Now that I've been home from MDRS for a month, I want to pause and reflect upon the experience. In particular, I want to compare MDRS to its sister Mars base FMARS, where I spent July of last year. I am now a member of a small club who can proudly say we have done a tour at each station, which are the only two mock Mars habitats in existence (for now).
Physically, the two structures have similar dimensions and floor plans, each being about 8.8 meters in diameter by 7.7 meters tall. That's a size that could fit within a Saturn V or other proposed heavy lift rocket. The buildings have domed roofs sheltering enough living and workspace for 6-7 crewmembers on missions that have ranged from one week to four months in duration. Each "Hab" contains a biology/geology laboratory, EVA preparation room, engineering storage/workshop, shower, toilet, and two airlocks on the first floor. The upper floor contains the 6 crewmember staterooms, a kitchen, work area, dining table, and an upper loft for storage. FMARS has a dedicated exercise area with a treadmill and bike, but MDRS does not. Below you can see a 3D rendering of the MDRS Hab interior courtesy of Diego Urbina of MDRS Crew 88.
You may want to check out my video tour of FMARS and Crew 75's video tour of MDRS to get a better idea what the two Habs are like. The photos below compare my bedrooms at FMARS (left) and MDRS (right). The MDRS room is larger and has a window because it's on the outside wall and is usually reserved for the mission Commander.
FMARS was constructed out of strong pre-formed fiberglass panels and was flown to Devon Island via an Army C-130. After much drama involving a failed parachute that destroyed the original FMARS interior walls and construction crane, the structure was built by Mars Society and HMP volunteers in 2000. MDRS, on the other hand, was constructed out of more conventional building materials and was completed in 2002. This means that although FMARS is located in a more remote and harsh environment it has held up a little better than MDRS. MDRS's greater wear and tear could also be due to the fact that 92 crews have now called MDRS home, whereas only 12 have been to FMARS. A third larger Mars Society habitat called EuroMARS was built out of fiberglass in a manner similar to FMARS, but it was unfortunately destroyed in an accident before it could be sent to the field, but there are ambitious plans to revive it. The fourth planned Mars Society base called MarsOz has never gotten much out of the planning stages as far as I can tell.
|window in MDRS's inner airlock door|
|hyacinths help purify water|
in the MDRS GreenHab
FMARS is situated on the western rim of the Haughton Crater so the area resembles the brecciated, overturned terrain likely present over much of Mars. Plus, the heat from the impact event sterilized the area making it nearly devoid of life, also like Mars. Being in an Arctic region, the FMARS surroundings also have features like permafrost and polygonal terrain. MDRS also looks like Mars due to the red and brown hues in the sedimentary rocks that comprise the region. The local geology consists of various sedimentary and volcanic layers deposited in aqueous environments, which is similar to many areas of Mars. Both analog habitats are surrounded by chaotic canyon terrains similar Mars as well. Below you can see us roving near FMARS (left) and MDRS (right).
Despite both structures being located in desert environments, moisture buildup and mold are big problems at FMARS because the structure is so well-sealed. That's why dehumidifiers are absolutely necessary. MDRS, however, does not suffer from this problem at all and has very dry indoor air, which is perhaps a reflection that the structure allows for more air exchange with the outdoors compared to FMARS.
|Early histories of FMARS & MDRS|
I am very grateful to The Mars Society for choosing me for these two missions. I wouldn't trade the experiences for anything. The FMARS and MDRS bases provide a very good ways for crews to gain an experience analogous to a Mars mission. However, they can be considered "beta" versions of what a higher fidelity Mars simulation could be. I have great hopes that the MMARS and/or Explore Mars initiatives will be successful in leveraging the lessons learned at FMARS and MDRS (good and bad) to construct a second generation mock Mars base that offers an even more realistic experience to provide better training opportunities for future travelers to analog Mars.
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