Mars Desert Research Stations (MDRS) are laboratories for learning how to live and work on another planet. Each is a prototype of a habitat that will land humans on Mars and serve as their main base for months of exploration in the harsh Martian environment. Such a habitat represents a key element in current human Mars mission planing. Each Station’s centerpiece is a cylindrical habitat, «The Hab,» an 8-meter diameter, two-deck structure mounted on landing struts. Peripheral external structures, some inflatable, may be appended to the Hab as well.
Each station will serve as a field base to teams of four to six crew members: geologists, astrobiologists, engineers, mechanics, physicians and others, who live for weeks to months at a time in relative isolation in a Mars analog environment. Mars analogs can be defined as locations on Earth where some environmental conditions, geologic features, biological attributes or combinations thereof may approximate in some specific way those thought to be encountered on Mars, either at present or earlier in that planet’s history. Studying such sites leads to new insights into the nature and evolution of Mars, the Earth, and life.
However, 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. 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.
Furthermore, when considering the effectiveness of a human mission to Mars as a whole, it is clear that there is an operations design problem of considerable complexity to be solved. Such a mission will involve diverse players with different capabilities, strengths and weaknesses. They will include the crew of the Mars habitat, pedestrian astronauts outside, astronauts on un-pressurized but highly nimble light vehicles operating at moderate distances from the habitat, astronauts operating a great distances from the habitat using clumsy but long-endurance vehicles such as pressurized rovers, mission control on Earth, the terrestrial scientific community at large, robots, and others. Taking these different assets and making them work in symphony to achieve the maximum possible exploration effect will require developing an art of combined operations for Mars missions. The MARS project will begin the critical task of developing this art.
The GreenHab is used for plant growth and agricultural experiments at the MDRS. It provides a tasty addition to their meals, and also recycles waste water. Growing food will be a key component of any sustainable mission to Mars, and the research conducted here is critical to understanding many aspects of food production for future explorers of the Red Planet.
The Musk Observatory
The Musk Mars Desert Research Observatory is equipped with a Celestron 14-inch CGE1400 telescope generously donated to the Mars Society by the Celestron corporation. Other sponsors include: Le Sueur Manufacturing Inc. which provided the Astro-Pier on which the telescope is mounted, Software Bisque which provided The Sky software, Vince Lanzetta of East Coast Observatories who provided a Sirius Dome at a severely discounted price, Adirondack Video Astronomy which provided the STV Deluxe and ST2000XM CCD Cameras at a discount, High Point Scientific which provided the focal reducer and powermate at a discount, Technical Innovations which provided the Robofocus at a discount, and the Lehigh Valley Amateur Astronomical Association, which provided the critical expertise to make the observatory a success.
Meet the MDRS Astronomy Team
See our Musk Observatory Astrophotos