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.
Website: www.marsmission173.com Facebook: @marsmission173 www.facebook.com/marsmission173 Twitter: @MarsCrew173 www.twitter.com/MarsCrew173 Team PRIMA is made up of highly qualified scientists, engineers, artists and leadership experts from all over the world. We all first met during the International Space University (ISU)’s Space Studies Program. The crew was successful in undertaking a wide range of research projects and outreach activities at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) during their mission there, detailed below. One of the keys to the smooth running of the mission and projects were great group dynamics, and the multicultural atmosphere the crew nurtured. Amongst other things, we regularly organized “culture nights”, in ISU’s spirit, during which the different international traditions and cuisines of the crew members were presented. Another thing, which bonded the whole crew, was our passion for reaching out to the public and inspiring others to pursue their dreams, just like the crew is doing. They believe this mission alone helped raise the awareness about the importance of the space sector in all of the crew members’ countries.
Research Conducted at MDRS
3D printing of bricks through In Situ Resource Utilization
The aim of this project was to develop and test 3d printed blocks, which can be used to build multifunctional buildings on Mars. The shape of the blocks was optimized to withstand different types of heavy loads, contain water (for daily use by astronauts) and to provide extra-radiation shielding for the astronauts. Furthermore, the idea was to use in situ resources to make the blocks, therefore minimizing the amount of material that would need to be transported to Mars.
The first week at MDRS, we encountered several issues with the 3D printer present here (including the cold temperatures at night for example), which didn’t allow us to print bricks but we managed to print 5 bricks over the last few days. Every brick took 17h on average to print. The outer shell of the brick was printed using PLA filament (plastic). For future studies, we suggest laser sintering technology to simulate 3D printing using Martian soil. The printed blocks are, however, a great success as the interlocking system was fully functional. With the crew geologist Roy Naor we evaluated the different types of soil that can be used within the brick to strengthen it. Filling the blocks with appropriate soil was also successful and the process was fairly easy (less than 1min per block). We then built a small structure at MDRS during an EVA, in order to prepare for the next iteration of the proof of concept.
GreenHab related projects
The work in the GreenHab during this has mission comprised of three main experiments:
Temperature The temperature fluctuation was measured across the day, from a range of locations: inside the GreenHab, inside on the ground floor of the main Hab, outside, and, inside the grow tent (which was initially located within the GreenHab).
Due to the extremely high temperatures in the growth tent (50◦C ~120◦F), the grow tent was moved to the lower level of the main Hab. With the grow tent inside the main Hab, its temperature hardly fluctuated at all. With ~65% humidity, it now represents an ideal seed germination area. The GreenHab still gets quite hot during the day, getting to ~40◦C (~105◦F), but with no wind and regular watering, the plants thrive. Similarly, with a working heater, the night- time temperatures now only get as low as ~17◦C (~63◦F), which is a perfectly adequate temperature to keep edible plants happy.
Growth This involved two similar experiments designed by universities in the Czech Republic, and brought by the crew commander, Michaela Musilova. The first was a corn experiment, designed by researchers at the Masaryk University, to be used as a base line for a future experiment testing the effects of heavy metals on the growth of corn. The experiment at the MDRS involved measuring the height of corn seedlings each day as well as recording the number of leaves each plant had.
The second experiment saw six different crops sown in pots with seed densities ranging from 1 to 12 seeds per 4 cm2. Some seedlings have already sprouted but it is still too early to gather meaningful results. This experiment is to be followed up by researchers at Mendel University.
Both projects are to be continued by future crews at MDRS – we will leave them appropriate instructions for this. Hopefully, in this way, we will be able to engage multiple crews in this international project.
Soil This experiment was borne of the need for more soil to grow plants in. Samples of soil were collected from geological locations in the surroundings of MDRS. These samples were tested for their pH, as well as salinity. With kitchen and garden scraps forming compost, this could improve the regolith to the point it could be used to grow more crops in the future. Hopefully, this could reduce dependence on outside sources to bring in more potting mix, and more fully recreate a Martian simulation. Unfortunately, the instruments to measure pH and salinity at the MDRS were insufficient for this, and thus this experiment warrants further investigation.
Chemical and isotopic fingerprints of MDRS carbonates
The potential of extraterrestrial life on Mars is well connected to the history, and distribution of water and carbon on the planet. Carbonate minerals are seen as powerful tools with which to explore these fundamental relationships, as they are intimately tied to both the water and the inorganic carbon cycle. The carbonate analysis work at MDRS concentrated on locating and sampling carbonate minerals in the topsoil and exhumed formations in the Martian-like environment. After an initial study of the geology of the area, carbonates were sampled and tested on site, using HCl 5% to test for a reaction of the rocks with the acid. The verified assemblages were then brought back to MDRS for further testing. The sampling was performed in a very rigorous way, documented meticulously, while keeping the work analogous to what extraterrestrial field work would be like one day.
The samples will be sent for analysis of the carbonates’ chemical and isotopic fingerprint at the Weizmann Institute of Science (Israel) (including crystal separation, mineral/chemical identification (XRD, EDS, CL), textural analysis (SEM, micro-CT), isotopic analysis (SIMS)). The results will be added to their datasets with the intention of publishing them in academic journals.
The aim of this project was to capture the public’s interest in Mars, MDRS and space: + By telling the real-time human story of our mission pre-, during- and post-mission, + To inspire the younger generation to pursue STEAM education and realize that everyone can play a part in the exploration of space + To raise awareness of the importance of analog missions, specifically MDRS and the opportunity for non-Space agency individuals to play their part in Human Space Exploration.
We believe that we accomplished these aims: together we documented our entire experience here at MDRS using audio, video, time-lapse, 360 cameras and photography. We began by making videos pre-mission to reflect the time and effort in preparation for our mission. During mission, we captured every EVA in photography and video and conducted time lapse videos of our experiments, and daily life during our mission. We will continue to record our experience post-mission to capture further reflections about our experience at MDRS. During our mission, we shared a summary of our daily activities on social media and on blogposts in our native countries using this content. We also created short 90 second tutorial videos for school children to inspire them to consider careers in STEM, especially in the space industry, to be posted to our YouTube channel post-mission. We also worked with a number of companies, research institutions and journalists/media organizations around the world. Awareness of Mars and MDRS has most definitely been achieved, and we all return home to requests for further interviews and requests from schools to speak about our experience here.
Israeli outreach & educational projects
One of our outreach projects involved a challenge for high school students in Israel to design a set of small experiments for the team to conduct under simulation. They were: 1) Detecting variances in rock type near MDRS (involving sampling and examining the geological characteristics of each of the formations present here); 2) Testing the strength of the 3D printed bricks as a function of the different rock material they will be filled with (thus testing the variance in their strength properties ); and testing the effect of repetitive EVAs on the time it takes the crew to prepare for it (timing and documenting the process of putting EVA equipment on). All crew members took part in this research lead by Roy Naor. The projects yielded interesting results. For instance, there was a great improvement in the EVA preparation time (decreasing from 30 minutes to 15 minutes throughout the mission). This projects already got a lot of media coverage and the results be published in the Israeli media after the mission.
“Mission to Mars” competition and research project
Michaela Musilova organized a competition for high school and university students in Slovakia called Mission to Mars (Misia Mars), together with Slovenske Elektrarne. The aim of the competition was to motivate young people to design an experiment worthy of being taken and performed on Mars, whether real or simulated at MDRS. Students from all over Slovakia participated in the competition in 2016. The winning experiment has been brought to MDRS with Crew 173 (Figure 5). It is focused on enhancing the speed and yield of spinach growth under simulated Martian conditions. Michaela communicated regularly with her students in Slovakia, who remotely advised her on how to perform it. The experiment was very successful, as the spinach grew much faster than the spinach grown in the GreenHab. It also yielded enough leaves to treat the crew to a mini spinach salad on their last evening at MDRS. All the follow-up analyses will be performed in the students’ school in Detva, Slovakia. As per the other outreach activities, this project attracted a lot of attention from the media and was followed by many schools throughout Slovakia.
“Space food” or food for extreme conditions
A practical way of eating is the key to long-term expeditions in extreme conditions on Earth and in future long-duration missions in space. Food will have to be compact (for easy transportation), full of the most important nutrients (for maintaining good crew health and performance), but also diverse for all the different human senses. Hence, a project focusing on food for extreme conditions (nicknamed “space food”) has been prepared by the Slovak Organization for Space Activities (SOSA) and several Slovak research institutes and companies. The aim of the work at MDRS was to monitor the changes in the quality of the space food products and their nutritional content, rather than to test the products on the crew. In particular, the effects of the different extreme conditions (e.g. varying temperatures) on the food were studied for health and safety reasons. The project went very well and most of the products managed to survive the simulated Martian conditions. Further analyses will be performed at the Slovak institutes upon the return of the products to Slovakia, with the aim of publishing the data in academic publications. Future plans include using the data in the food industry, and preparing products for athletes and even the military, even one day for the space sector.
For further information about the Mars Society, please visit our website at www.marssociety.org.
A New Test for Life on Other Planets: On an otherworldly landscape in Mono Lake, California, scientists have tested a new method for potentially detecting chemical signatures of life on another planet.
AND SHOULD COLONISTS ON MARS BE ALLOWED TO EAT EACH OTHER?
ON JULY 21, 1969, when the Apollo 11 crew was due to depart the lunar surface after a 22-hour visit, two speeches were placed on President Richard Nixon’s desk. “Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace,” read the contingency speech. Would Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong live out the rest of their days staring at the blue glow of Earth from 250,000 miles away?
We’ve lost only 18 people in space—including 14 NASA astronauts—since humankind first took to strapping ourselves to rockets. That’s relatively low, considering our history of blasting folks into space without quite knowing what would happen. When there have been fatalities, the entire crew has died, leaving no one left to rescue. But as we move closer to a human mission to Mars, there’s a higher likelihood that individuals will die—whether that's on the way, while living in harsh environments, or some other reason. And any problems that arise on Mars—technical issues or lack of food, for example—could leave an entire crew or colony stranded and fending for themselves.
No settlement plans are being discussed at NASA (leave those to pie-in-the-sky private groups like Mars One for now), but a crewed mission has been on the docket for some time, and could touch down as early as the 2040s. NASA's "Journey to Mars" quotes an estimated three-year round-trip, leaving plenty of time for any number of things to go wrong.
"The real interesting question is, what happens on a mission to Mars or on the lunar space station if there were [a death]," says Emory University bioethicist Paul Wolpe. "What happens when it may be months or years before a body can get back to Earth—or where it's impractical to bring the body back at all?"
Paramount Studios/Movie Clips via YouTube
Today’s astronauts travel to space by way of the Russian Soyuz, then spend a few months on the International Space Station. Because astronauts are in impeccable health at the time of launch, a death in the ISS crew would likely result from an accident during a spacewalk.
"In the worst case scenario, something happens during a spacewalk,” says Chris Hadfield, Canadian astronaut and former commander of the ISS. “You could suddenly be struck by a micro-meteorite, and there's nothing you can do about that. It could puncture a hole in your suit, and within a few seconds you're incapacitated."
This hypothetical astronaut would only have about 15 seconds before they lost consciousness. Before they froze, they would most likely die from asphyxiation or decompression. 10 seconds of exposure to the vacuum of space would force the water in their skin and blood to vaporize, while their body expanded outward like a balloon being filled with air. Their lungs would collapse, and after 30 seconds they would be paralyzed—if they weren’t already dead by this point.
The likelihood of death on the ISS is low, and it’s never happened before. But what would surviving astronauts do if it did?
PREPARE FOR THE WORST
ISS and shuttle astronaut Terry Virts served two expeditions on the space station and one mission on the space shuttle. In total he’s clocked 213 days in space. But the astronaut says he’s never been trained to handle a dead body in space. “I did quite a bit of medical training to save people, but not for this.”
NASA's official statement to Popular Science on the subject left a lot to be desired:
"NASA does not prepare contingency plans for all remote risks. NASA’s response to any unplanned on-orbit situation will be determined in a real time collaborative process between the Flight Operations Directorate, Human Health and Performance Directorate, NASA leadership, and our International Partners."
“In my 16 years as an astronaut I don’t remember talking with another astronaut about the possibility of dying,” Virts says. “We all understand it’s a possibility, but the elephant in the room was just not discussed.”
Though they don't like talking about it, NASA astronauts do prepare for death of a crewmate.
But NASA’s out-of-sight-out-of-mind policy on death may not be the norm. Commander Hadfield tells Popular Science that all international partners who train for missions to the ISS (including JAXA and ESA) do in fact prepare for the death of a crewmember.
"We have these things called 'contingency simulations' where we discuss what to do with the body,” he says.
Hadfield discusses these 'death simulations’ in his book An Astronauts Guide to Life. He sets the scene—“Mission control: 'we’ve just received word from the Station: Chris is dead.' Immediately, people start working the problem. Okay, what are we going to do with his corpse? There are no body bags on Station, so should we shove it in a spacesuit and stick it in a locker? But what about the smell? Should we send it back to Earth on a resupply ship and let it burn up with the rest of the garbage on re-entry? Jettison it during a spacewalk and let it float away into space?"
As Hadfield points out, a corpse in space presents some major logistical problems. The fact that a dead body is a biohazard is definitely the biggest concern, and finding the space to store it in is a close second.
Since NASA lacks a protocol for sudden death on the ISS, the station’s commander would probably decide on how to handle the body. "If someone died while on an EVA I would bring them inside the airlock first," Hadfield says. "I would probably keep them inside their pressurized suit; bodies actually decompose faster in a spacesuit, and we don't want the smell of rotting meat or off gassing, it's not sanitary. So we would keep them in their suit and store it somewhere cold on the station."
If submarines lose a crew member and can’t make it to land right away, they store bodies near the torpedoes—where it's cold, and separate from the living quarters. The crew of the ISS already stores trash in the coldest spot on the station; it keeps the bacteria away from them and makes smell less of an issue. "I would probably store them in there until a ship was going home, where they would take the third seat on the Soyuz,” Hadfield says. They could also store a body in one of the airlocks.
NASA may not have specific contingency plans for a sudden death, but the agency is working on it; in 2005 they commissioned a study from Swedish eco-burial company Promessa. The study resulted in a yet-to-be-tested design called "The Body Back." The creepy-sounding system uses a technique called promession, which essentially freeze-dries a body. Instead of producing the ash of a traditional cremation, it would turn a frozen corpse into a million little pieces of icy flesh.
During the study, Promessa creators Susanne Wiigh-Masak and Peter Masak collaborated with design students to think about what this process might look like while en route to Mars. On Earth, the promession process would use liquid nitrogen to freeze the body, but in space a robotic arm would suspend the body outside of the spaceship enclosed in a bag. The body would stay outside in the freezing void for an hour until it became brittle, then the arm would vibrate, fracturing the body into ash-like remains. This process could theoretically turn a 200-pound astronaut into a suitcase-sized 50-pound lump, which you could store on a spacecraft for years.
The "Body Back" could provide astronauts frosty funerals.
If freeze-dried cremation isn't an option, you can always "jettison” the body out on a forever path into the void. While the UN has regulations about littering in space, the rules may not apply to human corpses. "Currently, there are no specific guidelines in planetary protection policy, at either NASA or the international level, that would address 'burial' of a deceased astronaut by release into space," says Catherine Conley at NASA's Office of Planetary Protection.
But the laws of physics might trump the laws of humankind on this one. Unless we strapped a mini rocket to the deceased, they would end up following the trajectory of the spacecraft from which they were ejected. As the years went on and the bodies accumulated, that would make for a morbid trip to and from Mars.
MARTIAN BURIAL RITUALS
But the risks of dying along the way are nothing compared to the inevitability of dying once you get there. In promoting his own future space settlement plans, SpaceX's Elon Musk has openly cautioned that, "If you want to go to Mars, prepare to die.” Which begs the question: if someone dies on the Red Planet, where do you put them?
If someone were to perish on the spaceship en route to Mars (or beyond), cold storage or a round of promession could be a fine solution. But there isn’t a morgue on the surface of Mars, and spaceships are usually low on extra space.
So what would Martian explorers do with a body? "I would expect that if a crew member died while on Mars, we would bury them there rather than bring the body all the way home,” Hadfield says.
That makes sense because of the long journey back, but it poses some potential contamination problems. Even the rovers exploring Mars are required by law not to bring Earth microbes to their dusty new planet. Spacecraft are repeatedly cleaned and sanitized before launch to help protect potentially habitable locales from being overtaken by intrepid Earthly microbes. But the bugs on a rover are nothing compared to the bacteria that would hitch a ride on a dead body.
This makes the issue of planetary protection even more nuanced, but a Martian graveyard might not be so far-fetched. "Regarding the disposal of organic material (including bodies) on Mars,” NASA’s Conley says, “we impose no restrictions so long as all Earth microbes have been killed—so cremation would be necessary. Though planetary protection does require documentation of disposal, to ensure that future missions are not surprised."
But not everyone who dies in space will be treated like inconvenient cargo. Some of those corpses will actually save lives.
WORST CASE SCENARIO
Space may be the final frontier, but it wasn't always that way. Humans have spent millennia traversing difficult landscapes and putting themselves in bizarre and dangerous situations in the name of discovery. Thousands of lives have been lost in this pursuit, and on occasion the deceased have actually saved the lives of their comrades. Not through acts of deadly heroism, mind you, but through acts of cannibalism.
20th Century Fox
If you were stuck on Mars, your fallen comrades might start to look pretty appetizing
Don’t think for a second that this couldn’t happen in space. In the book The Martian, author Andy Weir wrote in a scene (spoiler) in which the Ares crew decides to go back to Mars to save a stranded Mark Watney. Johansen, the Ares systems operator and smallest crew-member (requiring the least amount of calories) on the mission tells her father that the crew has a last-ditch plan to make it to Mars if NASA won’t send them supplies for the trip. “Everyone would die but me, they would all take pills and die. They’ll do it right away so they don’t have to use up any food,” she explains. “So how would you survive?” her father asks. “The supplies wouldn’t be the only source of food,” she says.
While extreme, the crew’s plan to commit suicide so one member could save Watney is not totally unheard of. "That's a time-honored tradition," says bioethicist Paul Wolpe. "People have committed suicide to save others, and in fact religiously that's totally acceptable. We can't draw straws to see who we're going to kill to eat, but there are many times when we’ve considered people heroes who jump on the grenade to save their buddies."
Wolpe says the school of thought on cannibalism for survival is split. "There are two kinds of approaches to it. One says even though we owe the body an enormous amount of respect, life is primary, and if the only way one could possibly survive would be to eat a body, it's acceptable but not desirable."
Mars boasts a landscape so barren and dead, it would put the frozen mountains that drove the famous Donner party to cannibalism to shame. If anything interrupted the mission’s food supply, they’d quickly run out of alternatives.
But no space agency has an official policy on Martian cannibalism—yet.
A JOURNEY INTO THE VOID
Humans have only been traveling to space for a short time relative to our existence, but we’ve been pushing the boundaries of exploration for thousands of years—and we will no doubt continue to do so despite the risks. Every astronaut or space tourist wishing to embark on a journey to Mars will ultimately be forced to grapple with the reality of deaths both sudden and slow.
NASA may never have officially published a contingency plan for the Apollo moonwalkers, but they were prepared to lose the crew. In his biography, Nixon speechwriter William Safire recalled the tenuous Apollo 11 liftoff. “We knew disaster would not come in the form of a sudden explosion,” he wrote. “It would mean the men would be stranded on the moon in communication with Mission Control as they slowly starved to death, or deliberately ‘closed down communication,’—the euphemism for suicide.”
In fact, NASA had planned to shut down communication with the stranded astronauts and issue them a formal “burial at sea.” But even given that morbid hypothetical turn of events, everyone knew they would keep going to the moon. “Others will follow, and surely find their way home,” Nixon’s back-up speech read. “Man's search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.”
As we enter an age of space exploration sure to be filled with rocket launches and crewed missions, the thought of death looms over every crew-member and decision maker.
Astronaut Terry Virts may never have casually chatted about dying over coffee with his friends, but he knew what was at stake when he launched into space. "I believe that it is worth it, and that any great endeavor will involve risk,” he says. “We consciously accept the unavoidable hazards that we face.”
Like most explorers, shuttle astronaut Mike Massimino is quick to say that the risk is worthwhile. “It's about increasing our understanding,” he tells PopSci. “I think it's worth the risk we take. Exploration has always taken lives and I'm sure it always will."
The realistic options for a deceased crewmember—cannibalism, cold storage in the trash room, being freeze-dried and shaken into a million frozen flakes—lack the dignity we associate with the majestic endeavor of spaceflight. But Wolpe doesn't think humankind will have a hard time adjusting to the harsh realities of posthumous treatment in space. We already accept that Earthbound explorers may suffer indignities if they die in the field. Wolpe sees Mount Everest as a perfect Earthly analogue for the future Mars missions: when people die, their bodies just stay there. Forever.
We're forever chasing that next giant leap
Every year around 800 people attempt to reach the summit of the mountain. Every year, some of those people die. And then another 800 people try the next year. These people want to be first, to be the best, to explore something marvelous and rare. And with this determination comes the risk of paying the ultimate price.
"If you climb Everest, you know that if you die you're being left there," says Wolpe. There’s no fancy method of cremation on Everest, no respectfully somber place to stow a body, no way to reasonably pick up a corpse for burial back home. Over 200 bodies lay across the mountain, some of them still visible on days when snow cover is light. Everyone who climbs past them is reminded that they’re risking their lives—and their chance at a proper burial—for a chance at reaching the summit. "You just accept that,” Wolpe says. “That's part of climbing Everest.”