My life on Mars: engineering student experiences life on the red planet

Oct 01, 2012

As NASA's Curiosity rover scours the surface of Mars and beams pictures of the stark and desolate landscape back to Earth, we've begun to paint a picture of what living on the red planet might actually be like.

In this month's , Ashley Dale, a PhD student at the University of Bristol, brings this image to life by giving his account of the two weeks he spent living in the Utah desert as part of a simulated Mars mission.

Comparing his surroundings to a "Monet landscape", Dale recalls expeditions across the "paprika-coloured" desert on an all-terrain quad bike and living out of a Habitat Module – a two-floored, silo-shaped capsule small enough to fit on top of the main of a .

Accompanying Dale on his mission were a journalist, a geologist, an , an aerospace engineer and an industrial designer. They all lived out of the same Habitat Module, which included six compact bedrooms (each little more than 1 m by 3 m), a communal area, kitchen, toilet, shower, computer stations and a number of labs for the crew to work in.

Each year, around 10 of these six-person crews spend two weeks at the Mars Desert Research Station, which is operated by the Mars Society as part of a research project looking into such topics as the design features of habitat modules, psychological tests of crew members, assessment of crew-selection procedures and even tests to determine the best kinds of food for Mars explorers.

In the article, Dale recalls a close encounter with a "Martian" (which turned out to be a desert mouse), being flung off his quad bike into a ditch, conversations about science policy around the dinner table, and watching sci-fi films to relax at night.

Of course, each of the crew members had specific tasks to complete during the mission. Dale was involved in a project to assess the functionality of a small, remote-controlled rover carrying a wireless video camera, which was used as a scout to explore hard-to-reach places.

Other members of the crew studied how space suits limited their ability to perform tasks such as collecting samples and isolating organisms – something that would be very important on a real mission. Every evening, each member of the crew completed surveys about the food and their psychological states.

On the first evening, the station's engineering co-ordinator, John Barainca, exited the Habitat Module after giving the crew a full tour. Dale recalls the exact words Barainca said as he turned and stood there in the –12°C moonlight.

Dale writes: "'You know, guys,' he said, reflectively, 'we all have one thing in common: we're all nuts.' And with that, he sealed the exterior airlock door behind him. Our two-week simulation had begun."

Explore further: Cassini watches mysterious feature evolve in Titan sea

More information: physicsworld.com/

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Mars project to simulate radiation exposure

Apr 11, 2007

Monitoring radiation from solar flares to ensuring that fellow crew members on the surface receive ample warning is only one of the tasks for Irene Schneider Puente, graduate student in geosciences at Penn ...

Mojave Desert tests prepare for NASA Mars Roving

May 14, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Team members of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission took a test rover to Dumont Dunes in California's Mojave Desert this week to improve knowledge of the best way to operate a similar rover, ...

Astronomer Squyres becomes NASA aquanaut

Oct 21, 2011

Cornell professor of astronomy Steven Squyres, the lead scientist for NASA's Rover mission to Mars, has just taken the plunge as a NASA aquanaut.

Recommended for you

US-India to collaborate on Mars exploration

2 hours ago

The United States and India, fresh from sending their own respective spacecraft into Mars' orbit earlier this month, on Tuesday agreed to cooperate on future exploration of the Red Planet.

Swift mission observes mega flares from a mini star

3 hours ago

On April 23, NASA's Swift satellite detected the strongest, hottest, and longest-lasting sequence of stellar flares ever seen from a nearby red dwarf star. The initial blast from this record-setting series ...

Sandblasting winds shift Mars' landscape

7 hours ago

High winds are a near-daily force on the surface of Mars, carving out a landscape of shifting dunes and posing a challenge to exploration, scientists said Tuesday.

PanSTARRS K1, the comet that keeps going

10 hours ago

Thank you K1 PanSTARRS for hanging in there! Some comets crumble and fade away. Others linger a few months and move on. But after looping across the night sky for more than a year, this one is nowhere near ...

User comments : 0