Mission Summary – Crew 238

Mars Desert Research Station

Crew 238 Mission Summary

January 2- 15th, 2022

Through hardship, tomorrow to Mars, the Earth always


Commander: Dr Sionade Robinson

Executive Officer and Journalist: Pedro Marcellino

Health and Safety Officer: Robert T. Turner

GreenHab Officer: Dr Kay Sandor

Artist-in- Residence and Crew Astronomer: Aga Pokrywka

Crew Engineer: Simon Werner.



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


Mission description and outcome

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Science and Research Outcomes on site:

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







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


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


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

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

Commander’s Reflection


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


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


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


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

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