60 Day Report
This report submitted by Alexandre Mangeot, Crew Commander.
For these 60-day 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 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!
Claude-Michel Laroche – Crew Engineer
This first half of the Mars 160 mission is about the science. To me, as the crew engineer, I didn’t have to do a lot about the science. My role was all about making sure those doing most of the science had working facilities and in the best environment possible, to allow to do as much as possible within the eighty days period. My role is more of a background one.
The Hab is getting old, and is surrounded by a complex of new buildings. The Hab, which is around sixteen years old, still has some of the original systems. Making sure everything works right all the time is a challenge and an ever increasing one. This being said I think that the Mars Desert Research Station is still one of the best facilities in the world to simulate the first moment of humanity on Mars. It requires a lot of love but it is one of the best science extreme habitat simulation facility for science. Some of the systems that had required my attention in the last eight weeks were, the water heater and pumping systems, the new spacesuits, the air heater system, electricity distribution, health and fitness installations, and some structural inspection and installation.
I was also appointed as the principal operator for the “Plant Project”. With the help of Heater Hava as the project investigator, Daniel Zukowski and Dixon Dick as project support/engineers and Yusuke Murakami and Alexandre Mangeot as main crew members helper for the project, we had to establish a working system to evaluate the modification of crew behavior with a system of computers to monitor the plants, to evaluate crew proximity of the plants and also to monitor crew life and health signals. This half of the mission was focus on making sure all the systems were operational and to troubleshoot all the problems and issues we could face, to be ready for the Arctic.
In my personal honest opinion, this mission was a lot of hard work from the first days to the last one, with some exceptionally exhausting weeks for the plants project deployment. I am really proud of the accomplishment that every single one crew members realize with the time, support, communication limitations we had to face. The whole crew was united toward completing all the goals we were given by the research team and by ourselves. We still have a lot of work to do in the remaining two weeks of the mission, but I can already say that this first half of the mission is a great feat and will only make the Arctic half of the mission even harder to achieve the same level of quality. Have we done everything right and perfect? Are we the perfect crew that will live on Mars? Absolutely not, but that is the point of learning and getting to where human will actually live on Mars.
Annalea Beattie – Crew Journalist
The weather has turned and government has changed since the last time we wrote to you but we are on Mars and our world is very small. We could almost be anywhere.
So much about life is routine and our lives here are like that too. Time management is something we have had to learn. During the middle phase of our mission the daily briefing and evening debriefing became an important part of our day. These regular meetings gives us the opportunity to balance our work load efficiently, often amongst competing demands, so that we can work as part of a team. I’ve learnt to move my own research (which tests out how to improve the data through experiments with the value, tools and techniques of geological field drawing in sim), into second or third or fourth place, especially when hours of paper work are required. But I’ve still spent more hours drawing in the spacesuit than I could have ever imagined possible. And during this time I’ve also been on plenty of EVAs as the cross-trained hypolith generalist. My own research has developed because it is totally embedded in the science within this Mars-like analog environment. This is the best learning for me and a great opportunity to explore something I love.
And for me one other thing stands out clearly in the last month and this is something that makes our day sing along. The crew now know each other. We had a feeling it could be good for us when we all met but during the last month I think I really appreciate what each crew member brings to the mission. Part of this is that I notice how we have learnt to care and support one another while working together and part of it means respecting each others individual needs and boundaries. For me, our best times as a crew are when we eat a meal and relax together on a well deserved day off!
Anastasiya Stepanova – Health and safety officer
Starting this mission as crew journalist and I’m finishing it as health and safety officer and assistant of microbiologist in the science laboratory. The multitasking on Mars will be crucial and at MDRS we are doing it every day. The experience I have gained during these several months made me even more confident that humans can learn fast, react productively, work hard and cope with almost everything, under one condition – the big goal! The motivation, which will awake inner strength and help you achieve things, you would never think of. Mars 160 mission tests our goals. How badly do we want them? What are we ready to do for that? Where are our limits?
Mars 160 mission tested what other space organizations did not – putting together people, who never worked and trained before jointly; applying new way of communication with mission support; conducting microbiological research projects on hypoliths, lichens and gypsum; installing new Bio Regenerative Life Support System; using field drawing for the backing up of the science data; comparing the procedure of science sampling in spacesuits and without. All of these in Simulation!
From the moment of our awake until the nighttime, we learn every hour and every day at MDRS. Engineering, computer science, geology, microbiology, building, sampling, writing, English grammar, agriculture, drawing, healing, filming, cooking, cleaning, exercising, making origami, mutual understanding, inner working, being the best crew member! This precious experience is just the first step into long path of journey to Mars.
Yusuke Murakami – Executive officer
“What is sim for you?” Shannon asked us at the beginning of the mission. And she also said that “Everyone has a different definition of sim.”
I believe in the power of imagination. A lack of the imagination sometimes causes serious damage to the mission. Imagination is the vehicle to bring us further, and to the future. One’s imagination makes oneself as a human. And I believe, a person’s imagination arise from their experience. How to measure our imagination of sim? We already have same keen interest in “Mars” at the beginning of the mission. But not the same experiences. Till today, we have shared the same life together. Awake together, eat together, laugh together, at same home, here at MDRS. Day by day, I fully realize that we are adjusting the differences.
Is there a distinct borderline between the “daily life” and the “mission life”? This is my life inquiry and I trust there is “NO” border. The space mission always has goals. This means occasionally it is easy to be thrown into one way traffic, although our mission life is getting more and more interactive since we respect each other and live in harmony. Life is intricate and beautiful. We can prove it by means of our sim.
Alexandre Mangeot – Commander
Going to Mars is a childhood dream. This mission is a milestone for me to learn from myself if I really want to keep pursuing it. And to be honest, before the mission started, I had some doubts. But I decided to give it the best shot I could and if after this mission I think Mars is not for me I will choose to do something else…
If we go back three years ago for Mars 365 application I wrote that I believe that we should not fear the worst from a crew on a trip to Mars instead we should expect the best from them given what is at stake. Our crew is not meant to go to Mars, we can only hope that this mission will be part of the way that leads to a manned Mars mission someday. And just that was enough to bond the crew above all anticipated expectations. We faced challenging events and instead of tearing us apart it did the opposite. So by analogy I have to believe that it will be even more true for a crew astronauts on a Mars expedition. My fellow crew mates prove me right every single day and I am proud to be among them.
Still, this mission is challenging to me at every aspect of it. It started in the beginning of this year when I started my spacesuit project interface. Most of the skills required to accomplish the project I had to learn them, from how to program a website from scratch to how to connect all the electronic hardware and how to use them together. And quite naturally I had to face all the difficulties that lies into the development of a new product. I reached to point where every cells of my body were telling me to give up. With blind faith I pursued. And later on, my project drew some attention and I made promising contacts. Someday my hardware may be completely embedded into a spacesuit.
And everything in this mission works like that for me. There is something about this mission, some sort of aura. It drains a lot from you but it also gives back a lot of energy and joy. This boosts your motivation to excel yourself. I cannot wait to feel the aura from an actual Mars mission! Bottom line, yes I still want to go to Mars, even more than ever and despite of all the difficulties that I foresee that such a venture implies on the human aspect.
Well, after all this, what can I add?!
At the time I write these lines I am the only one to have read all the parts. What struck me the most is that we share naturally, in our own way, the same feelings and relationship with this mission. It seems that our bonds goes way deeper than we can individually testify.
Surpass yourself, push back your limits because reaching Mars demands and deserves it!