MDRS Crew 179 continued an ongoing partnership between the Mars Society and the Wilderness Medical Society, two organizations dedicated to educating professionals and the lay public about research, operations, and life in austere environments. The partnership has been a natural one since the beginning, and Crew 179 represents the third time that the WMS has sent personnel to MDRS.
Crew 179 was composed of 9 medical professionals, all with experience in wilderness medicine, aerospace medicine, or both. Five members of the crew hailed from Commonwealth countries (Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) while four came from the US. All were very excited about this opportunity and felt privileged to spend a week at MDRS.
Our goal was to study aerospace medicine and simulate medical emergencies that might occur during long duration spaceflight or on a Mars mission. To do this, we used didactic sessions, including lectures of relevant topics, asynchronous videos, and even participated in a current research study on just-in-time training for medical procedures in space. We covered a very diverse range of topics, and also discussed extensively the differences between terrestrial medicine, long duration spaceflight, and a Mars mission.
For those who have been following our daily reports, one disaster seemed to follow another on our EVAs. However, this was the intention of the group as we sought to simulate how a real crew, whose primary goal is to carry out the scientific and operational objectives of their Mars mission, might react to unanticipated medical and operational crises. The problems that befell crew members were diverse and tailored to the Martian environment. Crew members suffered from hypothermia, decompression sickness, barotrauma, renal colic, orthopedic injuries, and environmental and toxicologic emergencies. No one left unscathed from virtual Mars conditions. Each brought unique challenges, many of which were not anticipated by the scenario planners, including communication drop-outs, ATV issues, and weather pattern changes. The crew performed admirably at all the tasks, thoroughly embracing the well-known medical simulation concept of “suspension of disbelief” and participating in the sim as if the situations were real. In so doing, we learned much about group dynamics, the challenges of an operational environment, and the dangers of living on Mars.
The team greatly appreciated living in the remodeled Hab. With a group of 9 people, we thoroughly enjoyed the increased living space in the crew quarters on the upper deck, and definitely took advantage of the new seats for many discussions, both serious and fun, while unwinding at night. We also used the new space downstairs as sleeping quarters for a couple of crew members. The increased space also gave us more flexibility to continue our medical simulations inside the Hab, and obtained many fantastic pictures of crewmember resuscitations on the floor of the Hab.
While we did get short on water at one point, Shannon very helpfully provided an emergency resupply from town. We took some extensive measures to preserve water, and these challenges seemed very realistic to us. This gave us a sense of the difficulty of balancing resource utilization on Mars, where no such re-supply will be possible.
Overall, the entire crew very much enjoyed their experience. While we each learned a significant amount about aerospace medicine, we have a much greater appreciation for the challenges of Mars. Finally, we’d like to express our appreciation to everyone at the Mars Society and the Wilderness Medical Society who has assisted with our journey.
Ben Easter, MD
MDRS Crew 179 Commander