Crew 280 Mid-Mission Research Report
Over this past week, the MDRS astronomical facilities have provided a unique opportunity to observe the Martian night sky under limited light pollution. Taking advantage of these great conditions, Mariona Badenas-Agusti (Crew Commander and Astronomer) is combining her management responsibilities at the MDRS with two astronomy-related projects:
● Study of the Solar Chromosphere: The goal of this project is to use the Lunt 1000mm refracting telescope in the Musk Observatory to study the chromosphere of the Sun. During the first days of the mission, the telescope was not properly aligned, so Mariona had to spend some time understanding how to calibrate it properly. After this issue was resolved, she was able to conduct visual observations of the Sun in search for a variety of magnetic phenomena, including sunspots, flares, and granules. To date, she has been able to identify various sunspots through the eyepiece. Her goal for next week is to image these features with the AUTOSTAKKERT software.
● Astrophotography of Deep-Sky Objects: Mariona has also used the MLC-RCOS16 Robotic telescope to generate RGBLHa color images of deep-sky objects, including planetary nebulae (NGC 6888/Crescent Nebula) and galaxies (NGC 4273, NGC 5371, NGC 5033, NGC5055/Messier 63, and NGC 3184/Little Pinwheel Galaxy).
The Hypatia I crew has several biology-related projects in the fields of microbial, animal and human sciences. The MDRS provides a unique environment to conduct such projects, because it allows you to study how humans and microbial life would develop in Mars, as well as the exterior environment is the perfect place to search for potential Martian biological signatures.
Carla Conejo González (Crew Executive Officer & Biologist) is combining her XO responsibilities at the MDRS with conducting projects on humans factors affecting a mission to Mars, including experiments in the fields of telemedicine, psychology and sociology, as follows:
● Circadian rhythms in a Mars analog mission: a telemetric approach: The goal of this project is to study the sleep-wake cycle of the crew and how their participation in a Martian analog mission at the MDRS is affecting their circadian rhythms. The project has two different approaches: (i) the telemetric approach, where each crew member’s sleep record is being tracked since Sol1 using an actigraphy wearable wrist-worn device (Fitbit ® by Google); (ii) the same register is also recorded using a written sleep log diary, where each crew member has to write down when they went to sleep and woke up, as well as their self-perception of sleepiness during the day. Both digital and analogic records are tracked by each member of the crew, and at the end of the mission will be anonymized for analysis purposes. This project is being conducted in collaboration with the support of Google and the Hospital Germans Trias i Pujol.
● Additional observations: As part of our mission, other observations in the following fields are planned, and will be used to complement the results of the primary experiment.
○ Psychology: Study on the psychological effects of participation in a mission similar to the MDRS, in collaboration with the University of Burgundy (France).
○ Sociology: Study on the social interactions of the crew for the optimization of our performance as a team, in collaboration with the company Sociomapping.
○ Gynecology: Study on the changes in the ovarian function of people subjected to the experimental situation of a similar mission, in collaboration with the Hospital of Sant Pau Hospital.
Laia Ribas (Green Hab Officer & Biologist) is combining her daily responsibilities in the GreenHab together with her research projects. Her projects are developing as follows:
● CatMart:This is an outreach project aimed at identifying microorganisms on Mars. A total of five Martian spots have been sampled, obtaining 200-300 g of soil. The localization in the Martian map are the following: Cowboy Corner (sampled on 20/03/23), Kissing Camel River (sampled on 21/03/23), Robert Garden Rock (sampled on 21/03/23) North Ridge (sampled on 22/03/23), Compass Road (sampled at 23/03/23). The soil samples, kept in zipper plastic bags, were brought to the station for further analysis during the remaining SOLs.
● Martian Bottle. The aim of the experiment is to reduce the number of microorganisms in the water. The water is obtained from the waste watering in the GreenHab. Two experiments are currently ongoing. The figure on the right shows one step of the protocol in which the residual water is diluted (right side in the figure) and divided into two experimental groups, the control (middle) and the Martian bottle (left).
● Aquaculture on Mars. The aim is to study the alteration of the epigenome in zebrafish subjected to hypergravity. The experiments were conducted at the Institute of Marine Sciences (ICM-CSIC, Barcelona). This project is at the forefront of high-sequencing technology through the use of an instrument called MinION. Unfortunately, due to the delivery of the products and the samples, the FlowCells needed for sequencing were not in optimal conditions therefore, the project was stopped. Nevertheless, we are continually studying the technique as it will be used in the Ribas’ Lab in Barcelona.
● Seeds for the crew. The aim of the project is to provide fresh food to the crew. A total of 75 g of two different seeds have been cultured in a plastic box containing wet tissue paper in the GreenHab. The seeds are almost ready to be harvested
Cesca Cufí (Crew Engineer) is combining her duties as engineer with an engineering and biology project. The biology project consists of:
● Cellular intelligence on Mars. This research aims at studying the influence of UV, IR radiation and gravity on the exploration behavior and sporulation triggering of physarum polycephalum. Physarum polycephalum, commonly known as “blob”, is an example of plasmodial myxomycetes that consists of a multinucleate single cell amoeba-like organism. This curious creature shows rare learning capabilities for a single celled organism. It is capable of memorizing its previous path and of finding the optimum one towards the food sources. Slime molds are not only surprising for its learning capabilities but for being extremely resistant. However, physarum has shown to be very sensible to light. This research can give us some clues on how life on Mars can be developed and moreover, lighten great questions about life development on Earth before the formation of the current atmosphere. To date, Cesca has cultivated the physarums that will be used for the experiment. The physarums will be grown until they are big enough to provide 4 clones that will be tested simultaneously in different conditions:
○ One sample being the control sample, with no stimulation.
○ A second sample on a inclined plate to evaluate the effect of gravity.
○ A third one being stimulated with IR light.
○ And finally, a fourth sample, stimulated with UV light.
The setup is ready (see Engineering projects section). It is expected that the physarums will be big enough in less than 24h from now.
Ariadna Farres Basiana (Scientist & Health and Safety Officer) is combining her HSO duties at the MDRS with an astrodynamics project:
● Martian GPS: The goal of this project is to study the feasibility of a low-cost GPS network around Mars. During the first half of the mission, we have replicated Earth’s GPS around Mars. Adjustments to some of the orbital parameters, like the semi-major axis (sma) and the Right Ascension of the Ascending Node (RAAN), have been made in order to ensure the same type of coverage around Mars surface. This network requires at least 24 satellites, which is far from low-cost, however it ensures 24h hours coverage on most parts of the martian surface. During the next days, we will work on reducing the number of satellites in order to ensure at least 12 hours of communication around Chryse Planitia (“Golden Plane”) where we have established our martian base. All the simulations have been done using NASA’s open-source software GMAT (General Mission Analyses Tool).
Neus Sabaté (Mission Specialist) is assisting the Crew Engineer of the mission and performing her Engineering experiments related to battery development:
● Martian batteries development. This project proposes to use iron-based rocks present in Mars (or in the MDRS surroundings) as main components of a primary battery. To evaluate the viability of this approach, Sabaté has explored three different locations (Marble Ritual, Compass Rock and Robert’s Garden Rock) and found mainly soundstone rock, siltstone and argillite. Currently the samples have been immersed in diluted HCl for a few days in order to extract the Fe3+ and Fe2+ ions.
○ As a proof of concept, Sabaté has also mounted and characterized 3 batteries based on iron-chemistry. In this case, iron has been brought from Earth in two different formats: iron bars (Fe(0) state) as battery anodes and ferric chloride salts (Fe3+) as cathodic species. The batteries have been mounted in series and filled up with salty water. The energy generated with the batteries will be dedicated to power a small LED module that stimulates seed growing.
○ Finally, Sabaté has planted seeds in three different desktop hotbeds that are submitted to different conditions: one hotbed is placed next to the window and will receive sunlight during the day, another hotbed is placed inside a camping storage cupboard and will be in complete darkness whereas the last one will receive LED lighting (powered by iron-based batteries) from 8:00am to 8:00pm.
Cesca Cufí (Crew Engineer) is combining her duties as engineer with an engineering and biology project. The engineering project:
● “The Blob’s house”: This project consist of designing and constructing a prototype of biologically safety cabin to perform biological experiments in the context of an analog mission where biocontamination has to be prevented. The cabin features are specifically designed for the biological experiment with the physarum polycephalum (commonly known as “blob”). It contains 4 light boxes equipped with a camera and a LED light each. Two of the boxes contain a PCB, one with a IR emitter and the other one with a UV emitter. The current provided to these emitters reproduce the radiation that reaches the Martian surface. The cameras and LEDs are controlled with a raspberry pi. The cabin also contains a venting system with two fans that activate depending on the temperature of the cabin, provided by a temperature and humidity sensor. The venting system is equipped with filters (membrane) to prevent external agents to enter the cabin as well as interior organisms to pollute the exterior. The sensor and the fans are controlled with an arduino. The arduino data is transferred to the raspberry pi to be registered. Every 4 minutes the LEDs are switched, a picture is taken and the temperature and humidity is register. The cabin is lightweight and fully demountable.
Outreach and Communication
Núria Jar (Crew Journalist) is reporting on the field the experience of Hypatia I at the MDRS. There are several tasks she is performing these days:
● Daily journalist reports for the MDRS explaining the day at the base.
● Taking photographs for the “Photograph of the day” report, requested by the MDRS.
● Daily audio reports about Hypatia I crew’s experience at the MDRS for the Catalan public radio station Catalunya Ràdio.
● Recording featured interviews and sounds recorded during the mission for her podcast “Sounds of Mars”, which will be released by Catalunya Ràdio.
● Filming some interesting scenes of Hypatia I daily routine to document the experience.
In addition, she is also working on a future book about the mission to inspire young girls to pursue STEAM-related careers, as the Hypatia crew members did.
Carla Conejo González (Crew Executive Officer & Biologist) is combining her XO responsibilities at the MDRS with conducting a communication project consisting of a video diary of the mission. In addition, Carla is giving support to the outreach projects of her crewmates.