Mars Desert Research Station

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The Mars Society's Mars Desert Research Station

The Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) is the second of four planned simulated Mars surface exploration habitats (or Mars Analogue Research Stations) owned and operated by the Mars Society. Built in the western United States in the early 2000s, it is typically manned by small crews who visit the site for short periods of time to conduct scientific research. Besides a large building that serves as the center of activities, the complex includes a greenhouse, an observatory, and assorted open areas.

Background[edit]

The MDRS station is situated on the San Rafael Swell of southern Utah,[1] located 11.63 kilometres (7.23 mi) by road northwest of Hanksville, Utah.[2] It is the second such analogue research station to be built by the Mars Society, following in the foot steps of the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station or FMARS, which was deployed on the northern slope of Haughton Crater (at N 75° 25' 52.75" W 89° 49' 24.19")[3] on Devon Island in Canada's high Arctic in the summer of 2000.

The third station, the European Mars Analog Research Station or EuroMARS was founded and built in the early 2002. It was shipped to the UK in the mid 2000s in preparation for deployment to the selected research site (approximately N65° 46' 7.18" W16° 45' 30.50") which is located next to the Krafla Rift Volcano, about 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) north east of the village of Myvatn, Iceland.[4]

The fourth station, the Australia Mars Analog Research Station / MARS Oz is currently in the planning stages and it will be deployed to the selected research site (S 30° 18' 13.91" E 139° 26' 39.55") east of the Arkaroola Sanctury, which itself is roughly 521 kilometres (324 mi) north of Adelaide, South Australia.[5]

The Mars Society launched the Mars Analog Research Station (MARS) Project in order to develop key knowledge needed to prepare for the human exploration of Mars.[6] The project's goals are to develop field tactics based on environmental constraints (i.e., being required to work in spacesuits), to test habitat design features and tools, and to assess crew selection protocols. Although much warmer than Mars, the desert location was selected because of its Mars-like terrain and appearance.

From the moment they arrive at MDRS, crews enter a "living on Mars" simulation. Crew members must wear an analogue space suit simulator or a "sim suit" when completing tasks outside the Habitat (HAB) to simulate the protection they would need from the harsh Martian environment. Complete analogue space suit simulators include a helmet, jumpsuit, boots, gaithers, gloves, an air supply pack, Platypus water pack, and a radio. Hand held radios mounted on the suits' helmets (with externally mounted push to talk switches) are used to communicate with Habitat communication base (Hab-com) and with fellow analogue Mars surface explorers on the same EVA. For safety reasons, there is always one crew member in the HAB to act as Hab-Com in case anything goes wrong on the extra-vehicular activity (EVA). In the event that crew's vehicles break down or one of their members becomes injured in the field, being able to communicate with the HAB is crucial to protect the safety of the people partaking in the analogue Mars surface exploration simuation mission.

Destinations for EVAs can be chosen from an established waypoint database and traveled to either on foot or by ATV.

MDRS is owned and operated by The Mars Society, which selects the crews and handles most of the administrative tasks. The Mars Society is an international, non-profit organization, with chapters world wide, that is dedicated to convincing governments and the public of the benefits of Mars exploration. They accomplish this goal through various projects such as M.A.R.S., the Mars Analogue Pressurized Rover Competition, and the ARCHIMEDES Mars balloon mission.

Students interested in participating in the project receive a $500 travel stipend from the Spaceward Bound Program run out of NASA Ames Research Center.[7] The Spaceward Bound Program aims to train the next generation of space explorers by allowing students and teachers to participate in projects in extreme environments that can serve as simulations for the moon or Mars. By providing students and teachers the opportunity get involved in projects like MDRS, Spaceward Bound gives participants valuable first-hand scientific experience.

A Local Manager has been hired to take care of some of the maintenance and support services.

Research[edit]

Each crew establishes different scientific goals they hope to accomplish during their time at MDRS. The majority of the biological studies carried out involve extremophiles, or organisms that are capable of living in extreme environments. Bacteria and algae isolated from the surrounding desert are common subjects of study. These microorganisms have been studied for their DNA, diversity and the environments they live in. For example, in a study for methanogens researchers studied soil and vapour samples from five different desert environments in Utah, Idaho and California in the United States, and in Canada and Chile. Of these, five soil samples and three vapour samples from the vicinity of the MDRS were found to have signs of viable methanogens.[8][9]

A unique opportunity to combine geology and biology occurs when studying the endoliths found in rocks around the Hab. These species of bacteria are capable of living inside rocks and obtaining the energy they need by photosynthesizing using the light that penetrates the rocks. These extreme organisms are a popular subject of research at MDRS for both geologists and biologists.[10]

Other experiments include a study of the effect of EVAs on the heart rates and blood pressures of crew members, a human factors study that examine the correlation between cognitive ability and mood and a study on how much a space suit inhibits dexterity in comparison to regular street clothes.

Crews[edit]

Crew 73 members in Space Suit Simulators

MDRS crews traditionally consist of six people, who volunteer for one of the two week shifts or crew rotations available during the northern hemisphere's winter months. The field season ends in the northern spring since the summer heat of the desert is not conducive to a pleasant simulation. Crews pay all of their own transportation expenses to get to and from the designated assembly place from where they are transported to and from MDRS. As Volunteers, the Crews are not paid for their participation in a crew rotation at the station, but do get valuable experience. The crews usually consist of a mix of astronomers, physicists, biologists, geologists, engineers and the occasional journalist. Each crew member is usually assigned a role: Commander, Executive Officer (ExO), Health and Safety Officer (HSO), Crew Biologist, Crew Geologist or Chief Engineer.

The Crew Commander is ultimately responsible for the entire crew and operations. Their other responsibilities include maintaining a structured stream of information from the crew to Mission Support, establishing the agenda for each day (EVAs, maintenance, cooking, cleaning, etc.) and holding morning and evening meetings with all crew members. The Executive Officer's duty is to act as the second in command during the mission and to act as the Commander in the event that the Commander is incapacitated or unavailable. The Crew Geologist and the Crew Biologist work together to establish and accomplish the science goals of the mission. The Crew Geologist and Crew Biologist are in charge of developing the geology and biology goals for the mission, planning field EVAs and subsequent laboratory work to achieve those goals. Both the Crew Geologist and Crew Biologist work with the Remote Science Team (RST) during all stages of the mission. The Chief Engineer is responsible for maintaining all systems necessary for routine Hab operations. These include the power, water, ATV and GreenHab systems.[11]

As of February 2011, 99 crews have served rotations at MDRS over a period of ten years.[12]

The Research Station[edit]

MDRS
Crew 73 meets with writer Laurie Schmidt upstairs in the Hab.

The research station consists of three buildings, the Habitat, the Greenhab, the Musk Mars Desert Observatory and a remotely located Engineering Support Equipment Area.

Habitat[edit]

The analogue Mars Lander Habitat, commonly referred to as "The HAB", is a two story cylinder that measures about 10 metres (33 ft) in diameter and is a crew's combined home and place of work during a Mars surface exploration simulation. On the first floor there are two simulated airlocks, a shower and toilet, an EVA Preparation room for storage and maintenance of the simulated space suits and their associated equipment, and a combined science lab and engineering work area. The laboratory is shared between the Crew Geologist and the Crew Biologist and includes an autoclave, analytical balance, microscope, and a stock of chemicals and reagents for conducting biochemical tests. On the second floor are six very small private crew staterooms with bunks and a small reading desk, a common dining and entertainment area, a dedicated communications station and a galley or kitchen equipped with a gas stove, refrigerator, microwave, oven and a sink for meal preparations. Above the six crew staterooms is a Loft which contains the internal fresh water storage tank and equipment storage space. At the peak of the HAB's dome shaped roof is an access hatch to permit maintenance access to the satellite antenna and weather monitoring instruments.

Power is supplied by 12 rechargeable 24-volt batteries, located under the HAB which can provide electrical power for up to twelve hours. In addition to the batteries are two 5 kilowatts (6.7 hp) electricity generators named respectively "Casper" and "Wendy". Power from the generators is channeled through a Xantrex inverter, which sends the power either to the battery banks to recharge them or via a panel with 19 circuit breakers, to the HAB electrical distribution system.

Water is supplied to the HAB via a potable water tank located 100 feet (30 m) away in the Engineering Support Equipment Area. The tank is a plastic storage container with a 450-U.S.-gallon (1,700 L; 370 imp gal) capacity (8 days worth of water at 6 U.S. gallons (23 L; 5.0 imp gal) per person per day). Water must be manually carried or pumped via a hose from the potable water tank to the HAB's internal tank, which holds about 60 U.S. gallons (230 L; 50 imp gal). The water is then gravity fed into a pressure pump that distributes the fresh water to the rest of the HAB, including a hot water heater. The water used to flush toilet is greywater. This is waste water that has run down the sink and shower drains in the HAB and then through the greywater system out of the GreenHab. Water is rationed and monitored to minimize inefficiency and waste in the system.

The HAB is also equipped with an internet connection and several web cams so that the public can view the ongoing mission.[13]

GreenHab[edit]

The GreenHab is a greenhouse used for growing plants and greywater processing. This cylindrical building lies on its side and measures about 5 metres (16 ft) in both diameter and in length. The GreenHab is split into two halves: the Southside, used for grey water processing, and the North side, the greenhouse.

Grey water processing is essential to the efficiency of the HAB. Waste water flows from the sinks and shower drains into a straining tank, located outside the GreenHab, where grease and other sediments are strained out. Then it flows into another tank until it can be pumped into the GreenHab. In the GreenHab, the water is pumped through a filtering barrel, where aerobic bacteria break down contaminants in the water. The water is then split into five different tanks where denitrification occurs. During this process, nitrogen and other contaminants are removed using plants.

While in the GreenHab, it is important to always wear gloves, a face shield and a plastic lab bib due to the hazardous nature of the water being processed. It must be carefully monitored, meaning that the state of all the filtering barrel, collecting tanks and temperature must be checked three times a day.

The Northside is the greenhouse. It is also monitored to keep a humid, temperature controlled environment. The plants grown in the Greenhab are mostly carrots, radishes, tomatoes, and other vegetables. Some missions have also set up hydroponic gardens that grow plants without soil.

The GreenHab is one of two areas at MDRS where it is forbidden by the Safety Rules to wear and use sim suits, due the impossibility of adequate cleaning should they get contaminated by grey water.

To help maintain the integrity of the Mars surface simulation, on Crew 45 The Moon Society built the R. A. Heinlein Memorial Simulated Pressure Tunnel. This enables crews to move from the HAB to the GreenHab and back in a shirt-sleeves environment.

Musk Mars Desert Observatory[edit]

The Musk Mars Desert Observatory

The Musk Mars Desert Observatory houses a 28-centimetre (11 in) Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, donated by Celestron. The telescope is capable of being operated remotely, and is accessible to amateur and professional astronomers via the internet. The observatory's other sponsors include Le Sueur Manufacturing Inc., which provided the Astro-Pier on which the telescope is mounted; Software Bisque, which provided TheSky software; Vince Lanzetta of East Coast Observatories; Adirondack Video Astronomy; High Point Scientific; Technical Innovations; and the Lehigh Valley Amateur Astronomical Association.

The addition of the Musk Mars Desert Observatory provides research opportunities that were not available before, not only to the crew, but local teachers and students. It also encourages more public involvement as students and teachers are invited to interact with the crew and to use the observatory as a learning tool.

Engineering Area[edit]

Approximately 30 metres (98 ft) south of the HAB behind a 7 metres (23 ft) high berm is the Engineering Equipment Support Area. The Engineering support equipment was deliberately placed out of direct line of sight from the HAB during MDRS Crew 34 to contribute to the realism of the analogue simulation. The electrical generators, Casper and Wendy, are housed here in a wood shed and are filled daily with diesel fuel by the Chief Engineer. The high clay berm helps to shield the HAB from noise of the electrical generators. Co-located with the generators are the fuel storage tanks for the propane gas and diesel fuel. Underground conduits convey the electricity and propane gas to the HAB.

The Engineering Area is the second of two areas at MDRS where it is forbidden by the Safety Rules to wear and use sim suits when performing tasks related to ATV or Generator maintenance. This is due the near impossibility of getting out of the suit quickly should one accidentally spill fuel or oil on themselves and a fire occurs. All activities involving fuel and oil are performed "out of sim" for fire safety reasons.

Other[edit]

North of the GreenHAB is the underground septic tank and its outflow field. This area is a "No Drive - Foot Traffic Only Zone" as there is no record of where exactly the septic tank is buried. East of the GreenHab is an omnidirectional Jovian radio telescope.

The MDRS is the site of the University Rover Challenge,[14] the first of which was held on June 2, 2007.

The Flag of Mars appears on a couple of the buildings, as does the Flag of the United States. The Mars Society logo is also present in a few places.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Horton, Michael (January 18, 2009). "Mars Desert Research Station Simulates Mars Like Base". TechFragments.com. Retrieved February 16, 2010. 
  2. ^ Gregory, Hugh; Graham, Paul (March 2007). "wp20070331.xls". MDRS-Navigation-Waypoints-Data-Base. 
  3. ^ "FMARS Location". fmars.marssociety.org. Retrieved February 21, 2011. 
  4. ^ "EuroMars". european-mars-analog-research-station.co.tv/. Retrieved February 21, 2011. 
  5. ^ "OzMars". 8th AMEC Conf Proceedings Pages 17-18. Retrieved February 21, 2011. 
  6. ^ "Mars Desert Research Station: Project Background". MarsSociety.org. Retrieved February 16, 2010. 
  7. ^ Conrad, Linda (November 2007). "Spaceward Bound!". NASA.gov. Retrieved February 16, 2010. 
  8. ^ Moran, Mark; Miller, Joseph D; Kral, Tim; Scott, Dave (November 2005). "Desert methane: Implications for life detection on Mars". Icarus 178 (1): 277–280. Bibcode:2005Icar..178..277M. doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2005.06.008. 
  9. ^ Young, Kelly; Chandler, David L (December 7, 2005). "Extreme bugs back idea of life on Mars". New Scientist. 
  10. ^ "Research Summaries". MarsSociety.org. Retrieved February 16, 2010. 
  11. ^ "MDRS Mission Rules". mdrs.marssociety.org. Retrieved February 21, 2011. 
  12. ^ "MDRS 2011". MDRS2011.com. Retrieved February 21, 2011. 
  13. ^ "MDRS Web Cams". FreeMars.org. Retrieved February 21, 2011. 
  14. ^ "University Rover Challenge". urc.marssociety.org. Retrieved February 21, 2011. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 38°24′23.25″N 110°47′30.85″W / 38.4064583°N 110.7919028°W / 38.4064583; -110.7919028