Spaceflight Insider

Mars 160: Crew enters simulation, conducts first EVA’s

Two crew members of the Mars 160 mission perform a simulated EVA. Photo Credit: Mars Society

Two crew members of the Mars 160 mission perform a simulated EVA. Photo Credit: Mars Society

The Mars 160 mission entered into simulation on July 20, 2017. It has since had a busy week in the Arctic with its six crew members carrying out their science and research goals for the mission. Mars 160 is a two-phase Mars analog mission sponsored by the Mars Society.

The goal of the Mars Society-organized mission is to understand the differences in science return and crew dynamics between its two analog research facilities – the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in Utah and the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station (FMARS) on Devon Island in Canada.

Anushree Srivastava and Paul Knightly prepare for an EVA. Photo Credit: Mars Society

Anushree Srivastava and Paul Knightly prepare for an EVA. Photo Credit: Mars Society

The current and final phase of the mission was “launched” on June 22, 2017, when the crew met in Yellowknife, Canada, to make final preparations to travel to FMARS. The start of simulation was delayed by nearly three weeks as melting snow and inclement weather prohibited landing on Devon Island until July 15. In spite of this, the crew remains optimistic about completing critical tasks for the mission.

“I think the fact that mission is shortened makes us more focused on our objectives and the crew is working harder,” said Alexandre Mangeot, the commander for Mars 160. “Despite the delay not being desirable, we don’t have a choice in the matter. But crew morale is high and this is encouraging for the outcome of the mission.”

After spending the first few days at FMARS deep-cleaning the habitat, the crew chose July 20 as the first day to enter simulation, coinciding with Space Day in the United States and marking the anniversaries of the Apollo 11 and Viking 1 missions landing on the Moon and Mars, respectively.

One simulation began, science tasks began in earnest. On July 20, crew members performed a short extravehicular activity (EVA) near the habitat to test out the station’s simulation spacesuits and for the crew to become more familiar with the area.

Inclement weather has continued to plague the mission but has not prohibited the execution of “out of sim” EVAs being conducted without spacesuits. Rain is something spacesuits designed for the cold and dry environment of the Mars-like Devon Island do not handle well. It poses a major safety risk when wearing the spacesuits as water and fogging of the face shields can render visibility to near nothing in a short period of time.

Crew members on EVA have worn plenty of rain and cold weather gear to make an appropriate substitution in terms of the limiting mobility spacesuits normally impose. Unlike previous missions to FMARS and MDRS, science return is a driving force behind the Mars 160 mission. In the case of out of sim EVAs, science productivity is factored in and compared with “in sim” EVAs where spacesuits are worn as if the researchers were actually on Mars.

Jonathan Clarke and Anastasiya Stepanova prepare to eat Russian space food courtesy of Spacefood Laboratories. Photo Credit: Mars Society

Jonathan Clarke and Anastasiya Stepanova prepare to eat Russian space food courtesy of Spacefood Laboratories. Photo Credit: Mars Society

From July 20 to 27, seven EVAs were performed: three were conducted out of sim due to rain, and the remaining were performed in sim wearing the spacesuits. The first four EVAs were predominantly for the purpose of scouting the area near FMARS to give the crew a better feel for the region, and the remaining three EVAs during the week were spent carrying out field research tasks. These tasks included geological and biological sampling as well as testing different imaging systems to document the area.

The crew is adapting to life in the confined quarters of FMARS. The 25-foot (7.6-meter) diameter, two-story habitat has taken on the atmosphere of a busy household around a major holiday. A multitude of tasks are usually being carried out at any given time, from cooking to habitat maintenance as well as laboratory tasks in support of field activities.

The smell of fresh-baked bread often fills the habitat, a near daily project thanks to Anastasiya Stepanova locating a new bread maker in the attic of FMARS. Stepanova has also supplied the crew with an assortment of Russian space food meals, courtesy of Moscow-based Spacefood Laboratories.

Spacefood Laboratories has been supplying food for the Russian space program since the 1950s. It has recently expanded its market to other customers ranging from outdoor enthusiasts to rescue crews in remote areas. The twice-weekly Russian space meals are eagerly anticipated by the Mars 160 crew and input into meal selection. Having a variety of food choices will help with planning the menu for future long-duration missions.

As the crew looks ahead to its second week of the simulation, a full schedule of EVAs is planned in order to carry out several of the geological, biological, and human factors studies that are the primary goals of this phase of the mission. During the week, the weather is expected to clear, providing conditions favorable for more in-sim EVAs with the spacesuits. Drier conditions will also favor EVA’s to points of interest further from FMARS.

The crew is expected to remain at FMARS until the middle of August. For more information and regular updates on the Mars 160 mission, visit http://mars160.marssociety.org/. Additionally, you can follow the mission on Twitter: @MDRSUpdates.

Paul Knightly is serving as a crew geologist for Mars 160 and is also writing for Spaceflight Insider.

 

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Paul is currently a graduate student in Space and Planetary Sciences at the University of Akransas in Fayetteville. He grew up in the Kansas City area and developed an interest in space at a young age at the start of the twin Mars Exploration Rover missions in 2003. He began his studies in aerospace engineering before switching over to geology at Wichita State University where he earned a Bachelor of Science in 2013. After working as an environmental geologist for a civil engineering firm, he began his graduate studies in 2016 and is actively working towards a PhD that will focus on the surficial processes of Mars. He also participated in a 2-week simluation at The Mars Society's Mars Desert Research Station in 2014 and remains involved in analogue mission studies today. Paul has been interested in science outreach and communication over the years which in the past included maintaining a personal blog on space exploration from high school through his undergraduate career and in recent years he has given talks at schools and other organizations over the topics of geology and space. He is excited to bring his experience as a geologist and scientist to the Spaceflight Insider team writing primarily on space science topics.

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