Who will get to Mars first?

Europe and Russia prepare for historic landing on Mars

Schiaparelli touchdown would be ESA’s first success on the red planet.

17 October 2016

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An ESA visualization of Schiaparelli landing on Mars

Almost three weeks after it crash-landed the Rosetta orbiter on a comet, the European Space Agency (ESA) is gearing up to land another spacecraft — this time on Mars. It hopes that a craft called Schiaparelli will touch down on the red planet on 19 October.

Compared to the pioneering Rosetta mission, landing on Mars is a more conventional feat. But for ESA, the stakes are high, given that the tally of successful landings on Mars currently stands at NASA 7, Europe 0.

Operating on the planet’s surface would also be a first for Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, which is a partner in the mission — and which plans to partake in future joint Europe–Russia missions, including a 2020 rover landing on Mars. The Soviet Union came close to success in 1971 with the Mars 3 probe, which failed just 20 seconds after landing on the surface.

Given the importance of the landing, the descent through Mars’s thin atmosphere will represent “our own six minutes of terror”, says Francesca Ferri, a planetary scientist at the University of Padua in Italy, referencing a line coined to describe the landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover in 2012. “Around 50% of the landings on Mars haven’t succeeded, so it’s not easy. But I’m feeling pretty confident,” says Ferri, who leads an experiment to study atmospheric data from Schiaparelli’s descent.

The ESA-designed Schiaparelli lander, which is about the size of a Smart car, represents one part of the ExoMars mission that launched from Kazakhstan in March on a Russian rocket. The other half is an orbiter — also designed by ESA — that will analyse gases in Mars’s atmosphere, starting from December 2017.

Dusty landing

Schiaparelli separated from its mothership on 16 October. Its main job is to demonstrate landing technology, although it will also have a short science mission, studying the dust storms of the red planet for as long as its batteries last, probably between two and four days.

The lander is touching down in dust-storm season — and NASA scientists have warned that Mars could see a rare planet-wide storm this year, which would make for challenging landing conditions and hamper visibility. So far, ESA scientists say there are no signs of a major event, although that could change at any time. Schiaparelli has been designed and tested with dust storms in mind, but a strong storm could still cause problems. It would be ideal to have “nice and clear weather for the descent, but a dust storm come a day or two later”, says Håkan Svedhem, ExoMars 2016 project scientist at ESA. He says the craft should land safely whatever the weather.

The idea of landing in the middle of a dust storm thrills Francesca Esposito, the principal investigator for the lander’s DREAMS instrument, which will measure characteristics of Mars’s dust, as well as recording data on temperature, wind speed, humidity and pressure at the planet’s surface. “A dust storm, or at least electrified dust in the atmosphere, would be great for us,” says Esposito, who works at the INAF Astronomical Observatory of Capdiomonte in Naples, Italy. A dusty atmosphere would also warm the night-time temperature on Mars, which would reduce the need for the lander to heat itself and stretch its battery life, she says.

Lightning on Mars

An antenna on the DREAMS instrument will measure Mars’s electrical field for the first time, and could detect lightning, if it exists on Mars. The team hopes to learn whether electric fields trigger dust storms, whether these in turn enhance the planet’s electric fields, and how the storms eventually die out. Such information could aid basic understanding of the physics of Mars’s atmosphere, and could be useful for future crewed missions to the planet or for building habitats on Mars.

Schiaparelli is aiming for a smooth plain known as Meridiani Planum. NASA’s Opportunity rover is situated around 15 kilometres outside Schiaparelli’s 100 km × 15 km landing ellipse, and will try to get snapshots of the probe’s descent, says Mark Lemmon, a planetary scientist at Texas A&M University in College Station. Although ExoMars’s parachute may appear as no more than a speck, the pictures could help reveal how winds influence its trajectory, says Lemmon, adding that such shots would represent the first time a Mars landing has been seen from below.

Anyone expecting spectacular pictures from Schiaparelli itself might be disappointed — photos will be limited to 15 black-and-white shots of the Martian surface from the air, intended to help piece together the craft’s trajectory. No photos will be taken on the surface, because the lander lacks a surface camera.

For now, Svedhem is just hoping for a first successful European landing. For the first three minutes after entering Mars’s thin atmosphere, Schiaparelli will be slowed by drag alone before its parachute deploys to decelerate the craft more rapidly. A little over a kilometre from the surface, after 5 minutes and 22 seconds, the parachute should detach and thrusters will kick in. A 30-second burn will leave the craft a few metres off the ground and travelling at a few metres per second before it drops to the surface, where a crushable honeycomb structure on its base should cushion its landing. “I can’t relax until we really know it’s standing on the ground,” says Svedhem.

Nature
doi:10.1038/nature.2016.20812

Who wants to go to Mars?

MDRS Crew 177 – Final Mission Report

The following is the final summary report of Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) Crew 177 (Lone Star Highlanders). A full review of this year’s activities at MDRS will be presented at the 20th Annual International Mars Society Convention, scheduled for September 7-10, 2017 at University of California Irvine. A call for abstracts for the convention was issued recently, with a June 30th deadline.

Crew 177, Lone Star Highlanders, a team representing McLennan Community College, from Waco-Texas, stationed at Mars Dessert Research Station, MDRS, from March 26th until April 1st, for a one-week rotation as a part of McLennan Community College Mars 101 program with the main goal of providing an introduction to analog field research and training in all aspects of MDRS sim.  The team consisted of eight participants, six students conducting independent projects, and two faculty members serving a Commander and Co-Commander. Projects conducted by students were engineering and biology related.

Pitchayapa Jingjit is a freshman at McLennan Community College. She is planning to transfer to a four-year institution to pursue a degree in science in hope to attend a medical school. Her research project is trying to find bacteria producing antibiotics in order to combat the antibiotic resistance crisis. She collected soil samples containing bacteria from different point of interest around the Mars Desert Research Station and bring those samples back to McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas to begin the laboratory work. Furthermore, she conducted a microbiology EVA to find the presence of Gram negative enteric bacteria and Gram positive staph bacteria in the HAB and the Green HAB. As expected, she found both Gram positive and negative bacteria in both the HAB and the Green HAB.

Caleb Li is a sophomore year student of McLennan Community College, majoring in Electrical Engineering. He was planning to design a LED digital clock that put on the air lock to optimize the crew member’s experience while waiting to go out to do EVA. He was using the FPGAs on the Basys 2 Board to implement the clock function, time counting function, and alarm system. On Sol 4 he installed the clock in the air lock.  The afternoon EVA crew used his posted instructions to operate the LED clock when they returned to the hab. He will continue working on the alarm system and more advanced functions back to the school.

Elijah Espinoza is a freshman Mechanical Engineering student at McLennan. He is at MDRS working on a robot with Victoria LaBarre. His part of the robot is an arm that is attached to the robot that can pick up various objects such as rocks. The robot is in the early stages of a long project that will eventually be able to go out on its own and rescue an astronaut that is hurt. It is designed to be a rescue ambulance called the Emergency Medical Service Rover (EMSR). He is using a Vex competition kit to power the arm. On SOL 5 he and Victoria went out to the Cow Patty Field and tested the robot to observe how it moved on the terrain and how it picked up different sized rocks. The robot Elijah and Victoria are working on is a progression from Victoria’s project last year. Elijah plans to continue to work on the project when they get back to McLennan.

Victoria LaBarre is a sophomore student at McLennan Community College, majoring in electrical engineering. This is her second time coming to MDRS. On her first trip in 2016, she tested prototype one of the Emergency Medical Service Rover (EMSR) and conducted two human driver tests. When fully realized, the EMSR will be able to automatically go out into the field and retrieve an injured astronaut to bring them back to the Hab. This year, 2017, prototype two was developed and tested at Mars by LaBarre and her partner Elijah Espinoza. LaBarre worked on the drive train and the programming of the robot. The robot’s strength and dexterity were tested in Cow Patty field by picking up different sized rocks, which were then brought back to the Hab to be measured.

Esteban Ramirez is a first-year student at McLennan Community College majoring in Biomedical Engineering. His project dealt with energy concerns a Mars exploration would have. The amount of available energy to a crew or device is what gives them the ability to carry out their jobs on any space expedition. His project tested the feasibility and consequences of providing a bike generator for a Martian exploration to increase efficiency and health of the crew. Once arriving at MDRS various tests were done on the generator bike to calibrate and fix problems with the battery. Multiple tests on crew mates were done and data was collected such as voltage created, time spent, and calories used. These data will be analyzed and aggregated to find correlations between efficiency and various other variables such as height, weight, and age. Conclusions will be presented at McLennan Community College on Scholar Day.

Joseph Quaas is a freshman computer science student who came to MDRS in order to develop a virtual reality simulation of the MDRS site. The simulation is to consist of a basic rescue operation consisting of the user learning the location of a person, who is need of assistance, driving the rover to their location, and bringing them back to the hab. There were some developmental problems during the week concerning the implementation of certain 3D models and scripting, but good progress was still made on the project. The entire premise of virtual reality, especially a sim based upon a real-life location, is to immerse the user in a virtual environment that is as close to the real-life version as possible. During his time at MDRS, he saw and got the feel of many locations around MDRS and made adjustments to the landscape in the sim in order to make the sim more accurate.

Becky Parker is a Marketing Professor at McLennan Community College.  Her project is preparation of a marketing plan for recruiting student and faculty participants for future Mars missions as well as other travel course.  She used her time at Mars to take photos and videos of the mission to be used in marketing materials, and to conduct interviews with each participant.  She led a brainstorming session in order to get student input for the plan.

Dr. Otsmar Villarroel, chemistry professor at McLennan Community College, served as the crew 177 commander. He enjoyed her second rotation at MDRS designing the every day’s activities during crew’s mission. He also led planned EVAs for Orientation, Geology, Chemistry and independent projects.

We would like to thank the Mars Society and McLennan Community College for allowing us being part of this invaluable experience. We are deeply thankful for the opportunity.

First Robotics Competition in Long Beach, California

Long Beach_6693.jpg

The Boeing Company/Neighborhood Group/Polytechnic  & Sato Academy Math & Science (Nickname: Momentum No. 4999) Long Beach, California

FIRST ROBOTICS COMPETITION STEAMWORKS 2017 LOS ANGELES REGIONAL

Since receiving their robot kits and parts teams have been gearing up for this exciting event.  We arrived on the campus of California State University on the events move in and robot testing day.  Founder Dean Kamen calls first First Robotics “ Sport for the Mind.”

This year, audiences will be witnessing the STEAMPUNK-themed challenge FIRST STEAMWORKS.  Dean Kamen, comments that, “ Steampunk and other forms of science fiction are a powerful reminder of the potential of innovation to make fantasy a reality. Science-fiction technologies imagined by one generation become he real-world technologies invented by the next, The impossible becomes possible.”

We invite you to visit our Kids Talk Radio Science photo essay.

www.KidsTalkRadioLA.com

Talking To Mexico About Building Satallites

How low can you go? New project to bring satellites nearer to Earth
by Staff Writers
Manchester, UK (SPX) Mar 07, 2017


File image.

The University of Manchester is leading a multi-million pound project to develop satellites which will orbit much closer to the Earth – making them smaller, cheaper, helping to dodge space debris and improving the quality of images they can send back.

Remote sensing satellites currently operate at about 500-800km above the Earth, above the residual atmosphere that exists at lower altitudes. But this means that observations of the ground must also take place over this range, either limiting resolution or requiring large telescopes to be used.

The 5.7m euro grant from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 fund will allow the research team to design new technologies to build satellites that can operate at 200-450 km above the Earth’s surface – lower than the international space station.

Dr Peter Roberts, Scientific Coordinator for the project, said: “Remote sensing satellites are widely used to obtain imagery for environmental and security uses such as agricultural land management, maritime surveillance and disaster management.”

“If we are able to get satellites closer to Earth then we can get the same data using smaller telescopes, or smaller and less powerful radar systems, all of which reduces the satellite mass and cost. But there are also many technical challenges which until now have been too great to overcome. This research tackles the problem on a number of fronts.”

One issue is that the atmosphere is denser the nearer to Earth that satellites get. This means that drag needs to be minimised and countered. To do this, the team will develop advanced materials and test them in a new ‘wind tunnel’ which mimics the composition, density and speed of the atmosphere as seen by a satellite at these altitudes.

This will allow the team to test how materials interact with individual atoms of oxygen and other elements in the atmosphere at speeds of up to 8km per second. The ultimate aim is to be able to use these materials to streamline the satellites. They will also test the materials on a real satellite launched into these lower orbits. The satellite will also demonstrate how the atmospheric flow can be used to control the orientation of the satellite, much like an aircraft does at lower altitudes.

In addition, the team will develop experimental electric propulsion systems which use the residual atmosphere as propellant. This approach has the potential to keep the satellites in orbit indefinitely despite the drag acting upon them. However, it also means that the satellites will re-enter quickly when they’ve reached the end of their mission avoiding the space debris problems experienced at higher altitudes.

All these technological developments will be worked into new engineering and business models identifying what future very low Earth orbit remote sensing satellites would look like and how they would operate. The project will also map out the path for future exploitation of the developed concepts.

Partners in the research are The University of Manchester, Elecnor Deimos Satellite Systems, GomSpace AS, University of Stuttgart, Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya, University College London, The TechToybox, EuroConsult and concentris research management. The project is scheduled to run for 51 months from January 2017.

We want Mexican Food for Mars

STUDENTS COOKING SPACE FOOD

Students at the Barboza Space Center are exploring the idea of cooking space food.  This article will help to set the stage at your school or afterschool STEM program.  We are stronger if we work together.  Who wants to help?  We want to publish your ideas.   Suprschool@aol.com
SPACE TRAVEL

How bright is the future of space food
by Staff Writers
Honolulu HI (SPX) Feb 27, 2017


illustration only

Research at the University of Hawai?i at Manoa could play a major role in NASA’s goal to travel to Mars in the 2030s, including what the astronauts could eat during that historic mission.

A trip to Mars and back is estimated to take about two and half years, and ideally, their diet would be healthy while requiring minimal effort and energy. UH Manoa mechanical engineering student Aleca Borsuk may have the solution.

“I picked a really hearty, heat tolerant, drought tolerant species of edible vegetable, and that is amaranth. It’s an ancient grain,” said Borsuk, who determined that she could significantly increase the edible parts, which is basically the entire plant, by changing the lighting. “If you move the lights and have some of them overhead and some of them within the plant leaves, it can actually stimulate them to grow faster and larger.”

This is without adding more lights and by using energy efficient LEDs. Thanks to Borsuk’s work with lighting, plants could play an important role in the future of space travel.

“This plant would do the same thing that it does here on Earth, which is regenerate oxygen in the atmosphere,” said Borsuk. “It also can provide nutrition for the astronauts and if you can imagine being away from Earth for many years, you know tending something that’s green would have a psychological boost as well.”

A 2013 UH Presidential Scholar, Borsuk presented her research at the Hawai?i Space Grant Consortium Spring 2016 Fellowship and Traineeship Symposium and at the 2016 American Society for Horticultural Science Conference in Florida. She is mentored by UH Manoa Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences Associate Professor Kent Kobayashi, who is also an American Society for Horticultural Science Fellow.

International Art Contest: Students Wanted

Mars Society to Hold Int’l Student Mars Art Contest

The Mars Society announced today that it is sponsoring a Student Mars Art (SMArt) Contest, inviting youth from around the world to depict the human future on the planet Mars. Young artists from grades 4 through 12 are invited to submit up to three works of art each, illustrating any part of the human future on the Red Planet, including the first landing, human field exploration, operations at an early Mars base, the building of the first Martian cities, terraforming the Red Planet and other related human settlement concepts.

The SMArt Contest will be divided into three categories: Upper Elementary (grades 4-6), Junior High (grades 7-9), and High School (Grades 10-12). Cash prizes of $1,000, $500 and $250, as well as trophies, will be given out to the first, second and third place winners of each section. There will also be certificates of honorable mention for those artists who don’t finish in the top three, but whose work is nevertheless judged to be particularly meritorious.

The winning works of art will be posted on the Mars Society web site and may also be published as part of a special book about Mars art. In addition, winners will be invited to come to the 20th Annual International Mars Society Convention at the University of California, Irvine September 7-10, 2017 to display and talk about their art.

Mars art will consist of still images, which may be composed by traditional methods, such as pencil, charcoal, watercolors or paint, or by computerized means. Works of art must be submitted via a special online form (http://nextgen.marssociety.org/mars-art) in either PDF or JPEG format with a 500 MB limit. The deadline for submissions is May 31, 2017, 5:00 pm MST. By submitting art to the contest, participating students grant the Mars Society non-exclusive rights to publish the images on its web site or in Kindle paper book form.

Speaking about the SMArt Contest, Mars Society President Dr. Robert Zubrin said, “The imagination of youth looks to the future. By holding the SMArt Contest, we are inviting young people from all over the world to use art to make visible the things they can see with their minds that the rest of us have yet to see with our own eyes. Show us the future, kids. From imagination comes reality. If we can see it, we can make it.”

Questions about the Mars Society’s SMArt Contest can be submitted to: Marsart@marssociety.org.

Mars Science Projects for Mexico

Would anyone in Mexico want to build a wall on Mars?

Mission Summary – Crew 174

Mars Desert Research Station End of Mission Summary

Crew 174 – Team PLANETEERS

 

Team PLANETEERS (All Indian Crew):

Commander:  Mamatha Maheshwarappa

Executive Officer/Crew Scientist:  Saroj Kumar

Engineer/Journalist:  Arpan Vasanth

GreenHab Officer:  Sneha Velayudhan

Crew Health & Safety Officer/Geologist:  Sai Arun Dharmik

Success occurs when your dreams get bigger than your excuses

 

The Solar System is a tiny drop in our endless cosmic sea (Universe). Within our solar system, a very few planets host an environment suitable for some life forms to exist. The closest one being Mars after the Earth, following the success of rovers such as Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity and several space probes, the human understanding of the planet has reached new levels. The next important aspect is to find out if there exist any life forms or if the planet had hosted any life in the past. Although the rovers send out a lot of information about the planet, so far humans have not found anything substantial. With advancements in science and technology by organizations such as NASA, ESA, ISRO, CNSA along with private industries such as SpaceX manned mission to Mars seems to be within reach in a few years. To carry out successful missions humans will have to develop key tactics to cope up extreme conditions, confined spaces and limited resources. Team Planeteers (MDRS Crew 174) is the first all Indian crew consisting of five young aspirants from different domain who have come together to embark on a special mission in order to develop such key tactics. The crew was successful in executing the planned experiments. The key for their success is the temperament and dedication shown by each individual and fixing small issues immediately. Since all the members were of same origin, food and cultural aspects was an advantage. Going forward the team is planning out for outreach activities. As a part of QinetiQ Space UK, Mamatha will be involved in outreach, education and media activities (TeenTech & STEMNET). Similarly, Saroj and Sneha will be conducting STEM outreach activities at Unversity of Alabama and Rochester Institute of Technology respectively.

Figure 1 Team Planeteers inside the MDRS Hab

Research conducted at MDRS by Crew 174:

 

  1. Characterizing the transference of Human Commensal Bacteria and Developing Zoning Methodology for Planetary Protection

The first part of this research aims at using metagenomics analysis to assess the degree to which human associated (commensal) bacteria could potentially contaminate Mars during a crewed mission to the surface. This involved collection of environmental soil samples during the first week of the mission from outside the MDRS airlock door, at MDRS airlock door and at increasing distances from the habitat (including a presumably uncontaminated site) in order to characterise transference of human commensal bacteria into the environment and swabbing of interior surfaces carried out towards the end of the mission within the MDRS habitat to characterize the commensal biota likely to be present in a crewed Mars mission. In the interests of astrobiology, however, if microbial life is discovered on the Martian surface during a crewed mission, or at any point after a crewed mission, it will be crucial to be able to reliably distinguish these detected cells from the microbes potentially delivered by the human presence.

The second part of the research aims at testing the hypothesis that human-associated microbial contamination will attenuate with increasing distance from the Hab, thus producing a natural zoning.  The previous studies hypothesize that there may be relatively greater contamination along directions of the prevailing wind because windborne particles or particle aggregates allow attachment of microbes and help to shelter them against various environmental challenges, e.g. desiccation, ultraviolet light, etc. Efforts are afoot to try to develop a concept of zones around a base where the inner, highest contamination zone is surrounded by zones of diminishing levels of contamination occur and in which greater Planetary Protection stringency must be enforced (Criswell et al 2005).  As part of that concept, an understanding of what the natural rate of microbial contamination propagation will be is essential.

a. Sample collection process:

Two sets of samples were collected as the analysis will be carried out at two different stages.

i. Samples of the soil outside the MDRS were collected aseptically into sterile Falcon tubes. Sampling sites included immediately outside the habitat air lock (with presumably the highest level of human-associated bacteria from the crew quarters), at increasing distances from the airlock along a common EVA route (to track decrease in transference with distance), and at a more remote site that ideally has not previously been visited by an EVA (to provide the negative control of background microbiota in the environment).

Figure 2 Soil Samples collected at increasing distances from the Airlock

 

ii. Various surfaces within the crew quarters were swabbed using a standard sterile swab kit to collect microbes present from the course of normal human habitation. These included door handles, walls, table surface, airlock handles, staircase, working table, computer. This did not expose the science team to additional infection risks (such as not swabbing toilets).

Figure 3 (a) Sterile Swab Kit (b) Internal swab collection (working table)

Sampling locations within the habitat and soil sampling sites during EVA were recorded by photographs and written notes. After collection, the samples were refrigerated at the MDRS Science lab, and then returned with the crew to London for storage and analysis. This is analogous to medical samples being collected from ISS astronauts and returned to Earth for lab analysis. The molecular biology sample analysis and data interpretation, including all the metagenomic analyses to identify bacterial strains present, will be conducted by Lewis Dartnell in collaboration with John Ward. The collaboration agreement is already in place and lab space and resources confirmed. The analysis is carried out in two different stages:

 

a. Stage 1 Analysis:

The first set of samples will be tested using off-the-shelf simple tests for the presence or absence of human associated microbes, namely coliforms.  These are simple to use and give a yes/no answer, so plots will be made of yes/no results with distance from the hab in different directions.  This could be correlated with prevailing wind directions and/or to show common human pathways from the hab versus directions in which people typically don’t go.

b. Stage 2 Analysis:

The second set of samples (internal swabs) will not be cultured or otherwise processed back on Earth (as culturing of human commensurate and environmental microorganisms could present a biological hazard to the MDRS astronauts). All sampling materials and storage containers were provided by the study, and thus will require no consumables or other resources from the MDRS. All sample collection pots and sampling materials will be removed by the study scientists, and the sampling process itself (small soil samples and surface swabs) will not impact the MDRS habitat or its natural environment.

 

  1. Zoning and sample collection Protocols for Planetary Protection

 

Planetary protection is one of the major subjects that require immediate attention before humans travel to Mars and beyond. MDRS being one of the closest analogues on Earth with respect to dry environment on Mars was the best site to perform and simulate issues related to planetary protection. Our work on planetary protection was to simulate zoning protocol to be used to manage relative degrees of acceptable contamination surrounding MDRS and implementation of sample protocols while at EVA’s for soil sample collection, geological study and during hab support activities etc.

 

a. Zoning protocols for crew exploration around MDRS

During the mission, we extensively studied the zoning protocol in and around the hab and how contamination issues on Mars can be restricted.  On the first day on ‘Mars’ we used the geographical map of MDRS exploration area to formulate and characterize zones around the hab and the strategy for sample collection.

i. Zone: 1 (Area within Hab) – This area is believed to be the most contaminated with the human microbes.

ii. Zone 2 (About 20 meters from the hab) – This is the area where most of the hab support systems and rovers are parked. This zone is supposed to have less microbial contamination than hab but higher than Zone 3 and 4.

iii. Zone 3 (Beyond 20 meters but within 300 meters around the hab) – This area is considered to have regular human presence during an EVA. Soil samples of Zone 2a and 2b were collected for future analysis in lab to study human microbial contamination.

iv. Zone 4 (Special Region) – This area was considered to have insufficient remote sensing data to determine the level of biological potential. This area was marked as no EVA zone and can only be studied in detail by remote sensing data using satellites or drones.

 

b. Sample collection protocols

The crew studied the sample collection protocol requirements for all the activities such as soil sample collection, geological study and during the operations of hab support systems etc., this was to avoid forward and back contamination.  The protocols were planned to be initiated from the time a crew member leaves the airlock for EVA and until he/she returns from the EVA to Hab. During the EVA, the crew noted every experiment procedure and made sure there was no breach in spacesuits and no human microbial contamination during soil collection. The tools used for the soil collection were required to be completely cleaned and sterilized. The study of rocks on site during an EVA was one of the major challenges where it was realized that special tools were required to pick the rock samples without getting them exposed to spacesuit gloves. Using only gloves to pick rock samples could also rupture the spacesuits and thus there could be a decompression issue. Even with a detailed geological exploration map of MDRS and high resolution satellite imagery, it was noted that the use of drones can drastically reduce the human EVAs and lots of geological and terrain information can be obtained in a shot span of time. This step would heavily reduce the human EVA and thereby contamination issues to special regions where there could be a possibility of having a biological activity. Water, a major carrier of human microbes is proposed to be within the structures of hab. During the simulation, the crew made sure that there was no water spillage outside the hab.

 

  1. Development of New Techniques to Enhance Plant Growth in a Controlled Environment

A crewed mission to the Mars demands sufficient food supplies during the mission. Thus cultivation of plants and crops play an important role to create a habitat on Mars. There are some factors to be considered before cultivating crops on the Martian surface. First, the planet’s position in the solar system, Mars receives about 2/3rd of sunlight as compared to the Earth that plays a vital role in crop cultivation. Second, the type of soil used for crop cultivation should to be rich in various nutrients. Since the MDRS site is considered as one of the best analogue sites on Earth to simulate Mars environment, the experimental results of plant growth at MDRS was considered for this research. This research aims at growing fenugreek (crop that is rich in nutrients and grows within the mission time) to determine the effect of Vitamin D on the growth.

At MDRS, the fenugreek seeds were allowed to germinate for 2 days. In the mean-time, an EVA was carried out to collect soil from different parts on ‘Mars’. The soil was collected based on the colour and texture. Five types of soil, white (01), red (02), clay (03) coloured soil, course grey soil (04) and sand from river bed (05) were collected. Two set of experiment pots were made as shown in the Figure 4. Each had 15 pots, 10 pots with Earth soil (ES) labelled with different levels of Vitamin D (0- 0.9) and 5 pots of Mars soil (MS) labelled according to the area of the soil collected (0-5). One set of 15 pots was placed in the Green hab and the other in the controlled environment (under the Misian Mars lamp) after planting the well germinated seeds. The plants were watered twice a day in order to maintain the moisture in the soil.

Figure 4 Experimental Setup with Earth and ‘Mars’ Soil

The temperature and humidity levels were monitored twice a day throughout the mission both in the green hab and the controlled environment (Misian Mars Lamp). It was noted that there was a steep increase in the temperature in the green hab as the outside temperature was high that inturn decreased the humidity in the green hab drastically. The situation was managed by switching on the cooler and then by monitoring the heater thermostat. The plants were watered with specific measurement of Vitamin D every day. The experiment was successfully completed by monitoring the growth regularly, it is evident that humidity and temperature impacts the growth of plants. The plants in the green hab showed more growth of primary root than the secondary, the leaves were normal in colour and growth. In the controlled environment, the root growth was fast, the plants developed many secondary roots in few days. The plants looked healthy, the leaves were dark green and bigger than the ones in the green hab as seen in Figure 5.

Figure 5 Plant growth in (a) Misian Mars Lamp (b) GreenHab

In conclusion, the graphs were plotted for the root growth for the Earth Soil with Vitamin D in the green hab and the controlled environment from Sol 08 to Sol 13. The graphs indicated that the low level of Vitamin D (0.1) enhances root growth in the green hab. Under misian Mars lamp, the growth rate is high for ES 0 (without Vitamin D).   Readings tabulated for the Mars soil was plotted on daily basis but, after few days it was noted that there was neglibile growth in the Mars soil. The graphs plotted for few days are as shown in the Figure 6.

Figure 6 Root growth of seedlings (a) Misian Mars Lamp (b) GreenHab

 

  1. Study of magnetic susceptibility of the rocks and their comparison

 

The primary objective was to study the magnetic susceptibility and magnetic minerals of the rock samples collected and compare them with multi-spectral remote sensing data back in the lab. MDRS contains a range of Mars analogue features relevant for geological studies. It contains a series of sediments derived from weathering and erosion from marine to fluvial and lacustrine deposits containing also volcanic ashes (Foing et al. 2011). With the preliminary understanding of the MDRS geographical exploration area and identification of potential targets, the lithology can help us decipher the structural history of the region, with understanding of genesis of such rock types and aid exploration efforts. The previous studies done at MDRS reveals that the magnetic susceptibility did not vary significantly near the Hab. Hence, the locations of various geological formations far away from the hab were selected to study the distribution of magnetic minerals. The selected locations for the same were sedimentary outcrops, cattle grid, burpee dinosaur quarry, widow’s peak and near the Motherload of concretions.

We found layers of horizontally bedded sandstone and conglomerates, sandstones and siltstones. Some of them seem to have inverse grading which could have been created by the debris flow. Gypsum and lichens were spotted around the area of sedimentary crops. In the next visit to Motherload of concretions, we have seen a variety of lichens: yellow, black, orange and grey. And in the Cattle grid region, colors of mudstone and conglomerates bands of rich cream, brown, yellow and red were found. The basalt samples were collected from the gravel in the cattle grid region and from the URC north site (porphyr) to be studied in the lab. Near the widow’s peak, shales were found along with gypsum shining bright, distributed around that area. Most of the region was covered mostly with loose soil. The locations of all the samples collected from different regions were marked with the help of GPS. The magnetic susceptibility of rock samples were measured and documented them using the magnetometer in the science lab. Inspection of samples was possible with the microscope at the science dome, with 10X zoom as seen in Figure 4. They need to be studied in thin sections for better understanding and will be done on Earth under the guidance of specialists.

Figure 7 (a) Porphyr under microscope (b) Siltstone under the microscope

 

  1. Drone Experiment

‘Mars’ has a harsh environment that risks Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA). The main objectives of the drone experiment were:

a. To ease EVAs by understanding the scenario of a region that is hard to access by rover/ATV.

b. To simulate the application of drone in search of a crew member during an emergency situation and during loss of communication.

c. Video making and photography for outreach activities.

The first objective to make use of drone in isolated regions was successfully executed on Sol 07. Since it was the first trial, the drone was operated in beginner’s mode restricting the field of operation to 30m range. The crew was looking out for soil samples, when confronted by a medium size hill the drone was sent out to check for soil sample availability on the other side. The region looked to be same and it was easier for the crew to take a decision to abort the mission and move to a different location.

Execution date:                Sol 07 (Earth date: 02/05/2017)

GPS Satellites:   13

Flight mode:                     Beginner’s mode of max 62 FT altitude and within 30m range.

 

The second objective was to simulate an emergency situation when one of the crew lost communication with other member during EVAs. The beginner mode range was too less and hence the drone was operated in advanced mode to search the missing crew member. The mission was successful in identifying the crew member.

Execution:         Sol 11 (Earth date: 02/09/2017)

GPS Satellites:   14

Flight mode:                     Advanced mode with 121 FT altitude and 500m range.

 

Figure 8 Drone Searching a Crew Member

 

Several photographs/videos were captured as per the planned outreach activity.