Journalist Report – June 9th

Journalist Report

MDRS Crew 282 (Martian Biology III)

Jordan Bimm, 06.09.23

On the final full day of Martian Biology III, we revisited two sites from earlier in our mission. At Salt Wash we released captured insect specimens—including grasshoppers, caterpillars, and beetles, we had been studying in the Science Dome—back into the habitats where we first collected them. We also checked in on the water trap we deployed with the hope of collecting mosquito larvae. Unfortunately, we did not discover any mosquito larvae this time. The same was true for the water traps we set along the bank of the Fremont River, which was the site we returned to next. After collecting the water traps, we returned to the Hab where we finalized our mission report detailing the extensive biodiversity survey we completed over the past five days. Science highlights from our report include collecting 126 vascular plant, moss, and lichen specimens from 12 localities around MDRS, as well as direct collection of mosquitoes at all life stages and the experimental testing and evaluation of the novel mosquito trap design. In summing up our activities and preliminary findings we also had a chance to reflect on our time at MDRS and appreciate the breathtaking natural beauty in which it is situated. We captured some of our feelings of curiosity, wonder, and gratitude in an astrophotography session documenting the cosmic splendor overhead.


Image 1: Jacopo and Paul releasing collected insects back into their habitats at Salt Wash.

Image 2: The Core of the Milky Way rising over the desert hills at the Mars Desert Research Station.

Image 3: Cassiopeia over “North Ridge” at the Mars Desert Research Station.

Image 4: The arc of the Milky Way over the deserts east of MDRS.

Journalist Report – June 8th

Journalist Report

MDRS Crew 282 (Martian Biology III)

Jordan Bimm, 06.08.23

Since April 2021, we’ve all marveled at Ingenuity, NASA’s small robotic helicopter that’s been making the first powered flights on Mars (52 in total at time of writing). At MDRS, Crew 282’s mission Martian Biology III has been interested in a different kind of tiny flyer with big implications for the future of humanity—not advanced drones, but mosquitos. For many of us mosquitos are the classic summertime nuisance. We repel them with bug spray or a well-timed slap. However, even with global mitigation efforts mosquitos still infect around a million humans with deadly diseases including malaria each year. This is why entomologist Jacopo Razzauti, a PhD student at Rockefeller University and member of Crew 282 studies these unsavory critters. So instead of avoiding mosquitos, we are in the odd position of actively seeking them out. Today our hunt for “Marsquitos” took us to Muddy Creek. Reaching this field site, which we also examined during last year’s mission, involved firing up the rovers and trekking out across the lunar-like landscape of Copernicus Valley before arriving at winding reed-lined banks. At the start of our mission, we set out in search of mosquitos in all stages of development, larvae, pupae, and the familiar adult. “Mosquitos are very lazy,” Jacopo explained to us. “But if a human is around, they will come to you.” In this situation, we are not only scientists and scholars, we are also human bait. Over the past three days we’ve had lots of success: in the Henry Mountains we discovered a treasure trove of mosquito larvae in an abandoned water tank (mosquitos love laying eggs in still water), and last night by the Fremont River we used nets to catch eight adult mosquitos. Quickly transferring them from our net into sample tubes before they had a chance to escape turned the process into a fun high-stakes challenge. (Catching them alive and intact so they can be properly identified and studied is harder than you’d think.) Today we built on this success at Muddy Creek where we discovered and captured five more adult mosquitos. Then on our return drive to the station we stopped at a site called Cowboy Corner which we explored last year as well, remembering there was water here too. Hidden away in a natural depression we found standing pools of water that contained tadpoles, frogs, and yes, mosquito pupae! Now Jacopo is in the process of preparing them for analysis in the science dome. We endured a few itchy bites, but this was a sacrifice we were prepared to make for science, especially if the result is a better understanding of this important organism and the rich ecosystems surrounding MDRS.


Image 1: Muddy Creek at the northern edge of the MDRS Exploration Zone.

Image 2: Jacopo catches an adult mosquito on the bank of Muddy Creek.

Image 3: Jacopo collects a mosquito pupae at Cowboy Corner.

Journalist Report – June 7th

Journalist Report

MDRS Crew 282 (Martian Biology III)

Jordan Bimm, 06.07.23

Exploring Mars, NASA’s mantra is “follow the water.” On Earth, wherever we find water, we also find life, and this principle has guided robotic rover missions including Perseverance’s search for evidence of past habitable conditions. Today the crew took the MDRS rovers Spirit, Opportunity, and Perseverance to collect biological samples at two sites where water is key: White Canyon and the Fremont River. White Canyon is an ecologically diverse canyon with unique features called seeps along its southern edge. Seeps are places kept moist and lush by water that reaches the surface from underground aquifers, which in the desert surrounding MDRS makes White Canyon an ideal oasis-like place to search for life. (For those familiar with the Station, White Canyon is located near the turn-off from Utah State Road 24 that leads to MDRS.) Last year, during Martian Biology II, we explored this site for the first time and flagged it as one worth returning to for more coverage. Today we collected more plants including Small-leaf Globemallow (Sphaeralcea parvifolia), discovered tadpole larvae in a small pool of standing water, and spotted some whiptail lizards (Teiidae) as well as a White-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus townsendii) sheltering from the blazing sun in a small, cool crevasse between rocks. We followed White Canyon to a culvert that leads under Utah State Road 24 and to the banks of the Fremont River, which flows in the direction of nearby Hanksville. Back on Day 1 of our mission, Jacapo, our entomologist, had set a special trap for mosquito larvae here since these pesky insects love to lay their eggs in water. Today was our first chance to check and see if it had worked. We located the trap, which was still in good shape, but unfortunately it did not contain the hoped-for mosquito larvae. Astrobiologists know all too well the disappointment in not finding life you are hoping to discover. But in science negative findings are productive results, so Jacopo decided to make some alterations to the experimental setup, and we will check back on it again later in the mission.

Image 1: White Canyon is a consolidated sandstone gully leading to the Fremont River at the southern edge of the MDRS exploration zone.

Image 2: Sphaeralcea parvifolia (Small-leaf Globemallow) flowering in White Canyon, south of MDRS.

Image 3: A White-tailed jackrabbit we spotted in a shady crevasse in White Canyon.

Image 4: Jacopo checking in on mosquito larvae traps on the Fremont River.

Journalist Report – June 6th

Journalist Report

MDRS Crew 282 (Martian Biology III)

Jordan Bimm, 06.06.23

The atmosphere on Mars is very thin—less than 1% of Earth’s comfy 14.7 pounds per square inch (psi) at sea level. At MDRS we can simulate many aspects of Mars exploration, but even in our space suits the pressure outside the Hab remains normal. However, there is a low-pressure analog near-by: the Henry Mountains, an impressive range of snow-capped peaks which top out at 11,522 feet. What kinds of life might we find up there? How would it relate to what we find closer to the Hab? If you’ve ever spent time at MDRS you’ve probably noticed the Henry Mountains. Step outside the Hab, look south, and “the Henrys” are the collection of distant peaks rising from the horizon. Today Crew 282, along with Sergii Iakymov, assistant director of MDRS, ventured into the Henry Mountains, expanding our biodiversity survey to this unique high-altitude environment. Driving in the crew car, we made our way up winding roads which turned from blacktop to gravel to narrow and rock strewn. Breathtaking views were our first reward, but soon we turned to the business of field science. We collected at three different sites: McMillan Springs, South Creek Ridge, and South Creek. Our finds included insect larvae, colorful flowering plants, and hardy lichens. The highest point we reached was South Creek Ridge at 9,100 feet, around 10.5 psi—not even close to Mars’s extremely rarefied atmosphere at 0.095 psi, but still an investigation of life in different low-pressure environments near MDRS. We returned to the Station just in time to avoid a different kind of atmospheric threat: a rainstorm with massive wind gusts pushing sheets of dust and sand across the desert landscape. It reminded us of the opening scene of The Martian. “Is the Hab secure?” Sergii’s voice crackled over the comms system. We made certain all the hatches were battened down and thanked our lucky stars we made it back in the nick of time.

Image Captions:

Image 1: Utah Penstemon (Penstemon utahensis) flowering in the Henry Mountains.

Image 2: Desert Paintbrush (Castilleja chromosa) flowering in the Henry Mountains.

Image 3: A plant press full of the drying specimens collected by Crew 282 in front of the Hab.

Image 4: Paul, Jordan, Jacopo, and Sergii in the Henry Mountains.

Image 5: The Fairy Candelabra (Androsace septentrionalis), pictured here growing in the Henry Mountains, also grows in Nunavut, where the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station is located.

Image 6: One of the snow-capped peaks visible from South Creek Ridge at 9,100 feet.

Image 7: Gorgeous orange-red lichens discovered at South Creek Ridge.

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