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Archive: 04 Dec 2016

Mars 160 History – December 4th

December 4, 2016 | Permalink

The Story Behind the Mars 160 Mission

Shannon M. Rupert, Principal Investigator and Backup Crew Biologist


Like most good stories, let’s start ours at the beginning.  In October 2013, the Mars Society sent out a call for applicants for a year-long Mars simulation to be conducted at FMARS, the sister station of MDRS located on Devon Island in the high Arctic.  The mission was scheduled to begin in the summer of 2014, and 62 semi-finalists were selected from over 200 qualified applicants.  While this was happening, a core planning team was working towards mission goals for the expedition. Unfortunately funding efforts were unsuccessful and the mission was delayed a year. In the fall of 2014, twenty-one finalists came to MDRS for training and evaluation during a regular two-week rotation.  These teams comprised Crews 142, 143 and 144.  All three crews were exemplary but one, Crew 143, stood out as a crew that worked collaboratively together.  Individually they were strong and competent people, but together they were better than the sum of their own skills (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Crew 143 in 2014. Left to right: Claude-Michel, Paul S., Anastasiya, Paul Knightly, Alexandre and Ian Silversides.

Funding efforts continued but required costs were not secured and time passed.  The MARS 365 mission was in limbo.  Meanwhile life went on for the finalists.   Another summer came and went and in the fall of 2015, I hatched a plan to do a twin study as a precursor mission having the same crew do the same research at both of our field stations.  I was inspired by the interest generated by the Kelly brothers’ twin NASA study.   I’ll never forget what Robert said after I pitched it to him: “Your idea has merit”.  And we were off.

Like I said, the proposed crew had moved on while waiting.  We were really lucky in that 3 of the original crew: Alexandre, Anastasiya, and Paul Sokoloff were excited and ready to go on this new mission.  Claude-Michel and Paul Knightly, also from Crew 143, could no longer commit to a 6-month mission.   So through many twists and turns we got Claude-Michel back for the MDRS half of the mission, Paul Knightly for the FMARS portion, but in the meantime lost Paul Sokoloff as he was not able to get time off from his amazing job at the Canada Museum of Nature.  More twists and turns and Paul joined the Earth-based Science Team, I joined the crew, and Yusuke, from Crew 144, signed on as well (Figure 2).  Whew!  Are you keeping up?  So now we have 6 crewmembers, four from Crew 142 and one from 143, and one from…well, a lot of crews.  But two were only really one (Claude-Michel and Paul Knightly), so we needed a few more.

Figure 2. Yusuke from Crew 144 meets Crew 143 in Fall 2014.

We were very lucky when Jon Clarke agreed to join us, and then we found Aunshree, newly graduated astrobiologist and an exceptional MDRS CapCOM, and I was demoted to backup crew status as I felt I would be more of an asset supporting the crew during the mission from outside the simulation.  Jon suggested Annalea join us, we all agreed, so there you have it—a crew of 9.   The Earth-based team consisted of Robert Zubrin, Kathy Bywaters, Chris Mckay and Paul Sokoloff.

One of my main requirements for the crew is that they each had links to at least part of the crew before the mission.  I wanted there to be no strangers in this group.  Alexandre, Anastasiya, Claude-Michel, Paul Sokoloff, and Paul Knightly had already been crewmates.  They had met Yusuke during the changeover from Crew 143 to 144.  I had at least met all of them.  My connection to Jon goes way back to Expedition One (Figure 3) and he and I have worked with Chris many times over the years.  Kathy and Chris work together and Kathy was my lab assistant, way back in the day before she became a NASA scientist.  I was the one who pushed her to go to MDRS as part of Crew 42.  Anushree I knew from COMMS, Jon knew Annalea from Mars Society Australia and all three of them were on Spaceward Bound India in 2016.  Still with me?  I probably should have diagrammed all of that.

Figure 3. Jon and Shannon as part of Expedition One in 2003.  Yes, we are the two acting badly in this photo and yes, both of us still have those exact sweaters at MDRS today.


Figure 4. Jon, Annalea and Anushree together on Spaceward Bound India in 2016.


Suffice it to say that we all had connections.  In addition, we held weekly planning meeting for a year prior to the mission, then met with each other and our Earth-based science experts in person, before coming to MDRS.   We arrived at MDRS from two directions—half of us after science meetings at NASA Ames and half of us after meeting with Robert in Denver. (Figures 5 and 6)

Figure 5.  The crew in Denver with Heather Hava, one of our research collaborators.


Figure 6.  The crew at NASA Ames with Paul Sokoloff and Kathy Bywaters, two of our Earth-based science team.

So when we finally began our actual mission, we may not have known everything about each other, but we did know each other in a way that made the challenge of getting this mission underway much easier than if we had come together as strangers.  We had to wait a few days for Anushree’s arrival from India, but we were finally underway.  Now the half of the Mars 160 is almost complete. We will be spending the next six months refining our mission goals, tightening the science, and organizing the logistics for the arctic half of the mission.  Weekly telecoms again, with Jon and Annalea barely waiting up in Australia and Anastasiya ready for bed in Russia. Maybe towards the end of the mission, the crew will let me finish the history of our 160-day simulation.  Until then, thanks for listening.

Sol Summary – December 4th

December 4, 2016 | Permalink

Sol #72

Person filling out report: Shannon Rupert, Mars 160 Backup Crew
Biologist, currently stationed on the tiny Mars Outpost near MDRS

Summary Title: Only the lonely…

Mission Status: The real crew is currently enjoying a well-deserved
day of rest.  For the first time during this mission, this also means
a day off from reportage.  I will be your solo crewmember, albeit a
Marsnaut who has not actually flown on this Mission, for COMMS this

Sol Activity Summary:  I began my day at 6 am answering emails and
working on crew documents for the upcoming field season, then at 11:50
am conducted a short EVA by rover (Deimos) to the site of our first
field trial.  I was almost there when I met a couple from Ohio.  We
had a nice talk, mostly about MDRS, and I mentioned I had a telecon at
1 pm.  They told me it was 12:45 pm.  So I did not get a chance to do
the fieldwork as apparently I read the clock wrong and thought I had
an extra hour but I didn’t. Off I went in a hurry back to my Mars
Outpost, jumped in the PEV and off I went to my meeting of the MDRS
Management Team.  A telephone line is currently in the works, but
until then I need to go to my “office” up near the main highway in
order to conduct calls.  The meeting was productive and two hours
later I was back home.  My plan now is to spend the rest of the night
writing a single report, to be submitted tonight during COMMS, about
the history of the Mars 160 mission.  To answer the question I was
asked today, “No I do not have a weekly day off”.   My work is my
life, and vice versa.

Reports Submitted to CapCom:

1.   Sol Summary- Shannon

2.   Mars 160 History Report with photos– Shannon

MDRS lessons:  Words of wisdom from Jack, Mars dog

Never ride when you can run.

Plans for tomorrow:  I personally am going to Bicknell to pick up the
HabCar if the repairs are complete.  Not sure about those slackers
across the way.

Crew Physical Status: A little overweight or a couple inches too
short, not sure which.

Weather: Really nice, sunny and calm, although it is clearly winter
now in the temperature department.  I am wearing my down jacket most
days now.

Anomalies: This report is an anomaly.