FMARS Summary

The FMARS-XII 2009 expedition reached its formal conclusion at the 12th Annual International Mars Society Convention. Four of the six crewmembers were able to attend the meeting and address the Convention last night. I unfortunately could not be there, so I recorded a video to show in my absence. You can watch my video blog #7 here:



The Mars Society press release summarizing our accomplishments is reproduced below:

FMARS 2009 SIMULATED MARS MISSION REACHES SUCCESSFUL CONCLUSION

DENVER, CO – Returning from the stark arctic wilderness of Devon Island, the intrepid twelfth crew of the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station (FMARS) has completed their one month rotation in this unique Mars analog environment. Having overcome hardships imposed by the harsh arctic weather, extreme isolation, limited supplies and equipment, and the self-imposed restrictions of the formal Mars simulation, the crew achieved all major mission objectives.

Over the course of the formal Mars simulation, the crew completed sixteen extra vehicular activities (EVAs) in 43.5 hrs, traveling a distance of 128 km. This translates into a cumulative in simulation (in-sim) crew time of 106 man-hours and a distance of 323 km. The crew's efforts included a number of firsts for simulated Mars explorers in a Mars analog environment, including the testing of new technologies and equipment for use in aerial surveying, in situ resource utilization (ISRU), geophysical measurement, medical laser treatment, image geotagging, path planning and analysis, and public communications.

Using hardware provided through a sponsorship by Prioria Robotics, the crew flew the Maveric unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) six times over Devon Island. Four of these flights were conducted in-sim for the first time ever, supporting the idea that human Mars explorers could launch, operate and recover a UAV while encumbered by a spacesuit. This capability expanded the crew's field of view and the rate at which they could survey surrounding terrain. The Maveric UAV was deployed at the sites of several hydrothermal pipes, where aerial footage of these features with correlated GPS track information was captured for analysis, aiding later site sampling by crew geologists.

Several GPS units including a Trimble GeoXM, all provided by Del Mar College, helped the crew navigate on a long-distance EVA to Gemini Hills, an extensive deposit of hydrothermal breccia created by the Haughton meteor impact. The primary objective was to locate and sample a gypsum deposit at this site. Gypsum is a hydrated calcium sulfate mineral which is 20% water and is found in abundance on Earth and at many locations on Mars. Used to make plaster of Paris, sheetrock, cement, and other building materials, this white mineral will be an important resource for Mars industry. The crew returned to the Hab with samples from the gypsum deposit, crushed and heated them, and recovered pure liquid water and plaster of Paris. This ISRU demonstration was a first for a Mars simulation!

Seven of the sixteen FMARS EVAs were devoted to two geophysical experiments. One project was to install Devon Island’s first seismometer, a Trillium Compact provided by Nanometrics. The crew scouted deployment locations and installed the equipment while fully in-sim, a first for Mars analog research. Seismic stations similar to this will provide important understanding of the interior of planets including Mars, particularly the deep crust, mantle, and core. The second geophysical project tested how effectively human explorers in space suits could deploy low frequency electromagnetic survey equipment, a TEM47-PROTEM provided by Geonics Limited, to search for groundwater beneath Haynes Ridge near the Hab location. Future human Mars explorers may conduct similar surveys in their search for life and resources to support human settlement.

The crew conducted and were subjects in a research study using a Class IV High Power Laser therapy device provided by Lighthouse Technical Innovation, Inc. Crew members received treatment on focused areas before and after each EVA. The laser therapy is effective due to the penetration of coherent laser light into the tissues causing deep heating and local vasodilation. The additional blood supply provided by the dilated vessels can serve many functions, most notably preparation of the muscles for physical exertion and accelerated healing of muscle soreness, strain, or pain from past injuries. The laser therapy at the FMARS Hab was effective in relieving symptoms caused by physical exertion and was concurrent with the quick healing of minor injuries, recovery from an illness, and the complete lack of muscle pulls or extended soreness. The crew could be seen waiting in line for the warm laser treatment, as the treatment itself also provided relaxation.

The Omega Envoy Project, a team vying for the Google Lunar X PRIZE, provided a prototype lunar rover for testing during the FMARS 2009 mission. The rover was assembled and tested prior to the mission by 4Frontiers Corporation interns, in coordination with the Florida Space Grant Consortium and NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. Outfitted with a communications and video package designed in collaboration with the University of Central Florida DARPA team, the rover was continuously operated via the internet from the team’s headquarters in Orlando, Florida. This demonstration proved key technologies and provided essential teleoperational experience related to communicating with and controlling the rover from a remote location. It provided a deeper understanding of the complexities to be encountered in lunar rover operation.

For all FMARS 2009 EVAs, the crew wore a Garmin Forerunner combined GPS and heart rate monitor system to gather concurrent geographic and physiological data. Crew members also captured geotagged photos and videos using Coolpix P6000 GPS-enabled cameras, donated by Nikon. These technologies allowed them to easily combine ground and UAV GPS tracks, heart rate data, and photo information within the geographic context of Google Earth to produce visuals for display on the FMARS website. The crew also gathered data useful for the evolution of MIT’s Mission Planner Software, which may be used by future astronauts to generate safe and efficient EVA traverses.

Social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Picasa Web Albums also helped the FMARS crew share its activities with the interested public. Some crew members also maintained blogs that garnered substantial followings. As of this writing at least 25 stories featuring FMARS 2009 have been published, showing media interest in the expedition.

Thanks in large part to The Mars Society volunteers serving on the Mission Support team (in Colorado, Florida, Texas, Washington, and Australia), the FMARS website received a major overhaul this year, helping the crew to organize, manage, and release to the interested public the volumes of generated information. Mission Support posted crew reports, photos and video files to the website, and also assisted in troubleshooting technical problems as they arose. The crew also benefited from the expertise of an international team of physicians who provided telemedicine support.

In coordination with Southern Methodist University (SMU), Florida Space Grant Consortium (FSGC) and the Georgia Space Grant Consortium (GSGC), FMARS crew members conducted four live video webcasts with students groups. These sessions included the SMU Talented & Gifted Program, NASA Kennedy Space Center Interns, NASA Digital Learning Network via Georgia Tech, and Gardendale Magnet Elementary School in Florida. Students, educators and interns in attendance gave the FMARS crew high praise for providing this glimpse of life in a simulated Mars habitat.

Crew members spent the remainder of their time performing a variety of Hab maintenance and improvement tasks. These efforts have helped to insure that future crews will arrive to find a station in good working order, ready to rapidly begin the next Mars simulation. The 2009 crew hopes that their efforts have contributed to the body of knowledge pertaining to Mars mission simulations and analog research. A series of publications and public presentations will be produced by the crew members to ensure maximum leverage of this investment to further the goals of The Mars Society and to aid humanity’s drive to place the first people on the surface of the Red Planet.

The crew will present a briefing on the FMARS 2009 mission at the 12th International Mars Society Convention at the University of Maryland, College Park near Washington DC July 30-August 2. More information about the FMARS 2009 mission is also available at http://www.fmars.org.
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