MDRS Crew 136, students on Mars

1. What are you currently doing?

We are 6 Belgian students with a passion for space exploration, and we are doing a simulation of life on a analog Mars.

Belgium on Mars!

Belgium on Mars!

What does that mean? Well, we are currently staying in a base located in the Utah desert, USA. The base looks just like the ones we would build on Mars. During our stay we all perform experiments in scientific fields as various as geology, geomorphology, astrophysics and meteorology.

Both our daily activities (eating, washing, sleeping etc.) and the experiments are performed under simulation conditions (aka SIM): we use as little water as possible; our energy, food and communication resources are very limited and we can’t go outside without wearing a pressurized suit with oxygen supply and go through a decompression chamber, which takes quite a while.

We have protocols to follow about every of our daily activities. We are to send reports to our Mission Support on Earth and describe everything we have done during the day and tell them if anything is going wrong. Then they help us to find solutions to any issues we might have. We also have to ask them before going on EVA (Extra Vehicular Activity). For example, if we want to go out to take measurements, we send our EVA plans and our Mission Support study it and depending on various parameters, they can approve it or not.

 The aim of all this is to study how people would live on Mars, explore the planet and learn from our mistakes while we are still on Earth.

2. Why is it important?

The important part of the project is not the experiments themselves but the simulation. This program is all about answering the following question: If on Mars, what would be achievable and what would not? We are so used to be on Earth that it is difficult to realize what it means to live in a closed station and have no contact with external atmosphere. Do you often spend 15 days in 8 meters diameter box without going outside? Well that ain’t easy everyday. The only times we get out is wearing our space suits, we don’t feel the wind blowing on our face or even the smell of the wild. Understanding how people behave in such circumstances is of most interest for a real expedition on Mars.

3. What led you to that project?

Personal reasons vary but we share a deep interest for space exploration. Being part of that odyssey is like the realization of an old dream. Space is fascinating!

This project is also very challenging and as true scientists we are eager to challenge ourselves. Because you know, performing experiments while eating freeze-dry food in a hostile environment where there is a 40°C difference in temperature between day and night is somewhat difficult.

4. How would you describe your typical day?

A typical day begins around 8 am with a short physical warm-up and a good space breakfast. The

A little team work inside the Mars hab.

A little team work inside the Mars hab.

GreenHab officer goes to the GreenHab to check on the plants, monitor the water level and verify the energy consumption. After that, we begin working on our experiments for about 3 hours: analysing data or planning a coming EVA. It is then time to have lunch and a small break. In the afternoon, we go back to our projects or go on EVA, depending on what was planned during Capcom the previous evening. From 5 to 6, the engineer performs the daily maintenance operations while the GreenHab officer prepares the plants for the night. It is finally time to write our daily reports and send them to Earth’s Mission Support during our daily Capcom session. It lasts till 9pm and when dinner is over some of us just hang out while the others work on the night experiments that need darkness such as astronomical observations and fluorescence analysis.

5. What is the most exciting thing you have done since you’re there?

Well, the first time we put our space suit on was amazing. Rambling all over red rocks… we really felt like we were on Mars! Another exciting thing is the night sky, we had never seen so many stars before! Also the first time we used the Musk Observatory and we saw beautiful galaxies and other celestial bodies. It was such a sensational moment!

6. What is the best advice you have received during your preparation?

The best and most useful of all is: Stay alive! Mars is full of dangers.
A difficult trek by crew members up some hills near MDRS.

A difficult trek by crew members up some hills near MDRS.

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