Mars 160 History – December 4th
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).
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.
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.
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)
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.