Commander Report – February 21st

Dear Earth,

We are currently living our ninth Sol on Mars, and fortunately the
weather was kind enough with us to allow a three-hour EVA.

Louis Mangin, Louis Maller, Victoria and Simon went out at 9 AM and
began by looking for a good place to anchor the balloon (this maneuver
being planned for a later and less windy EVA). The plan is to let the
balloon fly during an entire Sol, at about 80 meters of height (260
ft) and attached to a heavy rock. During the night, it will slowly go
down, and we will pick it up on the next morning to recover 24 hours
of atmospheric data. To conduct that experiment, we need a long period
with less than 10mph of wind, so we keep our fingers crossed for the
next Sols.

The EVA team finally found the right place, in a plain North-East of
the Hab, visible from its windows. After that, they took two ATVs and
a rover to explore and take pictures at White Rock Canyon, which was
discovered during yesterday’s EVA. Meanwhile, Xavier learned by heart
the datasheet of our electric supply, Mouâdh prepared a delicious rice
with tomato sauce (rice is the only food we have in large quantity,
beside the tremendous amount of snacks of all kinds), and I made a new
funnel from cans, for the refilling of the ATVs’ oil.

The wind rose around 11 AM and went on during the whole Sol. It was as
if the Hab could be blown away at any time. Sometimes the noise
covered our usual musical ambiance, but the work continued,
undisturbed by the elements. We had an important debate in the
afternoon, about our rationing of the breakfast, until we found a
brand new jar of active yeast well hidden on the shelves (our previous
jar vanished with yesterday’s bread). We are saved!

My report was almost over when we realized that the sky was finally
Mars-like: the orange-red clouds in the evening sky were spectacular
and gave us an impression of fireworks’ grand finale, after the wind

Ad Astra!

Arthur Lillo
Commander of the stunned Crew 175

Commander Report – February 20th

Dear Earth,

Sol 8: we have been here for an entire week now, and this morning we
woke up with the foggiest weather we had since our arrival.

Mouâdh took the commandership of our morning EVA, leading Louis
Maller, Xavier and I to the southernmost part of our map: White Rock
Canyon. The mist was nearly gone when we arrived there, but on the
inside part of the helmet glass, the fog was terrible. We could only
drive at a very low speed to stay on the Main Road. Despite its not so
impressive size, the canyon was stunning. We discovered orange-red
water when walking along the valley, and lots of colored strata with
various orientations.

Then, the plot thickened: deep inside the canyon, Xavier realized that
its backpack had stopped sending him fresh air. Mouâdh reacted quickly
and wisely by taking the decision to recover to the rovers and to head
back to the Hab. Xavier and I agreed on a solution inspired by our
scuba diving experience to provide him with air: I plugged one of my
air-supply tubes to his helmet, keeping the other one on my own
helmet. That way, Xavier could not only breathe fresh air, but also
see through his helmet, the fog being cleaned by the airstream. We
walked side by side on our way back to the rovers, and then the EVA
team came back to the Hab after almost two and a half hours outdoors,
with the sun finally showing up. This experience was quite inspiring,
indeed afterward we defined some emergency protocols regarding this
kind of situation, likely to happen again if we forget to turn off the
backpack when they are recharging.

In the afternoon, we tried a new physical training proposed by Louis
Mangin, inspired by his usual rowing training. Demanding, but we felt
good after this physical effort, and it was an excellent teambuilding
activity. I am glad to see that even after a whole week in here the
crew is still dynamic and motivated! Ahead of us, we still have about
twelve Sols of mission, which is the typical duration of a rotation at

Ad Astra!

Arthur Lillo,
Commander of the sportive Crew 175

Commander Report – February 19th

Dear Earth,

We began Sol 7 with the same bad weather as yesterday.

Today’s EVA was shortened like the last one. The rain from last night
had left a very muddy environment, where it was not safe to take the
rovers. Simon was in charge of the EVA, with Victoria, Louis Mangin
and I. We went East of the Hab to determine the range of the walkie
talkies and test the radio repeater built yesterday. Unfortunately,
the results were absolutely not concluding, probably due to the
weather: even with a line of sight, sometimes we could not communicate
with each other while the Hab was hearing us. The second experiment
was the marine sextant, with which we measured the angles between
distant objects (the Hab, a remarkable hill…), to determine our
position on the map afterward. The significant humidity in the air
covered our helmets with fog before long, preventing us from seeing
where we stepped. Thus, after an hour out of the Hab, Simon took the
decision to abort the EVA and come back to the main airlock.

Unlike the EVA, the debriefing was efficient. There are much more
lessons to learn from an aborted mission than from a successful one.
We took this opportunity to define protocols for foggy situations
(guidance through radio), or non working radio (non-verbal
communication inspired by diving codes).

The afternoon brought a sunnier touch on our activities, allowing us
to watch our first (and unlikely) Martian rainbow. The experiments
went on normally, with interesting results. The sprouts in Victoria’s
Vegidair grow quicker than the ones in the GreenHab; the coordinates
on the map seem to correspond to our position when using the marine
sextant; the Aquapad petri dishes show without a doubt the destruction
of all bacterial life in boiled water compared with tap water (our
teachers did not lie to us!).

Apart from the crew, there is another busy inhabitant in the Hab: no
rest for the bread machine, the “perpetual bread” is on its way. The
psychological effect of eating fresh loaf everyday is undoubtedly
positive, and I am convinced that a shortage of flour would cause the
mutiny of my crew. I keep an eye on the stock, and an escape plan just
in case.

Ad astra!

Arthur Lillo,
Commander of the EVA-aborting Crew 175

Commander Report – February 18th

Dear Earth,

Sol 6 was DIY time.

The morning EVA had to be aborted quickly due to the rain. We found
four wet astronauts in the airlock after a single hour out of the Hab:
Xavier, Mouâdh and the two Louis were quite disappointed. Luckily,
they could confirm that the seismometer resisted the storm, and they
brought back the USB key that recorded the seismic data of the last 24

For the rest of the Sol, the Hab was turned into a two-story garage,
filled with this kind of DIY atmosphere that counters the monotony of
rainy days on Earth. Xavier, Simon, Louis Maller and I repaired two
broken walkie talkies, which will allow us to keep in touch with
crewmembers in the other facilities even when four of us are on EVA.
While we were soldering the electronic cards, we figured out a way to
turn the walkie talkies into a radio repeater aboard the atmospheric
balloon. It should let us keep a voice contact with the Hab during
EVAs, even if the line of sight is broken by a hill.

Xavier kept the MacGyver mood for the entire afternoon, turning a
stack of wood and cardboard into a robust piece of furniture. It is
now finished and sustains Victoria’s “Vegidair”, the
computer-controlled kitchen garden with which we share our living
room. Meanwhile, Mouâdh looked at the CCD camera of the observatory,
Louis Maller and Simon built a new platform for the balloon, Louis
Mangin worked on our communication plan with French journalists,
Victoria took care of the crops in the GreenHab, and I put a few drops
of filtered water and boiled water in the “Aquapad” petri dishes, to
compare bacterial pollution. Quite a busy afternoon despite the rain!

Ad Astra!

Arthur Lillo,
Commander of the MacGyver-ish Crew 175

Commander Report – February 17th

Crew 175 Commander Report 17Feb2017

Dear Earth,

Sol 5: back to normal after yesterday’s festivities.

Mouâdh, Victoria, Simon and I went on EVA this morning to install the
seismometer in the hole we dug close to the Main Road, South of the
Hab. We had also planned to deploy the balloon for the second time,
but the wind was too strong. The exploration we did afterward led us
to the top of the Ridge, where we discovered a stunning panorama: in
front of us the red plain enclosed in mud hills, behind us the
colossal mesas of Skyline Ridge. Our hike offered us an unusual sight
on the MDRS from above. We should definitely come back up here on a
later EVA!

A very strong wind rose after lunch, blowing away all the outside
stuff that was not attached (typically: the unused cardboard we stored
yesterday). In order to avoid further mess and to take a look at the
potential damages around the station, Louis Maller and Xavier went out
for a short EVA. In the end, no hurt was noted on the different
facilities, but Louis and Xavier preventively fixed a water tank on
the rear of a rover. We were glad to see that our upgrade on the
tunnel stood still (we call it “The Wall”). This storm reminded us of
the non-realistic beginning of Andy Weir’s novel “The Martian”, with a
minor difference though: the terrestrial wind is strong enough to blow
away heavier things than sand… So better stay aware, even if this
situation is totally impossible under Mars thin atmosphere.

Otherwise, there is nothing to worry about. The crew stays in a good
mood, science goes on and we have plenty of food left (at least for
the moment).

Ad Astra!

Commander Report – February 16th

Dear Earth,

The whole crew is now aware of what the exterior world looks like.
Indeed, Victoria, Xavier and Louis Mangin went out of the Hab with
Louis Maller leading the EVA#2. Reminiscence from Mission 164 was
useful to find the gorgeous canyon called Candor Chasma. This EVA was
dedicated to exploration, and the new electrical rovers Phobos and
Deimos are perfect for that purpose: less risk of losing one
crewmember than with the individual ATVs (helpful when you are in
charge of a non-expendable crew).

Sol 4 brought a festive atmosphere to the MDRS: 21 years ago, our
favorite journalist-photographer-cameraman-community manager Louis
Mangin was born far away from here, on a pale blue dot called Earth.
Thus, he will no longer be the only one in the crew being proposed a
glass of water in American restaurants. However, we had no alcoholic
beverage here to celebrate, only a powder supposed to give you orange
juice when rehydrated (I have my doubts about it). Anyway, Simon’s
baking skills saved the party when he took his delicious birthday cake
out of the bread machine. Louis’ gift was to learn how to play the
card game known as “Barbu” in France, which basically means “Bearded”.
Note for future Mars-Mission commanders: a card game involving the
whole crew is an excellent way to divert them from preparing a mutiny.

Otherwise, we spent a typical afternoon full of work: science, DIY,
reports writing, bread baking, dish washing, nap to recover from the
EVA… The crew keeps busy, making good use of all the facilities of the
MDRS. The only thing I can criticize about it: we spend less time
together since some of us work in the Science Dome or in the GreenHab,
while last year only the Hab was usable on Mission 164. Not
necessarily a bad thing though, sometimes having a break from the rest
of the group can be useful for the general mood (otherwise we could
turn mad quite quickly…)

Ad Astra!

Commander Report – February 15th

Dear Earth,

We did our first EVA today: Sol 3 is definitely a milestone in our
mission. With the eyes still full of stars after our night-sky
observation, we faced some unexpected issues keeping the earplugs in
place. Luckily, MacGyver is among us, so we ended up wearing bubble
wrap around the head. This very professional look was in perfect
harmony with our first words when stepping outside: one second before
the solemn “It’s a small step…” prepared by Simon, Mouâdh dropped a
quite down-to-earth “Where did they put that shovel again?”. End of
the dream.

The EVA was the occasion to start working on two of the most exciting
experiments we brought here. Indeed we deployed the atmospheric
balloon and we dug the hole to bury the seismometer.

Louis, Simon, Mouâdh and I came back to the airlock with some ideas
for Xavier, which is currently adapting diving protocols to EVAs. The
nice lunch prepared by Xavier, Louis and Victoria took the form of a
lively EVA debriefing, followed by the routine work on experiments and

Important advice for future Mars explorers: the sweet fragrance from
the bread machine is quite efficient to cover the smell of a 7-person
crew keeping away from the shower for four Sols…

Ad Astra!

Arthur Lillo
Commander of the pragmatic Crew 175

Commander Report – February 14th

Dear Earth,

Sol 2 was the opportunity to discover and test some of the features of
the MDRS: the talkie walkies, the spacesuits, the bread machine… Since
we had not planned any EVA for this morning, we had plenty of time to
sit together and brainstorm on the different aspects of our mission.
The physical training at 7 A.M. and the rehydrated food seem to be
accepted now (at least the crew has stopped complaining). Victoria
brought us a good surprise for lunch, in the form of our first martian
salad grown in the GreenHab: it was great to eat fresh food for the
first time since our arrival, and hopefully we had chemical
fertilizer, no need for Matt Damon’s method…

Our crew-engineer Xavier gave us a briefing about the spacesuits and
the EVA protocols. Normally the first EVA team should be ready at 9
A.M. tomorrow to search for a good spot for the seismometer, South of
the Hab. Moreover, the perfect weather conditions will allow us to
deploy the atmospheric balloon for the first time.

This afternoon we determined a way to do the best public outreach with
our DIY-film-shooting-and-cutting skills. I was glad to discover that
my fellow crewmembers have some sort of artistic sense, let’s see what
we can do with those rushes.

After his first night-sky observations yesterday, Mouâdh is now ready
to practice his astrophotography skills. Venus and the “other” Mars
should be visible tonight.

After this whole day inside the Hab, it is obvious that the whole crew
cannot wait to begin the EVAs! We will see if it was worth the trip,
stay tuned…

As Astra!
Arthur Lillo, Commander of the impatient Crew-175

Mission Summary – Crew 174

Mars Desert Research Station End of Mission Summary

Crew 174 – Team PLANETEERS


Team PLANETEERS (All Indian Crew):

Commander:  Mamatha Maheshwarappa

Executive Officer/Crew Scientist:  Saroj Kumar

Engineer/Journalist:  Arpan Vasanth

GreenHab Officer:  Sneha Velayudhan

Crew Health & Safety Officer/Geologist:  Sai Arun Dharmik

Success occurs when your dreams get bigger than your excuses


The Solar System is a tiny drop in our endless cosmic sea (Universe). Within our solar system, a very few planets host an environment suitable for some life forms to exist. The closest one being Mars after the Earth, following the success of rovers such as Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity and several space probes, the human understanding of the planet has reached new levels. The next important aspect is to find out if there exist any life forms or if the planet had hosted any life in the past. Although the rovers send out a lot of information about the planet, so far humans have not found anything substantial. With advancements in science and technology by organizations such as NASA, ESA, ISRO, CNSA along with private industries such as SpaceX manned mission to Mars seems to be within reach in a few years. To carry out successful missions humans will have to develop key tactics to cope up extreme conditions, confined spaces and limited resources. Team Planeteers (MDRS Crew 174) is the first all Indian crew consisting of five young aspirants from different domain who have come together to embark on a special mission in order to develop such key tactics. The crew was successful in executing the planned experiments. The key for their success is the temperament and dedication shown by each individual and fixing small issues immediately. Since all the members were of same origin, food and cultural aspects was an advantage. Going forward the team is planning out for outreach activities. As a part of QinetiQ Space UK, Mamatha will be involved in outreach, education and media activities (TeenTech & STEMNET). Similarly, Saroj and Sneha will be conducting STEM outreach activities at Unversity of Alabama and Rochester Institute of Technology respectively.

Figure 1 Team Planeteers inside the MDRS Hab

Research conducted at MDRS by Crew 174:


  1. Characterizing the transference of Human Commensal Bacteria and Developing Zoning Methodology for Planetary Protection

The first part of this research aims at using metagenomics analysis to assess the degree to which human associated (commensal) bacteria could potentially contaminate Mars during a crewed mission to the surface. This involved collection of environmental soil samples during the first week of the mission from outside the MDRS airlock door, at MDRS airlock door and at increasing distances from the habitat (including a presumably uncontaminated site) in order to characterise transference of human commensal bacteria into the environment and swabbing of interior surfaces carried out towards the end of the mission within the MDRS habitat to characterize the commensal biota likely to be present in a crewed Mars mission. In the interests of astrobiology, however, if microbial life is discovered on the Martian surface during a crewed mission, or at any point after a crewed mission, it will be crucial to be able to reliably distinguish these detected cells from the microbes potentially delivered by the human presence.

The second part of the research aims at testing the hypothesis that human-associated microbial contamination will attenuate with increasing distance from the Hab, thus producing a natural zoning.  The previous studies hypothesize that there may be relatively greater contamination along directions of the prevailing wind because windborne particles or particle aggregates allow attachment of microbes and help to shelter them against various environmental challenges, e.g. desiccation, ultraviolet light, etc. Efforts are afoot to try to develop a concept of zones around a base where the inner, highest contamination zone is surrounded by zones of diminishing levels of contamination occur and in which greater Planetary Protection stringency must be enforced (Criswell et al 2005).  As part of that concept, an understanding of what the natural rate of microbial contamination propagation will be is essential.

a. Sample collection process:

Two sets of samples were collected as the analysis will be carried out at two different stages.

i. Samples of the soil outside the MDRS were collected aseptically into sterile Falcon tubes. Sampling sites included immediately outside the habitat air lock (with presumably the highest level of human-associated bacteria from the crew quarters), at increasing distances from the airlock along a common EVA route (to track decrease in transference with distance), and at a more remote site that ideally has not previously been visited by an EVA (to provide the negative control of background microbiota in the environment).

Figure 2 Soil Samples collected at increasing distances from the Airlock


ii. Various surfaces within the crew quarters were swabbed using a standard sterile swab kit to collect microbes present from the course of normal human habitation. These included door handles, walls, table surface, airlock handles, staircase, working table, computer. This did not expose the science team to additional infection risks (such as not swabbing toilets).

Figure 3 (a) Sterile Swab Kit (b) Internal swab collection (working table)

Sampling locations within the habitat and soil sampling sites during EVA were recorded by photographs and written notes. After collection, the samples were refrigerated at the MDRS Science lab, and then returned with the crew to London for storage and analysis. This is analogous to medical samples being collected from ISS astronauts and returned to Earth for lab analysis. The molecular biology sample analysis and data interpretation, including all the metagenomic analyses to identify bacterial strains present, will be conducted by Lewis Dartnell in collaboration with John Ward. The collaboration agreement is already in place and lab space and resources confirmed. The analysis is carried out in two different stages:


a. Stage 1 Analysis:

The first set of samples will be tested using off-the-shelf simple tests for the presence or absence of human associated microbes, namely coliforms.  These are simple to use and give a yes/no answer, so plots will be made of yes/no results with distance from the hab in different directions.  This could be correlated with prevailing wind directions and/or to show common human pathways from the hab versus directions in which people typically don’t go.

b. Stage 2 Analysis:

The second set of samples (internal swabs) will not be cultured or otherwise processed back on Earth (as culturing of human commensurate and environmental microorganisms could present a biological hazard to the MDRS astronauts). All sampling materials and storage containers were provided by the study, and thus will require no consumables or other resources from the MDRS. All sample collection pots and sampling materials will be removed by the study scientists, and the sampling process itself (small soil samples and surface swabs) will not impact the MDRS habitat or its natural environment.


  1. Zoning and sample collection Protocols for Planetary Protection


Planetary protection is one of the major subjects that require immediate attention before humans travel to Mars and beyond. MDRS being one of the closest analogues on Earth with respect to dry environment on Mars was the best site to perform and simulate issues related to planetary protection. Our work on planetary protection was to simulate zoning protocol to be used to manage relative degrees of acceptable contamination surrounding MDRS and implementation of sample protocols while at EVA’s for soil sample collection, geological study and during hab support activities etc.


a. Zoning protocols for crew exploration around MDRS

During the mission, we extensively studied the zoning protocol in and around the hab and how contamination issues on Mars can be restricted.  On the first day on ‘Mars’ we used the geographical map of MDRS exploration area to formulate and characterize zones around the hab and the strategy for sample collection.

i. Zone: 1 (Area within Hab) – This area is believed to be the most contaminated with the human microbes.

ii. Zone 2 (About 20 meters from the hab) – This is the area where most of the hab support systems and rovers are parked. This zone is supposed to have less microbial contamination than hab but higher than Zone 3 and 4.

iii. Zone 3 (Beyond 20 meters but within 300 meters around the hab) – This area is considered to have regular human presence during an EVA. Soil samples of Zone 2a and 2b were collected for future analysis in lab to study human microbial contamination.

iv. Zone 4 (Special Region) – This area was considered to have insufficient remote sensing data to determine the level of biological potential. This area was marked as no EVA zone and can only be studied in detail by remote sensing data using satellites or drones.


b. Sample collection protocols

The crew studied the sample collection protocol requirements for all the activities such as soil sample collection, geological study and during the operations of hab support systems etc., this was to avoid forward and back contamination.  The protocols were planned to be initiated from the time a crew member leaves the airlock for EVA and until he/she returns from the EVA to Hab. During the EVA, the crew noted every experiment procedure and made sure there was no breach in spacesuits and no human microbial contamination during soil collection. The tools used for the soil collection were required to be completely cleaned and sterilized. The study of rocks on site during an EVA was one of the major challenges where it was realized that special tools were required to pick the rock samples without getting them exposed to spacesuit gloves. Using only gloves to pick rock samples could also rupture the spacesuits and thus there could be a decompression issue. Even with a detailed geological exploration map of MDRS and high resolution satellite imagery, it was noted that the use of drones can drastically reduce the human EVAs and lots of geological and terrain information can be obtained in a shot span of time. This step would heavily reduce the human EVA and thereby contamination issues to special regions where there could be a possibility of having a biological activity. Water, a major carrier of human microbes is proposed to be within the structures of hab. During the simulation, the crew made sure that there was no water spillage outside the hab.


  1. Development of New Techniques to Enhance Plant Growth in a Controlled Environment

A crewed mission to the Mars demands sufficient food supplies during the mission. Thus cultivation of plants and crops play an important role to create a habitat on Mars. There are some factors to be considered before cultivating crops on the Martian surface. First, the planet’s position in the solar system, Mars receives about 2/3rd of sunlight as compared to the Earth that plays a vital role in crop cultivation. Second, the type of soil used for crop cultivation should to be rich in various nutrients. Since the MDRS site is considered as one of the best analogue sites on Earth to simulate Mars environment, the experimental results of plant growth at MDRS was considered for this research. This research aims at growing fenugreek (crop that is rich in nutrients and grows within the mission time) to determine the effect of Vitamin D on the growth.

At MDRS, the fenugreek seeds were allowed to germinate for 2 days. In the mean-time, an EVA was carried out to collect soil from different parts on ‘Mars’. The soil was collected based on the colour and texture. Five types of soil, white (01), red (02), clay (03) coloured soil, course grey soil (04) and sand from river bed (05) were collected. Two set of experiment pots were made as shown in the Figure 4. Each had 15 pots, 10 pots with Earth soil (ES) labelled with different levels of Vitamin D (0- 0.9) and 5 pots of Mars soil (MS) labelled according to the area of the soil collected (0-5). One set of 15 pots was placed in the Green hab and the other in the controlled environment (under the Misian Mars lamp) after planting the well germinated seeds. The plants were watered twice a day in order to maintain the moisture in the soil.

Figure 4 Experimental Setup with Earth and ‘Mars’ Soil

The temperature and humidity levels were monitored twice a day throughout the mission both in the green hab and the controlled environment (Misian Mars Lamp). It was noted that there was a steep increase in the temperature in the green hab as the outside temperature was high that inturn decreased the humidity in the green hab drastically. The situation was managed by switching on the cooler and then by monitoring the heater thermostat. The plants were watered with specific measurement of Vitamin D every day. The experiment was successfully completed by monitoring the growth regularly, it is evident that humidity and temperature impacts the growth of plants. The plants in the green hab showed more growth of primary root than the secondary, the leaves were normal in colour and growth. In the controlled environment, the root growth was fast, the plants developed many secondary roots in few days. The plants looked healthy, the leaves were dark green and bigger than the ones in the green hab as seen in Figure 5.

Figure 5 Plant growth in (a) Misian Mars Lamp (b) GreenHab

In conclusion, the graphs were plotted for the root growth for the Earth Soil with Vitamin D in the green hab and the controlled environment from Sol 08 to Sol 13. The graphs indicated that the low level of Vitamin D (0.1) enhances root growth in the green hab. Under misian Mars lamp, the growth rate is high for ES 0 (without Vitamin D).   Readings tabulated for the Mars soil was plotted on daily basis but, after few days it was noted that there was neglibile growth in the Mars soil. The graphs plotted for few days are as shown in the Figure 6.

Figure 6 Root growth of seedlings (a) Misian Mars Lamp (b) GreenHab


  1. Study of magnetic susceptibility of the rocks and their comparison


The primary objective was to study the magnetic susceptibility and magnetic minerals of the rock samples collected and compare them with multi-spectral remote sensing data back in the lab. MDRS contains a range of Mars analogue features relevant for geological studies. It contains a series of sediments derived from weathering and erosion from marine to fluvial and lacustrine deposits containing also volcanic ashes (Foing et al. 2011). With the preliminary understanding of the MDRS geographical exploration area and identification of potential targets, the lithology can help us decipher the structural history of the region, with understanding of genesis of such rock types and aid exploration efforts. The previous studies done at MDRS reveals that the magnetic susceptibility did not vary significantly near the Hab. Hence, the locations of various geological formations far away from the hab were selected to study the distribution of magnetic minerals. The selected locations for the same were sedimentary outcrops, cattle grid, burpee dinosaur quarry, widow’s peak and near the Motherload of concretions.

We found layers of horizontally bedded sandstone and conglomerates, sandstones and siltstones. Some of them seem to have inverse grading which could have been created by the debris flow. Gypsum and lichens were spotted around the area of sedimentary crops. In the next visit to Motherload of concretions, we have seen a variety of lichens: yellow, black, orange and grey. And in the Cattle grid region, colors of mudstone and conglomerates bands of rich cream, brown, yellow and red were found. The basalt samples were collected from the gravel in the cattle grid region and from the URC north site (porphyr) to be studied in the lab. Near the widow’s peak, shales were found along with gypsum shining bright, distributed around that area. Most of the region was covered mostly with loose soil. The locations of all the samples collected from different regions were marked with the help of GPS. The magnetic susceptibility of rock samples were measured and documented them using the magnetometer in the science lab. Inspection of samples was possible with the microscope at the science dome, with 10X zoom as seen in Figure 4. They need to be studied in thin sections for better understanding and will be done on Earth under the guidance of specialists.

Figure 7 (a) Porphyr under microscope (b) Siltstone under the microscope


  1. Drone Experiment

‘Mars’ has a harsh environment that risks Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA). The main objectives of the drone experiment were:

a. To ease EVAs by understanding the scenario of a region that is hard to access by rover/ATV.

b. To simulate the application of drone in search of a crew member during an emergency situation and during loss of communication.

c. Video making and photography for outreach activities.

The first objective to make use of drone in isolated regions was successfully executed on Sol 07. Since it was the first trial, the drone was operated in beginner’s mode restricting the field of operation to 30m range. The crew was looking out for soil samples, when confronted by a medium size hill the drone was sent out to check for soil sample availability on the other side. The region looked to be same and it was easier for the crew to take a decision to abort the mission and move to a different location.

Execution date:                Sol 07 (Earth date: 02/05/2017)

GPS Satellites:   13

Flight mode:                     Beginner’s mode of max 62 FT altitude and within 30m range.


The second objective was to simulate an emergency situation when one of the crew lost communication with other member during EVAs. The beginner mode range was too less and hence the drone was operated in advanced mode to search the missing crew member. The mission was successful in identifying the crew member.

Execution:         Sol 11 (Earth date: 02/09/2017)

GPS Satellites:   14

Flight mode:                     Advanced mode with 121 FT altitude and 500m range.


Figure 8 Drone Searching a Crew Member


Several photographs/videos were captured as per the planned outreach activity.


Commander’s Report – February 5th

Commander‘s Report
Prepared by: Mamatha Maheshwarappa
Sol: 07
Earth Date: 02.05.2017
“Challenges are what make life interesting, overcoming them is what makes it meaningful”
Firstly, I would like raise a toast to Team Planeteers for having completed the first half of the mission very successfully. Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) has become our home and we are now a family sharing our happiness, frustrations, knowledge, memories and experiences in this journey. Our regular day is a mixture of work and fun as it is essential to keep up the team spirit and motivation – we concentrate on technical work when the day is too young and then move towards documentation in the afternoon followed by a relaxed evening where we watch movies, share humorous incidents and celebrations. The most memorable part that I would like treasure forever is my birthday celebration here at MDRS. The team had planned ahead and got together to make my day so special even on Mars –  I would like to applaud their effort for preparing cake in the midnight by Master Chef Sneha Velayudhan and Arpan Vasanth and decorating the Hab with balloons by Saroj Kumar and Sai Arun Dharmik, thank you once again guys!!!

Another unique and the most exciting activity at MDRS is to gear up in a spacesuit as the atmosphere on Mars is harsh and one cannot leave the Hab without a spacesuit. Our suits are our personal spaceship, responsible for keeping us alive. Without a spacesuit our lungs would rupture, ear drums would burst, our saliva and tears would boil. Within 10-14 seconds we would lose consciousness. Trust me, nothing in a spacesuit is that easy – trying to understand and articulate what we are seeing, to find analogies for an experience that is so unique. The Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA) is incredibly physically taxing. We have carried out several EVAs over the last week and each one has been a unique experience that includes huge learning curve not only for our mission but also for future human Mars missions.

Life on Mars is never easy, one thing that remains unchanged is the number of challenges we face every day with limited resources but what has changed is our attitude of looking at these problems. As the days pass by, we are becoming accustomed to these problems and we work in a constructive and collaborative way to resolve the issues, which has helped us maintain the same or more enthusiasm than that we had before our mission.