Since I was a young child Mars held a special fascination for me. It was so close and yet so faraway. I have never doubted that it once had advanced life and still has remnants of that life now. I am a dedicated member of the Mars Society,Norcal Mars Society National Space Society, Planetary Society, And the SETI Institute. I am a supporter of Explore Mars, Inc. I'm a great admirer of Elon Musk and SpaceX. I have a strong feeling that Space X will send a human to Mars first.
We are 7 people living in the Mars Desert Research Station, (almost) operating as a manned Mars mission crew. We come from all over the world and enjoyed not only our high and down times in such small habitat. We share our cultures, our knowledge and our passion for the Red Planet.
This mission is about science and as such, scientists around the world support us. The overall program is ambitious, from geological morphology study to DNA analysis of microorganisms with unprecedented engineering projects and international outreach connection. The main idea behind the Mars 160 missionis to take the challenge of performing such a diverse program as it would be done on Mars.
Scientific research on the Mars 160 expedition is distributed program. The work carried out by the field crew is just the visible part a larger research team who identify the questions, design the experiments, supply the equipment, and advise the field team.
In 30 days, the field crew have performed 165 crew-hours of simulated EVAs, covering a large spectrum of objectives, from lichens sampling to landform investigations, geotechnical surveys and engineering maintenance. All EVAs are driven by the collaborative science program which focuses on the astrobiology aspect of Mars analogue environments – first in Utah and later on Devon Island during the second part of this mission planned for 2017. The two halves of the expedition allows us to compare similar microbial habitats and equivalent microbial communities in two different environments – the Arctic cold desert (FMARS) and the Utah hot desert (MDRS).
We are studying the Earth life form adapted to extreme conditions like temperature range, long term water deprivation, and intense ultraviolet bombardment. The most evident and easiest to find organisms are lichens. They are colonies of algae and fungi and have been found most often on rocks although few of them have been sampled from the soil and wooden structures.
We have searched for and found Hypolithic microorganisms on various sites. They are cyanobacteria or algae thriving in macroscopic colonies beneath or even inside transparent rocks. The experimentation starts on the field when statistical repartition is assessed. Yet, few of them are taken back to the station because most of the remaining process requires laboratory equipment that is still in transit between Earth and Mars.
Later on during this mission, halophiles – salt loving organism – will be searched for in gypsum crystals which have been found in high quantity on several places. Halophiles get stuck inside salt crystals when they formed during evaporite deposits. At MDRS the gypsum crystals are over hundred million years old, as are the living or fossilized halophiles we hope to find! Those at FMARS will be even older. We may also find modern halophiles lurking beneath salt crusts.
The link between all the biology science objectives is the environmental context including landforms, geological substrates and their history, and the local weather. Our crew has documented the various contexts with photographs, field drawings and written notes. The data are returned to the station for further analysis. We expect landscape processes in the Arctic to be very different to those here, so it is important to understand the various processes both here and there.
Lichens are currently identified by color reaction to various chemical contact, a process called spot test. Later on the samples will be processed under a microscope so that the spores of the lichens can be observed to characterize them. The few hypolith samples brought back are photo documented, the rest is statistical processing. We expect to repeat this process when we are in the Arctic.
While we wait for the shipped laboratory equipment to land on Mars, the science team looks forward to the much more sophisticated analyses that will be done. The expectations are high. The advanced geological and biological experiments that are prepared will yield results, contributing towards the future astrobiological exploration of Mars!
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