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Crew 102 Summary

Crew 102 Summary Report, 04.14.11

The following is the summary report of Mars Desert Research Station Crew 102, composed of scientists and engineers from the United States, Italy, Greece, and Canada, which operated the MDRS from March 26, 2011 to April 9, 2011.

MDRS Crew 102 Final Report

Crew 102 is a very diverse team with international members having expertise in different fields. The demographics and skills of the crew are also diverse bringing together a combination of complementary talents and knowledge to MDRS.  Starting from the mission planning conference calls to the setup of a dedicated mission web page, the crew developed excellent dynamics and has formed to be a very productive team.

Along with the participation in the ongoing MDRS simulation, Crew 102 proposed, performed and was successful in accomplishing the studies described below within the operational, logistical and environmental constraints of the simulation via a number of Extra Vehicular Activities (EVAs) and in-Hab experiments and analysis.

PALENTOLOGY

Numerous EVAs were undertaken to the Gryphea arcuata (commonly called Devil’s Toenail) fossil fields atop Radio Ridge, just west of the Hab.  The purpose of these EVAs was to support an ongoing study being conducted by members of the Remote Science Team to map the contact between bio-erosion of the fossils, and corrosion in the region.  This will help the team understand how the species lived, died, and were transported to Radio Ridge.  While it is highly unlikely that organisms of this size have lived on Mars, understanding their life-cycles and the processes affecting them could be insightful when looking for micro-fossils on Mars.

ASTRONOMY

The radio telescope antennae were repaired on a number of EVAs to return them to an operational configuration, and observations have been conducted throughout the entire Crew 102 rotation. While most of the data processing and analysis will take place after the crew rotation, a number of interesting phenomena have been observed, including Jovian L- and S- bursts, although solar radio emissions were significantly more prominent than Jovian ones during this period.

Crew 102 has dismantled and prepared the optical telescope for shipping, such that it can undergo necessary repairs and maintenance and be operational for the 2012 MDRS season.

HABITAT MONITORING AND ALARMING SYSTEM

An Environmental Monitoring and Alarming System will be an essential part of the design of any Martian base habitat. This system will be integrated into the overall habitat control and remote communication system and crew safety will largely rely on it.

During our rotation the following hardware/software, constituting the main components of our proposed system, has been placed into operation successfully.

       An  integrated CO2, Temperature and Humidity transducer

       A PLC controller and Ethernet bridge

       A  Linux Ubuntu notebook running the Mango Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) application

Using these components it was possible to arrange a series of web pages displaying the above parameters and providing corresponding audible alarms.

In order to further assess the extensibility of the system, real time Proton Flux data from the GOES Satellite has been integrated and corresponding alarms defined. During a dedicated EVA, the effectiveness of receiving these kind of alarms via smart-phones has been tested.

HUMAN FACTORS

Human Factors is a major part of any long term human space expedition. The human factors studies that were conducted during Crew 102’s rotation were as follows: 

1) Human performance tests were conducted on a laptop every other day to assess changes in cognitive processing/decision making over time (2 weeks); these tests included ratings of fatigue, stress, math processing, logical reasoning, etc; the NASA TLX was administered after each EVA to evaluate levels of workload subsequent to an EVA;

2) Psychological tests in paper format were administered to evaluate levels of stress, emotional stability, group dynamics, and developmental change as a result of the 2 week experience.

CORROSION INSPECTION OF THE MDRS HABITAT

The degrading environment for spacecraft materials includes ultraviolet radiation, ionizing radiation, electromagnetic radiation, ultrahigh vacuum, atomic oxygen, charged particles, micro-meteoroids, and orbital debris. The overall conditions of the Martian surface may not be present in a Mars analog environment like the one where MDRS is located, but yet the MDRS Habitat is subject to a remote and harsh environment with extreme temperatures and sandstorms for almost 10 years.  The presence of electrolytes in batteries and thermal cycles can cause galvanic corrosion, general corrosion and stress corrosion.  Additionally, moisture buildup and mold can also cause problems.

The scope of this project was to determine the corrosive agents, so as to be able to estimate material degradation and describe the types of corrosion protection needed for MDRS.  Comparison of the corroded MDRS parts to the American Society for Metals (ASM) corrosion standards confirmed that four different types of corrosion have been initiated at MDRS structure.  Corrosion is localized, mostly around the doors and windows, regions that have an occluded geometry in which water and corrosive species can be trapped.  All corrosion findings should be immediately and fully removed.  Even a small point of corrosion can became the starting point for new corrosion and further deterioration of the structure strength. Since corrosion is a long-term process, a long-term study was proposed to Mission Support, for both MDRS and FMARS. Many papers can be published from such a research as lessons learned on construction materials would be valuable for the future design of Mars Habitats or Analog Research Stations.

SOIL SAMPLING PERMEABILITY AND POROSITY

This experiment supports the project “long life micro fuel cell power supplies for field sensors” conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  The objective of this research at MIT is to design, develop and demonstrate the use of micro fuel cells powering sensors in extreme environments including space and terrestrial applications.  One of the terrestrial applications where this concept will be implemented requires the sensors and power system to be buried in the desert soils.  The knowledge of soil properties such as permeability, porosity, temperature and humidity variations are required in to implement the fuel cell powered sensor system in desert regions. Another application of this concept is for subsurface sensing for water or other parameters on planetary surfaces.

Proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFC) are used for missions as noted above because they are efficient compared to battery technology, providing power for long durations with their high energy capacities.  PEMFCs use H2 and air/O2 to produce electricity and water. The effects of rain water percolating into the soil might also effect the operations of the power system. Hence, studying these properties will help in designing proper insulation, water and air management systems for the power systems.

MDRS, being a Mars analogue, is one of the desired areas to conduct this experiment. Apart from knowing the required parameters, the analogue simulation also acts as a test bed for field operations and will help develop procedures for a human space exploration of Mars involving such experiments.

PHYSIOLOGY

Long duration space flights expose human body to microgravity which affects the physiological health drastically. Some of the physiological effects that result from human space flights are musculoskeletal atrophy, cardiovascular de-conditioning, altered sensory motor reactions, fluid redistribution etc. In order to counteract these changes and increase astronaut performance in orbit, cardio vascular and resistive exercises have been made a part of the International Space Station missions. Although a 2.5 hour time frame of exercise is being dedicated everyday on the ISS as a countermeasure for preventing musculoskeletal atrophy, exercise has not fully prevented physiological de-conditioning on ISS. Data from the spaceflight studies suggest that significant changes in the present exercise protocol should be made in order to prevent musculoskeletal de-conditioning. For missions to Mars where astronauts are exposed to radiation, microgravity, for longer periods, countermeasures such as exposing crew to artificial gravity, exercise and vibration need to be established. There are many studies being performed to learn and test the efficiency of such measures presently by NASA and other institutions.

For MDRS, because of many logistic constraints and the mission is not independent of Earth’s gravity,  the scope of the project was reduced to measure the physical fitness of the crew throughout the mission by measuring Weight, Aerobic Capacity, Lung Capacity and effects of exercise on crew performance (EVA) using simple equipment.  EVA performance over the period of 15 day rotation was also studied using feasibly measurable parameters that represent the stress levels of the crew.  Although the tests conducted are not fully representative of a true Mars mission, it has helped the crew to understand the importance of physical fitness and be able to dedicate time for exercise amidst their busy schedule.  Since this is still an ongoing experiment, the data will be analyzed after the end of the mission and will be coordinated with data collected in human factor experiments for the EVA performance.  However, some limitations and lessons learned by the project as listed below:

1.      The sample size and the simulation time of 15 days are not sufficient to notice significant changes and establish concrete data with statistical relevance.

2.      The demographics and the physical fitness of the individual crew before the mission is quite variable, this will certainly skew the data.

3.      It is recommended that MDRS have basic exercise equipment; especially a treadmill /cycle since not all the crew at MDRS are able to perform exercises involving various moves.

4.      The study of the effectiveness of various resistance exercises for the lower extremities could be performed (such as investigating bone mass increase performing two legged squats versus one legged squats) to device exercises that best prevent bone loss in astronauts. But in order to perform such experiments the study should run for longer periods of time.

HABITAT WATER RECYCLING SYSTEM TO GROW EDIBLE CYANOBACTERIA

The development of space programs aiming for long-term missions are recently arising the question on how humans will sustain their nutritional needs. Healthy food that meets all human nutrition requirements as well as a simple and inexpensive method to produce it in space will be key elements in determining the best food source. Due to its high nutrient content and its basic growth needs (light as energy source and CO2 as carbon source).  Spirulina (Arthrospira platensis) is currently considered one of the best candidates for in situ food production for future long-term space missions.

Spirulina is a cyanobacterium that has long been known for its properties as a nutritious food source and health aid. Nearly 62% of its mass is made of proteins and it produces all the essential amino-acids for life. It contains a wide range of micro-nutrients and also supplies high levels of antioxidants. Furthermore it is endowed with antiviral and antibacterial properties that might boost immune function by high level of antibodies production.

NASA found it to be an exceptional compact food source (1 kg of Spirulina is equivalent to a 1000 kg of assorted vegetables) and is currently trying to implement methods to grow it for future missions.

Spirulina is known to need a high degree of water quality and this lastone is going to be a scarce resource during long-term flights. Hence methods need to be developed to treat human waste water in an efficient manner. An optimal method to recycle water will ultimately lay the foundations for mass production of Spirulina inside space habitats. Being a photosynthetic organism, Spirulina might also eventually address the problem of air recycling by providing oxygen and removing CO2 produced by astronauts. An enclosed fully functional enclosed ecosystem could then be proposed.

Such a self sustaining ecosystem would improve long-term space missions and this option could be fundamental for a successful trip to Mars.

An experimental program was set up to evaluate the ability of forward osmosis to purify waste water produced during a manned mission to Mars and to use it to grow Spirulina cultures. This study built upon the current Habitat Water Wall for water and atmosphere recycle project being developed by NASA Ames. This project envisions a system of membranes embedded into the walls of an inflatable habitat structure used to recycle water to be reused by humans.

The experiment at MDRS was set up as follows: urine samples collected from the 6 crew members, grey water samples and 1:5 urine: grey water samples (this last one is a true representation of the proportions that would be produced in a space habitat) were filtered using the commercially available forward osmosis technology X-Pack  (Hydration Technologies). Approximately 1L of each sample was processed and the filtered water was used to make growth medium for Spirulina (Schlosser, 1982).

A control culture of Spirulina was grown in parallel using sterile DI water to make growth medium. All the cultures were grown for 10 days inside the Greenhab of the MDRS under diffused illumination at room temperature (28°C-32°C).  After the end of the mission cells’ viability and number will be compared between test cultures and control. Furthermore, chemical analyses will be performed on the filtered samples.

OUTREACH ACTIVITES

Apart from scientific research and experiments during the simulation, crew 102 has also dedicated its time to conduct outreach experiments to raise the awareness and public support for human space exploration. Outreach experiments were conducted in support of Space Florida’s annual contest submitted by middle and high schools from Florida. Crew 102 volunteered and successfully performed the proposed experiments in three areas—geology, biology, and human factors. 

The crew has also coordinated with a French TV channel ‘ARTE’ in filming a documentary, promoting Mars Society and MDRS which they hope will inspire many children, students and young professionals to participate and support  human space exploration

In conclusion the crew is very grateful to Mars Society for giving them an opportunity to contribute their skills to the development of human space exploration as well as providing a platform such as MDRS to learn, understand and experience the various operational constraints faced by humans during an exploration on Mars.

Crew 103, a team drawn from the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, has now taken over, and will operate the station until April 23, 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. Registration is now open at www.marssociety.org.