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 have such great new neighbors here in the desert. This is the place to be for Mars-related research.
This month, there is a Martian-minded colony of international scientists, engineers and researchers working within 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) of our Mars 160 mission, based at the Mars Desert Research Station in the Utah desert.
As we travel out to science field work in our spacesuits, we pass the camps of the Mars Utah Rover Field Investigation Team (MURFI) from the United Kingdom (UK); a contingent from the German Aerospace Center, known by its German acronym, DLR; and the tents of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).
All of these teams are out in the field testing rovers and using instruments that might travel to Mars. It's thrilling to have such amazing work happening near us.
Like a bunch of microbes, together we are all searching for common survival strategies in this ancient Mars-like desert.
In the past few days, under the guidance of our principal investigator, biologist Shannon Rupert, the Mars 160 crew ran a series of science-operation trials both in and out of simulation. On one of the few days out of spacesuits, some of our crew visited the MURFI camp. This gave me the opportunity to chat to Mission Commander Mike Curtis-Rouse about the goals of the rover field trials.
Understanding how to run a mission is the key focus for Curtis-Rouse and his team, both on and off the field.
Mike says the purpose of the UK mission is to run field trials that develop expertise in mission control. This basically gives the Mission Control scientists in the United Kingdom the experience of planning and controlling planetary robotic missions, using rovers to test instruments in the Utah desert as the perfect analogue environment for Mars.
He and his crew are focused on how to work with Mission Control in the UK to deploy a robot platform with a variety of sensors for science and technical characterization, including instrumentation for future missions such as the European-led ExoMars rover where possible.
This means a remote centralized mission control in the UK directs scientists and engineers on site to develop UK Field Trial Standard Operating Procedures for analogue field trials. This builds supportive infrastructure for future UK trials and increases the experience for UK researchers for future UK/ESA/international planetary missions.
Mike claims he's a generalist. He has a background in robotics and particle physics, and his experience in planning and execution of military missions within the British Army Reserve ensures that he can get people working together.
In distinct and sometimes difficult and extreme environments, this has its challenges.
Mission operations in space and on satellites are quite different from planetary field science. To run rover trials, it's essential that people adapt to new situations and communicate well on and off the field. For instance, some members of Mike's expert team have never been in the field before. Several of his crew members have never been in the desert, and some have never been in a tent or a sleeping bag!