An international team of scientists, engineers and support personnel has just completed a month-long increment on the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in south-west Utah; conducting research and testing systems, technology and hardware which may pave the way towards sending humans to Mars.
The crew hailed from Canada, the United States, Australia and France, with eight Canadian members – geologists Rocky Persaud and Melissa Battler, engineers Matt Bamsey, Stan Piechocinski, Brian Orlotti and Jean Lagarde, medical interm Nishi Rawat and human factors officer Kathy Plachta. The cosmopolitan background of the crew was a deliberate strategy, to reflect the likely composition of a future human crew to Mars.
'Expedition One,' which ran from 15 February to 16 March 2003, took six months to plan. It is the first in a series of special missions staged by the Mars Society of Canada, in conjunction with its international partners. The idea behind these expeditions is to carry out research into a variety of elements of a human Mars surface exploration mission that have not been focused on to date.
MDRS, temporary home to the Expedition One crew, is a two-storey, 8 m wide structure, built by the Mars Society as one of a series of bases for Mars 'analog' research around the globe. The others are on Devon Island in the Canadian Arctic and Iceland, with a fourth due to be constructed in the Australian Outback.
Analog research is carried out in conditions 'analogous' to those on Mars, hence its name, and each of the Mars Society's bases have or will have their own distinct Mars-like qualities. The MDRS is useful for this kind of research due to its red, rocky terrain, dustiness and isolation.
"The Utah Hab is situated in the midst of a barren, red, rock-strewn landscape, which is really reminiscent of Mars, especially the scenes familiar to those who have viewed the photographs taken by the Sojourner Rover or the Viking spacecraft," said Rocky Persaud, one of the organisers of Expedition One and President of the Mars Society of Canada.
The Expedition was broken down into week-long phases, each building on the one before it in a systematic and integrated way. Phase One focused on the hardware, technology and processes for excursions in the field on Mars (known as extra-vehicular activities or EVAs), while Phase Two concentrated on the science side of EVAs.
Both these early Phases tested strategies behind scouting for suitable sites for scientific research on Mars. Phase Three involved scientific surveys of the scouted sites, while Phase Four was an integrated mission scenario, with the crew wearing analog spacesuits outside the Hab and simulating elements of an actual Mars mission.
Rocky Persaud is pleased with the outcome of the research program, "The diversity and calibre of research undertaken on Expedition One was staggering. During the month, the crew conducted studies ranging from gathering and analysing biological samples to testing new spacesuit technology and comparing the functionality and features of various analog 'rover' vehicles.
For example, we tested an Australian simulated version of a new spacesuit, known as MarsSkin, which is designed to be more flexible than the current pressurised spacesuit used by the Shuttle astronauts. Attached to the front of this spacesuit was a datalogger, one of the Canadian contributions to the mission, which allowed the scientists to record their notes orally in the field."
Two rover vehicles were brought along to Expedition One by crewmembers from Canada and the United States. The 'Ares' rover vehicle was built by Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, while the 'Everest' rover was built by a team from the University of Michigan.
Each Rover was taken out on an overnight trip, while the Everest was used for a week-long trip during Phase Four. The idea was to see how they performed in rough conditions analogous to those found on Mars and to compare how feasible it was to live and work in them over extended periods of time.
One of the human factors goals behind Expedition One was to see how the different cultural backgrounds and age-groups worked together in a confined and isolated location. A range of psychological measures, informal observations, crew discussions and other means were used to collect information about crew psychological issues.
The overall goal of the psychological studies was to gain insight into crew individual and group issues that may be relevant to a human mission to Mars or other prolonged human spaceflight. Another goal was to gather information relevant to improved functioning for future crews at the MDRS.
Says Rocky Persaud, "By and large, people lived in harmony and worked extremely well together, despite their different nationalities, goals and ages. More research is needed to find the best model for a crew for future human Mars missions.
"Leadership structure is also an issue. It seems reasonable to assume that the crew would have considerable time to work and live together prior to the mission and that there would be time to both adopt and refine the best leadership style.
"Further research in a setting like MDRS, particularly involving more lengthy missions in a specifically Mars analog setting, should go a good way towards developing the most helpful leadership style."
A second expedition is planned for Arkaroola in the Australian Outback in July 2004, where Mars Society Australia plans to build its own version of the MDRS.
According to Persaud, "Lessons learned from Expedition One will be a great resource during planning and execution of Expedition Two in Australia. I look forward to a fruitful collaboration with international chapters of the Mars Society, to raise the profile of human Mars exploration and add to the body of Mars analog research which has been carried out to date."
Expedition One crew
Mars Society Canada
Mars Society Australia
University of Michigan Rover Project
Ares Rover Project
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First MDRS Fall 2002 Crew Rotation Nears Conclusion
Los Angeles - Nov 26, 2002
The first Mars Desert Research Station crew rotation of the fall 2002 season is now nearing its conclusion.
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