Mission Summary – Crew 238

Mars Desert Research Station

Crew 238 Mission Summary

January 2- 15th, 2022

Through hardship, tomorrow to Mars, the Earth always


Commander: Dr Sionade Robinson

Executive Officer and Journalist: Pedro Marcellino

Health and Safety Officer: Robert T. Turner

GreenHab Officer: Dr Kay Sandor

Artist-in- Residence and Crew Astronomer: Aga Pokrywka

Crew Engineer: Simon Werner.



Crew of MDRS 238 would like to thank the Board and members of the Mars Society whose vision for MDRS made our mission possible: Dr. Robert Zubrin, President, Dr. Shannon Rupert, MDRS Director, Atila Meszaros, Assistant Director, Dr. Peter Detterline, Director of Observatories, who trained and assisted our Crew Astronomer before and during the mission; and Bernard Dubb, Johanna Kollewyn, Dani Gamble, Juan Miranda, who in addition to Atila, served as CapCom.  We would also like to thank Bharghav Patel for his exceptional ground support, Jason Michaud of Stardust Technologies for engaging us in a VR project in use in several space analogues.  Drew Smithsimmons and Rob Brougham Co-Founders of Braided Communications for the training and facilitating use of a new communication technology to address emotional wellbeing in future deep space faring,  and Dr Julia Yates of City University of London who will evaluate this first-of-its-kind study.  Thanks are also due to Mr Don Mear for receiving and storing many crew packages Grand Junction prior to our arrival.  Lastly, enormous gratitude goes to our family and friends for both joining research project and for sparing us not only for our rotation, but the many online weekend meetings over the last two years of preparation.


Mission description and outcome

Crew 238 is a crew of diverse, international, multidisciplinary and experienced professionals, curated by the Mars Society after individual applications in 2019. The average age is 53.  Our assigned rotation was for January 2021, but necessarily postponed in the global pandemic. Nevertheless we maintained and developed our focus and once travel and the MDRS re-opened in Autumn 2021, we were on our way.


Our focus throughout has been the wellbeing of future astronauts – both in our individual and joint projects.  Our shared objectives were


  • Maintaining simulation fidelity in all activities, including standard ops, communications, emergency procedures in collaboration with Mission Support
  • Producing and documenting results on emergency preparedness and responsiveness
  • Effectively working with External Partners in testing effects of “Braided” communications” vs Latency Governed Messaging on the well-being and emotional response of the crew when communicating with loved ones
  • Engaging in mindfulness and reflection practices as mitigation strategies for stress conditions
  • Extensive multimedia journaling for internal MDRS use and external public relations
  • Welcoming and engaging a visiting journalist arranged by The Mars Society


  • Post mission, generating a portfolio of multimedia assets and creating additional outreach opportunities for media, schools, and other public support of future human travel to Mars.


With the exception of the last objective (ongoing), the crew have successfully completed these shared goals. Data collected in a world-first study Examining the impact of communication latency on crew closeness to loved ones on Earth – Mars Desert Research Station Mission 238: A Small Group Study (IRB-approved) will be analysed by Dr Julia Yates of Department of Psychology at City, University of London on our return.  Additionally, it is pleasing to report we have managed our water, internet and food resources efficiently.


But our shared goals are the mere tip of the iceberg when considering work undertaken at MDRS over the last two weeks.  Our individual projects have included data collection in Standardized Emergency Response Strategies (SRS),  Mars Research Storytelling: Personal and Public Narratives in Mars & Space Research, From Space to Bacterial Colonization, Astronauts’ Coping Strategies in High Pressure Environments and Value creation with an Explorer’s Mindset. Both research work and “HabLife” have been followed by a leading Portuguese national newspaper on a daily basis, demonstrating considerable pubic engagement and outreach expertise of our XO and Crew Journalist.


Physically, crew health, as assessed by HSO Turner, has been robust despite a few minor bumps and bruises expertly dealt with along the way.  Our commitment to maintaining simulation and to optimising our time meant we adopted many best practices of successful crew rotations in environments much more demanding than our two week rotation at MDRS.  We have actively followed a schedule of work, rest and play.  We have eaten breakfast, dinner and almost every lunch together (some surprisingly excellent meals, by the way),  we socialised and we made time to reflect on learning, challenges and positive experiences in a daily After Action Review after dinner.  We also shared a lot of laughter – and it is important to note laughing together should not be considered a mere passing pleasure.  Studies have shown that shared humour is likely to play an important part in selecting the crews that will travel to Mars.  Laughter is a valuable interpersonal tool essential to coping with boredom brought about by prolonged periods of isolation, routine and social monotony. It enhances morale and serves an important communication function when expressing frustration or dissatisfaction in a socially acceptable manner, without causing additional stress or conflict.  Crews that laugh together have been shown to be significantly more productive and high functioning, as well as likely to remain “intact”, rather than split into cliques and subgroups.


Fig. 1. Left to right, CHO Sandor, HSO Turner, XO Marcellino, Artist Pokrywka, ENG Werner, Commander Robinson.


Science and Research Outcomes on site:

  • Crew 238 organised around two fundamental research trunks: astronaut mental health and well-being, on the one hand; and public narratives about Mars research, on the other. The former involved all crew members, through our collaboration with the aerospace start-ups Braided Communications, Stardust Technologies, and City – University of London, but also crew member Dr. Kay Sandor, an experienced psychotherapist. The latter touches upon the open-ended research and storytelling work conducted by the artist-in-residence, Aga Prokywka, and XO, Pedro Marcellino who also served as Crew Journalist and documentarian. Research on leadership learning through exploration and expeditions will also be forthcoming (Robinson).
  • In addition to storytelling and documentary work to be completed and published in mainstream English-language media in Canada and beyond after rotation, XO Marcellino has reported on a daily basis to Observador, one of Portugal’s leading broadsheets, in partnership with one of their science reporters, using Braided’s latency messaging as a core communication tool. Between daily chronicles and the reporter-led pieces, a total of 30 articles were published as a Crew 238 Special Feature, pre-, during, and post rotation. Ten further articles have been published on the European Science Communicators Network, a collective of expert journalists writing on contemporary science topics.
  • For our research on emergency scenarios, the crew was introduced to firefighting principles on Earth and discussed how these would need to be adapted for emergency response on Mars. Work included a practical exercise using a CO2 fire extinguisher and use of an Curaplex® patient transporter. After introduction to the ARAI principle (Alarm, Response, Analysis, and Information to ‘mission control’), several Mars-related emergency exercises were conducted including a medical emergency during an EVA, with recovery and transport of an astronaut to the HAB, a fire in the RAM airlock with a person trapped, a solar flare event including evacuation of the whole crew to a shelter (Science Dome) and a hull breach scenario within the tunnels.







Fig.3 Robinson and Pokrywka firefighting in simulated emergency exercise.


  • Lessons learned through these exercises addressed the importance of gathering the crew in a specific place – to immediately see if anyone is missing. As on Earth – firefighting on Mars demands a trained crew who can quickly identify fire source(s) and responses. A significantly faster response time was achieved after practice.  The solar flare evacuation event went flawlessly and in a coordinated, calm manner. A tunnel rupture exercise demanded section shutdown and identification of the exact rupture position. Even in daylight it took the responding crew several minutes to identify the distributed ruptures and to “repair” them, when suited up.  In terms of learning, we now recommend airlock design allow space for an injured astronaut to be safely transported in supine position and accompanied by at least 3-4 responders. Emergency stretchers or blankets should provide an opening for the life support system. A summary of findings will be written up as a White Paper.
  • Agnieszka Pokrywka (ART) in her multidisciplinary practice merging art, technology, and natural sciences, focussed on the exploration of invisible to the human eye micro and macro scales of living on Mars. She not only observed several astronomical objects (M 51, IC 434, M 101, IC 1848, IC 1805, Ceres, 104P Kowal, C 2019 L3 ATLAS) with the use of the telescope. She also investigated via the dark field microscope bacterial starters for fermented foods, as well as the samples gathered during EVAs. She was also searching for visual and aesthetic similarities between these images.
  • Throughout the mission, Pokrywka was cultivating bacterial starters to enrich the analogue astronauts’ diet with sourdough bread, yogurt, kombucha, and water kefir. She was also cultivating spirulina platensis, a cyanobacteria popularly known as spirulina generating 57g of protein per 100g. Cultivation took place both in a 1 litre vessel in the Green Hab as well as in six mini-bioreactors nurtured by each member of the crew. This experiment aimed to introduce each crewmate to the basics of spirulina cultivation, as well as elements of mindfulness and care. The benefits of growing spirulina this way are not only the production of oxygen and nutrients but also the connection and care for another being which we all seemed to miss during our mission. All the bacterial cultures, without exception, do surprisingly well at MDRS.


Fig 3. Comparing results of mini bioreactors nurtured over three days by crew.

  • Within the wellbeing research undertaken by Dr Sandor, experiments related to medicinal herbs for inhalation (Lavender Sachet), ingestion (Lavender Biscotti), and teas (Chamomile and Tulsi/Holy Basil), introduced to the crew during evening information and ritual times in our crew kitchen. The purpose of using these medicinal herbs was to reduce stress and anxiety. Informal immediate responses revealed all these activities were relaxing and restorative. Qualitative data about the effects of this activity was gathered before and after these activities and will be analyzed at a later time.
  • The introduction of the labyrinth as an instrument to reduce stress, relax the body, and quiet the mind was conducted in several stages. First the history of the labyrinth throughout time was outlined. Second, the process of the walk, and finally, the actual drawing of the labyrinth on paper, and then on the Martian (Utah desert) surface were introduced. A smaller 3-circuit labyrinth was attempted, but the Martian surface was very hard and the results were not satisfactory. Another larger temporary 7-circuit labyrinth was successfully drawn on a softer Martian surface. After drawing, the crew, in two separate EVAs, walked the meditative path of the labyrinth to the centre and then took the same path back to the exit. Immediate crew responses included curiousity and intrigue about the experience of walking the labyrinth – and a desire to repeat it. One said he felt like he left the campus as he focused on the path. Another thought it was meditative. Quantitative and qualitative data were gathered before and after the walk were collected and will be analyzed later.

Commander’s Reflection


Fig.4: Crew profiles captured in silhouette by morning sunlight on upstairs of Hab wall.


As Commander I would like to conclude by highlighting a challenge that research has already identified for future travel to Mars- that of the Personality Paradox, noted more than twenty years ago by Professor Peter Suedfeld in his paper, The Environmental Psychology of Capsule Habitats (2000). The paradox is this – most volunteers for anything as challenging and unusual as space, undersea habitats, and polar work will score toward the upper end of any scale of thrill-seeking, novelty-seeking, and competence-effectance motivation. In a nutshell, such recruits want adventure and challenge.  Yet the reality of missions will often be monotonous, routine, and full of boring tasks. A second factor is that volunteers also tend to be high on the need for personal control and autonomy, whereas capsule life is in fact controlled by environmental requirements and organisational regulations.


The implication of the paradox is that programmes risk recruiting exactly the kinds of people most likely to be unhappy on site. This finding poses questions about what can be done to improve recruitment, orientation, training, or the capsule conditions to diminish the gap? The most promising mitigating strategy is to ensure potential recruits are familiarized with what the experience will really be like by thorough orientation and experience in analogue environments (the value of such locations as MDRS). A second potential area to investigate is the degree to which procedural guidelines can maximize variety, flexibility, and control by the crew rather than base staff.  There is clearly much more research to be done in this field.


End.  (2000 words approx, excluding titles and labels).

Journalist Report – January 14th


MDRS — Crew 238 — Sol 12 14 Jan 2022

We Are All Made of Stars

The end is nigh. During comms window last night, we suddenly found out that our sim is cut short at 12-noon on Friday. Our plan had been to proceed till Friday evening, but alas that is not to be. So, we go to bed on what will be our last few hours in-sim.

Once again, I stay up very late getting all my admin together, although HSO Turner was a close second, completing his Mars surface puzzle. I eventually close my eyes at 4 AM and wake up at 6:55 AM with knocks on my door and the hideous fire alarm Werner had downloaded for his exercises. “Fire!”, I am told. I get dressed in the dark and run out and downstairs, where I don my EVA suit alongside Turner, as I hear Pokrywka cough through the radio. We get there fairly fast, and she is presumed alive. I think we are getting better at this. Practice makes perfect, and Werner has us on this routine much like Arkady
Bogdanov had the First 100.

People try to talk to me after the drill, but I go back to bed grumpy. I need some more sleep.

After breakfast, a few of us proceed with our Braided Communications sessions, and get down to our many reports due, while others clean the Hab. We have been cleaning as we go for the whole two weeks, and it
looks shinier than we found it.

So, the day has suddenly opened up from a busy research schedule to an off-sim walk to Hab Ridge, where some of us will get the last bit of footage for our documentaries and art projects. Sadly, we will also have to walk to Dr. Sandor’s Mars labyrinth, 100 m north of the hab, and delicately give it back to the red dirt of Mars.
This is rotation life.
It starts, and it ends. We Are All Made of Stars — as Moby once said.

Journalist Report – January 13th



MDRS — Crew 238 — Sol 09 11 Jan 2022

The Tasmanian devil, the devil’s toenails, and the solar flares

Yesterday, not for the first time, I was up into the wee hours, trying to catch up on all the admin due at MDRS, and with my reporting duties outside of the station. Planning, logistics, domestic labour, reports, reportages, and collective projects have all taken a toll on my sleep hours. Read: I haven’t had many.

Mind you, as a tv producer, the overloaded schedule is nothing new. But I confess the utter exhaustion caused by the intensity of life at MDRS, the lack of time and space to rest, and even the lack of privacy, which has clear impacts on personal well-being, did catch me off guard. As a crew with a core focus on mental health, we took note of this.

As an XO and Crew Journalist on crew 238, you’d reckon I know everything that is going on. Turns out, that’s not true. The morning of Sol 9 was a perfect example. As I left my stateroom still rubbing my eyes, I grab a coffee and suddenly hear this German accent coming through the radios: “Commander! Commande! We’ve received a notification of a solar flare. ETA is 20 minutes. I repeat: ETA is 20 minutes. Seek shelter!”.

We all look at each other, roll our eyes, and then dutifully march down the stairs, slowly and in a controlled manner. Eng. Werner reminds us of the need to carry supplies, notably water and some easy-opening food. We do. Some of us also grab their spirulina tubes. Not all. As we are sheltering and Werner goes through whatever supplies we collectively selected, we do notice we have twelve radios and one space novella, and five spirulina tubes. Prokywka, the mother of the spirulina, has forgotten her tube at the Hab, to die of intense solar radiation. Sad.

When the exercise is done, we resume our life at the station. Some have admin, others have domestic tasks, others have Braided Communications sessions with our off-site communications and systems engineer, Bhargav Patel, the newspaper we’re reporting to, or our loved ones (part of the mental health study at City – University of London).

In the PM, the crew splits, and for the first time, the boys go out on an EVA together, to Barainca Butte. A long drive, but it’s an incredibly beautiful site with a handful of geological features we can’t get over. On the way back, Eng. Werner happens upon a treasure trove of devil’s toenails, and you suddenly see the decades of amateur geology and paleontology knowledge shine through on his face — “how did these get here!?” The landscape carved by water streams provides useful clues. On the way back we stop at Kissing Camel to admire a few incredible features, upon which the sunset is bestowing a golden glory. We park the rovers just on time.

At the dinner table, the conversation is lighthearted, and given our cultural and geographical diversity, we try to explain the difference between Tasmanian devils, North American wolverines, gophers marmots, prairie
dogs, martens, minks, weasels, and so on. Someone mentions all these critters are cousins of Alice-the-desert-mouse. And suddenly, our commander screams, then I scream, Pokrywka laughs to the point of crying, and Werner thinks it’s all a practical joke. But it’s not. Our commander swears she saw a large beast. Pokrywka believes it’s little Alice again. Every time we mention her, she surfaces.

Over dinner, the commander takes a different seat so she won’t unwittingly see this monster again. It’s dessert time when another scream scares all of us again. This time we know it’s Alice, coming out of Eng. Werner’s stateroom. She was caught there once before. The live traps come back out.

These Martian rodents are too much.

MDRS — Crew 238 — Sol 10 12 Jan 2022
Going to The Moon to find Gypsum as in Mars

Dr. Sandor gifted us with an after-dinner chamomile infusion last night, and we all slept in. It’s 9 AM when we all show up for breakfast, after a relaxing night. The next two days have been planned as slightly more low-key events, with half the crew resting in each of them. It’s been intense to this point.

On my end, I am putting my logistical and journalistic duties aside for a couple of days, and setting up a temporary studio at the RAM, to record one-on-one interviews with our incredible, multi-hyphenate
crew. Our diversity of cultures, geographies, professional backgrounds, experiences, opinions, and philosophies make this the most interesting groups of individuals I’ve ever gone to Mars with.

A group that can both accomplish unique, ground-breaking, challenging research, but also philosophically question and defend interplanetary expansion, structures of power, and the public narratives that surround it. But even this stellar crew needs a day off. So: slow day.

Some of us head over to our last rover-based EVA to The Moon area, which provides a spectacular backdrop to our geological observation and documentary captures. The commander finds the dark gray landscape menacing and observes Pokrywka and me as we venture through the myriad of flood channels. Werner had returned from this location with plenty of surface gypsum, a soft sulfate mineral composed of calcium sulfate dihydrate, which some scientists believe to be a core indicator of historic running water on parts of Mars identified by Opportunity.

On our analog Mars, gypsum glitters at sunset, and I happened upon a little deposit at the top of the hill we climbed back on.

The return to the Hab is rough. It’s a long drive, the path is bumpy, and all our six radios fail, leaving us to communicate by sign language when we are utterly exhausted. Not fun. But this evening we get to kick back. It’s my turn cooking, and it’s do-it-yourself burrito night. We also bring out a geological map of Mars puzzle
(hard), and the Oculus Quest 2 of our partners Stardust Technologies, a Canadian startup working on improving the mental health of astronauts. Dr. Sandor and our commander explore meditation and go to bed as if they had chamomile tea. Eng. Werner explores the award-winning ISS walk and is animated. I feel dizzy after 2 minutes.

MDRS — Crew 238 — Sol 11 13 Jan 2022

The Spirulina Harvest and Alice’s (Re)Capture

I have been visiting Dr. Sandor at the GreenHab over the last few days, early in the morning. The smell of the GreenHab (and frankly, Dr. Sandor herself) reminds me of my grandmother, and the love she has for the plants in there shows through. The GreenHab is looking gorgeous after two weeks in her hands, playing them music — folk music one day, Albinioni the next, jazz the next one. As I’m there, I noticed Pokrywka’s spirulina bubbling on the shelf. We call her on the radio and ask for instructions. We hear giggling on the other side, and she says, seriously enough: “please evacuate the GreenHab immediately! It’s an invasion!” We keep our humour.

Today was a second quiet day, with half the crew staying in on R&R. I filmed the last of my three interviews in my impromptu RAM studio, and as I was wrapping my self-interview, I see the last rover EVA leave to Candor Chasma. They return with spectacular footage and photos. But while they are away, Commander Robinson informs me that we are having one more emergency drill organized by Eng. Werner. This time, a tunnel depressurization was caused by debris impacts. He expects one breach.

I see an opportunity to get him back and apply 7 impact sites with blue paper tape. When they are back, Werner and Turner are rushed to the tunnels to fix the breaches. They are spread all over, and the alerts keep coming. One is bigger than he thought and threatens the collapse of this section of the station. Werner fixes it in the nick of time and looks happy. “Cool”, he says. Werner is happy, I’m happy.

Before dinner, Pokrywka decides is time to harvest the spirulina tubes. Some are healthier than others, laying bare the different parenting methods. The commander readily wins with her spirulina called The Borg. She has been referring to herself and the spirulina as “we” for days now. A few died undignified deaths. We ate the rest.
We admit that our giving names to these test tubes and a desert mouse indicate that isolation has affected us.

Speaking of Alice: she was recaptured in the live-trap, and we will let her go on Sol 12.

EVA Report – January 12th

Crew 238 EVA Report 12Jan2022

EVA #12

Author: Sionade Robinson

Purpose of EVA: To collect geologic, bacterial, and photographic samples.

Start time:1.30 pm
End time: 4.30 pm

Narrative: EVA crew visited Area D by Rovers Curiosity and Spirit. Successfully documenting photographically, the remarkable geographical features and collecting bacterial and radiation samples previously viewed to enhance findings and outputs

Destination: Area D

Coordinates (use UTM NAD27 CONUS): W4254400 by N516000

Participants: Turner, Pokrywka, Werner

Road(s) and routes per MDRS Map: MoonWalk Road up to Cow Dung Road, north to Braher Highway 1572, then west to Braher Highway to 1575

Mode of travel: Curiosity and Opportunity

Research Report – January 12th

Astronomy Report

Name: Agnieszka Pokrywka

Crew: 238

Date: 01/12/2022


Robotic Telescope Requested: Montana Learning Center

Objects Viewed: 104P Kowal, C 2019 L3 ATLAS

Problems Encountered: The observations of the two comets listed above were performed most likely with a partially cloudy sky therefore the pictures are not very clear.

I attach the remaining four observations (in the following order: Ceres_220108, IC1805_220108, 104PKowal_220112, C2019L3ATLAS_220112). These were composed out of 4 exposure files (Red, Green, Blue, Lum) without calibration. I aim to work on these after returning from the mission.

These are all observations I was ought to conduct during Crew 238 shift. The Astronomy Laptop will be placed downstairs in the Hab.


Not used.

Sol Summary – January 12th

Crew 238 Sol Summary Report 12Jan2022


Summary Title: Moonwalk

Author’s name: Sionade Robinson

Mission Status: Ongoing

Sol Activity Summary: Research work is continuing, including individual strategies for spirulina incubation. Our tubes are already visibly differentiated – judging tomorrow. This afternoon’s EVA activity was to the spectacular Area D, collecting photographic samples of this remarkable other-worldly landscape. Evening plans for further Health & Safety training, VR research, and discussions of challenges to human wellbeing in deep space-faring.

Look Ahead Plan: Research continuing. EVA request to follow

Anomalies in work: None.

Weather: Sunny, bright, and cold. No wind

Crew Physical Status: Nominal.

EVA: By Rovers to Area D for collection of photographic samples.

Reports to be filed: Sol, Operations, EVA Report, Journalist, and HSO report.

Support Requested: EVA Request

Additional Support: None

Operations Report – January 12th

Crew 238 Operations Report 12-01-2022


Name of person filing report: Simon Werner

Non-nominal systems: none

Notes on non-nominal systems: none

Spirit rover used: Yes
Hours: 151.0
Beginning charge: 100%
Ending charge: 93%
Currently charging: yes

Opportunity rover used: No
Hours: 82.6
Beginning charge: 100%
Ending charge: 100%
Currently charging: Yes

Curiosity rover used: Yes
Hours: 163.4
Beginning charge: 100%
Ending charge: 98%
Currently charging: yes

Perseverance rover used: No
Hours: 226
Beginning charge: unknown
Ending charge: 100%
Currently charging: Yes

General notes and comments: none

Summary of Hab operations:

WATER USE: 33 gallons
Water (static tank): 245
Water (loft tank): filled to 55 gallons
Water Meter: post pumping 01546953

Static to Loft Pump used – yes
Static tank pipe heater (on or off): on
Static tank heater (on or off) on

Toilet tank emptied: No

Summary of internet: nominal

Summary of suits and radios: nominal

Summary of GreenHab operations:

WATER USE: 10 gallons

Heater: On

Supplemental light: Yes

Harvest: no harvest today

Summary of Science Dome operations: None

Dual split: Off

Summary of RAM operations: RAM cleaned by HSO Turner.

Summary of any observatory issues: none

Summary of health and safety issues: none

Questions, concerns and requests to Mission Support:

Re-supply needed: paper towels for cleaning, trash bags. Oh, and a very terrible thing: we ran out of Coffee. We had just one open can when our rotation started.

Astronomy Report – January 11th

Astronomy Report
Name: Agnieszka Pokrywka
Crew: 238
Date: 01/11/2022

Robotic Telescope Requested: Montana Learning Center
Objects Viewed: 104P Kowal, C 2019 L3 ATLAS

Problems Encountered: The observations of the two above listed comets were unsuccessful, most likely due to the cloudy weather. Both observations are resubmitted for tonight.

I’m attaching the images of the first four observations (in this order: Horse Head, Messier51, Messier101, Soul Nebula). Each one is made of the four exposure files (Red, Green, Blue, Lum) and the three calibration files (mflat). That might be influencing the quality of the images which at the moment is quite low.

Not used.