Crew 161 End of Mission Summary
Crew 161 is a team of space enthusiasts pursuing M.Sc degrees in space and energy sectors at Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, Moscow. Every member has also spent at least a semester at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA as part of their graduate studies. Applying engineering and research skills, we explored Mars as a potential planet for human habitation at the MDRS.
“A dream is a step away” is what I have considered as my life’s motto. My dream to become an Astronaut led me to study space science, work on satellites and pursue a career in the space sector. As a first step in achieving my dream of going to space, taking part in the simulation at MDRS has given me a great experience and exposure to the life of an astronaut outside of our home planet.
As crew commander, I went through many critical situations demanding sharp decision-making skills. I realized how vital it is to take the right decisions while leading a team in an extremely hostile environment where any small error can be fatal and jeopardize the mission aims. Every EVA we had taught me how to take decision based on priorities and consider safety first.
Performing physical analysis to figure out the best design parameters of our robotic arm according to the shear capacitance of the soil and performing chemical analysis to figure out the organic content in the soil for plant growth helped me relate this to Mars and come up with the best approaches to analysis and instrument requirements for human exploration of Mars. The challenge for space suit design became also very obvious to me, as I performed routine activities like digging, writing, lifting etc in a space suit with great difficulties. As an electronics engineer, spending 14 Sols at MDRS nudged me to think about the present and future technologies and infrastructure that has to be ready for future human habitation on Mars which I would consider working on, back at Skoltech.
Spending two weeks in this environment made me more skilled in tackling different mindsets of human and understanding my own ability to survive on Mars tackling the psychological conditions. I am happy that I could manage to take right decisions with minimal errors, keep the crew spirit high whenever it was necessary. Looking forward to improving myself with all the lessons learnt and to be ready, “Just in Case” as Chris Hadfield said in “An Astronaut’s guide to life on Earth”.
Experience is the best teacher. You could read about things in papers, listen during lectures, complete numerous problem sets, but you would never fully understand until you experience it yourself.
MDRS gave me that precious opportunity to try on the role of an astronaut living on Mars. These 14 Sols taught me to listen to crew dynamics, live in a 'tin can' with very limited resources, appreciate things that seemed to be ‘a given’ on Earth. These 14 Sols taught me to put on EVA-suit without external help, complete almost exquisite workmanship wearing huge gloves and looking through the helmet. It is amazing how humans adapt to a new environment and how fast we learn.
As the Crew Health and Safety Officer, I was challenged several times. For the crew operational safety, I applied human factors engineering to develop procedures and checklists for the most crucial activities such as EVA, engineering checks, walks to the observatory etc.
One of my tasks for the mission, as the Crew Biologist, was to see how plants grow in different combinations of Earth and Mars soil. I brought small amounts of Earth soil and a bunch of bean seeds with me. Mars soil was collected from different regions during EVAs. I also planted radish that was left from the previous Crew. The plants showed growth in particular combinations of Earth and Mars soils.
Overall it was definitely one of the greatest learning experiences with an opportunity to apply knowledge and explore my own capabilities. I’m very thankful to my most amazing Crew and Mission Support that helped to easily overcome all the challenges and made my stay on the Red Planet unforgettable.
During the mission, I increased my astronomy skills, tried new techniques in astrophotography. I accomplished my plans only partly: caught a comet, made a picture of the Moon, but I was not able to make a series of pictures for them to see changes and also I was not able to record occultation of Aldebaran by the Moon because of the weather. It teaches to plan astronomical observations more carefully even in the most promising place in terms of the weather.
Also, I noticed some psychological effects: first of all, I was extremely scared being alone in the observatory if the crew was sleeping (it was my personal experiment). But I know cases when men were not scared at all, it could be a gender feature. But if we extrapolate our life to Martian life, anyone can be scared and it would be unsafe. So, according to the rules if one person is outside of the Hab, another one should be online in the Hab. But still, for the first couple of times, I was scared to be alone outside. Secondly, observations during the evenings make it impossible for me to participate in some of the teambuilding activities, I had to choose: work and go to sleep early or to participate and go to sleep very late. Sleeping not enough amount of hours influences on the team work in the next day. As part of safety rules, we had one crew member awake on radio in the Hab while I worked in the observatory. It was possible to manage during two weeks, but during a longer mission, the astronomer’s schedule has to be organized in another way: shifts or one observation night per week with day-off the next day.
All in all, MDRS was a great experience for me.
Looking back at an amazing two weeks at the MDRS, I am absolutely grateful for the experience I have had here. MDRS is not just a unique place geographically, it’s SIM environment makes you feel like a Neil Armstrong or Yuri Gagarin pushing the boundaries of space travel. As a chemical engineer, I supported our crew commander’s work on soil chemical analysis, contributing to the study of the MDRS area regolith. I also took on the role of Executive Officer, helping to steer the team towards a common goal for our mission. We took our SIM very seriously, worked hard on safety precautions and keeping the team spirit high in order to accomplish our research aims.
On the third day, I started feeling the lethargy of isolation that comes with extended stay in a confined space. Limited communications with friends and family meant I had more time to think about the things I cherish most about them. It was a wonderful experience of quiet introspection.
As the crew journalist, I enjoyed going on EVAs and covering research projects being carried out for our daily reports. I learnt a lot from the other crew members: assembling a robot from our crew engineer, making pancakes and tending for plants from crew biologist, the wonders of astrophotography from our crew astronomer and lots of interpersonal skills that cannot be quantified through leadership with our crew commander. I thoroughly enjoyed my time here at MDRS and will be taking home with me a myriad of stories about Mars, our crew and our research projects.
Md. Mahbubur Rahman
Life in outer space is always a fascinating matter to think about. My time at MDRS was incredibly productive. I joined the team a week late. A typical day begins around 8 am with a short physical warm-up and a good space breakfast. After engineering checks, I participated in morning meetings where our team discussed daily plans. The best part of MDRS for me was going for EVA with space suit with limited access to mobility and joining our crew astronomer for night sky views.
Working with another crew engineer, I worked on our research project “Red ARM 1”, which is a robotic arm developed to dig the surface of hard Martian surface and collect the regolith from the surface. We successfully tested our robot on EVA.
Spending time with different crew members, discussing and understanding each other’s points of view on different topics, has been a great input to my personal worldview. This is an experience I will never forget.
During this rotation I had a pleasure to work as a crew engineer. I would not say that we faced many severe engineering challenges during the mission, however, there are a few interesting things that I want to mention.
First, I successfully completed my robotic arm research project. We assembled the rover from scratch and coded it to be controlled from a laptop. Though there were many issues: was not able to connect with a laptop, the robot once did not respond to commands and it was really tough to repair it on site, this robot was capable to drive on the rough Martian terrain and collect soil for primary chemical analysis. It was great experience for me, when I once again tested my “emergency engineering with limited resources and time” skills.
Second, I had to keep a sharp eye on all engineering systems. All together we were able to optimize our water, gas and Internet consumption during the whole mission. I believe it was our achievement as a team. Also, fortunately, we did not have any serious accidents. Which is again thankfully to my team that helped me keep essential systems operational.
This trip to Mars was one of the most exciting and intense for me. I understood, that even though space exploration is very romantic, it is a very difficult job in the first place. However, I’m eager to continue pushing the limit and maybe one day become a real Martian engineer.