The Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS), owned and operated by the Mars Society, is a full-scale analog facility in Utah that supports Earth-based research in pursuit of the technology, operations, and science required for human space exploration. We host an eight-month field season for professional scientists and engineers as well as college students of all levels, in training for human operations on Mars. The relative isolation of the facility allows for rigorous field studies as well as human factors research. Most crews carry out their mission under the constraints of a simulated Mars mission. Most missions are 2-3 weeks in duration, although we have supported longer missions as well. The advantage of MDRS over most facilities for simulated space missions is that the campus is surrounded by terrain that is a geologic Mars analog, which offers opportunities for rigorous field studies as they would be conducted during an actual space mission.
The MDRS campus in Utah includes four structures. The habitat (Hab), constructed in 2001 is a two-story cylindrical building eight meters in diameter that can house seven crew members at one time. The structure has undergone a complete refurbishment over the last few years. The lower deck houses the EVA prep room, an exterior airlock, a complete basic science laboratory, a shower room, a toilet room and a rear airlock leading to tunnels that access other structures. The upper deck houses the living quarters, which include a common work/living area, fully operational kitchen and seven staterooms with bunks and personal desks. Six of the staterooms are on the main floor, a seventh is housed in the loft.
The Musk Observatory houses a 14″ Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope on a CGE pro equatorial mount. Attached is a 4″ refractor, which is used as a guide scope. Either telescope can utilize a wide array of cameras for astronomical imaging. The telescope is housed in a 7.5 foot automated dome that can be controlled on site or from the habitat module. The GreenHab, a new state of the art greenhouse fully funded by donations, was completed prior to the beginning of the 2015-16 field season. It is a geodesic dome seven meters in diameter that will house both conventional and hydroponic growing systems, in addition to space devoted to crop research studies. The Observatory and GreenHab are linked with the Hab via above ground tunnels to allow participants to utilize these buildings while remaining in simulation. Finally, an engineering shed not accessed by the tunnels houses the habitat’s generators.
Crews occupying the station are fully supported. The MDRS station is operational with all systems functional during their stay. Shelf-stable foods such as those used on space missions are supplied for each crew. Additional support equipment includes five all-terrain vehicles for field transportation and a 4-wheel drive SUV. Two staff – the director and a local engineering support person – manage the station. In addition, there are a host of volunteer teams supporting all aspects of the work that is done at the station, including peer review of all research proposals and supporting crews via off-site Mission Support.
MDRS officially began operations in 2001 as a fully volunteer enterprise, which is now in its 16th field season. To date, over 1,000 people have participated as crew members at the habitat, and many are now involved in other analog studies at different locations around the world.