Crew 299 Mission Summary Report – 24May2024

Title: Testing Approaches to the Analysis and Utilization of

Martian Regolith

Members: Aravind Karthigeyan, Noah Mugan, Prakruti

Raghunarayan

Martian Materials Report

Introduction : Our mission focuses on the detailed analysis of Martian samples to understand the geological history and composition of the Martian surface. This involves the collection, processing, and examination of various samples, including fine Martian soil, White Mound samples, and igneous rocks. By employing a combination of grinding, exfoliation, and microscopic examination techniques, we aim to uncover insights into the mineralogical and geological characteristics of these materials.

Sample Collection and Processing: To date, we have collected a diverse range of samples from various locations around the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS). These samples include:

  1. Fine Martian Soil: 4 in MMS-1 Mojave Mars Simulant from The Martian Garden
  2. White Mound Samples: These samples were taken from distinct white mounds observed in the region, suspected to have unique mineralogical properties.
  3. Igneous Rocks: Found during an EVA, these rocks were carefully extracted and prepared for further analysis.
  4. Marble Ritual Sample: A set of rocks found near marble ritual that are of interest

Methodology: Our analytical process involves several key steps:

  1. Grinding and Exfoliation: The collected bulk materials are ground into a fine powder to facilitate further examination. This powdered substance is then exfoliated to isolate individual layers.
  2. PDMS Integration and Microscopic Examination: The exfoliated samples are added to Polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) and observed under a microscope. This helps us determine if the samples separate into bulk material, bilayers, or monolayers. For instance, thinning observed in fine Martian soil and White Mound samples often indicates the presence of bilayers.

Key Findings:

  1. Thinning in Samples: The fine Martian soil and White Mound samples exhibited significant thinning under microscopic examination. This phenomenon typically suggests the presence of bilayers, providing insight into the structural composition of these materials.
  2. Analysis of Igneous Rocks: We have successfully cut into the collected igneous rocks and initiated age determination studies. By examining the geological features and comparing them with established geological studies, we hope to uncover details about the rock’s formation and the historical activity in the region.

Discussion: Our findings thus far indicate promising directions for further research:

  1. Presence of Bilayers: The identification of bilayers in Martian soil and White Mound samples suggests complex mineralogical processes at play. Understanding these processes can provide valuable information about the environmental conditions on Mars.
  2. Geological History: The analysis of igneous rocks offers a window into the geological history of the area. By determining the age and formation processes of these rocks, we can infer past volcanic activity and other geological events that shaped the Martian landscape.

Applications and Future Work: The techniques and findings from our current research have several practical applications:

  1. Geological Mapping: The ability to identify and analyze bilayers and other structural features in Martian samples enhances our capability to map and understand the geology of Mars.
  2. Spectroscopy Integration: Building on initial compositional analysis through spectroscopy, our approach adds a second layer of geological investigation. This combined method can provide a more comprehensive understanding of Martian terrain.
  3. Historical Insights: The age determination and analysis of igneous rocks will contribute to a broader understanding of the geological timeline and activity on Mars.

Conclusion: Our end-of-mission analysis has yielded significant insights into the mineralogical and geological characteristics of Martian samples. The presence of bilayers in soil and mound samples, along with the ongoing study of igneous rocks, offers promising directions for further research. These findings not only enhance our understanding of Martian geology but also pave the way for future exploration and analysis techniques on Mars.

Martian Radiation Report

Introduction : One of the critical aspects of ensuring the safety and well-being of a crew in a Martian environment is the ability to detect and respond to radiation threats in their immediate surroundings. Due to Mars’s lack of a substantial magnetosphere and atmosphere, the planet is exposed to higher levels of ultraviolet radiation and cosmic rays compared to Earth. These factors contribute to increased radiation exposure, posing significant risks to human health.

Objective : The primary objective of this research was to monitor radiation levels in various locations and conditions on Mars using a Geiger counter. By doing so, we aimed to identify areas and situations with elevated radiation exposure and develop strategies for quick response and mitigation.

Methodology: We utilized a Geiger counter to measure radiation levels, recorded in counts per minute (CPM), at different sites around the Mars Desert Research Station. Specific attention was given to areas with potential radiation sources and during environmental conditions that could influence radiation flux.

Key Findings :

Petrified Wood Samples : One significant finding was the detection of increased radiation levels in petrified wood samples. These samples exhibited higher CPM readings, likely due to the absorption of heavy metals during the petrification process. This discovery underscores the importance of analyzing geological samples for radiation content before handling or transporting them.

Windy Periods and Dust Storms : Another notable observation was the increase in radiation flux during windy periods, which are analogous to Martian dust storms. These conditions stirred up dust particles that could carry radioactive elements, leading to higher radiation readings. Understanding the correlation between wind activity and radiation levels is crucial for planning safe EVAs and ensuring crew protection during adverse weather conditions.

Discussion : The ability to quickly detect and respond to increased radiation exposure is vital for crew safety on Mars. The Geiger counter proved to be an effective tool for real-time monitoring, allowing the crew to take immediate action when necessary. The findings from this study highlight the need for continuous radiation monitoring and the development of protocols to mitigate radiation risks.

Conclusion: This research underscores the importance of radiation monitoring in a Martian environment. By identifying and understanding the sources and conditions that lead to increased radiation exposure, we can better protect the crew and ensure their safety during missions on Mars. Future studies should focus on refining monitoring techniques and developing advanced protective measures to mitigate the risks associated with radiation exposure.

Martian Agriculture Report

Throughout our mission, we grew a collection of 12 radishes in three separate soil types:

  • 4 in standard potting soil (Our control group)
  • 4 in MMS-2 Enhanced Mars Simulant from The Martian Garden
  • 4 in MMS-1 Mojave Mars Simulant from The Martian Garden

The last two samples are very accurate replications of the soil rovers have analyzed on Mars. Our soil was only supplemented with vermicompost, and we hoped to analyze the nutritional differences between the plants following the conclusion of our mission.

These radishes were planted three weeks before the start of our mission, and by the time we arrived every pot had healthy sprouts. There were already two radish bulbs from our potting soil samples and we could see a radish root widening in one pot with analog Martian soil, indicating the possibility that Martian soil could potentially sustain life with some supplements.

Unfortunately, problems arrived when we “landed” at MDRS. Upon arrival, we placed the radishes in the Science Dome’s grow tent. However, after several days, we observed that many plants were exhibiting drooping leaves with black spots. We suspected that this may be a problem with the grow tent, given that the problems emerged so soon after the change in environment. As such, we moved the radish samples onto a table in the science dome and placed a desk lamp above to provide wherever light we could.

After moving the samples out of the grow tent we observed each plant become healthier again, with leaves standing tall again and stems growing thicker. We also cut off the leaves with black spots to prevent the spread of any disease. However, while this change did save the plants from dying, it also seemed to halt their growth. We believe that the desk lamp did noy provide adequate light to the radishes, and as such they were not able to grow beyond their state from when we arrived. We tried moving several samples back to the grow tent while leaving the flap open, in case the stale air was what caused the problem before. However, almost immediately we noticed that the tent plants grew sick again and the black spots reappeared, leading us to move all plants back under the desk lamp. Our findings indicate that some aspect of the grow tent is harming the radishes, and we could not find a way to change any settings on the light or fan.

By the end of our mission, the radishes had not grown beyond their state from when we arrived. While our experiment did not prove that supplemented Martian soil can sustain life, we do suspect that a replication of this experiment could be successful due to the fact that many of our samples were healthily growing prior to MDRS, under a sufficient lamp and without the harmful grow tent.

Despite the problems we encountered, we do still have some qualitative findings.

Results:

  • The potting soil grew the healthiest radishes, as expected.
  • Radishes grown in the MMS-1 Mojave Mars Simulant also fared reasonably well, and we observed a full radish root growing in one pot before arriving at MDRS.
  • Radishes grown in MMS-2 Enhanced Mars Simulant did not grow nearly as well as their brethren. Samples from this group had the thinnest stems and smallest leaves, and were the first to die when placed in the grow tent.

The MMS-2 Enhanced Mars Simulant is the more accurate recreation of Martian soil, which hints that true Martian soil may be a poor soil for crops. However, soil supplements may fix whatever deficiencies there are. Our radishes still produced leaves despite all the roadblocks, and we plan on sending these leaves to a lab for nutritional analysis. If our samples are of sufficient size, we can expect to see detailed reports of the nutrients in radishes from each sample, which will allow us to plan what ways astronauts may need to supplement soil for actual agriculture on Mars. This work shows promise for future advancements in testing Martian agriculture, and future experiments with a more thoroughly-tested environment and a larger sample size will hopefully provide even firmer results.

Project : Environmental Mapping and Pathfinding using

Drone-captured Data

Team Member : Rishabh Pandey

Engineering Report

The primary goal of this project was to develop accurate 3D models of the HAB’s surrounding environment using drone-captured footage and photogrammetry software, aiming to support the development of an AI-based pathfinding algorithm for safe and efficient navigation during extravehicular activities (EVAs). Throughout the mission, significant progress was made in capturing and processing video footage of the target environments around the HAB, including paths along Cow Dung Road and more remote walking EVA locations. The footage was processed with photogrammetry software, generating detailed 3D models which were then verified for accuracy against existing topological maps and self-measurements. Multiple drone flights successfully captured comprehensive video footage of these environments, and 3D models were produced by stitching together video frames. These models were verified for accuracy through comparison with topological maps and direct measurements, and efforts were made to ensure they were free from incorrect artifacts and inconsistencies. Preliminary pathfinding algorithm development was undertaken, applying algorithms like Dijkstra’s to identify possible paths in sandbox environments. This phase demonstrated initial success in controlled settings, establishing a foundation for real-world application.

Despite these successes, the pathfinding algorithm encountered significant challenges when applied to the real-world environment. The environment exhibited abrupt changes from hard-packed soil to loose sand, causing large variations that impacted algorithm performance, leading to inaccuracies in pathfinding predictions as the algorithm struggled to adapt to the inconsistent terrain. Additionally, the rovers’ operational range and power capabilities were not adequately accounted for in the algorithm, resulting in impractical path suggestions. The combined walking and climbing ability of the crew further complicated route planning, as the algorithm failed to balance these factors effectively. Unexpected road compositions and build complexities introduced additional variables that the algorithm could not predict or accommodate, collectively hindering its reliability and accuracy in real-world applications. While the AI pathfinding algorithm did not perform as expected in the mission’s final phase, valuable insights were gained regarding environmental mapping and the complexities of real-world navigation. Future efforts should focus on enhancing the algorithm’s adaptability to diverse and changing terrains, incorporating comprehensive data on rover capabilities and crew mobility to improve route planning accuracy, and developing more sophisticated models to better predict and account for unforeseen environmental factors. The work completed during this mission provides a strong foundation for further development and refinement of environmental mapping and pathfinding technologies, with the potential for significant improvements in future missions.

Title: Photometric Study of White Dwarf BD-07 3632

Crew Members: Avery Abramson and Kristina Mannix

Astronomy Report

Introduction : We intend to continue capturing and analyzing the light curves of BD-07 3632, a WD with limited data. This star is notable for its bright magnitude and location in a binary system with an RD. With the light curves obtained from this project, more insight into its properties can be revealed. BD-07 3632 is an excellent candidate with a bright magnitude at 11.90 V. Its stellar coordinates are 13 30 13.6370112733, -08 34 29.46. It also has minimal research; on NASA ADS, no papers have been published on this WD, nor is there research from AAVSO.

Objective and Methodology : As this star is under-researched, we plan to deduce if it is pulsating. Discovering its pulsation mode can help us understand the star’s composition, density, temperature, and layering. To do this, we will continue using a telescope with assistance from its tracking software to produce data. Then, we will continue removing noise from the data caused by factors such as atmospheric clouds by using the comparison stars. The three comparison stars we are using include HIP 65856 (Mag 8.8, 13h 29m 58.42s, -14 deg 0′ 5.4″), Tycho 5551:631 (Mag 9.9, 13h 29m 48.75s, -13 deg 40′ 37.4″), and Tycho 5551:421 (Mag 9.86, 13h 29m 35.62s,

-13 deg 55′ 35.5″). These images are taken with a primary focus on the photometric V filter at a 240-second exposure. With this data, we are using an in-house tool developed in Python and its appropriate modules to generate the light curves of the WDs with time vs. intensity plots. To clear up the data, we are then doing a Fourier analysis of the time series light curve through the power spectrum. Following this, we are finding the amplitudes and try to deduce the pulsation mode and the intensity.

Key Findings : This project is still in progress and will continue on Earth. Once concluded, findings will be presented in the future.

Discussion : The data from this project may confirm or refine findings from other related works. It may also influence future studies on BD-07 3632 and other related WDs. Additionally, we may be able to deduce other characteristics of these WDs that were previously undiscovered. Overall, our research has the potential to increase our understanding of WDs.

 

Mission Summary – May 24th

Mission Summary

Mission: 299

Dates: 05-12-2024 – 05-24-2024

Author: Prakruti "Pari" Raghunarayan, Mission Commander

We were merely freshmen in college when we began working towards this. Our now Executive Officer, Avery Abramson, came to me with a great idea to get us ambitious undergraduates to work on making progress towards sustainability and space exploration. Knowing other incredible people with similar interests, we assembled the group of people at the University of Texas at Austin that you know as the Bevonauts.

We had many meetings and brainstorm sessions before finally settling on and working towards what became our proposal: "The Frontiers of Martian Geology and Spectroscopy." The goal of this project was to essentially be able to bring back spacecrafts sent to Mars making for sustainable space travel. The sustainability aspect increased when we decided if we want to get to Mars, we should also be able to inhabit it and make use of the natural resources. The three subprojects were born there: Aravind, Noah, and I would work on making use of natural materials and complementing it with what we know and use to grow and sustain life on Mars, Rishabh would work on drone mapping that can be purposed for search and rescue, and Avery and Kristina would make progress on the space weather and solar physics front.

Towards the end of the mission, despite a few technical hiccups, Kristina and Avery made great progress conducting research on Mars. They learned about solar and robotic imaging, as well as image processing. After the conclusion of this mission, the scientific research will continue, as there is extra time saved on the SkyNet account for additional observations via the Robotic Observatory in New Mexico. There are also two more images to process from the Musk Observatory. Avery and Kristina enjoyed their time at MDRS and look forward to finishing their research projects on Earth.

Anomalies were not just present in the GreenHab. As expected of any space station, maintenance was a primary responsibility of the Crew Engineer – a duty at which they excelled at. During the 12-sol mission, the Crew Engineer repaired and replaced Hab Tunnel zip ties, and the astronomy laptop boot drive. Apart from corrective maintenance, the engineer made sure that the Hab was functioning nominally by monitoring and emptying the toilet, calculating water levels, and inspecting the entirety of the station’s facilities in the midst of uncertain power supply.

Lastly, on the materials front, Noah, Aravind, and I made significant progress–but are not yet done. We have determined the mock grade Martian soil would actually be alright to sustain life as we know it if complemented with whatever nutrient they are missing. We tested this on radishes. Usually, this can be done with cardboard, organic matter, or something like clay, silt, or sand (depending on the deficiencies). We were also able to exfoliate the materials to the point where they can take some samples from MDRS and get them to spectroscopy labs and have them measured, We will learn the uses of natural material from this and be able to take these principles and studies to Mars!

As I write this, I am aware of the great progress my great crew has made. I am grateful to have such a young, ambitious crew. It gives me great hope for the future of space exploration. We have ventured off to Mars and started this journey when we were literally children (like genuinely) and as we arrive back to Earth we come back as adults, knowing that the responsibility of sustainable space travel lies in the hands of our generation. We are grateful to have contributed to something bigger and hope to do more.

Mission complete. Mission successful. Thank you.

Mission Summary – April 26th

Mission Summary
Mission: 297
Dates: April 15 – April 26, 2024
Author: Pawel Sawicki (Commander)

“Welcome to Mars” was the first thing the 297th Mars Desert Research Station crew, named
Janus I, heard when their mission commenced shortly after noon on April 15th. With Janus I being the Roman god of duality, transitions, and beginnings, this opening exclamation by
Mission Support was a fitting ribbon-cutting for a crew where five out of 6 members had never
traversed the analog Martian regolith before.

With such a novel crew, the first handful of sols were especially vital in familiarizing ourselves
with the nominal procedures of the Station. During the beginning timeframe of the mission, the crew made sure to become acquainted with the expected duties of their roles, layout of the
various Station facilities, and functionality of the EVA suits and rovers. This first set of sols also
established the groundwork for the various research projects, with initial objectives completed
related to all projects.

The Janus I crew quickly became accustomed to their Martian home, as the sols gradually
became more habitual and routine. Mornings were often filled with EVAs and afternoons
consisted of report writing, card games (Hanabi, Uno, and President), music courtesy of Dave,
space-themed movies, and a bi-weekly Thursday trivia night. It also turned out that the crew
was composed of world-class cryodessication chefs, albeit they were the only chefs on this
planet. During the 12-sol mission, meals composed of an assortment of cuisines were artfully
crafted: ceviche, crepes, casserole, Japanese curry dish, Jambalaya, Southwestern beans and
rice, spaghetti, soupe au fromage et aux légumes, soy peanut couscous, shoyu ramen, and
vegetable stir fry.

Many of these meals utilized the available GreenHab resources. During the mission, the
GreenHab officer harvested a veritable cornucopia of vegetables: radishes (681 g), cherry
tomatoes (534 g), cucumbers (471 g), red cabbage (309 g), kale (220 g), green onions (53 g),
carrots (45 g), parsley (34 g), sage (12 g), lettuce (6 g), thyme (5 g), and rosemary (3g). Such a plethora of vegetables came as a result of being the last crew to utilize the GreenHab this
season, a privilege which also came with the expected responsibility of tearing down the
GreenHab on our last day. Maintaining the GreenHab during its last few weeks of the season
did not come without added difficulties for the GHO. Due to frequent power shortages, the
automation functionality of the fan was unreliable, resulting in required manual intervention to
maintain the GreenHab internal temperature within a desirable range.

Anomalies were not just present in the GreenHab. As expected of any space station,
maintenance was a primary responsibility of the Crew Engineer – a duty at which they excelled. During the 12-sol mission, the Crew Engineer repaired Suit 2 (stuck valve), Suit 3 (loose
power connection), Suit 4 (missing cable ring), Suit 5 (ventilation electrical connection), Suit 11
(poor battery life), replaced Hab Tunnel zip ties, and tightened key switches on all 4 rovers.
Apart from corrective maintenance, the engineer made sure that the Hab was functioning
nominally by monitoring and emptying the toilet, calculating water levels, and inspecting the
entirety of the station’s facilities in the midst of uncertain power supply.

While the crew masterfully executed their positional duties, they never let up on successfully
conducting their research. Janus I investigated many sub-disciplines of science and
engineering, specifically geological field spectroscopy, operations of nuclear power systems,
developing smart sensor-based systems, and Martian-appropriate advancements in IT, and
were participants in research projects pertaining to isolated, confined, and extreme
environments and human-robotic interactions. With three of these projects relying heavily on
EVAs for expanding the sample size, the Janus I crew conducted an astounding total of 18
EVAs, which lasted a cumulative 42 hours. For more insight into the many achieved research
objectives of Mission 297, it is recommended to read the End-of-Mission Research Report.

As the T- minus clock winds down for the return launch, with a heavy-heart we say goodbye to
our Martian home of 12-sols and look forward to hearing “Welcome back to Earth”.

Mission Summary – April 12th

Mission summary Crew 296
Author : Loriane Baes
3, 2, 1… “Atlas mission Is back! It was a complete success!”
Crew 296 landed on the surface of Mars at midnight Earth time on March 31, 2024 and the mission ended on April 12, 2024. Twelve sols elapsed during which we took Mars as our habitat.

We quickly familiarized ourselves with our new home and, after a good night’s sleep, immediately started work on our experiments and spacewalks. The first two days were very busy, with report writing, spacewalks, the start of experiments, tasks to be accomplished in the MDRS, adapting to lyophilized food, all facets of accommodating to the new lifestyle required on Mars. Moreover, the next three days, as the first two, were also very busy, but we managed our tasks better to take time to enjoy the fact that we’re on Mars, the beautiful scenery and each other’s presence with team-building activities, card games and cooking together.

The days were punctuated by EVAs where Romain’s experiment involved determining the required frequencies to use a new digital system, Louis’ experiment involved 3D mapping of the terrain using drones, and Maxime’s weather station studied the movements of dust in the simulation, comparing them to Mars data. When the team wasn’t on EVA, Hippolyte took the opportunity to conduct his experiment on the implementation and interfacing of an intelligent voice assistant. The biomedical team also had a busy schedule with saliva, blood, urine, and stool samples, supplemented by self-questionnaires assessing sleep and stress. The goal was to evaluate the impact of LH supplementation on stress associated with confinement and sleep disturbances. The agenda was full, but as the crew likes to say, "science first."
Apart from scientific experiments, life on Mars involves a number of responsibilities. As the station’s engineer, Louis never failed in his duties: emptying toilets, calculating water and repairing various mechanical problems. As much as we appreciated his work and the security he provided, it was always a real challenge for the team to discuss with him the possibility of taking a shower, ruining all his water predictions. Hippolyte also did his duty by pampering the GreenHab all day long, allowing us to add great flavors to each of our dishes. Maxime, the crew’s astronomer, spent most of his time in the observatory, capturing spectacular images of the sun and sky. He even shared his passion with us by helping us observe a solar eclipse. Imane, Crew Safety, never failed to get a message across when someone had a sore back on the way back from EVA, and was always ready to help listening to our each and every little whining. The whole simulation would not have been so immortalized without Alba’s daily photos and videos. Despite the amount of work involved in her job as journalist, Alba always rose to the occasion. Arnaud, as Crew Scientist, proved to be a central pillar of respect for the various studies. SciencesDom became his second home, where he spent a lot of time preparing samples for the biomedical team. The team would not have been complete without Romain and Loriane, who were both in charge of the crew, ensuring that commitments were respected, as well as the team’s benevolence and cohesion.
As part of Loriane’s psychological experiment to study grouped confinement and, more specifically, the stress dimension, the team cut off all social networks and contact with loved ones. The team therefore had to demonstrate their autonomy and creativity, by proposing various playful team-building activities. In the afternoons, some of the team liked to meet up at the Science Dome for their sports session. Despite the limited space, we had no shortage of creative ways to let off steam. We also enjoyed the evening events. We try to innovate each evening with a new and stimulating activity. Card games, board games, mime games, personality tests, general knowledge tests and even a light painting session. The crew were able to take advantage of special moments to get closer to each other, creating real group cohesion.
The days were also punctuated by end-of-day meetings. We usually hold a meeting before dinner to plan the next day, review the simulation and experiences, and discuss how everyone was feeling. For us, the meetings are a privileged moment when we all get together and everyone is free to express themselves in a friendly atmosphere.
We weren’t expecting it, but we enjoyed the lyophilized food. It has to be said that we have some excellent cooks on the team. Loriane and Imane have become the chefs in the kitchen, creating varied, delicious meals every day that we’d never have imagined with this type of food. At the end of each meal, Imane would always prepare a sweet dessert with so few ingredients. She’s a real magician.
Time was also devoted to making videos. We’re keen to share our experience, so we’ve produced videos for several of our collaborators to share on their networks. The content of these videos explains the station, the way of life on Mars and our experiences. We also produced two live broadcasts at the end of the simulation with a major Spanish TV channel and the Mars Society Belgium. These exchanges allow us to share our passion for space exploration and attract the curiosity of some. We’ve also made videos for our aftermovie, so that when we watch them, we’ll be able to recapture the magic of the experience.

We’re leaving Mars on April 12 with lots of memories. We’re all very grateful to have had the chance to discover Mars and its complexity. We’ve all learned a lot from our scientific experiments as well as about ourselves. For some of us, it’s a first step towards our dream of one day becoming astronauts. This experience on Mars has been an important milestone in our journey, and we take with us unforgettable memories and valuable lessons.

Mission Summary – March 29th

MDRS Crew 295
Mission Summary: Mars Desert Research Station Simulated Mission

Introduction:
Our MISSE course takes students to the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) on a six-day simulated mission, serving as a unique platform for university students to undergo cross-training in wilderness medicine and human spaceflight principles. This immersive course aimed to blend didactic lectures with hands-on simulated medical scenarios, challenging students to apply their knowledge and skills in a Martian analog environment. Over the duration of the mission, students encountered a series of simulated emergencies and operational challenges, providing invaluable opportunities for learning, growth, and skill development.
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Day 1: Retrieval of Crashed Satellite and Radio Relay Repair
The mission commenced with the crew being tasked to retrieve a crashed satellite and repair a radio relay, simulating the operational demands of a Martian exploration mission. Despite meticulous planning, one crew member suffered an ankle injury during the retrieval process, underscoring the importance of safety protocols and emergency response training. The incident prompted the crew to assess their communication and leadership strategies, laying the foundation for collaborative problem-solving and effective decision-making throughout the mission.
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Day 2: Design and Launch of Rocket with Medical Supplies
On the second day, the crew undertook the design and launch of a rocket carrying vital medical supplies to support another crew in need, mirroring real-life scenarios of resource allocation and interplanetary collaboration. This task required precise planning, teamwork, and coordination to ensure the successful delivery of supplies to the designated location. As the rocket soared into the Martian sky, the crew celebrated a significant milestone in their mission, showcasing their engineering prowess and adaptability in a simulated space environment.
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Day 3: Summit Attempt and Emergency Response
The third day saw the crew attempting to summit a local peak to set up a relay, presenting physical and logistical challenges akin to Martian exploration. Tragically, one crew member fell and broke their femur during the ascent, prompting an immediate shift in focus to emergency response and medical evacuation procedures. The incident tested the crew’s resilience and ability to remain calm under pressure, highlighting the critical importance of wilderness first aid training and effective communication in managing medical emergencies in remote environments.
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Day 4: Simulated Fire and Emergency Evacuation
A simulated fire outbreak on the fourth day thrust the crew into a high-stakes scenario, requiring swift identification, rescue, and extinguishing efforts to safeguard the habitat and its occupants. As flames engulfed a section of the habitat, the crew mobilized into action, implementing firefighting protocols and coordinating evacuation procedures. Despite the intensity of the situation, the crew demonstrated remarkable composure and teamwork, successfully containing the fire and preventing further damage to the habitat.
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Day 5: Search and Rescue Mission
The penultimate day of the mission presented the crew with a search and rescue mission, simulating the challenges of locating and assisting crew members stranded in remote terrain. Utilizing their navigation skills and strategic planning, the crew embarked on a coordinated search operation, eventually locating and safely evacuating the stranded individuals. The successful outcome of the mission underscored the importance of preparedness, adaptability, and collaboration in responding to unforeseen emergencies in hostile environments.

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Day 6: Soil Testing and Future Habitat Location Identification
On the final day of the mission, the crew undertook soil testing to identify a suitable location for a future habitat, employing an explosive charge and seismometer to assess soil density and composition. This task required precision and scientific acumen, reflecting the multifaceted challenges of Martian exploration and habitat construction. Through meticulous data collection and analysis, the crew contributed valuable insights into potential habitat sites, laying the groundwork for future missions and scientific endeavors on Mars.

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Conclusion:
The Mars Desert Research Station simulated mission provided an immersive and transformative learning experience for university students, fostering interdisciplinary collaboration, leadership development, and hands-on application of technical skills. Through simulated emergencies and operational challenges, students gained invaluable insights into the complexities of Martian exploration and the demands of spaceflight missions. As they navigated through adversity and uncertainty, students emerged as more confident and effective team members, poised to tackle the challenges of future space exploration with skill and determination.
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Mission Summary – March 21st

Crew Commander: Leanne Hirshfield
Crew Journalist: Emily Doherty
Health & Safety Officer: James Crum
Crew Engineer: Marta Ceko
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Introduction
Crew 294 was made up of a group of researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder with expertise in human performance, AI, and cognitive neuroscience. We came to MDRS on a research scouting mission as part of a Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) project funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. The title of our project is: “Cognitive Security and Risk Mitigation: A Theoretical Framework, Supporting Neurophysiological Studies, and Interactive Deep Learning Models in Sparse and Dense Information Environments.” Cognitive security refers to protecting humans from information-based threats that aim to disrupt cognitive processes such as reasoning and decision making. While the concept has received growing attention, research on topics relating to cognitive security suffers from several challenges: First, cognitive security is poorly conceptualized, lacking a consistent definition and clear, coherent specification of indicators. Research relevant to cognitive security is highly fragmented within and between different scientific fields. Further, cognitive security is particularly difficult to disentangle when we consider the complex (and understudied) ways that the information density spectrum affects decision-making. For example, the unique cognitive security challenges posed by low-information density environments such as space and the arctic are likely to be very different from high-information density environments such as heterogeneous Human-Agent Teams operating with maximum communication and information density channels. To address these challenges, our goal is to support humans to maintain cognitive security across a range of information density environments in a variety of operational environment. Our time at MDRS was an invaluable resource to help our research team to better understand the unique challenges faced by teams in space and to begin the long process of designing future experiments within our project.
Our team has expertise with functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), which can take non-invasive measures of the blood flow in the brain (similar to what one could get from a fMRI scanner).While fMRI represents the gold standard for measuring the functioning human brain, the fNIRS device collects similar measures (from the outer cortex), and has been implemented wirelessly, allowing for measurements to be taken in field environments. We brought with us two fNIRS devices, Tobii Eyetracking Glasses, and Bionomadix physiological sensors (for EDA, heartrate, respiration) and ran pilot studies to see how well we could record quality data in field contexts at MDRS, considering range of sensors, quality of data in different movement and noisy scenarios. Figure 1 shows an overview of areas on MDRS campus where we had strong signal quality.

DFI23CKCWJvDa4p7DV5S8QwRe29zVsFG8zPsWO163Z0USyIFaEaYY3BF_LAZCciDD8euskKZrG8DUZF2bVkKiXtO9-JUHgfn0HxoJY-ReBEHHRO47rkIk4WdvQJyvC1JeE2lbjEBzBCbLOyOS-HfgAFigure 1: Summary of range studies, where we were able to collect eyetracking, biopac, and fNIRS data, and where we had challenges of signal drop.

We also tested our capability to take eyetracking and fNIRS measures on EVA. Figure 2 below shows images from EVA#3, where we test the sensors. We wanted to not only measure the range of the sensors, but also the quality of data collected, as one challenge in using neurophysiological sensors in field settings involves an inability to collect quality data amidst such noisy and complex experimental conditions. We designed a simple experiment based around a series of ‘breath holding’ experiments. Breath holding is a great way to achieve a systemic response in the human brain, where oxygenated blood measured in the brain decreases while a person holds their breath. When they resume breathing, we see a smooth increase in oxygenated blood flow.

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Figure 2. Equipped with fNIRS and eyetracking, ready for EVA!

The Figure below shows this experimental paradigm. We manipulated movement (stationary vs mobile) as well as adding a cognitive element of spatial navigation by finding waypoints during the task. Initial results suggest that we were able to achieve quality measures with the fNIRS data. The Tobii eyetracking glasses did not fare as well, and it was challenging to get pupil fixations and saccades outside of the hab. The eyetracking glasses became more of an expensive go pro😊 on EVAs. We are working already with our Tobii distributor to see if they have recommendations (or eyetracking glasses upgrades) to achieve higher quality data on EVA.

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Figure 3. Experimental design of EVA #3.

Summary: We learned so much during our time at MDRS about the real life use cases that exist when people make critical decisions in low information density environments and we are eager to build from our findings to continue our research. Integrating neurphysiological sensors involves ergonomic, range, and data quality considerations that must be made carefully. We look forward to future work with MDRS as we continue to research cognitive security in low density environments.

Mission Summary – March 15th

Crew 293 – ISAE-Supaero (France)

Crew Commander: Marie Delaroche
Executive Officer / GreenHab Officer: Mathurin Franck
Crew Journalist: Erin Pougheon
Health & Safety Officer: Lise Lefauconnier
Crew Engineer: Leo Tokaryev
Crew Scientist: Yves Bejach
Crew Astronomer: Léa Bourgély


Introduction
Crew 293’s rotation marks the 10-year anniversary of SUPAERO MDRS missions. For the past decade, 11 student-led crews have made the trip to Mars, passing on their experience every year to a new team. We are very proud to have added to the legacy of the project over the past year, and during our month-long rotation. The mission has been rich in scientific achievement and bonds formed between the members of this Crew. This year, in continuity with Crew 275, our aim was to focus on large-scale human factors experiments, ambitious technological demonstrations, leading a measurement campaign in atmospheric physics, and enhancing the simulation.

Technology Demonstrations
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AI4U is an artificial intelligence tool designed by the French space agency to assist astronauts in their tasks. This year, new functionalities were tested, using the AI as a way to centralize data. AI4U was connected to environmental sensors strategically placed all over the station, and the Crew evaluated the quality and usefulness of the software by taking part in planned interactions with AI4U.
A second experiment with CNES involved artificial intelligence helping astronauts: EchoFinder. EchoFinder is an experiment conducted in collaboration with CNES and MEDES, consisting in testing a protocol for astronauts to perform ultrasounds without any prior training. This experiment has already been conducted in the past by Supaero crews. This year, the aim was to pursue testing of an Augmented Reality interface coupled with an organ detection AI. We have successfully completed the planned sessions: each Crew member performed at least two sessions with our only passive subject. We have had several issues with this experiment two weeks into our rotation, mainly because of hardware malfunctions. After our 4-week mission, we have nevertheless succeeded in providing the researchers with a complete set of data, consisting in detailed reports of each ultrasound session as well as videos of every organ detected. The researchers at CNES will have some elements to evaluate the accuracy of their AI, and how the AR interface can be improved.
Finally, over the course of our rotation, we tested an Anomaly Monitoring Interface (AMI) developed by a former SUPAERO MDRS crewmember. The beta version of AMI has been running since Week2, enabling the Crew to monitor the power distribution of the station and handle alarms and malfunctions. An emergency EVA occurred on Sol24 to repair the tunnel to the Science Dome that had been damaged by the wind, enabling us to test the interface all the while performing a meaningful action outside the station. The PI was in contact with the Crew by email throughout the mission, exchanging back and forth on upgrades. A detail report will be written and discussed to improve the software for future missions. An abstract has been submitted for an IAC 2024 panel.

Exploration : Photogrammetry

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The idea behind the photogrammetry experiment was to compare the efficiency of humans exploring and finding checkpoints in a given area, using either a 2D map or a 3D render. Each data point required a series of three different EVAs. The first one, to map the area in 3D, with a drone using photogrammetry. The two others were meant for the subjects to find pre-defined checkpoints using the 2D map and then the 3D map generated beforehand. The experiment was a success: the Crew performed three iterations of the study, changing parameters (terrain type, team composition, etc.) and collecting enough data to add to Crew 275’s first attempt. As for areas rendered and explored, we count North Ridge, Candor Chasma and Kissing Camel Ridge W. The areas covered were wider, more complex and more impressive in scale compared to last year, as we were able to have access to a better drone. We hope to pass on this experiment to the next Supaero crew, and an abstract has been submitted for an IAC 2024 panel.

Astronomy

A person using a computer Description automatically generated The Crew Astronomer’s research project was to estimate the speed of sunspots, factoring in the Sun’s rotation. Unfortunately, for the first half of the rotation, the Musk Observatory was not usable. They decided to use the robotic observatory to learn astrophotography. As the MDRS’ robotic observatory was offline, they used the RCOS-16 remotely. At mid-rotation, the Musk Observatory was available and they started to learn how to handle it. They had to deal with issues with the observatory dome, requiring a great deal of troubleshooting. Pictures of sunspots and solar prominences were taken during 6 Sols, then the Crew Astronomer was unable to continue because of cloudy conditions. They worked on improving their MATLAB code to make the necessary calculations from the sunspot pictures; they will actively continue to pursue their project after the end of the rotation.

Human Factors
This year, we mainly took part in three studies pertaining to Human Factors.
Orbital Architecture is a study led by Michalis Magkos, from KTH University. Studying the impact of the architecture of an interplanetary space station on the global psychology of the astronauts is critical to optimizing their performance. For this study, we deployed environmental monitoring sensors throughout the station. Each sensor provided us with information about pressure, temperature, humidity, and luminance. We also set up an Indoor Positioning System to track each crewmember within MDRS. We connected 19 "anchors" spread around the MDRS, consisting in electronic boards remaining at the same location. Each crewmember wore a "tag", which logged its distance to the anchors every 3 to 10 seconds. Each crewmember also wore a smartwatch during the night, in order to monitor their sleep activity. A chestband was also worn to measure ECG, heart rate, and accelerometry.
All 3 aforementioned datasets will be used to correlate the stress level of the astronauts to their location and the environmental conditions. To measure the performance of each crewmember in the different modules, given different environmental parameters and levels of privacy, they all took psychometric tests throughout the mission.
The results generated during our rotation will be compared to those of ESA astronaut Marcus Wandt, who took part in the Orbital Architecture study during his stay in the ISS as crewmember of the Axiom 3 mission.
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The MELiSSA project (Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative) is a European projected led by the European Space Agency (ESA) aiming at developing a highly circular and regenerative life support system for space missions. The ALiSSE methodology (Advanced Life Support System Alternative) was developed as part of the project to provide an impartial evaluation tool of each technology system, including mass, energy and power, efficiency, crew time, crew risk, reliability, and durability. The activity performed by the Crew within the MELiSSA project focuses on the operational aspects of preparing recipes from higher plants and aims for a preliminary evaluation of the "crew time" criterion.

Finally, the Crew participated in a study from the TRACE Lab at University of Florida: The Role of Emotion Regulation Mechanisms and Coping Strategies in Team Dynamics for Long-Duration Space Exploration (ARMs in SAE – Affect Regulation Mechanisms in Space and Analogue Environments). The purpose of this research is to better understand the role that emotion and coping strategies have on team dynamics within ICE (Isolated, Confined, Extreme) teams. The findings from this study will aid in the understanding of the role of affect within teams operating in ICE conditions. The Crew responded to stress questionnaires and journaled daily. The research team will also be provided with our core datasets (see “Monitoring Health and Water Consumption” section).

Atmospheric Instruments measurements campaign

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This year’s atmospheric measurement campaign for CNRS researchers was a success. We were generally lucky in terms of weather conditions, and certain modifications made to improve Crew 275’s configuration were successful (centralized single power source, new mast for MegaAres). We mainly measured the electric field (with the field mill and MegaAres), the particle concentration (with the LOAC) and other atmospheric parameters with our weather station, in order to correlate these different parameters. We started the measurements on Sol 3, although we had to perform regular maintenance EVAs to change batteries, and retrieve and reinstall certain sensitive instruments, given the variations in atmospheric conditions.

Monitoring Health and Water Consumption
During the entire mission, the crew monitored their water consumption. The goal was to reduce as much as possible their use of water, while maintaining good hygiene and drinking as much as needed. With this in mind, we categorized our consumption of water and took note of the quantities used throughout the day. This experiment showed us that by being mindful of our use of water, it is possible to considerably reduce consumption. The average water consumption was 38L (10.3 gallons) per day. For a crew of 7, this represents 5.4 L (1.4 gallons) per day per person, which could be reduced even more with specific technologies. The goal set at the end of Crew 275’s rotation, aiming to reduce consumption to less than 5L per person, was therefore almost achieved.

KKEaXp6wsCS9YKYJGGuRk190-UUWB_EZ6zKNi9ozkzoeRjVtBmcm-_hCo8dvOFzYDhv4WhrMxzOlZdKsS56eyOLmnbL10cv9X6CEKffpIE5ObBE8V3bBO-9G-hyc34iJ2n_t2enqiFKIlnjbgorSBw Every morning, we also measured health parameters to keep an eye on the physical and mental health of the crew. To this end, we kept a sleep diary, and monitored weight and body composition, temperature, as well as blood pressure and oxygenation. These “core data sets” will be shared with the Human Factors research teams.
A 30-minute daily workout session was also organized by the HSO to keep all crewmembers in good shape and get them ready for the day, thanks to bonding activities and music.

GreenHab Activities
The GreenHab Officer’s aim was to use the GreenHab efficiently, growing plants that are useful and practical for a space mission Crew. During our 4-week mission, they had time to clear the GreenHab, by removing plants that were taking too much space and weren’t consumable. A lot of plants and food was planted before our arrival, but not often transplanted at the right time. The GreenHab Officer took it upon himself to make the necessary transplantations, for example of radishes and cabbage. They also tried to improve the organization of the GreenHab by creating a precise map, to write down everything action performed. This map can be useful for future Crews to know exactly what was planted and where. Some aromatic herbs like basil were planted again because the Crew noticed how much better our meals were when adding them. At the end of our rotation, the GreenHab is now clean and clear, every plant is labeled with its name and the day it was planted.
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Outreach
Our objective for this mission from a communications standpoint was first and foremost to reach middle and high school students interested in space and STEM in general. Throughout the entire mission preparation, the crew worked with OSE l’ISAE Supaero, an outreach initiative whose goal is to help students gain access to higher education and to promote STEM careers. During the entire year preceding the mission, we visited classrooms and welcomed students to our university to talk about space exploration and STEM studies. Our goal was to inspire as many students as possible to explore and engage with scientific fields. In this vein, we spent a week at the French and American School of New York (FASNY) and the Lycée Français de New York (LFNY) with 6th and 10th grade students, using games and simple experiments to share our passion for space.
Crew 293 also performed an experiment created with students from various schools during our school outreach interventions, in collaboration with OSE l’ISAE-SUPAERO. This experiment, named "SEEDS OF MARS" by the students, challenged them to answer this question: is it possible to grow plants on the Red Planet, as in the film The Martian? Students choose watercress to test their hypothesis. During our first EVA, we retrieved samples of Martian soil, and we planted watercress in the GreenHab, one pot with Martian soil and another with Earth soil. At mid-rotation, we had a problem because of mold in the soils. So we planted again to have another try at the experiment. At the end of the mission, we collected data related to “SEEDS OF MARS” and we will be presenting their results to the students in a restitution day on the 2nd of April 2024.
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Mission Summary – February 16

Crew 292 End-of-Mission Report

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MANGALYATRI (Mars Explorers)
Mars Society Australia
February 4th – Feb 17th, 2024

Crew Members

Commander: Dr. Annalea Beattie
Crew Science Lead and Geologist: Bharti Sharma
Health and Safety Officer and Crew Biologist: Daniel Loy
Crew Engineer: Rajvi Patel
Green Hab Officer and Geospatial Information Specialist: Mehnaz Jabeen
Crew Astronomer and XO: Aditya Karigiri Krishna Madhusudhan
Crew Journalist and Geo-conservationist: Clare Fletcher

Mission Overview: Planning for Ladakh

Mangalyatri MDRS Crew 292 is a primarily Indian national crew fielded by Mars Society Australia. We have an overall focus on what we can learn here from the Mars Desert Research Station, Utah to build a Science Desert Research Station in the Himalayas, Ladakh, India. Ladakh is a very cold, high-altitude desert region, (3500 to 5700 metres above sea level) in northern India. It has lower levels of oxygen in its atmosphere and high levels of UV radiation. Its glacial deposits and regions, dune and intra dune ponds, hot springs, hypersaline lakes and permafrost regions are high-altitude environments for off-earth analogue and astrobiology research. Presently, there is no dedicated Mars analogue science research station in the southern hemisphere.
The members of Mangalyatri Crew 292 at the Mars Desert Research Station were chosen because of their research interests and their ability to think ahead to the future for a science desert research station in South Asia. Our crew shares a common goal yet each person has different objectives aligned to their research and field of knowledge, whether it be science, science operations, design, systems in the hab or green hab, art, astronomy or geoconservation. We are all driven by the science, carrying out field science and scientific research to compare different, extreme, terrestrial environments to understand more about the extraterrestrial. Our aim is also to develop frameworks for sustainable analogue research in terms of both science and science operations. See individual research reports for progress. All our field work has contributed to this project.

Exploring Planetary Analogue: Deciphering Geomorphometric and Slope Analysis across Analog Environments

Bharti Sharma in collaboration with, Dr. R. P. Singh (University of Allahabad), Dr. Jonathan A. Clark (Mars Society Australia) and Prof. Colin Pain (Mars Society Australia) and support of Crew 292.

The goal is to measure the slopes of outcrops, create a geomorphological map of the region, conduct geomorphometric analysis, and understand the processes that produced the region in comparison the slope angles and geomorphometry of Ladakh. This research provides insights into the geology and geomorphology of the region, which we can compare to the Martian landscape to detect parallels. So far, no extensive geomorphometric investigation of Hanksville has been conducted.

A total of 6 EVA has been conducted to get to the ground data from the field. First EVA was a training EVA, to get accustomed to the suit and Rover. Second and Third EVA was to get data from Cowboy Corner. Location points were collected from the site for different types of weathering, structural features such as cross bedding, rock type classification, general geomorphology to understand the chasm, meandering of river channels and ridges in the region. The fourth EVA on Kissing Camel Ridge’s western side estimated the slope from the bedding plane. Three measurements of the dip and strike have been obtained from the Kissing Camel Ridge. It was challenging to quantify dip and strike since the majority of the surface in the area has worn and eroded away from the parent rock. The locations of the fifth EVA were Compass Rock and Candor Chasma. The field data includes the kind of rock, the weathering patterns, and different landforms such as buttes, canyons, paleo-river channels, mesas, and caves. SRTM DEM has been used to create a basemap. The research area’s comprehensive geology and the literature review has been written. Geomorphometric analysis of Tso Kar, Ladakh, has already been completed. To comprehend the stratigraphy of the area, the Litholog has been developed from several sites. For post field analysis, the 32 fundamental morphometric variables will be used.

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Survey benchmark, Hanksville, Utah, USA

Understanding frontier environments through drawing

Dr. Annalea Beattie, with full crew participation.

Through art making, this project focuses on boundaries, thresholds and environmental stewardship. This research project invites our crew to participate in an act of examination, to explore through drawing and painting beyond the boundaries and borders we create for ourselves as humans, in an unfamiliar, non-human landscape.

Crew 292 were provided with sketchbooks and drawing materials and a working studio table in the Science Dome to paint and draw something from their discipline or experience that might extend their understanding of simulation in this extreme desert environment. Or something that might help them explore the future. Almost all our crew have used drawing and/ or painting to reflect upon their position. Our astronomer Aditya has drawn the magnitude of celestial light he can see in our dark sky. Green Hab Officer Mehnaz has begun to draw the future – breathing life into barren planets through drawing a vision of the Green Hab for spacefarers living off-Earth. Observation in the field is a primary means of obtaining scientific knowledge for planetary field science and Crew Geologist Bharti Sharma and I drew geology together in the field on EVA #10 at Kissing Camel Ridge. We will work on the lithologic log for her comparative study of different kinds of deserts. The deliberate practice of geological field sketching in simulation is a sustainable method of gathering of data during field work. Crew Journalist Clare Fletcher drew rock samples removed from the desert. Clare is a geoconservationist and her project focuses on the practicalities of efficient and sustainable sampling. Drawing samples is a useful way of thinking through materials to inference and hypothesis. These samples have been returned to the site on our last day here at MDRS. I also have spent time drawing rock samples in the Science Dome, drawing basalt, concretions, gypsum, and the sandstone weathering. As I draw, I engage with this desert as a geological analogue for Mars. This research project is improvised, long-form and ongoing. Its results are not easily quantified nor is it data driven yet there is no doubt that art making in this confined context has potential to shift our perceptions and the capacity to affect change.

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Drawing concretions in the Science Dome, 12-02-24

Investigating the Thermo-hydrological Dynamics of Green Hab: A Comprehensive Study on the Impacts of Temperature and Humidity on Evapotranspiration

Mehnaz Jabeen, in collaboration with crew member, Aditya Karigiri Krishna Madhusudhan

Overview:
Manipulated atmospheric variables in a controlled environment compared to natural environments can be shown to be pivotal to study and access the impacts of changes and estimation of PET, maximizing plant growth and resource efficiency. This research aims to delve into the thermo-hydrological dynamics within the controlled ecosystem of Green Hab, specifically focusing on nuanced interplay between temperatures, humidity, evapotranspiration (ET).

Objectives:
Explore spatial and temporal variations of temperature, humidity, and soil moisture within the Hab and different climatic environment within MDRS (artificial ecosystem).
Rigorously assess the effects of manipulated temperature and humidity conditions on evapotranspiration dynamics.
Employ climatic datasets from nearest climate centers.
Calculate Actual Evapotranspiration (AET) and Potential Evapotranspiration (PET) through established equations.
Apply the Budyko curve to decipher the ecosystem’s response to altered temperature and humidity regimes.

Current Status:
Obtained datasets the LOA Climate Center, Utah.
Data cleaning and processing.
Performing Pan Evaporation experiment to estimate evapotranspiration rates at different temperatures.
Performing experiments with newly sown seeds in similar pots with equal weights to study effects of varying temperature on plant growth.
Developing machine learning model to predict evapotranspiration using the datasets collected.

The technical rigor embedded in this research will not only contribute to our fundamental understanding of controlled ecosystem dynamics but will provide precise insights into optimizing temperature and humidity parameters for enhanced plant growth and resource management in artificial habitats especially in Ladakh (India) with extreme climate conditions and Mars-like terrain.

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Green Hab Officer, Mehanz Jabeen in the Green Hab measuring the temperature of the crops and with the cherry tomato harvest.

Developing a method of simultaneous Mars exploration and exogeoconservation in the Mars Desert Research Station

Clare Fletcher, Crew 291 (Scientist) & 292 (Journalist), with thanks to all Crews 291 & 292.
Over the course of Crew 292 (and following on from Crew 291), Clare researched practical methods of geoconservation that don’t limit exploration and science, to apply these to both a possible future analogue station in Ladakh, and to Mars. Clare conducted 7 EVAs during 292 (and 8 during 291) to meet these goals, as well as analysis of field samples, and mapping of important geology and geomorphology. The key finding of Clare’s research was that geoconservation can’t be conducted effectively using remote operations work. Other notable findings include: the necessity of accessible baseline study sites and the lack of predictability of finding key study targets therefore necessitating exploration, science, and geoconservation to occur concurrently. When thinking about a research station in Ladakh, good baseline study needs should be identified early, and a code of conduct for fieldwork and sampling practices should be created that crews sign, acknowledging that they will adhere to it. Clare’s study highlights the importance of concurrent geoconservation, exploration, and science on Mars, and the necessity for detailed, crewed geological, geomorphological, and exogeoconservation studies due to limitations of remote operations. Detailed records should also be kept as each successive mission or crew will treat the landscape differently, meaning that both the landscape and knowledge of the area change concurrently and proportionally.

Use of portable laboratory equipment in a Martian analogue research station

Daniel Loy, Crew Biologist, with support from all Crew 292.

The aim of this project was to conduct research on the use of portable equipment in a Martian analogue simulation and environment: carrying out DNA extractions, PCR and gel visualizations with the Bento Lab portable PCR workstation.
Soil and water samples were collected by multiple crew members across different EVA’s for culture-dependant and independent DNA extraction using the Qiagen DNEasy Powersoil Pro kit. From 5 soil, 3 culture media, 2 water, 1 lichen, and 1 organic-looking deposit, two positive results were found from two of the soil samples. Using targeted PCR, Archaea and Fungi were identified to be within the soil in both S and S2 samples. The S soil sample also contained Bacteria, while this could not be identified within the S2 sample due to an amplication failure. The presence of functional genes was also investigated with the large subunit gene hhyL of the group 1h [NiFe]-hydrogenases found within both soil samples, and the sulfide:quinone oxidoreductase gene fragment sqr found within the S soil sample.
Successful extraction, amplification and visualisation of DNA and specific genes with this equipment shows that portable laboratory equipment can be used in extraterrestrial analogues to investigate the presence and functions of microorganisms. Pre-existing protocols for all processes were followed, meaning anyone, including non-biologists and having the correct equipment, would be able to replicate these methods including at the proposed Ladakh analogue research station.

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Image of an electrophoresis gel showing the results of a PCR test investigating the presence of functional genes in Soil 2. The positive result in S3 shows that the hhyL gene is present in the microbial community present in the soil sample.

Looking through the eyes of telescopes and exploring the wonders of our cosmos
Aditya Krishna Karigiri Madhusudhan (Crew Astronomer) and Peter Detterline (Director of MDRS Observatories)

The central objective is to formulate plans and effective strategies for the construction of an observatory for the upcoming Mars Science Analog Research station in India. A critical aspect of the observatory’s success is selecting the right telescope optimized for the weather conditions in India. Studies have been carried out to identify telescopes with optimal solar and deep sky observation capabilities. The telescopes are chosen such a way that they offer precision, high-resolution imaging, and compatibility with local weather patterns. To safeguard the chosen telescope and observation equipment, a weather-resistant dome is being designed using Fusion 360 software. The dome’s design is planned to incorporate features such as insulation, ventilation, and stability to ensure reliable and uninterrupted observations despite the weather conditions. To ensure the safety of astronauts during Mars missions, understanding and monitoring solar radiations is crucial. In addition to developing plans to build an observatory, the secondary objective is to make use of the Musk and robotic observatory, a specialized facility designed for solar and celestial object observations. I conducted photometric analyses of AG DRA to determine the variable star’s brightness. The star is observed to be much fainter than it should be. Hence further photometric measurements at various filters will be conducted. Several observations were carried out utilizing the MDRS WF robotic observatory to capture NGC 5904 (Globular cluster), NGC 281 (Pacman nebula), M51 (Whirlpool galaxy) and NGC 1952 (Crab Nebula). The following image is taken through the MDRS WF telescope, processed using AstroImageJ and Photoshop software.

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NGC 281, Pacman Nebula in the constellation of Cassiopeia, 9500 lightyears away (10-02-2024)

Propellant production at MDRS using water-bearing and carbonate rocks
Crew Engineer Rajvi Patel in collaboration with Crew 292 and Andrew Wheeler (291)

This project is focused on the production of rocket propellant methane utilizing the resources available on the Martian surface to make interplanetary travel self-sustainable. This mission included a collection of Gypsum (CaSO4.2H2O) samples and concretion samples as sources of water and carbon dioxide required to produce methane. Our goal is to determine a process to generate methane (CH4) from water (H2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2).
Three types of Gypsum samples were collected – efflorescent gypsum, authigenic bedded gypsum, and selenite gypsum. Preliminary analysis is required to be performed to validate if they release water at elevated temperatures.
Three types of concretion samples were collected as a part of EVA’s on this mission:
Type 1: Dark concretions in the dark matrix
Type 2: Light concretions in the light matrix
Type 3: Dark concretions in the light matrix

All three confirmed carbon dioxide release with vinegar.

As a part of future work, hydrogen can be produced from gypsum water using electrolysis. Hydrogen and Carbon Dioxide can be used to produce methane using the Sabatier process.

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Figure 1: Types of Concretions validated for CO2 release

System requirements for the Ladakh station.

Rajvi Patel with the whole Crew 292.

This research includes the study of power systems, heating systems, and fuel systems at MDRS. The campus is powered by a 15kW solar panel system which feeds the 12kW battery bank. There is a 14kW propane generator that autostarts when the campus uses more power than the solar can provide. The main source of heat for the Hab is a forced air propane heater located above the shower room and bathroom. Hot water is produced from a 6-gallon propane RV water heater located above the rear airlock on the lower deck. There is a second wall-mounted ductless propane heater in case of low temperature or power outage. It has a propane heater and a wall-mounted cooler unit which provides cool air by using the evaporation of water across fans. It has a dual split heater/AC installed for the protection of the power system’s batteries. Propane for the Hab and GreenHab is in a 1000-gallon tank. This research is a basic study of these systems at MDRS. Future work will prepare a detailed systems for the station in Ladakh.

Crew 292 closes this mission report with a big thank you to everyone who has supported us.

On to Mars, Mangalyatri.

Dr. Annalea Beattie
Commander, MANGALYATRI,
Mars Desert Research Station, 16th February 2024

Mission Summary – February 2nd

Crew Members:
Commander: Andrew Wheeler
Health and Safety Officer: Steve Hobbs
Crew Scientist: Clare Fletcher
Crew Engineer and Green Hab Officer: Scott Dorrington
Crew Astronomer and Medical support: Rob Hunt
Crew Journalist: Alexander Tobal

Mission Plan:
Expedition Boomerang III saw an all Australian crew from the Mars Society Australia (MSA) bring a multidisciplinary team to MDRS to undertake our investigations. The mission objectives were divided into eight disciplines. In no particular order of importance they were: a) revisit geologically relevant analogue locations that can be shown to be appropriate to ISRU on Mars, b) deploy sensors to monitor the local environment including basic weather data, c) characterize mineralogy using a push broom VIS/NIR spectrometer, d) test the ability of a remote controlled rover to deliver the spectrometer over a variety of sloping ground and roughness, e) locating known prominent features for navigation purposes using trigonometry and dead reckoning rather than GPS and compass, f) revisit previously documented geological features for weathering and degradation with a view to develop strategies for geoheritage preservation, g) evaluate the set out of the MDRS and developed procedures with a view to inform the deployment of MSA’s Mars-Oz habitat in Australia and h) observe the current disposition of the Sun’s surface utilising the solar observatory.

Mission Activities:
The geology at the MDRS has been mapped at large scale by many crews over the years. EVAs were undertaken to revisit sites that have exposed minerals analogous to the minerals appropriate to ISRU on Mars. The two majority targeted minerals were gypsum and carbonate concretions. These locations were GPS located and saved to a format that can be transferred to multiple GIS software packages and used by following crews. Samples were collected and processed in the science dome to demonstrate usefulness. Secondary targets such as fossil beds and petrified wood (signs of preserved life) were also GPS-located when identified. Concurrent with these EVAs, the spectrometer was deployed both as a handheld tool and delivered by a remote controlled rover to the various sandstone, silstone and mudstone lithologies surrounding the MDRS. Samples were collected and returned to the MDRS for more controlled analysis and compared to the field data. Approximately 5GB of data was collected and continues to undergo processing.
Again, in parallel with these EVAs, angles and distances to prominent features were collected and positioned on a localised global map and tested for conformity to GPS positioning and compass bearings. Accuracy of positioning improved from approximately 100m to 40m but the majority of processing will be conducted away from the MDRS.
Two sensors were meant to be deployed at the beginning of the rotation and re-deployed at greater distance from the MDRS after an undefined number of days. One, a solar logger previously deployed during the FMARS15 mission in July/August 2023, was successfully positioned outside the science dome in view of the panoramic window. The battery needed recharging on four occasions. The second sensor, an electronic Stevenson Screen with multiple environmental sensors, was unable to be initiated due to circuitry burnout in the secondary battery pack and an untraced, electrical fault in the primary battery pack and was only ever deployed as a test of the setting up procedure rather than to collect weather data.
In 2005 and 2006, geomorphological features such as yardangs and mudstone and siltstone outcrops were located and photographed for follow-on studies. These were revisited, measured and re-photographed in an effort to determine degradation over the prior 18 years. How much is due to natural weathering and how much to human interaction is not obvious at MDRS but the data will be informative to a geoheritage conservation strategy.
Procedures for EVAs, communications, moving between elements of the habitat, conserving water, stocking the pantry and design of the habitat and its elements were continuously evaluated inside and outside the habitat during this rotation to inform the design of the proposed Mars-Oz.
Finally, due to the weather and issues with the software, the solar observations were severely curtailed. Though a short lived prominence was observed, only a solar limb with sunspot activity was imaged for processing.
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Mission Summary – January 19th

Mars Desert Research Station

End-of-Mission Report

Crew 290 – Project MADMEN

Jan 7th – Jan 20th, 2024

Crew Members:

Commander and Health and Safety Officer: Madelyn Hoying

Executive Officer and Health and Safety Officer: Rebecca McCallin

Crew Scientist: Anja Sheppard

Green Hab Officer: Benjamin Kazimer

Crew Engineer: Anna Tretiakova

Crew Journalist: Wing Lam (Nicole) Chan

Crew Projects:

Title: Project MADMEN

Author(s): Madelyn Hoying and Rebecca McCallin, with full-crew participation

Objectives: Our mission objective is to identify and characterize microbial life via metabolic assays based on the sulfur cycle.

Summary: Soil samples have been collected from 8 field sites with diverse geologic profiles that indicate potential for microbial activity. Measurements in the field include salinity, temperature, and ATP readings at surface level, 3-inch depth, and 6-inch depth at each site. Starting on EVA 07, pH measurements are also conducted in the field at surface and 6-inch depth. In the Science Dome, these samples are diluted and incubated in our novel microfluidic device to promote microbial growth for detection, then flushed after 24 hours to investigate through microscopy, with our first set of samples showing growth. pH measurements are taken of the soil samples in a dilution with various salts found on Mars that could also promote metabolic activity of extremophiles. The crew targeted evaluation of at least 6 sample sites, and met this target.

EVAs: 6 (EVA 04, 06, 07, 08, 09, 11). One field site (EVA 04) was collected from a member of the Curtis foundation, where gypsum and sandstone were prominent under a smectite bed indicating a depositional environment with water followed by a period of dry climate. EVA 06 resulted in 2 field sites: one from a valley between two Brushy Basin members with evidence of anhydrite, to contrast with another collection site in a dried riverbed with conglomerate oyster reefs. EVA 07 saw sample collection in alternating siltstone and mudstone bands with gypsum deposits, with field pH measurements introduced into the procedure. EVAs 08-11 expanded the geologic diversity of our sample sites.

Title: Evaluating Psychosocial Impacts of Mars Mission Architectures

Author: Madelyn Hoying

Objectives: This project seeks to compare psychosocial interactions among crew and emergency response capabilities between Mars mission architectures. Results from this single-site architecture test will be compared to previous dual-site architecture experiments developed and tested by MIT.

Summary: As noted in the mid-mission report, the on-site investigator does not read questionnaire results while participating in the analog mission; as such, a “current status” check can only show the number of completed surveys. All participants have been submitting daily surveys, with one participant having missed one survey.

EVAs: None (although EVA inputs from other projects are valuable to the study).

Title: Ground Penetrating Radar for Martian Rovers

Author: Anja Sheppard, PhD Candidate in Robotics at the University of Michigan Field Robotics Group (PI: Katie Skinner)

Summary: This project is aimed at characterizing novel uses of Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) for Martian applications. GPR is a sensor often used for understanding subsurface features, such as water deposits and geologic formations. There is currently a radar sensor on the Perseverance rover on Mars. However, very little work combines GPR with other sensor modalities, such as stereoscopic cameras. This research project utilized a custom data collection robotic platform titled REMI (Robotic Explorer for Martian Imagery) to explore various terrains and geologic sites in the MDRS area with a suite of sensors. Over the course of the field expedition, REMI collected about a terabyte of camera, GPR, positional data at a total of 48 sites. This data will be further processed by the University of Michigan Field Robotics Group for training machine learning models after the expedition is complete.

Despite a challenging shipping experience from Michigan to Utah, the robotic platform REMI performed well in the field. Only one EVA had an unrecoverable issue. Any minor issues with the platform were solvable in the field with EVA suits and gloves on. REMI was also transportable in the MDRS rovers, which enlarged the data collection radius considerably. One challenge was the reduced battery life of the robot and its sensors due to the cold weather. In terms of diversity of collection sites, REMI was able to meet its data collection targets.

EVAs: 8 (03, 04, 05, 06, 07, 08, 09, 11).

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