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Crew 109 Summary

MDRS Crew 109 - Summary Report
The following is the summary report of Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) crew 109, composed of scientists and teachers from Belgium and the United States, which operated the MDRS from December 17 thru December 31, 2011.  Crew 110, a six-person team from the University of Wisconsin, has now taken over and will operate the station until January 8, 2012.
Daily reports on the activity at the MDRS are being posted at the Mars Society web site (MDRS section)  A complete report on this year's MDRS field season will be given at the 15th Annual International Mars Society Convention to be held in Pasadena, California, August 3 - 5, 2012. 
Written by Nicky De Munster, Crew Commander
Crew Rotation December 17 - December 31, 2011
My first participation with the MDRS program was in 2010 as part of MDRS 90, which was the first all-Belgian team.  I was so enthusiastic about the program that I decided to apply for a second mission.  On October 16th, I received a phone call from Dr. Robert Zubrin, Mars Society President, to ask me if I would like to be the crew commander of MDRS 109.  I was surprised, but I took this unique opportunity.  We had only two months to prepare, which is not an easy task.  Now at the end of the mission I can say that we had a very successful rotation. We accomplished over 90% of our goals for the mission.
Summary of Mission’s Accomplishments
23 EVA's:
  • Penetrometer blowcount tests: 33
  • Collected soil samples David: 11
  • Collected soil samples Nicky (Ovam): 6
  • Collected soil samples Karon: 5
  • Collected water samples: 5
  • Water analyses: 6
Greenhouse project:
  • NASA Zero G exposed space seeds (basil): negative
  • NASA earth seeds (basil): positive
  • Leandro tested successfully improved the controllability of his mini Mars rover and robotic gripper.
Helmet camera:
  • Aster tested successfully his helmet camera by recording crew EVA and science experiments
Geology and Biology:
(See results below)
We explored and collected soil and water samples on 23 EVA's. Together with Education Officer Aster Stein, we filmed many successful school experiments, to be used for education outreach. Our Greenhouse seed experiment was quite successful. Some seeds actually started to grow. We did several water analyses of field water samples and of the drinking water of the Hab. We also took soil samples that will be analyzed in Belgium.
All EVA's were tracked by GPS and integrated in meaningful and interactive satellite maps by David, which factors in elevation, slope, soil types and notable sites (such as where we spotted the owl!). Leandro tested and improved the controllability of his rover on the 'Mars' environment and even added a mini camera in the robot gripper to record robot trajectories and rock samplings.
I think we all agree with the fact that this 15-day simulation at MDRS was a great and enriching experience, even if it was not always easy. We can be proud of ourselves, because we held out and succeeded in leading very exciting and useful experiences. We participated in an elaborate and detailed food study from Cornell University, which added a whole new relevant dimension to the MDRS experience.
On behalf of the entire crew, I would like to thank the MDRS management and the Remote Science Team for their constant support and for allowing us to experience this enriching and challenging program. We made use of the unique MDRS facilities and resources, keeping them in optimal working condition, and we are pleased to report that at the time of our departure, all HAB systems, EVA suits and ATVs are in operational working conditions.
I also wanted to thank the entire Crew 109 for their consummated team effort and for their extensive collaboration and camaraderie in the achievement of the crew goals. Now, I can go back to Belgium with the satisfaction of a job well done and five new amazing friends.
Biology Report

Written by Karon Wynne, Crew Biologist and Health & Safety Officer
The biology team of Karon Wynne and Victoria Grudzinski used the mission to search for bacteria in the harsh environment surrounding MDRS. They collected soil and water samples from many diverse locations. They observed bacterial growth from most of the samples, but were unable to characterize them further with the available tools. Karon also used her time at MDRS to begin a long-term study about the ergonomic aspects of the habitat. This study will run for the duration of the 2011-2012 season.
Geology Report

Written by David Kutai Weiss, Crew Geologist & Executive Officer
The area surrounding the Hab is a geological treasure trove. Dinosaur fossils can be found nearby, and bivalve fossils dot the landscape of the Lower Blue Hills. If you know where to look miniature sand dunes stare up at you. Within the confines of canyon walls anastomosing channels wind through the passage. Towering canyon walls themselves display striking alternating layers of siltstone, sandstone, mudstone, limestone, gypsum, telling a rich geologic history dating back millions of years. Desiccated mud cracks give the feeling of a desolate landscape, yet proven wrong by the abundant jackrabbit and mountain lion tracks. This is a landscape carved by wind and water, now left for the explorers of today and tomorrow to learn about our neighbor, Mars.
Crew 109 geologist David began this rotation with the goal of acquiring soil strength data. Initially, he used soil maps to identify different soils that needed characterization in the area immediately surrounding the Hab. He identified 11 different soils in different locations in an area 250 kilometers² surrounding the Hab. By performing 3 blowcount tests at each designated soil area with a cone penetrometer, David was able to measure soil strength. The crew also acquired a core sample at each different soil, which will enable David to determine the water content by weight of each soil type down to a depth of 8 inches.
All 11 soil sites have been hit for a total of 33 cone penetrometer blowcount tests and 11 8-inch core samples. This data will be integrated to produce a map detailing the most effective rover routes. The primary function of these maps is to show trafficability. For example the maps will show: 1) the extent where a rover can travel without a significant risk of flipping over due to an excessively high gradient of the slope it is climbing or descending; 2) the places of loose soil in which a rover can get stuck; 3) places that the soil strength is sufficient to prevent a localized rockslide which could flip or destroy the rover; 4) water content of the soils; 5) Hydrous mineral deposit locations based on a reflectance spectra with absorption minima at 2.2 μm.
This mapping project seeks to simulate data sets available for the Martian surface in order to perform a comprehensive study of the feasibility for this to be carried out on the surface of Mars. Mapping out viable rover routes and soil properties will allow us to carry out robotic and human exploration for water in the soils of Utah, and thus the soils of Mars.

I would like to thank the Crew of MDRS 109: Nicky, Aster, Karon, Leandro, and Victoria. Without them, this project would have been impossible.  Hiking with 40 lbs. of penetrometer and coring equipment on top of the cumbersome spacesuits through this hilly terrain is no small feat – and we did it every single day.