Humans ‘exploring Mars’: Amazing pictures from mission simulation base in UTAH
A group of scientists clad in spacesuits trudge across the bleak red terrain, occasionally pausing to take rock samples or map the landscape.
After their mission is complete, they will return to their cramped habitation module, where they live a spartan existence with limited water, electricity, food and oxygen, a vast distance from home.
But these amazing pictures are not from the latest sci-fi thriller set on Mars, but were taken in the deserts of Utah, in the Western United States.
The ‘astronauts’ are a group of volunteers who are helping to discover ways to investigate the feasibility of a human exploration of Mars and use the Utah desert’s Mars-like terrain to simulate working conditions on the red planet.
Volunteers venture out from the Mars Desert Research Station, which aims to simulate the conditions that will be endured by humans should they ever reach the red planet
Members of Crew 125 EuroMoonMars B mission venture out in their simulated spacesuits to collect geologic samples for study at the MDRS earlier this month
The project is called the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS), a simulated off-world habitat that serves as a test site for field operations in preparation for future human missions to Mars.
All outdoor exploration is done wearing simulated spacesuits and carrying air supply packs and crews live together in a small communication base with carefully rationed essentials – everything needed to survive must be produced, fixed and replaced on-site.
The site, near the town of Hanksville, was chosen because the terrain is similar to the surface of Mars.
It is operated by The Mars Society, a non-profit organization that advocates space travel, during the cooler winter months by rotating volunteer crews of six scientists (geologists, biologists, engineers and more) running simulations of how it would be to live on Mars and working together to develop field tactics and study the terrain.
Csilla Orgel, a geologist and volunteer from Hungary. She has a life-long love of space exploration and is a board member of the Hungarian Astronautical Society
Hans van ‘t Woud, a mapping researcher and the health and safety officer of the mission, surveys the terrain from a ledge
Melissa Battler (left), a geologist and commander of the crew, climbs a rock formation to collect samples for study
Volker Maiwald, executive officer and habitat engineer, takes pictures of the surface of ‘Mars’
Members of Crew 125 EuroMoonMars B mission collect geologic samples from a cliff face. Utah was chosen because it is believed to be geologically and visually similar to Mars
The MDRS aims to investigate the feasibility of a human exploration of Mars and uses the Utah desert’s Mars-like terrain to simulate working conditions there
Each crew spends between two weeks and a month living in a habitat unit, performing the kind of work astronauts will be expected to carry out on Mars, such as collecting rock samples from the surface and examining them back in the habitat, conducting life science experiments and studying the local geology and geomorphology.
A statement on the MDRS website says: ‘Mars is the great challenge of our time.
‘A world with a surface area the size of the combined continents of the Earth, the Red Planet contains all the elements needed to support life. As such it is the Rosetta Stone for revealing whether the phenomenon of life is something unique to the Earth, or prevalent in the universe.
The weary spacefarers trudge back to the habitat after a day of collecting geologic samples
Csilla Orgel makes her way back to the MDRS, where she lives in cramped conditions with five other astronauts
The six volunteers live together in a small communications base with limited amounts of electricity, food, oxygen and water
For safety reasons, there is always one crew member in the habitat in case anything goes wrong on the ‘planet’s surface’
To be as authentic as possible, everything needed to survive must be produced, fixed and replaced on site, as it would on a real expedition to Mars
‘The exploration of Mars may also tell us whether life as we find it on Earth is the model for life elsewhere, or whether we are just a small part of a much vaster and more varied tapestry.
‘Moreover, as the nearest planet with all the required resources for technological civilisation, Mars will be the decisive trial that will determine whether humanity can expand from its globe of origin to enjoy the open frontiers and unlimited prospects available to multi-planet spacefaring species.
‘Offering profound enlightenment to our science, inspiration and purpose to our youth, and a potentially unbounded future for our posterity, the challenge of Mars is one that we must embrace.’
Another core component is to learn about the psychological stresses that may be endured by explorers as they deal with a lack of privacy and long periods of solitude
The crew prepare a meal in the habitat. Food must be carefully rationed as the volunteers are not resupplied once they enter the MDRS
Matt Cross (facing front), a rover engineer, works at his computer. The project attracts space enthusiasts and scientists from all over the world
Geologists Melissa Battler (left) and Csilla Orgel analyse geologic samples collected from outside
The Utah site is one of two operated by the Mars Society as part of its Mars Analog Research Station (MARS) project. The other site is located in the Canadian Arctic, with two more planned for the Australian outback and Iceland.
These locations were chosen because some environmental conditions, geologic features or biological attributes may be similar to those thought to be encountered on Mars.
The MDRS website adds: ‘In addition to providing scientific insight into our neighboring world, such analog environments offer unprecedented opportunities to carry out Mars analog field research in a variety of key scientific and engineering disciplines that will help prepare humans for the exploration of that planet. Such research is vitally necessary.
Wall-E? Engineer Matt Cross works on a rover, which will be used to explore the surface of Utah, similar to the way a robot could be used by human explorers
Hans van ‘t Woud checks on plants grown at the Mars Desert Research Station. Astronauts may have to grow their own food on manned missions to Mars
A vintage map of Mars hangs on the wall at the MDRS. The mission is only made possible thanks to volunteers and donors, including film director James Cameron
‘For example, it is one thing to walk around a factory test area in a new spacesuit prototype and show that a wearer can pick up a wrench – it is entirely another to subject that same suit to two months of real field work.
‘Similarly, psychological studies of human factors issues, including isolation and habitat architecture are also only useful if the crew being studied is attempting to do real work.’
Mission commander Melissa Battler, who led a crew of six at the Utah site from February 23 to March 9, said: ‘Humans, we are explorers… there are a lot of obstacles but we can overcome those obstacles.’
The volunteers can spend up to a month enduring the austere conditions
The site’s observatory as seen from the working and living quarters
Attribution: Sam Webb, Mail Online