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MDRS Crew 117 Summary Report

Written by: Kyle Stephens (Commander, Crew 117, kyle824@email.arizona.edu)

April 7 – April 21, 2012


Crew 117 at the MDRS consisted of the following individuals:

·         Kyle Stephens, Commander/ Astronomer (University of Arizona)

·         Parker Owan, Executive Officer/ Crew Scientist (University of Arizona)

·         Jackeline Mayer, Health & Safety Officer (University of Arizona)

·         Lee Suring, Crew Engineer 1 (University of Arizona)

·         Samuel Martin, Crew Engineer 2 (University of Arizona)

·         Daniel Land, Journalist/ Videographer (Unit Circle Productions)

The five individuals from the University of Arizona are all engineering students working together on a senior design project, further developing the NASA Remote Imaging System Acquisition (RISA) camera. This design project, sponsored by NASA’s Johnson Space Center, is focused on developing a multipurpose camera for use by astronauts on future long duration missions. This camera is intended to be multispectral, completely wireless, and radiation hardened to survive the space environment. Testing at MDRS was focused on proof of concept tests in addition to exploring the different ways this camera could be used.

Daniel Land, the crew’s Journalist, came to MDRS to explore the possibilities of cinematography in simulation. He was most interested in documenting the MDRS experience and exploring ideas for future work. He plans to digitally enhance some of the video to make MDRS look even more like it is on Mars, adding enclosed airlock tunnels near the hab, modifying sky color, as well as other changes.

The crew’s first few days at MDRS were used to get acquainted with the hab and the surrounding environment. Rotations were established for cooking, cleaning, and showers for the entire stay. The rules of the simulation were established so each crewmember had the same understanding. A few exploratory EVAs were performed to find good locations for future EVAs.

For the RISA camera team, much of the time early on was spent troubleshooting various issues with the camera’s electronics. After a redesign of the power regulation system, the team was able to get the camera working and took it on an EVA to test the wireless range (recorded at 450 meters from the hab). Shortly after, however, some more power regulation issues appeared, preventing the team from continuing testing using battery power. They had planned to test the camera while on several different EVAs, controlling the camera remotely from inside the hab; however, the battery issue prevented many of these EVAs from taking place. Fortunately, camera testing was able to occur while inside the hab, establishing the camera’s spectral response and demonstrating its ability to document different hab-related systems. For example, the team was able to document water tank levels and document plant health in the greenhouse.

The problems with the RISA camera will be fixed upon return to Earth. A lack of necessary parts prevented the fix from happening while at MDRS. While a temporary solution could have likely been created, the team was worried about causing further damage to any of the electronics while in simulation. 

Using both standard and 3D video cameras, Daniel was able to obtain on average about 2 hours of video footage each day. This footage consists of crew interviews, unplanned crew activities, and planned shots during EVAs. In addition to interviewing each member of Crew 117 individually, interviews were conducted with members of Crew 116 and will be conducted with Crew 118 during the handover. Daniel plans to show some of this work at the upcoming Mars Society Conference in August. 

One setback to Crew 117 was the loss of power for 54 hours during days 9 – 11. The problem with the generator was that it was overheating. The fan drive assembly used to cool down the generator was not functioning because the bearing was damaged by dirt and wear. DG replaced the necessary parts after overnighting them to Hanksville. 

The crew decided to stay at the hab despite having no power because propane was available for cooking. Without power though, the RISA team was unable to troubleshoot the electronics issues with the camera. Also, Daniel was only able to shoot a limited amount of video footage based on the remaining battery life in his cameras. With the downtime, the crew became extremely well versed in ‘Speed Scrabble’ and ‘Jenga.’

As a side project, Kyle planned to use the Musk Observatory to perform multi-spectral imaging of the moon using an electrically tunable filter. This tunable filter is also being used with the RISA camera, so the projects are related. Despite several nights of cloud cover and the power outage, Kyle was able to get one night/ morning of observing in before the moon’s phase prevented it. As is already known, the telescope’s foundation has shifted, causing unreliable tracking. In all cases though, after the alignment process, an object of interest was always in the finder scope, so the telescope was still usable for general eyepiece observing or imaging bright objects.

While at MDRS, the RISA camera team had an article written by UANews, the University of Arizona’s news organization which reaches about 200,000 individuals. The article can be found here: http://uanews.org/node/46332

Overall, Crew 117 enjoyed their time at the Mars Desert Research Station and thanks the Mars Society for the opportunity.