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In August of 1998, seven hundred inviduals gathered at the Founding Convention of the Mars Society in Boulder, Colorado. Since then the Mars Society has grown to over 3,000 members worldwide, with thousands more subscribed to the organizationís main newsletter, and hundreds of thousands of visitors to its websites every year. The Mars Society of Canada is incorporated as its own organization that participates in the international efforts of the Mars Society chapters around the globe, as well as having initiated its own research projects.
The Mars Society was founded to further the goal of the exploration and settlement of the Red Planet. This will be done by:
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 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 civilization, 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.
Indeed, with so much at stake, Mars is a test for us. It asks us if we intend to continue to be a society of pioneers, people who dare great things to open untrodden paths for the future. It puts us to the question of whether we will be people whose deeds are celebrated in newspapers, or in museums; whether we will continue to open new possibilities for our descendants, or whether we will become less than those who took on the unknown to give everything we have to us. Mars is the great challenge of our time.
In order to help develop key knowledge needed to prepare for human Mars exploration, and to inspire the public by making sensuous the vision of human exploration of Mars, the Mars Society has initiated the Mars Analog Research Station (MARS) project. A global program of Mars exploration operations research, the MARS project will include four Mars base-like habitats located in deserts in the Canadian Arctic, the American southwest, the Australian outback, and Iceland. In these Mars-like environments, we will launch a program of extensive long-duration geology and biology field exploration operations conducted in the same style and under many of the same constraints as they would on the Red Planet. By doing so, we will start the process of learning how to explore on Mars.
Mars Analog Research Stations 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 planning. 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 eight 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 unpressurized but highly nimble light vehicles operating at moderate distances from the habitat, astronauts operating a great distances from the habitat using large 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 Mars Society has identified three prime goals to be met by the Mars Analog Research Station Project:
Mars Analog Research Stations will be operated by Mars Society researchers
and will be made available to NASA and selected scientists, engineers and
other professionals from a variety of institutions worldwide to support science
investigations and exploration research at Mars analog sites.
As an operational testbed, the stations will serve as a central element in support of parallel studies of the technologies, strategies, architectural design, and human factors involved in human missions to Mars. The facilities will also bring to the field compact laboratories in which in-depth data analysis can begin before scientists leave the field site and return to their home institutions.
The Stations will help develop the capabilities needed on Mars to allow productive field research during the long months of a human sojourn. The facilities will evolve through time to achieve increasing levels of realism and fidelity with the ultimate goal of supporting the actual training of Mars-bound astronauts.
The Mars Analog Research Station (MARS) project is conceived as a multi-year, phased project to enable distribution of the required budget over a period of time. In addition, phasing the project provides us the flexibility to incorporate design changes and new technologies in response to knowledge gained each field season.
The first step in this plan was accomplished in 2000 with the construction on Devon Island of the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station . In the summer of 2001, Flashline was operated for two months in Mars operations simulation mode. Also, in 2001, several teams around the world began work on analog pressurized rovers that could be used either independently or in combination with Flashline or other MARS project field stations. Work on the first of these other units, the Mars Desert Research Station in the American southwest, also began in 2001, with a successful first MDRS field season having been accomplished from February to May 2002. In 2003, two more stations will be established; one in the basaltic and geothermally active deserts of Iceland, and the other in the Australian outback, whose ancient deserts contain fossils which date from the same period when Mars' surface ran with liquid water.
Each of these additional stations offers unique new advantages to the MARS program. Because of its ease of access, the American station is the ideal place to serve as a test bed for equipment that will later be sent to more remote and unforgiving locations. For the same reason, the American station is the best place to begin long-duration isolation experiments. With its geothermally active areas, Iceland best simulates areas on Mars where life might be found today, and thus it is the optimum location to practice Mars exobiology field work. In addition, with its European location, Iceland is well situated to act as a place from which the MARS project can act to inspire the European public with the challenge of the modern age's New World. Euro-MARS will be erected in Iceland in the spring of 2003, after being on display during the summer of 2002 at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. Finally, Australia's ancient fossils are among the oldest records of life on Earth, and as such may mirror the kind of traces that life may have left on Mars. The Mars Society of Australia is currently seeking sponsors to construct MARS-Oz in the Lake Frome Plains east of Arkaroola. In learning how to look for such remnants within the constraints faced by Mars explorers, we will be teaching ourselves how to search for the record of the origin of life on our neighboring world.