Plan of the Hab, click for larger image
Plan of the Hab, click for larger image

The Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS), owned and operated by the Mars Society, is a space analog facility in Utah that supports Earth-based research in pursuit of the technology, operations, and science required for human space exploration.   We host an eight month field season for professional scientists and engineers as well as college students of all levels, in training for human operations specifically on Mars.  The relative isolation of the facility allows for rigorous field studies as well as human factors research.  Most crews carry out their mission under the constraints of a simulated Mars mission.  Most missions are 2-3 weeks in duration, although we have supported longer missions as well.  The advantage of MDRS over most facilities for simulated space missions is that the campus is surrounded by a landscape that is an actual geologic Mars analog, which offers opportunities for rigorous field studies as they would be conducted during an actual space mission.

cyborg-astrobiologist-1The MDRS campus includes four structures.  The habitat (Hab) is a two story 8 meter in diameter cylindrical building constructed in 2001.  It can house seven crewmembers at one time.  The structure has completed a complete refurbishment over the last few years.  The lower deck houses the EVA prep room, an exterior airlock, a complete basic science laboratory, a shower room, toilet room and a rear airlock leading to tunnels, which access other structures.  The upper deck houses the living quarters, which include a common work/living area, fully operational kitchen and seven staterooms with bunks and personal desks.  Six of the staterooms are on the main floor, a seventh is housed in the loft.

Crew members eating together inside the Hab at the MDRS
Crew members eating together inside the Hab at the MDRS

There are three additional structures on campus.  The Musk Observatory houses a 14″ Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope on a CGE pro equatorial mount.  Attached is a 4″ refractor, which is used as a guide scope.  Either telescope can utilize a wide array of cameras for astronomical imaging.  The telescope is housed in a 7.5 foot automated dome that can be controlled on site or from the habitat module.  The GreenHab, a new state of the art greenhouse fully by donations, will be completed before the field season begins in fall 2015.   It is a 7 meter in diameter geodesic dome that will house both conventional and hydroponic growing systems, in addition to space devoted to crop research studies.  The Observatory and GreenHab are linked with the Hab via above ground tunnels to allow participants to utilize these buildings while remaining in simulation.  An engineering shed houses the generators that is not accessed by the tunnels.

Crews occupying the station are fully supported.  The station is operational with all systems functional during their stay.  Shelf-stable foods such as those used on space missions are supplied for each crew.

Additional support equipment includes five All Terrain Vehicles for field transportation and a 4 wheel drive SUV.  Two staff—the director and a local engineering support person—manage the station.  In addition, there are a host of volunteer teams supporting all aspects of the work that is done at the station, including peer review of all research proposals and supporting crews via offsite Mission Support.

MDS began operations in 2001 as a fully volunteer enterprise.  This upcoming field season will be our 15th.  Over 1,000 people have participated and many are now involved in other analog studies at different places around the world.