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MDRS Crew 114 (Feb. 25 – Mar. 10, 2012)

A trip to the planet Mars needs only determination, collaboration and scientific supports, which could be achieved soon if we work jointly with co-operation. (Balwant Rai)

We were the 114th crew "on the Red Planet" since the beginning of the MDRS. As a multidisciplinary team with backgrounds in biomedical science, emergency oral & medical physicians, space dentistry, aeronautical & space engineers and geologist, we started our mission on February 25th, 2012. 

Sponsored and supported by, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (Netherlands), the International Lunar Exploration Working Group (ILEWG), ESA/ESTEC and l’École de l’Air, NASA (Ames) we spent two weeks at MDRS in the Utah desert using our different backgrounds with performance of a total of 22 EVAs accomplished far-fetched and innovative  research goals ranging from: physiology & psychology, oral & medical health, human factors, human–machine interactions and sleep disruption experiments to almost real time collaboration with research teams on Earth during integrated missions using a UAV, a rover, human EVAs for sample rescue, soil sampling for microbiological and minerals analysis.

During these two weeks we also learned about relationship, working together, and leaderships and also managed to build up as a good team improving our habitability and performance during our mission. In addition, we learned about the challenges of a human mission to Mars from our biomedical and dental experiments, and we proposed precautions to live on Mars successfully in near future!

Our crew was international; so, we learned together to overcome different issues such as language barriers, cultural differences and behavior differences which provided us with intense intercultural experiences, surely analogous to those which will be a part of future space exploration. 

We now introduce the crew and describe the unique experiments we conducted during our stay at the Red Planet.


Commander: Balwant Rai

Executive Officer: Thomas Quemin

Health and Safety Officer: Jasdeep Kaur

Chief Engineer:  Pierrick Darneaux

Crew Geologist : Wouter Poos

Rover Engineer: Yannick Wable



Although we all had our individual roles within this two week journey, we all enjoyed very much discussing, dining together, meeting challenges and to share each other’s experiences in the everyday tasks. Crew 114 functioned effectively as a team under Balwant’s direction. We joined team on everything from EVA field work to household chores, medical & other experiments   and other challenges. We always dined together as a group, which provided nice opportunity for negotiations and a modest leisure collectively accompanied by the bout of work and reports.




1.        Physiological & Psychological during MDRS mission (Balwant Rai, Jasdeep Kaur)

This project is planned to study the effects of extreme and international environment on human physiology and psychology. All crew members were selected for this study. The heart-rate variability, breathing rate and VO2 max, sleep duration and activity monitoring was measured by (SenseWear Pro Armband);   psychological status was determined by subjective and objective studies(mood rating, working climate standardized subjective means) and saliva samples were taken using  specialized  saliva collection device  (Versi Sal 1& DNA-SAL  from Oasis Diagnostics )every day. Data will be analyzed. 

2.     JBR study of medical Rescue during EuroMoonMars  (Balwant Rai)

Study was planned to conduct special one EVA for medical rescue for all crew members considering all possible factors, so they are prepared in advance to act in state of emergency. The complexity of examining astronaut in coma in his space suit has previously been discussed. This study was successful in proposing the protocols for emergency treatment and its measures to rescue astronauts. 

3.      Saliva as diagnostic tool in Mars mission (Balwant Rai, Jasdeep kaur)

 Saliva samples were taken from all crew members (via Greiner Bio-One GmbH, Austria) and preserved for further analysis (Stress markers, inflammatory markers and immunological markers). 

4.  Salivary amylase & cortisol and stress  during  Simulated Mars Mission ( Balwant rai )

This study aimed to confirm whether salivary amylase and cortisol acts as a stress biomarker in crew members who took part in Mars analog mission in an isolated and stressful environment. Saliva samples were taken using saliva collection device (IBL international, Hamburg, Germany). Salivary cortisol and amylase will be analyzed using two types of kits by (IBL international, Hamburg, Germany). 

5.     Aeronautic and space dentistry: Dentist on Mars (Balwant Rai, Jasdeep Kaur)

Dental examination of all crew members was done. It was found that plaque levels were increased, while TMJ opening was reduced for most of members due to stress and improper oral hygiene. 

6. Water quality check and Noise levels: MDRS study  ( Jasdeep Kaur and Balwant Rai)

Water quality and noise levels were measured.  Data will be analyzed. 

7. CASPER Project (Balwant Rai and Marc o Griefa)

Sleep diary and ECG were observed from each crew members. Data will be analyzed. 

Human factor:

  1. Need of organized routines in an environmental of extreme conditions, danger and containment on Mars Analogous Station. (Thomas Quemin)

In the 1980s, researchers revealed the importance of organizational routines in the performances of enterprises. Routines are a source of stability for social structures, standardization procedures and backup for the knowledge-do. However, the stabilizing nature of routines brought them to be perceived as a factor of inertia and inflexibility. Nevertheless new theories argue that "the organizational routines contain embryos of change" (Feldman et al, 2003).  

The project of this study is headed by this perspective. The goal is to study the weight of organizational routines in environmental extreme conditions of danger and containment. So, the research primarily aimed to show the crucial importance of the routines as a factor of stability but also flexibility and change in the perspective of a manned mission to Mars. 

Thus, in the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS), the work is articulated on the study of the work environment, other crew members and organizational procedures applied. Thanks to the record of some organizational time in the station and interviews from which significant data have been collected. 

Observations and experiments allowed to highlight some organizational routines in the MDRS and helped to understand the link between the rule and its application. Hence, it showed pertinence of the procedures applied on the station and notice the most relevant evolutions brought by improvisation. Finally, the limits of the project were lack of realism of the simulation and the main differences between a real manned-mission on Mars and a journey in the MDRS.


Geological and Microbiological:

  1. Support the MSL mission that will land in August on Mars using terrestrial MDRS analogues of MSL Gale crate site (Wouter Poos)

The aim of this study is to use terrestrial analogues to determine most useful test-sites for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL). This is done by analyzing surface and subsurface soils samples taken around MDRS using equipment that is similar to that available on MSL. These samples are taken at sites that are comparable to those present in the Gale crater environment such as plains and canyons. The samples are taken at different depths up to 50 cm deep but also at the surface. Of the tests done on the sample, the one that has the most influence on the method of sampling is the test to determine organic content. In order to prevent external organic matter to contaminate the sample, all tools need to be sterilized beforehand. This is done by baking them in an oven overnight at a temperature of 120º C or by cleaning them with 95% alcohol and then flaming them. The samples were then stored in sterile Whirl bags or sample tubes before being shipped to the Netherlands where further analysis will take place.


2.   Human communication about rover (Yannick Wable, Pierrick Darneaux)

The first experiment was a rover experiment which dealt with the best way to transmit information between rover operators. An obstacle course was made by a member of the crew 113 and he noted its times at each try. Three member of our crew received help from different support (video, audio and text files). They recorded their time at each try and made a comparison between their speeds of evolution. Two other people were involved to be the neutral reference of our experiment. They performed the same course but without any information. We had a problem with the rover because of a broken shock absorber. Consequently we had to stop our experiment, but we had enough data to analyze. For the second experiment we used a drone that we had taken with us. This flying drone was use to made a reconnaissance mission before making an obstacle course. We had to change this experiment because the rover was no more available. Consequently we made different mission and the aim was to create a map of the obstacle that can damage the rover. A check was made by an independent member to see if maps were correct. For the analysis of this work, we had to make the hypothesis that a rover operator would be more efficient with a map than without.


Other studies:

  1. Sprout study (Jasdeep Kaur  and  Jean Hunter)
  2. Food study (Jean Hunter)

Final Remarks

MDRS was an amazing experience which helped us to work on projects completely diverse from our competencies in a confined and international analog environment. It was a factual challenge and enlightening experience. Now we can imagine how an actual mission to the Red Planet would be.


Acknowledgement: We would like to express our gratitude to the VU Amsterdam (Netherlands), ILEWG, ESA/ESTEC, l’Ecole de l’Air and NASA Ames for sponsoring us.  We are also very  thankful to VU Amsterdam & ILEWG (Prof. Bernard H. Foing; Prof Gareth Davies, Drs Luisa Rodrigues; Irina Rammos and Tennia Zhao); NASA Ames (Dr. Carol Stoker; Dr.David Blake (X-ray analysis instruments and relation to Mars Science Laboratory); Ecole de l'Air (Cdt Justine Brault); SALM La Reunion (Dr. Guy Pignolet); George Washington U./COSPAR Panel for Exploration (Prof Pascale Ehrenfreund); Cornell university, USA (Dr. Jean B Hunter; food study) and the Mars Society (Dr. Robert Zubrin, Shannon Rupert and D.G. Lusko), Marc O Griefa (Flight surgeon,  Kennedy Space Center, NASA) for supporting and co-operating with us during the mission.  We are also grateful to all Capcoms during our mission.


To the infinity and beyond!