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Musk Observatory

As the designated crew astronomer, my addition to the MDRS 89 team was to make full use of the Musk Observatory, complete with donated Celestron telescope and two CCDs (Charged Coupled Device, for digitizing images). Recent events, however have changed my two-week plans, and unfortunately the telescope will not be operational during my mission. It was been disassembled by Crew 87, one of the NASA Spaceward Bound crews, and will either be shipped out before the end of their mission or when Crew 88 takes over the Hab this Saturday. Thus, my plan has been thrown out the airlock.

There is, however, some good news. MDRS is also equipped with a radio telescope through NASA’s Radio JOVE project. This telescope is primarily used to observe both solar and jovian radio signals, although the possibility exists to observe other radio sources. Currently, the radio telescope at MDRS is half-assembled, although Crew 88 will thankfully be completing this assembly during their stay at the Hab.

With only two weeks between now and the start of our crew rotation, this information does necessitate a huge change in my own plans, but I’m taking it as a blessing in disguise. The possibility of solar observing also allows me to do some sort of research during the day (past my aide in the rest of the crew’s work), and I can also do work on radio interference during EVAs as a possible side project. I also won’t be a zombie in the morning after a night of working with the Musk Observatory!

I do also only have two weeks to research potential radio sources, past the planets and Sun, as well as figure out how to actually do research with a radio telescope, as all of my previous astronomy experience rests within the visual range of the EM spectrum. I’ll be keeping an eye on the daily crew reports from Crew 88 to see what their astronomer will be using the radio telescope for, since a collaborative project may be more lucrative that two individual ones, especially with the short timespans involved.

You always have to try to take things in stride, which I’m sure we’ll be doing frequently as a crew during our two weeks on Mars!

Exercise at the Hab

exerciseOne important aspect of any human mission to Mars will be exercise. The trip to Mars will likely take a toll in terms of bone mass loss (spaceflight osteopenia) and muscle atrophy, despite our best efforts to counter these adverse effects. (In microgravity, neither nutritional supplements nor exercise nor hormones nor anything else has yet been proven to solve this problem.) On reaching Mars, the human crew will be weaker and more prone to broken bones than they were when they left Earth. In some respects, the reduced gravity on Mars (1/3 that of Earth’s) will make the adaptation back to a gravity environment easier. However, the reduced gravity is likely to allow for continued bone loss and muscle atrophy, unless the crew is diligent with an exercise regimen. (Exercise tends to be more effective in a stronger gravity field, since walking, jumping, and running result in stronger impacts to the body, stimulating bone and muscle growth.) While EVAs (Extra-Vehicular Activities) provide some opportunity for physical exercise, and certainly can be strenuous in very specific ways, they are unlikely to provide a full-body cardiovascular workout.

So our crew got thinking: what can we do in the way of exercise inside the Hab? We sought to satisfy multiple goals: daily exercise, without impacting our already busy schedule, in a space too small for all six to participate at once, and with enough variety to keep us engaged and motivated. We’ll aim for two exercise sessions per day, accommodating three of us at a time. Luís has volunteered to teach us kickboxing and capoeira. My Jazzercise instructor has offered to loan us an instructional video. In general, I expect that we’ll have a lot of fun with our exercise, and learn new things at the same time!

If you have any suggestions about other exercise ideas, please share in the comments (link at top of post).

Paying the bills

Part of the preparations for our MDRS mission include financial ones. We are each responsible for a $1000 participation fee, our travel costs for reaching Grand Junction, CO (the closest airport to the Hab site), and any particular materials and supplies that our mission requires. We are assembling most of these items from our own belongings: for example, Brian is bringing a geotagging camera, Darrel will have his GPS logger, and I have packed my Garmin eTrex navigator (thanks to Jim). We will also require some new purchases, such as a network-accessible drive to store our data, pictures, videos, etc.

If you’re interested in supporting our mission financially, please feel free to click the ChipIn button at right to donate. We will be happy to recognize your support on our Sponsors page. Thank you!

Engineering challenges

Although our mission is still almost four weeks away, we have been eagerly following the reports of the current MDRS crews to learn from their experiences and better prepare for our own mission. So far one thorny problem has been condensation inside the suit helmets. Temperatures this year near the Hab have been colder than usual. Crew 85 has suggested several work-arounds, including wearing a balaclava/ski mask to reduce fogging and bringing a rope on EVAs to help guide vision-impaired crewmembers back to the Hab! Adding helmet heaters is beyond the scope of potential short-term modification, so our Chief Engineer, Darrel, has been brainstorming other solutions.

Another major practical challenge for our mission is the limited water supply (39 gallons per day to support our crew of six). Darrel would like to assess the possibility of more water recycling. Right now, the Hab has a graywater system that allows dishwater and shower water to filter out into the Green Hab and then be recycled as toilet flushing water (which then goes to the septic tank). If the Green Hab were sufficiently good at filtering/cleaning the graywater, it is possible that it could be re-used for showers or other uses as well. Darrell and Crew Biologist Luís are discussing plans to test the bacterial levels in the Green Hab outflow. If this is a possible source of additional water, it would make our lives a lot easier! (The necessary plumbing modifications might be beyond our abilities in this mission, though!)

No doubt there will be additional challenges (and opportunities) that arise during our own mission. We’ll keep an eye on the current crews to learn all we can before hitting the ground on January 23, 2010.

Meet the crew!

Emails have been flying back and forth for weeks, as we make plans for our two-week mission to the Mars Desert Research Station, from January 23 to February 6, 2010.  We will be simulating a human mission operating on the surface of Mars, living and working in and around a small Mars habitat in the remote desert of southeastern Utah. Who are we? Six hardy individuals willing to abandon our Earthly homes (at least temporarily) in support of an ongoing effort by the Mars Society to learn more about the needs, challenges, and capabilities of a human mission. You can read more about Commander/Geophysicist Brian, Executive Officer/Engineer Carla, Astronomer Mike, Chief Engineer Darrel, Biologist/Health and Safety Officer Luís, and Geologist/Information Officer/Journalist Kiri on our MDRS Crew 89 Bios page.

Brian Shiro Carla Haroz Mike Moran Darrel Robertson Luis Saraiva Kiri Wagstaff
Brian Shiro Carla Haroz Mike Moran Darrel Robertson Luís Saraiva Kiri Wagstaff

In addition to contributing to ongoing studies on nutrition and the usability of spacesuits, we will also conduct our own research projects, which include studying subsurface structure through active seismic surveying (Brian), variable stars and exoplanets (Mike), the utility of micro air vehicles for providing aerial reconnaissance (Darrel), environmental impact and biomarkers (Luís), and automated geolocation for digital photos (Kiri) — none of which would be possible without Carla’s support in coordinating and managing our daily activities and, critically, our EVA (Extra-Vehicular Activity) plan.

So join us on our journey! We’ll be posting about our activities and adventures as they arise. We can’t predict everything that will happen, but we’ll be sure to share photos and videos to keep you informed. You can subscribe to our RSS feed for this blog and/or follow us on twitter. We’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions, so feel free to post comments here.