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Sciency Background Stuff

Crew members outside the FMARS Hab.

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What is The Mars Society?

The Mars Society is the world’s largest and most influential space advocacy organization dedicated to the human exploration and settlement of the planet Mars. Established by Dr. Robert Zubrin and others in 1998, the group works to educate the public, the media, and the government on the benefits of exploring Mars and creating a permanent human presence on the Red Planet. To that effort, the Mars Society has built space analog research stations in the Utah Desert and the far north of Canada on the uninhabited Devon Island.

What is FMARS-15?

FMARS stands for Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station, and we will be the 15th expedition to the site. “Flashline,” a former web-development company in the late 90’s, was the first major investor of the project. The research station itself is the world’s first Mars-analog research station and was featured on The Discovery Channel during its construction and first missions. It is a round, two-story habitat approximately 26 feet tall and in diameter. It has laboratory equipment, a bathroom and kitchen that uses gravity to flow water, and intermittent power provided by a diesel generator. We will be phasing out the legacy-fuel generator with renewables starting with the installation of a wind turbine and power storage on this mission. A tenuous internet connection was available on prior missions through the Iridium system, but we will be upgrading to Starlink this summer.

What are we planning for this expedition?

There are two phases: structural/system assessment and science. The habitat (hab) has not had a crew since 2017, and we really don’t know the exact state at this time. The crew engineers will be responsible for an initial external and, if safe, internal assessment of the hab’s structure. The plumbing, electrical, and equipment in the hab will also need to be inspected for damage or contamination. We need to make sure it is safe for us to stay the night and start the science phase. I really don’t want to sleep outside with the polar bears, but we will have to weigh the risks depending on the state of the structure. It is likely the structure is acceptable, as the hab was intentionally over-engineered and is very robust. The science phase includes many different research plans that add to the years-long research in the crater that has already been underway. The geological and biological processes that happen in the crater will be the primary focus, because this will help scientists learn what it will be like to try to do this on Mars. Did I mention we will be wearing space suits?! This phase will be “in simulation”, which means we have to practice as though we are working on Mars. To make this Mars-analog research meaningful, it is important for us to maintain sim discipline – we can’t remove our glove to pick up a mineral sample, no matter how interesting it looks, and we wont be surfing the internet on our phones because there is no internet on Mars. (We will have daily communication windows when we’ll be able to get online to submit data and email.) This also means going through steps like helping each other don a space suit, “depressurizing” the airlock, only communicating via radio, and using tools in the field while wearing the kind of bulky gloves that astronauts will be wearing. All of this experience will help future astronauts live and work on Mars.

What is my role?

My primary role is to ensure the safety of the crew and make sure they are set up for a successful mission. I perform structural and systems assessment of the Boeing 737 MAX as my regular day job. Because the airplane is so large and complex with millions of parts, I never know what I’m going to see; so I treat every issue as a new and unique problem to solve. I will take these skills to the arctic and apply them to the FMARS hab. The other engineers and I will prioritize repairs, and then we have a list of upgrades that we will try to complete before the mission is over. Throughout all of this, I will be the subject of experiments, too! The crew will be wearing heart rate monitors (like your sports watch) to track our heart rates and stress levels, and we will be taking surveys and tests that will explore how this challenging work in such a formidable and remote environment affects our abilities to communicate and work together. The way a future astronaut crew will handle the stresses of the long-duration missions so far from home will be just as important as the exploration itself, and I think it’s awesome to be a part of the foundation of that research.

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