The Mars Desert Research Station, located in the Utah desert near the town of Hanksville, is a simulated Mars habitat that serves as a testbed for field operations studies in preparation for future human missions to Mars.
Volunteer crews live at the station, testing habitat design features and technologies. From December 27 to January 2, six college students served as the MDRS crew, as participants in NASA’s Spaceward Bound program.
Spaceward Bound is an educational program whose goal is to train the next generation of space explorers by having students and teachers participate in the exploration of scientifically interesting but remote and extreme environments on Earth as analogs for human exploration of the Moon and Mars.
Laurie J. Schmidt visited the crew and got a taste of life inside the Hab:
see the photos!
The Mars Desert Research Station
The Mars Desert Research Station, located in the Utah desert near the town of Hanksville, is a simulated Mars habitat that serves as a testbed for field operations studies in preparation for future human missions to Mars. During each field season, which typically runs from December to April, volunteer crews spend one to two weeks at the station testing things like habitat design features, technologies, and crew selection protocols.
The desert region of southeast Utah is what is known in space exploration terms as a Mars “analog” — locations on Earth where environmental conditions and geologic features are thought to resemble those that may be encountered on Mars. In this image, the bentonite hills of the Morrison Formation display their colorful bands.
Each crew member has the “luxury” of having their own private sleeping area. If it looks claustrophobic — it is. But the first astronauts to Mars will need to live and work in very tight quarters. Each bunkroom includes a hard-surface sleeping area and a couple of shelves for personal belongings.
In the Hab
The habitat structure — or “Hab” — houses a lower level, which includes a work area and the air lock leading to the exit, and an upper level where crew members sleep, eat, socialize, and do computer-related tasks. Here, crew member Michael Borden, an optical sciences graduate student at the University of Arizona, ascends to level 2 from the ground floor.
The View Outside
Looking out the portal-style window on Level 2 of the Hab, it’s not hard to imagine that outside lies the desolate and lonely landscape and surface of the real Mars.
One of the crew’s daily activities is the EVA — Extravehicular Activity. Donning full spacesuits, several crew members venture outside the Hab to collect geologic samples, explore adjacent sites, or perform maintenance tasks on exterior equipment. In this image, crew member Heather Bradshaw, a mechanical engineering student at the University of Maryland, prepares and inspects the helmets in preparation for the day’s EVA outing.
Crew members get suited up for the day’s EVA outing. Front to back: Raechel Harnoto, California Polytechnic State University; Clara McCrossin, Shepherd University; and Mary Beth Wilhelm, Cornell University.
Collecting Martian Soil
Crew members Raechel Harnoto, Clara McCrossin, and Mary Beth Wilhelm set out on an EVA on December 29. The day’s assignment? To collect soil samples in several sites adjacent to the Hab. While out on EVAs, the crew members are in constant communication with “HabCom” — monitored by fellow crew members inside the Hab.
Crew members (left to right) Mary Beth Wilhelm, Clara McCrossin, and Raechel Harnoto check their GPS coordinates to be sure they’ve covered all the sites scheduled for geologic sample collection and radio to “HabCom” that they’re ready to return to Hab.
Crew member Josh Nelson, an aerospace engineering student at the University of Arizona, prepares a sterilized tray for a biology experiment inside the Hab.
On dinner duty, crew members Raechel Harnoto (left) and Clara McCrossin prepare a dinner of pasta and garlic bread for the other crew members. One of the finer amenities of Hab is its bread-making machine, which supplies the crew with homemade bread during their stay.
As daylight gives way to dusk in the Utah desert, the crew can look forward to some astronomy and star-gazing at Musk Observatory, seen here to the left of the main Hab structure.