Science Report – January 13th

MDRS – Crew 186 – Final Geology Report

Research Project and Goals

The need to reduce payload mass for future space exploration is imperative, especially for long-term missions. Experts in the field or space exploration have been working for years on concepts of In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU). The idea of finding, collecting, processing, and using materials found at the destination requires various steps: we need to determine what materials are present and what is their abundance, accessibility, and usability; we also need to figure out what are the best ways to collect them; finally, based on the materials and their properties, we can decide how to process and use them. The simplest ISRU designs propose production of water, oxygen, and propellant [Sanders and Duke,
2005; Cuadros and Michalski, 2013]. However, establishment of bases on Mars will probably require the use of in-situ construction materials and metals, which must be easily accessible [Cooper, 2002; Curreri and Criswell, 1999;
Muscatello and Santiago-Maldonado, 2012; Sacksteder and Sanders, 2007; Wan et
al., 2015]. Identifying appropriate locations, with an adequate amount of resources will be a major factor for the selection of human landing sites, together with the scientific importance of the site [Horgan et al., 2013].

The goal of this project has been to test the use of remote sensing (performed in various locations) to support In-Situ Resource Utilization. Assessment of mineralogy and temperature readings – via remote sensing – has been performed to provide information about material abundance, water content and thermal inertia. The latter will be correlated to particle size and cohesiveness of the material, which in turn suggests the most appropriate tools to effectively collect the material for processing. Simple collection tools including rock hammers, spoons, and trowels have been evaluated in terms of ease of use, and efficacy of collection of the material, based on the physical properties of the material.

The MDRS region, in the Colorado Plateaus, is a good Mars analog, especially in the areas pertinent to the middle Jurassic Entrada Sandstone, the middle and and late Jurassic Morrison Formation, and the Dakota Sandstone. These areas exhibit mudstones and sandstones mainly composed of clays (montmorillonite, illite, and kaolinite, often coated with hematite), strata of paleo-gypsum and other sulfates, and recent evaporites. Most of those minerals are present close to regions of geological interest on Mars, and are dug on Earth for construction and other purposes.

Figure 1. Geology of the MDRS area

EVAs, samples, and results

Six geologic EVAs have been performed by the crew, visiting the following regions: URC North Site, area East of Greenstone Road, and The Moons (Morrison Formation and Dakota Sandstone); “Boilermaker Canyon”, previously unexplored by MDRS crews (Entrada Sandstone and lower Morrison Formation); Skyline Rim (Mancos Shale). The crew geologist and the rest of the crew collected a variety of samples in these location, and analyzed them with a “PANalytical QualitySpec TREK” portable spectrometer. The 86 Visible and Near Infrared (VNIR) spectra gave information about the mineralogy of the samples, and will be used to assess water content in the various locations. The geologist also measured temperature of rocks and soil at different depths and in different conditions, in replacement of measurements that were supposed to be taken with a thermal camera, which was not received in time for the mission. These measurements will be used after the end of the mission to determine the correlation between thermal inertia and physical properties of the material, such as cohesiveness and bulk size. The geologist used a rock hammer and a trowel to simulate collection of different material, under simulated Martian conditions for what concerns EVA suits and bulky gloves.

The EVAs brought the analog astronauts through diverse fields, ranging from plains covered in clays and characterized by salt deposits to deep canyons where million of years of strata are exposed. All the types of terrains are found on Mars, though the presence of large angular boulders is more prominent in most Martian landscapes. Analysis with the portable spectrometer confirmed the presence of mudstone and sandstone, with a few layers of conglomerates, mainly composed of illite and montmorillonite, with some samples of chlorite shales. The iron is almost all present in the form of hematite, thus reducing the occurrence of nontronite. Receding water from the Jurassic Sundance Sea left behind strata of salts in period of dryness. The salt is mainly sulfates, which (together with perchlorates) is present on Mars in various locations of geologic interest. White layers of gypsum, in the form of transparent selenite and white satin spar in the Morrison Formation, are accompanied by pink dikes of manganese sulfate in the lowest strata. Spectra will be further analyzed for water content and impurities. The results were extremely satisfactory, both in terms of Mars analog mineralogy and for what concerns collection of the samples with the various tools, and yielded useful outcomes for ISRU on Mars, described in the last section.

Difficulties and lessons learned: towards Mars

The experience in this project at MDRS was twofold informative, on the geology aspect and on the exploration aspect. The crew geologist, as an analog astronaut, had to face various difficulties in this mission: unexpected situations require a certain amount of flexibility. For example, the absence of the thermal camera, which can be considered analogous to an instrument malfunction, required a last-minute change in the details of the research project. Contingent situations, such as weather or communication failures cut short some of the EVAs, thus reducing the amount of time spent in the field, which of course is much less than what would be spent on a field expedition on Earth. Instruments which are very simple to use on Earth, such as the portable spectrometer or a marker to write on the clipboard, are much harder to use when the analog astronaut is incumbered by a space suit and bulky gloves. With much pride, our crew geologist managed to never break simulation, though at times he had to find ingenious solutions to be able to operate his instruments or to reach certain locations. On the other side, all these occurrences suggested ideas for better design of astronaut tools for use on planetary surfaces, where the presence of gravity needs to be added to the bulkiness of the garments (in orbit, astronauts experience the problem of large gloves, but can have a variety of tools just attached to their belts without their movements being made harder by gravity). Areas that require long walks because not accessible by vehicles suggest that surface EVAs will be probably shorter than in-orbit EVA: the crew geologist performed four EVAs in five days without particular overexertion, but a single EVA to Boilermaker Canyon was harder than multiple EVAs, because of the configuration of the terrain and the longer hiking distance. From a geologic perspective, the site also provided valuable lessons: besides the analogies with Martian mineralogy, the MDRS site gave information on how to use remote sensing to evaluate the abundance of the material, and some of the physical properties to facilitate collection. The mission also showed how much variety of material can be found within short distances, which suggests that more detailed surveys of interesting locations on Mars will be necessary to determine optimal places for human exploration and activities.

In conclusion, despites all the limitations to the fidelity of the simulation (gravity and atmospheric conditions, not-airtightness of the habitat and the space suits), the crew managed to achieve an adequate level of Mars analogy in the geologic EVAs. The landscape, the colors, the cumbersomeness of the suits, and the attention given by the crew to simulation details gave the impression of being exploring Mars and added to the challenges of the experience, producing outstanding results.


Clarke, J. (2003), The regolith geology of the MDRS study area, report.

Cooper, J. (2002), Mining Mars, CMA Management, September 2002, pp. 38-41.

Cuadros, J., and J. R. Michalski (2013), Investigation of Al-rich clays on Mars: evidence for kaolinite-smectite mixed-layer versus mixture of end-member phases, Icarus, vol. 222, pp. 296-306.

Curreri, P. A., and D. R. Criswell (1999), In situ production of solar power systems for exploration: potential for in situ rectenna production on Mars, AIP Conference proceedings, vol. 458, pp. 1623-1628.

Gundlach, B., and J. Blum (2013), A new method to determine the grain size of planetary regolith, Icarus, vol. 223, pp. 479-492.

Hargitai, E., ed. (2008), MDRS unofficial expedition guide, technical report by MDRS crews 42 and 71.

Horgan, B., J. A. Kahmann-Robinson, J. L. Bishop, and P. R. Christensen (2013), Climate change and a sequence of habitable ancient surface environments preserved in pedogenically altered sediments at Mawrth vallis, Mars, 44th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.

Jones, E., G. Caprarelli, F. P. Mills, B. Doran, and J. Clarke (2014), An alternative approach to mapping thermophysical units from Martian termal inertia and albedo data using a combination of unsupervised classification techniques, Remote Sensing, vol. 6, pp. 5184-5237.

Muscatello, A. C., and E. Santiago-Maldonado (2012), Mars in-situ resource utilization technology evaluation, 50th AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting Including the New Horizons Forum and Aerospace Exposition.

Presley, M. A., and P. R. Christensen (2010), Thermal conductivity measurements of particulate materials, 4. Effect of bulk density for granular particles, Journal of Geophysical Research, vol. 115 no. E07003.

Sacksteder, K. R., and G. B. Sanders (2007), In-situ resource utilization for Lunar and Mars exploration, 45th AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting and Exhibit.

Sanders, G. B., and M. Duke (2005), In-situ resource utilization (ISRU) capability roadmap executive summary, NASA report.

Sanders, G. B., and W. E. Larson (2015), Final review of analog field campaigns for in situ resource utilization technology and capability maturation, Advances in Space Research, vol. 55, pp. 2381-2404.

Wan, L., R. Wendner, and G. Cusatis (2015), A novel material for in situ construction on Mars: experiments and numerical simulations, Northwestern University Center for Sustainable Engineering of Geological and Infrastructure Materials (SEGIM) internal report.


Science Report – January 13th

The Effectiveness of Radio Direction Finding for EVA Navigation in Situations of Low Visibility

Justin Mansell

MDRS Crew 186 Journalist


Determining one’s position is a fundamental problem encountered in engineering. On Earth it is possible to use the constellation of GPS satellites to accurately pinpoint your position relative to a location where you would like to go. This capability does not currently exist on Mars, nor will it be likely to exist when humans first set foot on the planet. The difficulty of localizing an astronaut’s position relative to a location of interest is amplified in conditions of low visibility such as night or an unexpected dust storm. The resulting disorientation could greatly imperil any astronaut caught unprepared in such circumstances.

The purpose of this research was to explore how a disoriented astronaut might use radio signals to guide them to a target while on EVA. The core concept is to have the astronaut carry a radio antenna whose sensitivity is directional. Meanwhile, a navigation beacon at the target broadcasts a radio signal in all directions. If the astronaut is unable to locate their query by traditional means they can use the directional radio to determine the direction of the transmitting beacon, and therefore the direction they must walk to reach it.

Figure 1: Searching for the direction of maximum signal.

Experiment Setup

Prior to the mission I assembled a 3-element handheld Yagi antenna from schematics researched on the Internet. The particular design uses foldable elements made from steel tape measure and originated with Joe Leggio for use in amateur radio foxhunts [Leggio, 1993]. This design is lightweight and easy to stow due to the foldable elements. A coaxial cable with an SMA adapter allows the antenna to be plugged into virtually any portable ham radio.

The transmitter beacon is a commercial handheld ham radio with no special modifications. I created an audio file of a Morse signal toning the phrase, “This is the MDRS amateur navigation beacon crew 186”, and broadcast this signal from the beacon by connecting an iPod playing the audio file to the radio with an aux cable. In each test of the navigation experiment the radio beacon was located at the habitat and the Morse signal was broadcast at regular intervals by having a crewmember simply hold down the transmit button. A crewmember on EVA would then attempt to use the Yagi antenna to locate the direction of maximum signal and thereby the bearing to the habitat. The beacon was transmitted on the low power setting of the beacon radio (approximately 2.5 Watts) at a frequency of 146.565 MHz.

The Yagi antenna was used to aid EVA navigation on a total of four EVA’s, two of which were dedicated exclusively to testing its effectiveness. On the first two tests I followed a road on the outward trek and then attempted to follow the navigation signal along a straight line back to the habitat. This took me through unfamiliar terrain but did not adequately represent conditions of low visibility. On the later two tests I gave the antenna to a crewmember unfamiliar with amateur radio and covered the upper two thirds of their helmet with a cardboard visor. This restricted their vision to approximately 5 meters and prevented them from using landmarks to help them locate the habitat. Supporting members of the EVA then led the “lost astronaut” volunteer at least 2 kilometers from the habitat and monitored their safety as they attempted to return to the habitat using the radio alone.

Figure 2: Preparing the lost astronaut before EVA.


The first two tests of the navigation antenna were useful for understanding its performance. The accuracy of the antenna in locating the direction to the beacon generally improves with distance. This is because close to the beacon the signal is strong enough to saturate the receiver even along its insensitive axis. The beacon signal therefore appears to originate from all directions. At greater distances the beacon signal is weak and careful pointing of the antenna may be required to receive it at all. At a distance of 4 kilometers the accuracy of the antenna in determining the bearing to the habitat appeared to be better than 10 degrees. This was reduced to over 90 degrees when within a kilometer of the habitat and worse still when even nearer.

During the tests I found that the poor accuracy of the antenna near the transmitter could be mitigated in the following way. The antenna is least sensitive to incoming signal along a direction parallel to the receiving elements. By searching instead for the direction of minimum signal I could deduce that the beacon was located at a right angle to my current pointing direction. This provided acceptable accuracy at sub-kilometer distances.

On the tests with the cardboard visor limiting the astronaut’s vision the difficulty of navigating by natural senses alone was professed by the arcing paths participants took prior to and in between broadcasts of the navigation beacon. In fact, on the final test the mock “lost astronaut” walked a complete circle with a radius less than 100 m in between two broadcasts of the beacon. To limit the drift of the astronaut’s path it was necessary to decrease the intervals between the beacon transmissions to a nearly continuous broadcast. In both tests with the cardboard visor the astronaut was able successfully navigate to within 500 meters of the habitat despite limited knowledge of their initial position and orientation.

I also note that the surrounding terrain did not appear to have a significant detrimental affect of the performance of the antenna, but this has been difficult to quantify.

Figure 3: Scanning to find the bearing to the hab.


The navigation experiments of MDRS Crew 186 suggest that a handheld directional antenna is a simple and effective means of EVA navigation in low visibility conditions. However, the current set up has several limitations which are noted below.

The current means of searching for the direction of maximum signal provides only the direct bearing to the transmitter beacon. As was found in several of the tests, following a direct path to the beacon is not always possible due to intervening terrain. The user is then on their own to determine an appropriate detour and this may act to further their disorientation. Additional information may be required beyond that provided by a directional antenna in order to navigate successfully.

At distances close to the transmitter the technique of searching for a direction at right angles to the directions of minimum signal proved satisfactory in our experiments. However, because there are always two such directions the astronaut is at risk of following a path directly away from the beacon instead of towards it. This is possible when receiving along the sensitive axis of the antenna as well, but is less likely because the signal strength received by the back lobe of the antenna is generally much weaker compared to the front. Instead of searching for the direction of minimum signal, a better solution would be to attach an attenuator between the antenna and receiver so that the astronaut can reduce the received signal when close to the beacon.

Finally, the rapid drift of participants from their initial heading in between broadcasts of the beacon suggests that either the navigation beacon should be broadcast continuously or astronauts should have some way of preserving their orientation while walking. The later option is desirable because terrain, weather, or the need to handle equipment may temporarily prevent the signal from being received. On Earth an obvious solution is to mark the desired bearing on a compass and follow it accordingly, but this will not work on Mars due to the lack of a global magnetic field.

Figure 4: Finding the habitat using its radio beacon.


Leggios, J. (1993), Tape Measure Beam Optimized for Radio Direction Finding,


I would like to thank Geoffrey Andrews, Jennifer Pouplin, and Cesare Guariniello at Purdue University for their assistance fabricating and testing the Yagi antenna prior to the mission.

Nav Experiment 13Jan2018.docx

Operations Report – January 13th

Crew 186 Operations Report 13JAN2018

SOL: 13

Name of person filing report: M. Grande

Non-nominal systems: None

Notes on non-nominal systems: Generator system limping along with a now-nominal routine.

Generator (hours run): 15.9h

Generator turned off, charging battery at 9:30am

Generator turned on at 5:30pm

Solar— SOC

@ 9:30am : 100%

@ 5:30pm : 91%

Diesel: 50%

Propane: 25%

Ethanol Free Gasoline (5 Gallon containers for ATV): 01 Gallons

Water (trailer): 220 Gallons

Water (static): 500 Gallons

Trailer to Static Pump used: Yes

Water (loft) – Static to Loft Pump used: Yes

Water Meter: 129509.8 Gallons

Toilet tank emptied: Yes

ATVs Used: Honda, two of the 350s

Oil Added? No

ATV Fuel Used: 02 Gallons

# Hours the ATVs were used today: 00:30 hours

Notes on ATVs: There is an unknown clanking sound coming from one of the ATV 350s, but I believe the suspect 350 was pushed to the side today and not used, so I wasn’t able to check this out. Otherwise, the new crew, 187, was able to drive the ATVs around for about half an hour for practice! We filled up the tanks again, and now are running low on stored gasoline.

Deimos rover used: Yes

Hours: 101.5

Beginning charge: 100%

Ending charge: 98%

Currently charging: Yes

Sojourner rover used: Assigned to director only.

Hours: 5.5

Beginning charge: 100%

Ending charge:

Currently charging: Yes

Spirit rover used: No

Hours: 12.1

Beginning charge: 100%

Ending charge:

Currently charging: Yes

Opportunity rover used: No

Hours: 5.5

Beginning charge: 100%

Ending charge:

Currently charging: No

Curiosity rover used: No

Hours: 3.1

Beginning charge: 100%

Ending charge:

Currently charging: No

HabCar used and why, where? Yes, to get a water resupply for the next crew.

General notes and comments: Today we spent most of the day cleaning up the hab and teaching Crew 187 the ropes! It was exciting to meet everyone and to now be on the other side of things, wishing them well for their mission. The new Crew Engineer has a lot on his plate, but he picked up everything well and started already by turning on the generator system this evening, with my supervision. Also, we got a water resupply! There’s now 110 G in the trailer tank and an extra 110 G in the tank in the hab car, but we’re not sure yet were the extra will be stored. Finally, we are changing the air filter this evening.

Summary of internet: All nominal

Summary of suits and radios: All nominal

Summary of Hab operations: Busy process today with cleaning and hand-off, but lots of the items left by previous crews have now been cleaned out! Everything otherwise is nominal.

Summary of GreenHab operations: There is a water leak at the GreenHab water spigot. We tried digging down to identify the source this afternoon; however, this proved nearly impossible in the mud and at an unknown depth of the source. The handle of the spigot has been secured so it cannot be used until the issue is fixed. This means that the GreenHab will need to obtain water from a different source–a significant operations concern because of the large volume of water required by the plants each day.

Summary of ScienceDome operations: All nominal

Summary of RAM operations: Not Operational

Summary of health and safety issues: Crew is Healthy

Questions, concerns and requests to Mission Support: We are running low on a few things and would please like a resupply: RV Digest-It and Deoderizer (“Oxy-Kam Holding Tank Treatment”) for the toilet, and ATV gasoline.

Also, very importantly, I need to verify that the Diesel gauge is “from 12:00 to 6:00, counterclockwise” to display from 100% to 0%. This is important because it has been on 50% for around 5 days in a row now, and I want to ensure that what I believe to be 50% is not actually 0%. I completely forgot to ask during hand-off, but I have noted it to the new Crew Engineer so he can also ask tomorrow.

My final concern is that today we discovered a water leak at the Green Hab water spigot, and this needs to be addressed as soon as possible. This will significantly affect water usage for future crews.

Regards, Melanie Grande, Crew Engineer, Crew 186

Greenhab Report – January 13th

GreenHab Report

Mark Gee


Environmental control:


Shade cloth on

Ambient with door open

Working Hour: 06:40PM
Inside temp at working hour: 16 C
Outside temp during working hours: 2 C
Inside temperature high: 37 C
Inside temperature low: 15 C
Inside humidity: 88 %RH

Inside humidity high: 94 %RH
Inside humidity low: 16 %RH

Hours of supplemental light:

For the crops 05:00 to 11:59 PM

Changes to crops: Seeds are emerging rapidly.

Daily water usage for crops: 6 gallons

Time(s) of watering for crops: 03:00PM

Research observations: None

Changes to research plants: None

Aquaponics: Not in use.

Narrative: Today was my last day caring for the Greenhab. I feel proud of what I have done. An abundance of thriving plants were left to me and I have not only kept them alive, but brought some to harvest and left the future crews with even more than I was given. It has been fun to water the baby cucumbers knowing that some crew will be enjoying them a month from now.

For the next Greenhab officer, I would recommend starting by taking care of what has been left to you and at the half way point of your rotation seeding a small amount of many crops so that future crew can enjoy a diverse harvest. Below is a table of what is currently growing, actions taken, and notes on what needs to be done in the next two weeks. Everything should be watered every day. There is also an inventory of all supplies available at this time.

Name Quantity Growth Stage Action Notes
Dill Weed 2ft row, ~20 plants Vegetative Thinned plants to 1 inch spacing. Can begin harvesting outer leaves for meals. Leave the center of the plants to regrow.
Rosemary 2ft row, ~20 plants Seedling, 2 true leafs Slow growing. It will be a long time before this is ready to harvest.
Parsley 2ft row, ~50 plants Seedling, true leaf Can thin to 1 inch spacing after Jan 20.

Eat plants you pull.

Cilantro 2ft row, ~30 plants Seedling, 3 true leafs Thinned to 1 inch spacing Should let plants establish 10 leaves before beginning harvest.
Oregano 2ft row, ~50 plants Seedling, 2 true leafs Can thin to 1 inch spacing after Jan 20. Eat plants you pull.
Sage 2ft row, ~10 plants Seedling, 1 true leaf Let grow.
Basil 2ft row, ~40 plants Seedling, 1 true leaf Can thin to 1 inch spacing after Jan 20. Eat plants you pull.
Thyme 2ft row, ~30 plants Seedling, 3 true leafs Let grow.
Chives 2ft row, ~20 plants Seedling, 2 leafs Let grow.
Lavender 2ft row Seeds, not emerged If no emergence by Jan 20, plant something else.
Spinach, Bloomsdale 3 pots, 16 plants. Seedling, two true leafs. Transplanted 06Jan2018 Let grow.
Spinach, Bloomsdale 4ft row Seedling, cotyledon. Planted


Let grow.
Kale, Blue Curled Scotch 5 pots, ~50 plants Seedling, 3 true leafs Transplanted 06Jan2018 Let grow.
Cabbage, Golden Acre 1 seedling tray, ~20 plants Seedling, 2 true leafs Need transplanting by Jan 15.
Moringa Olifera 14 plots Seeds, no emergence Repurpose pots with Capcom approval.
Paperwhites 3 pots, seven plants Various, sprouted to flowering Move to the habitat for your enjoyment.
Beans, Pole 27 plants 3ft vines, producing flowers and pods Harvest beans when they reach at least 3 inches and you can feel the beans inside.
Cucumber 23 plants, 7 pots 3ft vines, producing flowers and fruit Let grow.
Melon 8 plants 2ft vines, no flowers Let grow.
Peppers 9 pots, 23 plants 8 inches, vegetative Let grow.
Tomatoes 39 pots, 57 plants 6in-48in tall, some flowering Transplanted 05Jan2018 Use cages to support tomato branches. Make sure plants are growing up through the cages.
Radish 1 pot, three plants Vegetative, 1ft tall Harvest after Jan 20.
Radish sprouts 6 sq ft Seedling, cotyledon. Planted 04Jan2018 Harvest Jan 14.
Swiss Chard 1 starter container Seedling, cotyledon. Planted 06Jan2018 Let grow. Thin if needed.
Scallions 5 starter containers Seeds, no emergence Planted 06Jan2018 If no emergence by Jan 20, plant something else
Onion 8 starter containers Seeds, no emergence Planted 06Jan2018 If no emergence by Jan 20, plant something else
Broccoli 1 starter container Seeds, no emergence Planted 06Jan2018 If no emergence by Jan 20, plant something else
Carrot 6 starter containers,

4 pots

Seeds, no emergence Planted 06Jan2018 If no emergence by Jan 20, plant something else
Lettuce, Romaine 1 starter container,

1 ft row

Seedlings, cotyledon Planted 06Jan2018 Thin to 1 inch spacing after Jan 25. Eat plants you pull. Transplant if needed.
Lettuce, Red Leaf 1 starter container,

1 ft row

Seedlings, cotyledon Planted 06Jan2018 Thin to 1 inch spacing after Jan 25. Eat plants you pull. Transplant if needed.
Lettuce, Black Seeded Simpson 2 starter containers,

1 ft row

Seedlings, cotyledon Planted 06Jan2018 Thin to 1 inch spacing after Jan 25. Eat plants you pull. Transplant if needed.
Lettuce, sprouts misc. 2 sq ft Seedlings, cotyledon Planted 06Jan2018 Harvest as microgreens after Jan 25. Save a few plants and grow to maturity.
Lettuce, Bibb 1 sq ft Seedlings, cotyledon Planted 06Jan2018 Harvest as microgreens after Jan 25. Save a few plants and grow to maturity.
Mustard 1 pot Seedlings, cotyledon Planted 06Jan2018 Harvest as microgreens after Jan 25. Save a few plants and grow to maturity.
Quinoa, Red Sprouting 2 sq ft Seeds, no emergence Threw away. These seeds did not grow and were thrown away.

Journalist Report – January 13th

[Sol 13] [The
Final Countdown]

The team awoke to the song: “The Pioneers of Mars” and to the exciting news of the safe arrival of crew 187 on this desert world. After one final pancake breakfast we threw ourselves into our cleaning duties, eager to make a fine impression as the previous team had with us. When our colleagues arrived in the early afternoon with their pressurized rover we had only just finished preparing the habitat for them. There was a short break to introduce ourselves, but the new team was excited to learn the ropes of maintaining the habitat. We organized ourselves into pairs and taught them the quirks of each of the hab’s systems.

With familiarization and photos out of the way, we plan to spend the evening socializing with the new crew over dinner and some card games. Overnight we will travel to the ascent vehicle and begin preparations for launch at dawn. As such, this will be my last update until we reach orbit.

It is said that the 4 stages of teamwork are forming, storming, norming, and performing. Over the past mission I have seen our team pass through each of these stages and though circumstances have been tough at times, I can say with confidence that we leave this world more capable, humorous, considerate, and farseeing than the people we came as. The soaring mesas, grand vistas, and infinite textures of this remote planet have changed us. But our greatest hope is that we have in turn changed it. To make what was a desolate, frozen expanse more livable, meaningful, and ultimately more human: this is the goal of humankind’s voyage to Mars, and the goal, perhaps, of our journey to the stars.

We wish Crew 187 all the best for their mission. For those on Earth, we would like to thank the legions of support personnel for making this grand adventure possible. With luck, we will be seeing you all soon!

Justin Mansell, MDRS Crew 186 Journalist

P.S. Photos attached. Photo of the day: 13Jan2018 Crew186-187 hand off.jpg

Science Report – January 13th

Science Report (Microbiology)


Author: Samuel Albert, Crew 186 Health & Safety Officer


-Marshall Porterfield, Ph.D., Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, United States

-Sarah Wallace, Ph.D., NASA JSC, Houston, TX, United States

-Sarah Stahl, M.S., NASA JSC, Houston, TX, United States

As part of my role as Health & Safety Officer of MDRS Crew 186, I have been conducting research on the microbial environment in the habitat and greenhouse at MDRS. To do this, I am using the sample-to-sequence method developed by spaceflight microbiologists at NASA including Dr. Sarah Wallace and Sarah Stahl, M.S. This method uses a combination of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and DNA sequencing technology. Specifically, I am using the miniPCR and minION devices, as were used in the Genes in Space-3 experiment on the International Space Station (ISS).

The testing at MDRS is meant to survey the microbial environment in the habitat as an analog for operational monitoring that would be necessary on a Mars base. The ability to perform real-time DNA sequencing will help diagnose infectious diseases and monitor crew health on long-duration space missions. Thus, conducting this research at MDRS increases the fidelity of simulation while collecting useful data on the microbial environment in the habitat.

Four runs were planned originally. The first run encountered errors and yielded poor results, only about 350 reads. The second run, which sampled from crops growing in the GreenHab, yielded much better results, over 600,000 reads. This run was in collaboration with the ongoing experiments by GreenHab Officer Mark Gee. The third run, which sampled from locations on the upper deck of the habitat, yielded strong results as well, about 26,000 reads. The fourth run, which sampled from the bathroom and shower area on the lower deck of the habitat, unfortunately yielded the worst results, with a paltry 34 reads. In the case of the first and fourth runs, any one of the many steps could have gone wrong to produce such a low read count, but the most likely reason is that the flow cells were damaged at some point. The fourth flow cell had over 1000 active pores when a quality control test was performed early in the mission, but less than 600 active pores immediately prior to sequencing.

Following the mission, all results will be analyzed to assess which microbes were found in the various sampling locations. Return samples are also being sent to the Dr. Wallace at Wyle Laboratories at NASA JSC for post-mission sequencing, which will help validate results for runs 2 and 3 and help provide results for runs 1 and 4. These results will be compared with data from similar studies on the ISS (i.e. Genes In Space-3) as well as with data from other analog stations.

Samuel Albert, Crew 186 Health & Safety Officer

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