European Space Agency Crew Completes Mars Desert Research Station
February 28, 2011
The following is the summary report of MDRS crew 100A, composed of scientists and engineers from the European Space Agency, which operated the MDRS from February 12, 2011 to February 26, 2011. Crew 100B, also drawn from the European Space Agency, has now taken over, and will operate the station until March 12, when they will hand it over to yet another crew. Daily reports on the activity at the MDRS are being posted at www.marssociety.org. A complete report on this year's field season will be given at the 14th International Mars Society Convention to be held at the Embassy Suites Hotel, Dallas, Texas, August 4-7, 2011.
Final report ILEWG EuroMoonMars Crew 100 A
We were the 100th crew on Mars since the beginning of the MDRS. As a multidisciplinary team with backgrounds in Applied Physics, Space Systems, Aeronautical Engineering, Psychiatry and Arts, we started our mission on February 12th 2011.
Supported by the International Lunar Exploration Working Group (ILEWG) and l’École de l’Air, we spent two weeks at the Utah Desert, using our diverse backgrounds during a total of 24 EVAs to attain truly amazing research goals ranging from: sleep disruption experiments to almost real time collaboration with research teams on Earth during integrated missions using an UAV, a Rover and Human EVA for sample retrieval.
During these two weeks we also learned about confinement and managed to grow as a team improving our habitability and performance during our tasks. We now know some of the challenges of a Human mission to Mars and we like it!
We now introduce the crew and describe the main experiments we conducted during our stay at the Red Planet.
Ivo Ferreira (Commander)
Romain Benchenafi (Executive Officer)
Ayako Ono (Science Team Leader and health and Safety officer)
Jeffrey Hendrikse (Chief Engineer)
Kévin Théatre (Habitat Engineer)
Audrey Lan San (Rover Engineer)
Influence of stress induced by communication constraints on an EVA (Ivo Ferreira)
During our stay at the MDRS we conducted a total of 13 EVAs designed to test the effect of different communication protocols on the stress level during an EVA. There were 7 different mission profiles with different types of complexity (some by foot, others by ATV). They were conducted in pairs, with only one of the subjects being able to communicate with mission control through different protocols (once every 3 minutes, once every 7 minutes or with no established frequency). The person contacting with mission support was also being monitored in its heart rate with a Polar WearLink equipment to afterwards use a method for estimation of energy expenditure based on heart rate.
For each of the EVAs, the subjects were required to accomplish 2 tasks (collect geological samples, fix electrical connections, collect biological samples, etc.) at different geographical locations marked by GPS waypoints. They were informed of the existence of two time limits regarding the oxygen in the backpack of their spacesuits and the radiation exposition (DOSE limit). They were also informed of the possibility of using a refill station to reload their oxygen limit. The different communication protocols constrained the information about next instructions and status of their two time limits. In order to succeed in their mission objectives the subjects were required to establish a strategy despite of communication limitations.
Although the results are not analyzed yet, there is a general trend showing an increase of the heart rate when a limited communication protocol is established. This increase in BPM shall be verified in the energy expenditure and provide data on the additional effort required during an EVA when the communication is not optimal.
Importance of human factors in remotely operated vehicles (Audrey Lan San and Jeffrey Hendrikse)
The Max Rover, lent by NASA Ames, enabled us to assess the situation awareness of the human operator who is guiding a remote operated vehicle, which consists in “knowing what happens around you”. The better the situation awareness is the easier making a decision will be.
We started by determining if the video camera of the rover was sufficient to guide it, to avoid any obstacles encountered and not to get stuck due to the terrain conditions. We soon realized that the video camera placed on the rover did not provide satisfactory information to fulfill a reconnaissance mission here at the MDRS station, therefore we implemented a cooperation between the rover and a UAV.
The UAV could go first on the site, looking for the best route to go there, indicating the obstacles and the gaps to avoid. But the situation awareness is not only based on visual data. It is also about all the feelings you are deprived when controlling something indirectly.
Working on a real system enabled us to see what are the main problems encountered in remote-controlled missions and the overall influence of interfaces that need to be as intuitive and user-friendly as possible.
Using UAVs in sample retrieval missions (Romain Benchenafi)
We had the opportunity to bring with us two little UAVs. Initially we intended to use them to implement a mission in cooperation with the Rover, but we found other useful applications, for instance taking pictures and videos of areas we were interested in. It was our first experience controlling UAVs, but we now hold enough experience about their capabilities and limitations.
The type of controller used for this type of vehicles requires a lot of precision and is therefore critical. The operator needs to be able to perform intuitively several simultaneous tasks such as hovering a site and taking pictures. We also hypothesized on the number and position of cameras to give complete situation awareness. A bottom camera offers the most useful view on a site identification mission such as the ones related to sample retrieval, its utility can be improved with larger angles of vision and zooming capabilities to better perceive the minimum security distance from the target.
Although these little toys are quite easy to control at large distances, currently we are limited to a 50 meters range due to the Wifi connection, 10 minutes flights due to the battery, and weather conditions due to their fragility. We do not recommend flying them with windy conditions. We learnt it the hard way by losing one which was taken by the wind. Fortunately we have been able to continue our experiments thanks to a backup UAV, with great results.
Identification of critical knowledge need on a Space mission (Kévin Théatre)
We define the criticality of a knowledge "as an assessment of risks / opportunities posed by the field" (Ermine, 2008) at all stages of the organization of a mission. During our mission we were able to find out quick conclusions about the use of complex equipment such as a Mars Rover. We were able to list all the basic motions of a Rover lent by NASA Ames and the main combinations of basic motion. Some of these motions are intuitive from the perspective of a complete novice and are not critical so they do not need to be explicitly taught. Only the non-intuitive and non-straightforward parts of knowledge shall be transmitted. Actually we learned that the quality of the intuitive knowledge depends on the person’s background and the tool used in the human-machine interface. For example someone with a lot of experience on video games knows almost all the rover basic motions with a joystick but a common person may find them difficult to understand and reproduce. In addition to this another result of this study is the influence of the tool used as a human-machine interface on the training of newcomers with complex equipment like a remotely operated vehicle.
Moon-Mars Habitability Project (Ayako Ono)
The Moon-Mars habitability project from Extreme-Design group aims to improve habitability and well-being in confined isolated environment. Astronauts suffer from insomnia, depression and stress and these negative effects reduce crew performance.
The hypothesis is that humans to gain efficiency, reliability and well-being need variability of stimuli as it happens in the natural environment. To verify this hypothesis, the crew creatively interacted with stimuli such as plants, gradation colors, natural sound and fragrances. The results obtained will be compared with the neutral stimulation named “Copy & Mirror”.
The methodology is based on psycho-physiological interrelationship with the measurement of saliva amylase, blood pressure, pulse, heart rate and electrocardiogram, in addition to questionnaires to measure mood states, and a final collective crew debriefing on the habitability experience.
Currently there had 5 subjects during the ILEWG EuroMoonMars Crew100A (5 more people will be gathered from Crew 100B). As a result, although further analysis will be required, the majority of the subjects had their saliva amylase and pulse reduced during the stimuli, with the exception of color gradation and Copy & Mirror.
Through the debriefing workshop, we could learn about the constraints imposed by space environments. We found some problems such as environmental noise, too much tasks, low quality radio, uncomfortable bathroom, and so on. We then focused on the possible solutions, including improvement of communication systems, quality of the food and cooking, and how jokes, hobbies and sports can be helpful to uplift your mood state.
We were asked to perform this mission on the 15th February. The goal was to collect geological samples from a site near the MDRS station. It was an opportunity to test the combined use of our equipment and explore its complementarity.
As we had at our disposal a rover and an UAV, we decided to use them to fulfill our mission. First, we built a range extender with two high gain antennas and two amplifiers set on a mobile unit to allow the rover to go to the targeted site. Then, we sent the UAV to find the best way to go there with the rover and take some aerial photographs. At the third stage, the rover was sent to get more accurate and closer pictures from the outcrops and make sure that the area was safe for people who would later collect the samples. Finally, we set up an EVA to get the geological samples from white and red rock outcrops identified earlier. In order to make it a complete operation the samples were analyzed at Habitat laboratory for basic physical and chemical properties.
We have been contacted on the 16th of February in order to lead an investigation for both SALM (Site Analog Lunar Mars group from La Reunion) and the ESTEC (European Space Research and Technology Centre), at the sites P2 (N38.40746º W110.79280º), P3 (N38.40737º W110.79261º) and C4 (N38.40545º W110.78573º). This operation occurred in three steps: with the help of the UAV we took pictures of the sites and sent them to the experts of the SALM group, once they informed us which locations they were interested in seeing with more detail we took closer pictures and, on the third iteration, once they informed us of the exact position of the samples to retrieve, we made EVAs to collect them. It took us four days to achieve this part of the mission, from the 20th of February to the 23rd, due to unfortunate weather conditions. We were forced to short time windows before sunset to avoid facing harsh winds.
We were also asked later to collect other samples from P2 and P3 and extra samples from the locations P5 and P6 (N38.42638º, W110.78342º) for VU Amsterdam. To comply with this request, we have made other EVAs on the 23rd of February, involving two crew members twice, using plastic gloves, sterilized metallic tools and ziplog bags to retrieve the samples. We have collected a total of 27 samples of soil and rocks, which are waiting to be sent to SALM, ESTEC and VU Amsterdam.
MDRS was for us an amazing experience which enabled us to work on projects completely different from our competencies in a confined analog environment. It was a true challenge and enlightening experience. Now we can imagine how a real mission to the Red Planet would be.
We would like to thank the Mars Society, ILEWG, l’Ecole de l’Air, Prof. Bernard Foing, Dr. Guy Pignolet from the SALM institute, Mr. Akos Kerezturi, Dr. Tamarack Czarnik, Dr Carol Stoker (NASA Ames), the Mission Support, Mr. Don Lusko and all other related people for their daily assistance, and our remote supporters from America, Europe, Japan and the Indian Ocean. We have enjoyed working with you during our mission.
To the infinity and beyond!