope, Martin’s interface should work. 

Finally, we changed the objective of this experiment for the last time nearly at the end of our rotation: we just took pictures and galaxies and nebula with the CCD camera.


2.3.Geology experiment

The goal of Auriane's geology experiment was to map magnetic susceptibility and electric conductivity of the Martian ground. She managed to see a buried tank behind the base on her maps but otherwise the magnetic susceptibility's measurements weren't very conclusive since her instrument wasn't sensitive enough. She also took electric conductivity measurements in dry river-beds and these were quite interesting. This property is linked to humidity and we could clearly see major differences between the river's bottom and banks, even when they seemed completely dry to the human eye. Another interesting discovery was that her instrument was disturbed by the walkie-talkies ' radio waves. They should not be used at the same time otherwise the values displayed by the instrument go through the roof.


2.4.Microbiology experiment

In the main part of this microbiology project, Florian tried to detect and characterize bacterial life in desert's soil samples. In order to reach this goal, he used various observations, colorations, biochemical tests and growth on selective media. Further investigations will be made when back on Earth to confirm the bacteria's identity. 

First at all, Florian found various soil samples during three EVAs. He took pictures of each sample, and he measured the temperature 5 cm under the surface. A geologist from our university will help him to identify accurately the types of soil. Anyway, he thinks at first sight that he caught dried clay, sand, limestone, with the presence of iron oxide. He then extracted bacteria from each sample, and he made it grow them on LB medium (not selective). He choose about 30 colonies from eight samples, and he began their characterization. 

The first difficulty Florian met was the fact that some of the cultures were not pure. He tried to obtain only one type on each Petri dishes by re-culturing them two or three times. He realized Gram staining for each colony, and he took pictures of all the samples. The next step was to make two classic biochemical tests: the catalase test and the oxydase test. 

Florian also tested the growth on various selective media: Simmons citrate, McConkey, starch medium, DNA medium, KingA, milk medium. It allows to obtain a lot of information about each bacteria sample. For example, the DNA medium allows to know if the bacteria have a Dnase, the McConkey inhibits the growth of Gram positive bacteria and is thus selective for Gram negative...  He will shortly finish the identification by finding the species fitting all the criteria! When back in Begium, he will try to confirm these results with PCR and sequencing, or mass spectroscopy (but this last method is unfortunately not confirmed yet). 

Last but not least, he tested the presence of Staphylococcus and Coliforms in water samples from the MDRS. Both were negative, which is a good news! Actually, water with this kind of contamination is not drinkable at all. 

Finally, He tried to detect rotifers in desert's lichens. But the matter was that there were no lichens at all! The only thing he found was a kind of biological crust on some rocks, but rotifers' presence was not detected after adding water. It seems that these little worms do not live in the surroundings of the station.


2.5.Video-novel experiment

Romain's project is to write and shoot a "video-novel" as he says. He wants to create a new form of narration, halfway between writing and filming. The fundament of his project is to interrogate the relations between those two media and see if it is possible to bring some contradictions in it. The reader will "have to choose between two visions of the reality". So, Romain spent most of his time writing at his desk, or shooting scenes inside and outside the station. 

Romain experienced two major problems so far: first, he was sick most of last week (he was unable to get out of bed during two days, we've had to go to the clinic) which prevented him from writing for a long time, he had a sore throat, headache, etc. He really began to write for five or six days. The second problem Romain faced is about the feasibility of shooting scenes in simulation. Actually there is a catch: it is very difficult to see the images you shoot through the visor of the helmet. In order to avoid nasty surprises he will film most of the "outside" scenes at the end of the simulation, while we won’t be in simulation anymore. It should be easier. During the simulation he therefore focused on “inside” scenes. 

The novel is at the moment half written. Romain will have to continue it back home but he already knew it before his arrival. He is also taking notes about the material and the atmosphere of the station. He simply hopes that the scenes he shoots will be usable and that the quality will be as good as he wished (image, sound, etc.).


2.6.Dried streambed analysis experiment

The previous crews from our university (crews 127 and 136) began a project aiming to establish a model of the past flow for a dried streambed as the conditions would be really close to the ones encountered on Mars and could provide interesting observations. Encouraging results have been found last year and a publication on this subject has been made. The objective of this year was to improve their results by using non-prismatic cross-sections for the numerical modeling. 

In order to speed up the measurements, I’ve chosen to use a laser telemeter instead of a traditional meter. This method would have allowed to measure as many cross-sections as they did the previous years, but it appears that this tool was not convenient at all when wearing the EVA suit: with the scratched helmet and the sun reflection, it was actually impossible to read the value written on the telemeter. We’ve therefore chosen to use a traditional meter instead of this electronic device. 

Due to the bad weather and a lack of time, it was impossible for us to measure enough cross-section to get a satisfactory numerical model.  


3.     Conclusion

We would like to thank the whole Mars Society team for giving us the opportunity of reaching one of our dreams. We would also like to thank all the Mission Support team for their precious advices and their availability day by day. It was just a wonderful experience and we would recommend anybody that is interested in the space exploration to take part in this innovative and out of the road project. 

As the Commander of this crew, I would like to close our rotation on a quote that is fully in line with the extravagance of the space exploration and an eventual future mission to Mars: “when you make limits to yourself, you're not yourself anymore” (Sara Keddar). 

Crew 153 is signing off. 

Crew Commander, Crew 153


For further information about the Mars Society, visit our website at www.marssociety.org