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Texas Crew Completes Mars Desert Research Station Tour
Crew 110B Summary Report

January 17, 2012

For further information on the Mars Society, visit our website at www.marssociety.org

The following is the summary report of MDRS crew 110B, composed of educators from the State of Texas, which operated the MDRS from January 7, 2012 to January 14, 2012. The station is now shut down for one week. Crew 111, composed of scientists and engineers from Brazil will arrive January 21 to resume operations. 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 15th International Mars Society Convention to be held in Pasadena, California, August 3-5, 2012.


MDRS Crew 110A – Summary Report

Crew 110B finished up an exhausting, but productive week.  Six professors from Texas community colleges (McLennan Community College and Del Mar College) came to MDRS this season with a slightly different focus.  Rather than completing independent research, we are developing a Mars 101 course to introduce the ideas of analog research to our undergraduate students who may have little to no formal research experience. 

This crew was diverse in background and experience.  Our crew commander, April Andreas, serves on the Steering Committee of the Mars Society and is a professor of engineering and mathematics with industry experience in systems engineering.  Our executive officer, Nancy Ray-Mitchell, a professor of management, and brings a background in leadership and team building.  Liz Mitchell is a professor of microbiology and genetics and worked in the biotechnology industry in Boston.  Larry Benton can fix anything, and also brings to the table years of experience in analytical chemistry.  Elaine Fagner is a professor of geology with an expertise in watershed management.  Vernon Kramer is an FMARS veteran with decades of experience in mining engineering and geology.

In future seasons, we hope to bring two six-person crews for a one-week rotation each.  Each team will consist of a seasoned MDRS instructor, an instructor-in-training, and four freshman- or sophomore-level students from a variety of disciplines.  The week will be heavy on formal curriculum, but allow some flexibility for students to work on their own smaller research projects.  This week, our team focused on creating the formal curriculum documents.

Orientation EVA:  The first day “in-sim” students will go in groups of three on a 2.5-hour EVA that will require use of a GPS unit to navigate along a predefined track.  There are six stops on the tour and students will be asked to complete simple tasks, like sketching geologic strata, taking pictures, and collecting samples and taking waypoints.  This initial EVA introduces students to the complexities of simply functioning while staying in sim.


Geology EVA:  The second day, the students will again follow a predefined track, this time making only two stops.  Students will be required to complete more complicated tasks specific to geology, such as using a Brunton compass to take strike and dip measurements and using Munsell Soil Color charts.  Samples will be collected and then taken back to the lab at the hab for analysis.


Chemistry EVA:  The third day, the students will again follow a predefined track to three locations, ending in Candor Chasma.  Along their route students will take measurements with a Geiger counter and select particular types of rocks and minerals, as well as collect water and soil samples for analysis back at the hab.


Microbiology Survey:  Another formal task for the students will be to use Maconkey's and Mannitol Salt agar to identify Gram positive and Gram negative bacteria in the hab.  Students will be required to create the agar and pour plates while trying to maintain a sterile environment in a notoriously dusty hab.  Students will then swab within the hab, streak the plates, and use the lab incubator to grow bacteria.

Additional projects will also be developed when the team returns to Texas that center around Astronomy and the psychology of teams and leadership.

One feature of this curriculum is that all participants, regardless of specialty, are required to participate in all fields of study.  The chemist must learn geology and the engineer must try their hand at using a microscope.  While each participant will be required to choose a “specialty” (geologist, chemist, biologist, astronomer, and executive officer) and teach that specialty to his or her teammates, all participants will be exposed to multiple aspects of Mars analog living and science.  Participants also trade off the roles of engineer, chef, and team leader.

Outside of the formal work, all students, including the instructor-in-training, will also be required to bring a small independent research project requiring the analog environment.  This curriculum is no “education vacation!”  We hope that such a curriculum will provide a solid background for our students in analog field research and inspire them to look to MDRS later in their educational careers for senior design projects or for their graduate research.  This has been an incredible adventure, and we are all grateful to the Mars Society for this opportunity.


For further information about the Mars Society, visit our website at www.marssociety.org