Friday, December 2, 2016

60 Day Mission Report (Mars 160 Crew@MDRS

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60-Day Mission Report (Mars 160 Crew @ MDRS)
This report is submitted by Alexandre Mangeot, Crew Commander.
For these 60-day individual reports I asked my crew mates to write about this mission from their personal perspectives. I wanted us to share more than the pictures, the science and technology reports and food recipes. I wanted us to share our feelings as much as it is humanly possible with simple words!
So the crew wrote their parts independently during these few days and the result is just mind-blowing…

Anushree Srivastava – Crew Biologist
My journey of MDRS started off as a volunteer. In 2014, I joined the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) Mission Support as a CapCom and that’s how I first became part of this ambitious idea of human exploration of Mars. My job as a CapCom was extremely fulfilling to me as I thought in that way somehow I was assisting to make this idea of manned Mars mission come true in terms of making sure the smooth mission operations, and in turn, facilitating the valuable understanding extracted from the Mars simulation mission. While I was CapCom, I was encouraged to apply to join the Crew by several members of the Mission Support. At that time, I had no idea that my proposal for regular MDRS rotations will make me part of this special long-term Mars simulation mission which was being organised by The Mars Society for the very first time in its history. My joy knew no boundaries, but at the same time, it was a huge responsibility on my shoulders as a Crew Biologist of the Mars 160 mission considering the mission was founded on science operations than just isolation.
This is an ambitious and long-term simulated Mars mission and as a crew biologist, I am working on three principal projects which have significant astrobiological implications: mapping biodiversity of lichens, hypolith abundance and physical ecology, and halophiles in ancient evaporite. Astrobiology addresses the most profound question of humankind – Are we alone? Astrobiology explores the possibility of finding extinct or extant life elsewhere in the universe, as well as investigates the origin and evolution of life on Earth. So, one of the principal targets of our Mars 160 science goals is to explore the extreme niches of the two significant Mars analogs: Utah Desert and Canadian Arctic for 160 days, and studying the extremophile diversity. Personally, I am interested in finding the microbial life in ancient evaporite deposits of these Mars analogs. And our study during the Mars 160 mission will help us understand the potential of finding life in the similar environment on Mars.

Furthermore, this long-term simulation is very important in terms of understanding the human efficiency to conduct science operations on Mars. I perform the astrobiological research here at Mars Desert Research Station as “Mars-based” astronaut-scientist in cooperation with “Earth-based” experts based at NASA Ames Research Centre and Canadian Museum of Science, through asynchronous communication. During this simulation, we are also testing how this communication works between “Mars” and “Earth” based science team which is how it is supposed to be in the real Mars mission.
I had never been part of Mars simulation mission before unlike the other crew members of Mars 160 mission. So this mission is my first attempt to relish the adventure of simulated Mars exploration and performing science in the full-simulation suit. This mission has taught me immense in terms of science and habitation, but above all and for the first time, I learned that how much distance you travel to go to Mars, you have to travel as deep inside you. Through this mission, I learned that humanity’s endeavor of putting feet on Mars someday is actually much more than science, much more than habitability and colonization. I think it is also about forgetting yourself and making something very profound out of you which actually surprise you. I think it is a journey of discovering yourself as well, along with the journey to Mars. It is a very humbling experience. This is what this mission told me.

Jon Clarke – Crew Geologist
As a geologist I have learned much on the expedition. I have been able to build extensively on my previous studies of the sedimentary and landscape history of the MDRS field area. I have also been able to measure basic soil properties in support of the hypolith research to assist identification of the environmental parameters controlling their distribution.
The significance of this increase in scientific understanding has been that it has been acquired entirely while operating under analogue field conditions, while wearing simulated space suits, using the quadbikes, electric rover, and the Hab car for mobility, and with all the restrictions of limited communications over the radio in the field and in limited internet resources in the station. This has shown that it is possible to do useful science not only on singe EVAs as in the past, but continuously, as part of a multi-disciplinary science program, over several months, under.
Also instructive has been working in the larger context of mission support. While all crews at MDRS work within the mission support framework we, because of the extended mission, have learned more about the challenges involved in this process. The familiar questions of how to balance control and autonomy have frequently appeared and the lessons directly applicable to Mars missions where expectations of control by mission control will be modified by the reality of autonomy through imposed by time lags and communication bandwidth.
Many people have said to me “but what will you do while you are there?” The reality of station life is constant activity, much of it routine and labour intensive. Living and working here for nearly three months has shown the importance of efficient facility design and the desirability of automating as many routine operations as possible. These lessons can only be learned by building a station such as MDRS and then incorporating the lessons into new stations which can be then tested by future crews.
Another common expectation have encountered is that people living in close confines like us, will end up in a nasty mess of conflict and other interpersonal problems. The reality has been quite different. We have had few disagreements between us and I am looking forward to working with everyone in the second half of the mission. Life here is nothing like the clichés of bad science fiction or reality TV!

To read the full report, please click here.
Two Mars 160 crew members during an EVA near MDRS in Utah
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