The first operational crew rotation of the Mars Society's Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) has been successfully completed. The MDRS went operational on Feb 7 with a crew of 6. For the past two weeks, the station's crew has been conducting a systematic program of exploration of the surrounding desert, while operating under many of the same constraints as an actual Mars crew.
For example, as on Mars, anyone leaving the station to do field research needs to wear a simulated spacesuit, that limits the mobility, agility, dexterity, and sensory abilities of the wearer much as a real spacesuit would, and communication between EVA team members separated by more than a few feet has to be done by suit radio.
While in the station, crew members also do laboratory analysis of samples brought in from the field, repair equipment, write reports (which are exchanged with Mars Society's Mission Support group via a satellite link that imposes a Mars-like delay on communications), and engage in the chores of daily life living together as a team.
The purpose of conducting such simulated operations is to gain essential knowledge of Mars exploration tactics, human factors issues, and engineering requirements � in short, to start learning how to explore Mars.
During the first rotation, a series of pedestrian and motorized survey scouting excursions were done to distances as far as 7 km from the station, resulting in the production of an encyclopedia of numbered waypoints, each with its own precise location, description, geologic and biologic data, and indexed photographs and, where relevant, samples.
Selected waypoints of greatest scientific interest were then investigated further with dedicated expeditions. Geologic samples from such sites were cataloged and classified, and the morphology of the sites analyzed to understand their geologic history.
Biological samples were gathered and imaged under the station's microscopes to search (apparently successfully) for endolithic bacteria of the same type that some believe may survive inside of rocks on Mars. Chemical tests were done to identify the scientifically interesting and potentially commercially valuable enzymes that allow such bacteria to dissolve their way into rocks.
A large number of fossils were discovered and identified, including petrified wood, several types of Mesozoic mollusks, and dinosaur bones. All of the MDRS essential systems were exercised, a weather station was erected, and sets of procedures developed to make field exploration increasingly efficient.
The crew engaged in public outreach with a prominent column run for a week on msnbc.com, and gave interviews to visiting reporters from the Los Angles Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, German TV, and the Denver Post.
Selected out of more than 400 applications brought in by the Mars Society's call for volunteers, the first crew included for its full duration biologists Troy Wegman (of the Mayo clinic) and Dr. Steve McDaniel (of the Texas law firm Technology Litigators), University of Colorado geologist Jennifer Heldmann, and Boeing/Rocketdyne aerospace engineer Heather Chluda.
During its first week, the crew was commanded by Mars Society President Dr. Robert Zubrin, who was then replaced by Mars Society Mission Support Director Dr. Tony Muscatello, who led the station during its second week.
Project Manager Frank Schubert served as station engineer during its first week, to be replaced by geology professor Andrew de Wet of Franklin and Marshall University during the second week.
On Feb 21, crew changeover occurred. The new crew, which will be commanded by physicist Dr. Greg DeLory of the UC Berkeley Sciences Lab, includes physicist/engineer Donald Barker of NASA Johnson Space Center, space scientist Jon Rask of NASA Ames Research Center, Bay area independent biology consultant Fred Jansen, and French geologist Gilles Dawidowicz. Prof. De Wet will also remain with the crew for its first week, to be replaced by psychologist Dr. Jon Putnam during its second week.
In addition to continuing the types of investigations performed by the first crew, the second rotation, which will run through March 7, will conduct subsurface searches for water using electromagnetic sounding equipment. As underground water is the most favorable potential refuge for life on Mars, carrying out such searches for underground water will be an essential component of human exploration for the Red Planet.
Located in the desert northwest of Hanksville, Utah, the Mars Desert Research Station will continue operations through early May with a series of 2-week crew rotations. Facilities will be expanded with the establishment of a closed ecological life support water recycling system in early March, and other unique capabilities will also be added as the program progresses.
The station will cease research operations during the hot summer months, during which time the Mars Society's other facility, the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station, will go into operation on Canada's Devon Island.
The Mars Society's Research Stations are supported by private donations. In addition to numerous small donations by the Mars Society members, major donors to the program include the Greenleaf Corporation, the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union (UA), the International Sheetmetal Workers Union, the Musk Foundation, the Kirsch Foundation, the FINDS Foundation, the Flashline Corporation, Starchaser Industries, and the Discovery Channel.
The ongoing activities of the crew of the MDRS can be followed on the Mars Society website at www.marssociety.org. A complete report on the activities of the Mars Desert Research Station and the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station will be presented at the 5th International Mars Society Convention, which will take place at the University of Colorado, Boulder, August 8-11, 2002.
Mars Desert Research Station - Multimedia links
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Mars Sim Base Goes Operational In Utah Desert
Hanksville - Feb 8, 2002
The Mars Desert Research Station went operational February 7, 2002 with the first operational crew being led by Mars Society President Robert Zubrin from Feb 7 to Feb 14, after which the hab will be commanded by Mars Society Mission Support Director Tony Muscatello from Feb 14 to Feb 21.
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