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MDRS In The News

Mock Mars Mission: Learning New Skills for Red Planet Living
By Elizabeth Howell, Space.com, 01.14.14

HANKSVILLE, Utah — I used to think traveling through time would require climbing into a blue police box or using some similar device. After a week here at the Mars Desert Research Station simulating Red Planet exploration, however, I've learned that it takes only one ingredient to slow things down: novelty.

There are so many new skills to pick up here, and my crewmembers have plenty of expertise to offer in science, engineering, medicine and outdoor activities. It's also the little stuff, however. I now know how to use an auger to fix a stubbornly plugged toilet. I also can whip up an improvised meal for six adults. (I can't say how well it tastes, but it at least keeps the hunger pangs away.)

The days are long here, with crew members usually only taking breaks for eating, but much of the time we're keeping each other in stitches. One day, several of us took turns quoting lines from the movie "Fargo." We also recount fun stories from the field, like the time a crewmember fell down in the mud in a spacesuit and despite paddling on all fours, couldn't get up without help.

Just before I entered the "Hab," at the Mars Desert Research Station, which is run by the nonprofit Mars Society, somebody asked me if I was scared to spend two weeks locked in a 1,200-square-foot (111 square meters) facility with five strangers. I wasn't, as I had spoken to all of them by phone and knew they were extremely qualified. My biggest fear, actually, was of being a slacker crewmember, or one who was creating a poisonous environment for others.

To read the full article, please click here.

Mock Mars Mission: Taking a 'Marswalk' on an Ancient Ocean Floor
By Elizabeth Howell, Space.com, 01.13.14

HANKSVILLE, Utah — Walk across the fall line, knees bent, back straight. Lean into your back foot. Remember not to go tumbling off the hill while inside the spacesuit.

As I repeated this mantra Jan. 8, wedging my feet into the side of a steep hill, a bit of magic happened: I felt secure. Despite the fact that only the left side of my feet were on solid ground, I realized there actually is a way to walk safely down the side of a mountain.

Hiking in rural Utah has an inherent risk, but add in a spacesuit — a requirement of Mars Desert Research Station missions — and the danger escalates. The way to overcome that, as best as possible, is to have experienced hands nearby. [Mock Mars Mission in Pictures: Life on a Simulated Red Planet]

I leaned heavily on the help of fellow Crew 133 members Gordon Gartrelle, Matthieu Komorowski and Joseph Jessup — sometimes literally, as one of the experienced hikers would extend a hand to help me up or down a steep slope. Our purpose was not to thrill-seek, but search for geological formations for two research projects.

To read the full article, please click here.

Mock Mars Mission: How to Suit Up for a 'Marswalk'
By Elizabeth Howell, Space.com, 01.11.14

HANKSVILLE, UTAH – My nose was running. Instinctively I reached up but was startled when my hand crashed against the helmet lodged on my head. I was about half an hour into my first walk in a Mars-like environment, and I knew I'd have to wait about another hour before I could grab a tissue.

The 76-minute "Marswalk" Monday (Jan. 6) took place at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, where I and the rest of Crew 133 are spending half of January operating as though we are on the Red Planet. The "spacesuit" I wore is not quite the real deal, but it's close.

There's a helmet, for example, and a backpack for ventilation. Instead of a pressure suit, however, I wore a jumpsuit. And under the helmet is a gap big enough for a hand, just in case I need to reach my face. [Mock Mars Mission Crew Answers Reader Questions (Video)]

A minor nose problem didn't seem reason enough to break "sim" yet, though. In front of me, commander Paula Crock was leading me across the terrain. At one point, she stopped and shouted through her bowl, "These are fossilized shells!" The shells were in fact stretching for dozens of feet in front of us. I felt like I was indeed on another planet, instead of simply pretending to be.

To read the full article, please click here.

Mars-Simulation Mission Draws Ottawa Woman to Utah
By Elizabeth Howell, CBC News, 01.05.14

Much was made last week about how parts of Canada were colder than on Mars.

One Ottawa woman is also getting a slightly higher-tech version of the Martian experience at a special building in Utah.

Elizabeth Howell is living at the Mars Desert Research Station for two weeks with seven other people, part of a project to see if humans could one day live on the Red Planet.

“A Mars mission is a large and expensive endeavor,” she said over the phone while en route Saturday.

“The best way we can try and cut down on the cost is to do as many of the things as possible on Earth, to see if it will work out in space before we actually get there.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Mock Mars Mission: Utah Habitat Simulates Life on Red Planet
By Elizabeth Howell, Space.com, 01.02.14

OTTAWA, CANADA — Scientists, engineers and legions of volunteers have worked hard to make a mock Mars habitat in Utah as realistic as possible.

The Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS), which is run by the nonprofit Mars Society, aims to help humanity prepare for the rigors and challenges of life on the Red Planet. It was designed in line with Mars Society founder Robert Zubrin's "Mars Direct" settlement approach, which sees crews living off the land as much as possible, MDRS director Shannon Rupert told SPACE.com.

"The idea was a small crew on these kind of preplanned set of missions that would allow astronauts to get there and have a functioning habitat in place," Rupert said. "We approached it from the idea that it's there and ready to go, and they [the crew] just have to land." 

Reading through an unofficial "geology guide" to MDRS (published by past visitors) reveals a dry landscape shaped by wind — a similar environment to many areas of the modern-day Red Planet.

The MRDS habitat near Hanksville, Utah, lies in the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, the 2008 guide from MDRS Crews 42 and 71 says. The area only gets about 10 to 20 inches (25 to 50 centimeters) of precipitation of year — some of that rain, and some of it snow.

To read the full article, please click here.

Mock Mars Mission: Packing for the Red Planet
By Elizabeth Howell, Space.com, 12.31.13

OTTAWA, CANADA — I'll admit it: I've become that annoying friend and family member, just in time for the busy holiday season. While the people I know are preoccupied with Christmas and New Year's events, I'm making constant requests to borrow things from them.

"Can I nab your warm sleeping bag?" I said to a friend who then had to make a special trip to my place with her precious cargo in the car.

"Is it okay if I take your DSLR — and can you show me how to make videos with it?" I asked a long-suffering family member who, despite a punishing schedule, is always being harassed for tech support.

I'll have to think of ways to pay them back. Right now, though, I'm just too busy packing. I'm about to spend two weeks in the Utah desert on a simulated Mars mission, unable to buy even a toothbrush there to get me through the days. I, along with the rest of a University of North Dakota-led crew, will be onsite at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) starting Jan. 4.

To read the full article, please click here.

Walking on Mars - In Utah!
By David Baker, Spaceflight, Jan. 2014

If humans are ever going to get off planet Earth and tread the red dust of Mars, it may well be that those first steps will be taken not in the expanses of Cydonia or on the ancient stream beds of Chryse Planitia, but on the hot and dusty rocks of Utah, USA. For it is there that the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) is pioneering how to live, work and survive an isolated existence far removed from the comforts of planet Earth as we know it.

Determined to provide fundamental research into the ergonomics and essential timelines necessary for balancing the work-life experience, the Mars Society has sponsored an international team for its Mars Analog Research Station (MARS) project involving habitats in the American southwest, the Australian outback, Iceland and the Canadian Arctic. The plan is to conduct scientific research with four to six crewmembers recruited from a variety of backgrounds in fields as varied as geology, biology, mechanics and medicine.

Volunteers live for weeks or months at a time and carry out research tailored as closely as possible to the type of activity a Mars crew would face on the planet itself. Mounted on legs, the 26 ft (8 m) diameter habitat is a two-deck structure capable of supporting the crew for extended periods. Additional elements, some of which could be inflatable, can be attached to increase the habitation and work area and to extend the facility as though growth was taking place on Mars, building the site into a fully fledged research station of the kind similar to science facilities in Antarctica on Earth.

To read the full article, please click here.

Mock Mars Mission: How Science on Earth Can Help Build Martian Colony
By Elizabeth Howell, Space.com, 12.16.13

If a solar flare is on its way to the Mars Desert Research Station in January, Joseph Jessup wants to make sure Crew 133 is prepared to react if necessary. That's why he's driving from Arizona to the Mars Society facility in Utah with a radio telescope in the back of his car.

His portable telescope can not only detect solar particles at a range of 20 megahertz, but at night (after the sun has set) could be turned to Jupiter to spot electromagnetic radiation emanating from the immense planet.

Utah, of course, is safely underneath Earth's atmosphere, but the research would have application for a future Mars colony. Mars has no appreciable magnetic field. This makes it easier for harmful solar particles to bleed through the surface, putting colonists at a higher risk of cancer and other illnesses from radiation.

"It would have some applications for some kind of an early warning system on Mars," Jessup told Space.com.

To read the full article, please click here.

Mock Mission to Mars: A Space Reporter's Guide
By Elizabeth Howell, Space.com, 12.10.13 

OTTAWA, Canada – As a Canadian, I'm supposed to be used to extremes. I've commuted across the city many times in snowstorms, skated on an outdoor canal in blistering cold and played soccer in the humid soup of 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius).

So why do I feel so intimidated as I stare at the packing list for the two-week Mars Society mission I'm going to be on? I'm used to fluctuating temperatures, dressing in layers and even a bit of camping. As I go down the list — hiking boots, sleeping bag, pillow, possibly a Swiss Army knife — I realize it's not so much the stuff itself that worries me, but getting it across the continent to Utah in a month's time.

Overlaid with the trepidation, however, is a large degree of excitement. I've wanted to take part in the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) since it came into existence more than a decade ago. Now, as a Ph.D. student at the University of North Dakota (UND) as well as a full-time journalist, I'm finally getting the chance. And I know that all of Crew 133 is similarly excited to get started. [Gallery: Mock Mars Mission in the Arctic]

To read the full article, please click here.

Scientists Spent Weeks In The Desert Pretending They Were On Mars
By Dina Spector, Business Insider, 04.26.13 

The San Rafael Swell in central Utah is a massive dome of layered rocks, surrounded by a Delaware-sized maze of deep canyons and multi-colored cliffs.

More than a decade ago, Robert Zubrin, author of "The Case for Mars," recognized the potential of this environment and several others around the globe to serve as a testing ground for manned Mars missions.

Aside from an interstate that slices through the scenic landscape, this patch of desert sits virtually untouched.

The region's terrain and remoteness makes it one of the best analogs for Mars that exists on Earth.

To read the full article, please click here.

Mars in the Desert
By Jim Urquhart, Reuters, 03.11.13

When I was young, I wanted to be an astronaut but I never had the discipline to follow through. At one point, I wanted to be a scientist, but I barely made it out of high school and later dropped out of college, but not until after I learned a little chemistry for recreational use in my younger days.

Even with my Red Shirts, I have always wanted to be around people that put their minds and bodies to the test. I even married a young woman that has three Master's degrees and is working on her Ph.D. I have always prided myself on consuming as much science news as possible. To me, the mind and the search for tangible knowledge is the fuel for dreams and will lead you to adventures in life.

So with that said, when I heard about the Mars Desert Research Station in the desert of southern Utah, I knew I had to go. I had tried for years to go, but my story pitches never made the cut. Maybe I wasn't an experienced enough photojournalist at the time for an agency to trust me with an assignment that took quite an investment to tackle. At times I had thought this place was going to be my Red Shirt assignment.

To read the full blog and view Jim's photos of MDRS, please click here.