Mission Plan – February 5th

Mars Desert Research Station
Crew 292, February 4-17, 2024

Crew 292 Mangalyatri comprises of:

Bharti Sharma- Science lead and Crew Geologist.
Daniel Loy- Crew Biologist and Health and Safety Officer.
Clare Fletcher- Geoconservationist and Crew Journalist.
Mehnaz Jabeen- Geoinformatics specialist and Green Hab Officer
Rajvi Patel- Crew Engineer
Aditya Krishna Karigiri Madhusudhan- XO and Crew Astronomer.
Annalea Beattie- Artist in Residence and Crew Commander.

Outreach and on-the-ground crew:
Sakshi Sharma in Jaipur, India and Ilankuzhali Elavarasan in Texas, USA.

External Directors:
Dr. Jen Blank
Dr. Siddharth Pandey
Dr. Anushree Srivastava

Mangalyatri means ‘Mars Expeditioners’ or ‘Mars Crew’ in Hindi. Mangalyatri Crew 292 to the Mars Desert Research Station has a team mission focus on learning as much as we can about Mars analogues from the largest and longest running analogue research station in the world, with the aim of building a science desert research station in Ladakh. In other words, this mostly Indian national crew has a mission focus on what we can learn from one analogue station to build another.

Mangalyatri is fielded by Mars Society Australia. MSA has a long history of sending crews to the Mars Desert Research Station and we would like to build own station at Arkaroola one day with the support of the U.S Mars Society. In the last decade we have also worked with institutions in India such as the Centre of Excellence in Astrobiology, Amity University, Mumbai, Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeobotany, Lucknow and more, at Mars analogue sites in India. We have fielded expeditions to sites like Lonar which is a basalt crater similar to that of Jezero, to one of the biggest salt deserts in the world, the Great Raan of Katchchh, and in the past few years we have jointly organised three consecutive expeditions to the high glacial deserts of Ladakh with the team from Amity University’s Centre of Excellence in Astrobiology.

In Utah our interdisciplinary MSA Crew 292 will consider the implications of what it means to live and work in simulation in a Mars-like environment, in a vast and ancient desert that is an actual geological Martian analogue. At the same time, overall, our team goals focus on what we can learn from the systems, science and science operations in Utah to apply this knowledge to future work in Ladakh.

Geologist Bharti Sharma is our Science lead and her mission is to study the geological and geomorphological features of Utah, intricately linking them with the terrain of Ladakh and Mars. Equipped with field analysis and remote sensing techniques, her primary goal remains the comprehensive understanding of terrestrial analogue sites, thus bridging the gap between Mars and Earth geology.

As our Crew Biologist, Daniel Loy’s project will focus on recovering and extracting DNA from halophiles and other extremophiles to investigate the functional and taxonomic diversity of salt deposits and other gathered samples. Importantly, Daniel will also develop, modify and employ field-appropriate cultivation-independent techniques to provide a baseline of fundamental cultivation dependant (isolations) and cultivation independent techniques (DNA extraction and PCR) that are achievable under analogue mission parameters. This will inform a methodological framework for training, and protocols that could then be carried out by non-biologists for future crews⎯at the MDRS, at the Ladakh research station site in the Himalayas or other locations. Daniel is also our Health and Safety Officer.

Clare Fletcher’s PhD focuses on exogeoconservation of Mars – understanding important geological sites and features, particularly potential evidence of life and palaeoenvironments, and how we can best protect them while allowing continued exploration of Mars. Clare is participating in both MSA Crew 291 Expedition Boomerang 3 and Crew 292 Mangalyatri. The key outcome of Clare’s time at the MDRS will be to create a method to determine in situ what astrobiological features need to be protected and how to best do that. The purpose of the study is to come up with a way for astronauts and mission teams to effectively consider exogeoconservation as they explore and sample, without necessitating extensive reconnaissance for every location or outcrop. In Crew 292 Mangalyatri Clare will also undertake the role of Crew Journalist.

As the designated crew astronomer, astrophysicist Aditya Krishna Karigiri Madhusudhan’s central objective is to formulate comprehensive plans and effective strategies for the construction of an observatory in preparation for the upcoming analogue station in India. In addition to this, his secondary objective is to make use of the MDRS Musk observatory to capture and analyse potential solar events which in turn will provide a deeper understanding of solar phenomena and its implications for space travel and exploration. Aditya is second in command and XO for this crew.

Rajvi Patel is our Crew Engineer. Her role is to keep all our general and particular systems in the hab, and the equipment inside and out, running and safe. Her duties will include providing daily status reports for each piece of equipment. In addition to these responsibilities, she will conduct research that primarily focuses on understanding propellant production utilizing water-bearing minerals at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS), Utah. Utilizing such propellants could decrease the cost of interplanetary travel and prove to be an additional source of propellant for the space exploration crew.

An active member of the Ladakh Science Foundation and a Geoinformatics professional, Mehnaz Jabeen is experienced in applying geospatial technologies to solve real world challenges in environmental, social and economic domains by acquisition of data, exploring, visualizing and analyzing various spatial data. In Utah she will take on the role of Green Hab Officer. Her own interest is how we might combine traditional nomadic knowledge to establish a greenhouse at our research station in Ladakh where natural vegetation grows and survives in winters when temperatures drop to minus 20 degrees. In Utah Mehnaz will explore the spatial and temporal variations of temperature, humidity and soil moisture to identify critical thermo-hydrological thresholds in the Green Hab, those that influence evapotranspiration dynamics. She will collect data and calculate actual and potential evapotranspiration through established equations, applying the Budyko curve to decipher the ecosystems response to altered temperature and humidity regimes. The outcome of her research will not only contribute to our fundamental understanding of controlled ecosystem dynamics but will also 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.
Dr. Annalea Beattie is Crew Commander and artist for Mangalyatri 292. Annalea’s own art-based research will focus on environmental stewardship, exploring a politics of care through dialogue, reflection and making art. Through co-creation, art making will address the nuances and complexities of what constitutes a frontier environment, looking closely at concepts of ‘wilderness’ and ‘free’ space. The crew of Mangalyatri will be given their own art materials and sketchbooks. They will be invited to think laterally, to search for alternative knowledge through drawing and writing as they begin to recognise something of their own unique position in the vast landscape of the desert. This project aims to broaden understanding of how we imprint onto worlds that are not our own. Our team will be encouraged to develop an ethics of reciprocal responsibility, one that can be translated to elsewhere⎯to Ladakh⎯and when we travel off-Earth to Mars.
In terms of outreach to India, during the second week of our rotation our crew will join online with Amity University’s Centre of Excellence in Astrobiology Mumbai, in conversation with the very first cohort of postgraduate astrobiology students in India. For this live event we will be joined by members of Women in Space South Asia, an organisation which emerged from our Ladakhi expeditions in 2021and is supported by Mars Society Australia. Three of our crew are founding members of Women in Space South Asia including Sakshi Sharma who is our outreach person on the ground in India. With our partners in India, our team goal is to learn as much as we can from our experiences in Utah and apply that knowledge in Ladakh – to ensure the significance of astrobiological and analogue research studies, especially in relation to Mars.

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