Crew 261 Mid-Mission Research Report 07-05-2023
Transatlantic Crew 261 began planning our experiments in 2019 when we conducted a call for ideas from the worldwide Mars analog research community. Commander James Burk and XO Aline Decadi worked in partnership with our crewmembers and researchers from across the world to select these experiments that would cover many scientific and technical disciplines. Over the three and a half years we spent planning the mission, the roster of experiments has shifted, but many of them have been in continuous preparation for that entire duration. Two crewmembers (Crew Roboticist Erin Kennedy and HSO Audrey Derobertmasure) originally started out as experiment PIs but were added to the crew due to other vacancies and circumstances that came up during the multi-year planning process.
We believe that our final suite of experiments can help towards solving some of the challenges faced by future Mars astronauts, while also advancing technology and research for long-term human presence on Mars. Some of the work that our crew is conducting during our mission will also directly support the overall Mars Desert Research Station program and the Mars Society’s worldwide analog research efforts.
1. COSMOS – Cardiovascular measurements (Audrey Derobertmasure, HSO)
Test a new approach to pharmacological studies with the aim of optimizing, adapting and individualizing drug treatments.
Our aim this week was to evaluate the impact of extreme environments and confinement on markers of early vascular aging. To do so, we utilized the pOpmeter, blood pressure monitor, and connected scale body cardio from Withings to monitor cardiovascular parameters and metabolic composition. Early vascular ageing refers to an increase in the thickness and stiffness of the aortic wall, which is associated with systolic hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. Arterial stiffness can be easily detected by measuring pulse wave velocity (PWV).
We measured the PWV between the finger and toe using the pOpmeter device equipped with two photodiode sensors placed on the finger and toe, respectively. These measurements only took 12 seconds. During this first week, we assessed the blood pressure and PWV of six crewmembers every morning, supervised by two crewmembers previously trained by the INSERM U970 team. Measurements were also taken after the EVA to assess its impact on cardiovascular parameters.
Additionally, crewmembers weighed themselves every morning on the connected scale, which analyzed their body composition, calculated their BMI and PWV.
We will continue this protocol next week, with an additional PWV measurement on sol 10 in the evening to obtain a complete set of data for result analysis.
2. BIOSTIMULATION – GreenHab Spirulina Experiment (Cecile Renaud, GreenHab Officer and Crew Biologist, as part of MELissa Program, UMONS)
Use of Spirulina to improve plant germination and growth.
Two experiments are conducted on biostimulation using Spirulina. Spiruline is used to 1. improve the germination and early gorwth of tomato seeds, and 2. improve health and growth of tomato plants. As of today, first experiment is running since SOL 4 and data will be collected at SOL 12. Leaves of the second experiment will be harvested at SOL 10 for further investigation.
3. ALGACRAFT – Photobioreactor (Cecile Renaud, GreenHab officier and Crew Biologist)
Test growing spirulina as a component of a future closed loop life support system.
After much work by GreenHab Officer assisted by Crew Engineer Julian Villa-Massone, the Algacraft Photobioreactor has been set up and running.
A Spirulina harvest will be conducted on SOL 8.
4. ATMOSPHINDER – Kite Propulsion Exploration Rover (Erin Kennedy, Crew Roboticist)
Experimental rover investigating seasonal jet eruptions on Mars while propelled by wind.
Atmosphinder arrived, was built, and iteratively developed throughout testing milestones this week. Quantitative and qualitative testing was performed on both the prototype and electronics. The plethora of testing and work resulted in this key learning:
-> Tensegrity robots, in combination with rigid structural components, have merit for use in extreme environments, such as Mars.
The reasons for this is because:
1) The compliant structure nature of the structure is able to adapt to the uncertain landscape – as seen on EVA-9, EVA-4
2) Rigid structure enables the robot to harness and endure the power of the wind and the environment – as seen on EVA-9, EVA-6
Overall, Atmosphinder performed as expected for an early small scale prototype. It was enthralling to observe the interaction between the robot and its environment! The structure passively waned as gusts of wind occurred. The mechanized sail trim motors functioned better than expected to control the direction of the sails. Finally, the ultra-bright Neopixels were dazzling and visible outdoors. Surprisingly, the three ball bearings (sealed) have not encountered any challenges regarding jamming from dust / sand.
Areas of improvement include: The known weak pieces did break, while the known stronger pieces did not. Duct tape and hot glue was pinnacle to the repairs. Some tubes rotate in place in the 3D printed pieces, which was detrimental to the sail frame structure wind testing. A missed opportunity was swapping the blades on the hoof sub-assemblies for a smoother revision, which could have assisted in a smoother rolling gait, and thereby further rolling distances.
Additional information, including graphs, maps, and photographs can be found at: http://robotzwrrl.xyz/atmosphinder/
Code and datasets can be found at: https://github.com/RobotGrrl/Atmosphinder
Extracting the above key learning from the testing and work demonstrates the value in pursuing the idea further for a higher fidelity prototype, perhaps via an internship at NASA JPL.
The electronics of Atmosphinder has been used to data log environmental sensor data at 1 Hz on EVAs. These datapoints are mapped to GPS coordinates. The sensor data now includes: Anemometer, Pressure, Humidity, Temperature, PM 2.5, PM 10, NH3, as well as: battery voltage, servo motor rail current, and information related to an internal state machine. The sensor data can then be graphed and plotted on a map using a web app developed by Robot Missions Inc. The addition of sensors grew each day, making use of the soldering equipment in the RAM.
When interacting with the Atmosphinder electronics, the key learning was:
-> Human-Robot Interaction (HRI / HCI) is challenging when fully suited in astronaut gear
This key learning was noticed when reaching for the electronics situated in the electronics payload bay of the robot, which was limited by the astronaut helmet. Activating the electronics has to take into account the astronaut gloves. Something that worked well were separate status LEDs blinking to show the data logging, GPS fix, and microcontroller status is nominal, as this can be checked at a glance. A stretch goal hypothesis to test is mentioned below as an experiment.
While on the mission, the next objectives for Atmosphinder is to gather additional information and observations in order to serve as design and testing requirements for future development on Atmosphinder. This will be done by visiting locations with features analogous to the Mars south polar region.
In the Mars south polar region, there are three major geological features:
– Erosion features
– South Polar Layered Deposits (SPLD)
At the Mars Desert Research Station, regions of interest about those geological features include:
1) Glistening Seas (eruptions)
2) Erica’s Hill (erosion features)
3) Barroom Outcrops (SPLD)
4) Skyline Rim (SPLD)
5) Additional locations may be added
The remaining EVAs will embark to those locations. Atmosphinder half-sized robot prototype will join for the journey. Limited dynamic testing will take place. The electronics payload will continue to be used to collect environmental sensor data. A stretch goal will be to implement IMU data logging at a fast frequency to be later used for training a model to recognise the terrain type.
For background: Atmosphinder’s destination on Mars is the south polar region to observe the CO2 gas jets from the surface level and contribute data from these activities to the global Mars climatic model. The research conducted at the Mars Desert Research Station is in line with these goals by demonstrating an original robot prototype and by logging environmental sensor data.
A remaining technical stretch goal for Atmosphinder development and testing is a Human-Robot Interaction (HRI / HCI) experiment involving fully suited astronauts controlling the robot by showing coloured signs in front of the robot’s camera. This is dependent on a firmware update for the embedded computer vision camera, which is pending a response from the developers.
5. ASTRONOMY ACTIVITIES (Aline Decadi, Executive Officer and Crew Astronomer)
Conduct astronomical observations using multiple observatories include the onsite Musk Observatory and the offsite Montana Learning Center (MLC)’s New Mexico observatory.
MUSK OBSERVATORY has been used for solar imaging and processing. Sun chromosphere, prominences, granules, sunspots, and filaments have been observed. The sun observation has been performed first with the zoom eyepiece, then with the dedicated camera to capture several thousands of frames and process the images with the following software: AUTOSTAKKERT to stack the images, REGISTAX to add wavelets to bring out fine details, and PHOTOSHOP to merge all in one. The operation of the dome, telescope and computer were nominal. The processed images didn’t show any tracking errors. The only thing is that some frames are dark (underexposed) and others bright (overexposed); that could be fixed by finetuning the gain and exposure on Sharp Cap. Which is a very interesting artistic look. We reached very good chromosphere detail (although dark). Some practicing will happen next week.
6. MARSVR VIRTUAL REALITY COORDINATED FIELD SCIENCE DEMONSTRATIONS (James Burk, Commander. PI: Jeff Rayner, MXTReality)
Demonstrate the ability for EVA crewmembers to get direct support from HabComm, other crewmembers, and remote science team using virtual reality technology.
We conducted an initial orientation session with crewmembers on SOL 3. Commander James Burk provided an overview of the history behind the project which he’s led for 6 years and demonstrated to hundreds of event participants in Seattle and at our annual Mars Society conference. He demonstrated both the MDRS VR experience (single user), which is a digital twin of the MDRS campus and a 2km terrain segment, as well as the new MarsComms VR experience with multiple user capabilities that is designed to work in tandem with the EVALink devices. He demonstrated the ability for crews to access the Map mode of MarsComms and discussed the possibility of our crew using it to plan and support EVAs using the technology.
Prior to the mission, we procured three new Meta Quest 2 headsets for use by the crew, which arrived safely and were unboxed on SOL 1. Since then, we have had significant difficulties getting them properly set up due to various external factors such as the complexity of creating and pairing the headsets to new Oculus/Meta users which are effectively test accounts not assigned to any individual. This has been mostly due to the immaturity of the Meta user authentication products and their lack of solid documentation. We do have one working Quest 2 headset (James’ personal headset) which had both experiences pre-loaded, and that was used for the demo.
Our plan is to continue to troubleshoot this problem with the remote support of the MXTReality team, and to conduct another VR acclimation session with the full crew on SOL 9.
7. EVALINK (PI: Eric Kristoff, Mars Society Chicago)
Integrated system using Meshtastic low-bandwidth open source hardware devices to improve science, situational awareness, and crew member safety at analog research stations.
For this initial test of EVALink operations while an MDRS crew is in sim, we are utilizing two sets of Meshtastic devices, one managed by the Mars Society Chicago chapter, and one managed by the Mars Society Seattle chapter with our partners MXTReality. There are a total of 10 Meshtastic devices on site including 9 field units and 1 relay unit that facilitates the writing of data to a cloud-based server.
We have ensured that all devices are powered and each EVA crewmember has carried one or more devices on their person during EVAs, typically within the front pocket of the crewmember’s EVA radio harness.
The devices arrived with two different configurations and it is unknown if the data from the first week of EVAs was collected comprehensively. We have received anecdotal evidence of data collection and visualization for one of our EVAs.
On SOL 7, Commander Burk worked with the remote EVALink support team to reflash several of the devices to ensure they were all using the same Firmware version and are able to connect and see each other.
Our crew has also developed our own internal system called EVA Monitor, led by Crew Engineer Julian Villa-Massone, which mimics the eventual functionality of real-time EVA telemetry and visualizations using a solution comprised of a custom software stack and off-the-shelf commercial Garmin inReach devices that have satellite-based positioning functionality.
The crew has found this solution extremely useful as an enhancement to our typical radio communications and situational awareness of EVA crew position & status. Much like EVALink will be able to do, our Garmin-based solution is able to see Crewmembers visualized in near-real time (2-10 min delay). It also enables the ability for a crewmember to send “Points of Interest”, or GPS waypoint pings, at times and places of EVA crewmember’s choosing, which based on the context of the point, can provide levels of information to HabComm. Finally, and rarely used by our crew so far, it can send short SMS-style text messages between the Hab and crewmembers.
We have provided feedback to the EVALink team on the overall status of the project and we are hopeful to perform some end-to-end testing of the system as well as distance testing during the rest of our time here.
8. FILE SERVER (James Burk, Commander)
Installation of Synology NAS file server with hybrid cloud capabilities to be used for research sharing between crews and other purposes
The server arrived safely and was unboxed and set up on SOL 2. It was qualified for use on SOL 3. However, it has lost power nearly every day and requires manual intervention to restart.
Due to the ongoing intermittent power outages that we have been experiencing, instead of putting this server into operational use, we are focusing on the power monitoring work that is being conducted by Crew Engineer Julien Villa-Massone, which will be important for the long-term hosting of this or a similar server onsite at the MDRS.
It was not critical to any other experiment to have this onsite server available, as we have cloud-based redundancies for all experiments that were going to use this one. Our crew’s file sharing activities and our permanent storage of research will happen using cloud-based services such as Google Drive, Google Photos, and similar tools.
The plan at the end of our mission will be to pack up the server and ready it for the beginning of the next field season.
9. SAFETY DRILLS (Aline Decadi, Executive Officer and Crew Geologist)
Conduct emergency procedure training and practice to improve crewmember safety.
A Safety Drill has been performed during Sol 4. During the last part of the EVA, the crew experienced an anomaly. While exploring an area approximately west of Pooh’s Corner, Executive Officer Aline Decadi started to smell what she described as a “burning plastic smell”. This was confirmed by GreenHab Officer Cecile Renaud who also smelled what she described as a “sulfur smell”. Fearing that XO Decadi’s backpack components were burning, the EVA team quickly worked to take off her helmet and suit. By the time they had done that, XO Decadi started to feel ill, and felt like she was going to faint. She was assisted back to the rovers by the three other crewmembers: GreenHab Officer Renaud, HSO Audrey Derobertmasure, and Crew Journalist Kris Davidson. The team performed a debriefing session and many issues were raised and discussed. A list of them is below. We also created a set of “Outcomes”, or recommendations, for both our crew’s future operations and the program in general.
Issues Experienced During EVA 5 Safety Drill
- [Technical] XO Decadi’s EVA gear seemed to create a smell that made her sick, briefly.
- [Medical] XO Decadi experienced light-headedness due to issue #1. At one point, she was leaning hard on the other crewmember and felt like she was going to faint.
- [Procedural] When individual crewmembers experienced Comms issues, not all crewmembers worked together to resolve them.
- [Procedural] Rovers did not stay together at all times, and certainly within sight of each other. One rover should never be out of sight of the other.
- [Procedural] Crew members would often talk at the same time.
- [Procedural] One crewmember stayed on Channel 1 during the entire EVA, despite the Comms issues. Crew members should switch to Channel 2 when having comms issues between each other.
- [Procedural] Removing XO Decadi’s helmet in an emergency situation was done in a suboptimal way.
- [Technical] Our Garmin device did not trigger an email to Mission Support, as was designed.
- [Procedural] It is safer to go to the furthest point of the EVA and then work your way back closer to the Hab. Instead, the EVA team first stopped near Marble Ritual and then north of Pooh’s Corner, with the intent to eventually get to Gateway to Candor. Instead they should have driven all the way to Gateway and worked their way back in the direction of the Hab.
Outcomes from EVA 5 Safety Drill
- Air flow of a backpack can be left on while the helmet is removed. In today’s case it was rightly switched off by one crew member while two others were removing the helmet, because of the nature of the perceived issue (burning component in backpack). In other emergency cases, keeping air flow on would be desirable.
- We need to be using hand signals, especially to communicate comms outages or when driving a rover with a sick crewmember in passenger seat (ie, “Are you ok?”)
- Crewmembers should always carry water on their person, and there should be at least one emergency water bottle carried by the EVA crew in the rover. By utilizing a carabiner clip with a water bottle that has a loop at the top, a crewmember can easily stow it on their person so that both hands are free.
- EVA members should have a mandatory water break every 20-30 mins, to keep ahead of any thirstiness or dehydration. We have noticed this can creep up on you quickly, and we keep powering through minor thirstiness only to suffer severe thirst later in the EVAs. Often, peer pressure or psychology prevents people from being the first to pause the EVA for reasons like this.
- When two rovers are driving, the person driving the rover should communicate with the other rover driver, and the other two (passenger) crew members should remain quiet.
- There should be a mandatory comm check at the beginning of every traverse. In today’s case, one rover lead was trying to communicate with the other, but they were not heard.
- The EVA suits should support rapid removal of helmet and backpack battery in the case of an emergency.
- EVA teams should carry sugar packets to help ill crew members. In today’s case that would have helped.
- For our crew’s HSO, the threshold for breaking sim would have been an actual fainting, not an “almost” fainting. In today’s case, the incident did not meet the threshold, although we broke the sim anyway due to the backpack smell issue.
Training Session on Emergency Procedures
During Sol 5, XO Decadi conducted a training session with all crewmembers for emergency in the field with the purpose to expose what kind of hazards may happen on the field, how to detect and make decisions on the most appropriate “way for action”. Then we trained on how to remove the helmet/backpack in different degraded situations as quick as possible.
10. STATION RESOURCES MONITORING (Julien Villa-Massone, Crew Engineer)
Improve monitoring tool sets for conservation of water and power at the station (both by our crew and future crews)
Water – Manual measurements performed several times per day and plotted on a chart, with trend projection to end of mission. Bringing this information to the attention of the crew daily has been helping everyone own the management of this resource and adapt usage accordingly. Currently trending towards the limit of 120 Gallons on Friday 12 May at night, which is acceptable as this is when our sim ends, and a water resupply can be performed.
Power – Automated measurements available from power system via online interface. There are several inconsistencies in the data provided in this measurement system, therefore, it is difficult to analyze the data with precision and confidence. However, there is sufficient data to be able to manage the system. The main action has been to start and stop the generator, which has been a decision and action taken by Mission Support. Less emphasis has been put on power usage management by the crew, beside turning lights off whenever they are not useful, and not plugging in rovers when sunlight is insufficient.
The Algacraft Bioreactor has been programmed to halve its power consumption in the night hours (between 1 hour before sunset and 1 hour after sunrise). Project to control the bioreactor power consumption based on actual power available is ongoing.
11. COPING STRATEGIES SURVEY (PI: Andrees Kaoosar, University of Central Florida)
Study crewmember behavior in extreme environments
As part of the behavioral study in extreme environments conducted by Andrees Kaoosar, we are completing self-assessment scales to evaluate potential changes in mood, anxiety, and social behavior during our mission. A daily journal entry is also proposed in this study. These daily surveys can help us become aware of our own feelings and better understand them. It can also help improve communication with other team members. Writing down our emotions and interactions is also a way to release emotions and reflect on solutions to manage them more effectively. The consensus among the participating crew members is that the opportunity to journal daily is welcome. The questions prior to the optional journal entry are consistent from sol to sol, which is helpful. The questions are also brief, which is helpful with busy schedules.
12. PROOF-OF-CONCEPT OF RECON & EMERGENCY DRONE W/ 8K 360 VR CAPABILITIES (PI: Ali Zareiee, Adapa 360)
Testing of advanced high-performance drone with ability to capture 8k 360 video for playback in virtual reality.
The experiment has not started yet.
13. SCOUT ROVER (PI: Cameron Rough, Nexus Aurora)
The Scout, Sample, and Map (SSAM) rover is a prototype of a rapid, cost-efficient, and redundant system for high-fidelity mapping and exploration of mission areas.
The rover has not arrived yet. The rover should arrive at MDRS on Sol 8.
14. MARSCOIN NODE WITH BLOCKCHAIN SERVICES (PI: Lennart Lopin, Marscoin Foundation)
Proof-of-Concepts for Blockchain-enabled Inventory Management & Small Settlement Governance Voting
The experiment was envisioned to be running on the File Server with a cloud-based rendundancy. Due to the issues with power (see File Server) we have not had time to set this up on the File Server and will likely conduct the experiment activities on a cloud-based instance.