Mars 160: Study evaluates crew performance, EVA procedures for future missions
Over the last week, a break in the weather allowed the crew of the Mars Society’s Mars 160 mission to conduct multiple science extravehicular activities (EVAs). The six-person crew wrapped up its last full week in simulation, capping off a shortened “Mars” mission at the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station (FMARS) in the Canadian high Arctic.
The simulation was originally planned to last for 60 days but was shortened to 30 days after three weeks of poor weather delayed the crew’s arrival to FMARS, which is located on Devon Island in Nunavut, a territory of Canada.
One of the primary science and operational studies of the Mars 160 mission is the Twin EVA Study, which is designed to assess science return at the Mars Society’s two analog sites: FMARS in the Arctic and the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in Utah. Four trials for the arctic portion of the EVA study were conducted over the past week.
The study is looking at the differences between suited and unsuited EVAs as well as differences in performance between scientist and generalist crew members. The end result will be to highlight procedural and design changes that can be made on future missions.
The study is led by Mars 160 Principal Investigator Shannon Rupert, who also operates MDRS. Rupert hopes to identify ways to improve how mission simulations are conducted in order to lay the operational groundwork for planning the first missions to Mars.
“We will be looking not only at how work was done on ‘Earth vs. Mars’ but how well a generalist on a crew can assist a scientist in the field,” Rupert said. “By only having crew scientists train generalist crew, and having them work as a pair, we were able to see what ‘gain’ we get with non-science crew who assist in fieldwork.”
Rupert was not able to join the rest of the crew at FMARS to view EVAs in the Arctic but is excited to watch a video of them after the mission is over.
“At MDRS it was interesting to see how a scientist and non-scientist explored and what collaboration did occur in situ and organically,” Rupert said of the first half of the study. “Of course this was only from my observations, it’s going to be fun to put the video and other parameters in a matrix and see what we have in terms of science return for each of the eight EVAs.”
In addition to the Twin EVA Study, the Mars 160 crew was busy wrapping other field work. Because primary science investigations concluded toward the end of the week, the crew conducted a few extra EVAs to collect additional data to aid in its biology, geoscience, and engineering investigations. The work from field investigations will continue in laboratory settings once the mission has concluded.
A series of final science EVAs was conducted over the weekend with the simulation expected to end on Aug. 14, 2017. The Mars 160 crew will spend the next day cleaning and securing the station for the winter before being flown back to Resolute, Nunavut, around Aug. 16. After briefly going separate ways, most of the crew will reunite for a presentation about Mars 160 at the Mars Society Convention at the University of California, Irvine between Sept. 7–10.
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.
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.