Moon Society President Gets a Crew Assignment
to the Mars Desert Research Station

March 2, 2005 - Report by Peter Kokh

February 6, 2005 - Early this Sunday morning, Moon Society President Peter Kokh left his home in Milwaukee to fly to Salt Lake City, Utah. That's the staging point for crew volunteers bound for two week mission assignments at MDRS, or "Analog Mars" as it is known to those who have been there.

The location is as awesomely and beautifully "Mars-like" as one can imagine, indeed more so. Some 50 miles south of I-70, the main Denver to Las Vegas trafficway, in south central Utah, 3 highway and 4 rugged dirt road miles NW of Hanksville, a small town of 2,000 people, max, with no neighbors for many, many miles.

The isolation comes with fringe benefits: on cloud free moonless nights, the stars come out in such numbers as to blow one's mind. And the Milky Way sucks you into its bosom.

And some liabilities: it's a long, long way to a hospital, or a hardware store, or a McDonalds, a Walmart, a Home Depot - how long? A hundred miles plus.

At a final turn in the rut-bouncing road, the Mars Hab appears from behind a low rise, snuggled up against a ridge (Hab Ridge or Radio Ridge as it is variously called.) You've reached the outpost. Home away from home for two weeks. You walk through the front hatch in Earth clothes, leaving Earth. You exit in an ingenious mockup "EVA" spacesuit, and the illusion of being on Mars itself is powerful.

That's the magic of the place. It inspires volunteers to give their best to the various research projects and field exercise simulations that consume most of their work day. Reports, put together at laptop keyboards consume most of the remaining hours.

I had put in my application for a crew assignment back on November 15th. This was something I had never thought of doing, until, in the process of brainstorming what our options were in renting the Mars Desert Station to conduct lunar outpost activity simulations, it became clear that I had to pay a visit. This was the only way to tell what ideas were practical and which were not.

Previously, long time friend and fellow space activist, Ben Huset of Minneapolis had emailed me that he had applied, and hoped to get assigned to Crew #34, February 5-20, 2005. He was aiming for this slot both because the timing fit a window in his personal commitments, and because he had met and talked to the mission commander, Paul Graham, at last summer's Mars Convention in Chicago. Ben is a handy, Jack-of-all-trades kind of guy, and he thought he had his best chance of being picked for this crew. Crew #34 would not be conducting research and simulations as usual. In a break of schedule, this would be purely a "refit" mission. The goal was to replace and bring up to code all the Hab's electrical wiring (lights, outlets, and breaker panel), the plumbing lines beset by all-too-frequent nighttime freezeups, and other utility issues. The Hab had never been adequately grounded, none of the upper floor portholes were designed as an emergency exit, the very noisy generator with its volatile diesel fuel tank was too close to the Hab, and on and on. The must-do task list was dauntingly long.

But I am handy too, and Ben and I agreed that the best chance for both of us to get assigned to any crew was to get on this one. It would be a great opportunity to learn how the Hab works inside and outside.

What did I get myself into! A lot of work, aching sore muscles, fatigue -- yes. But the camaraderie was great. There were seven of us. Crew capacity is six so that meant someone (else) stayed at the hotel in town. We had a driving sense of mission and worked frequently on into the night. Ben and I did manage to get outside a few times, only one of them in EVA suits.

It was worth it. I left with a much better idea of what the Moon Society might realistically seek to accomplish there,. Some of the ideas I had earlier now revealed themselves to be impractical. But new, better ideas came to mind to take their place.

This place is definitely Analog Mars. But it is also a frontier, and many activities will be similar or closely analogous on the Moon and Mars. We can put on gray-tint glasses or mentally ignore the Mars-like colors. Until we have our own spot someday, we could not find a better ready-to-use facility at which to get our feet wet in outpost activity simulations with the purpose of learning things that do not jump out at you in paper studies.

I hope to go back, not as a member, much less as commander of a Moon Mission, but to pay an encouraging visit to a Moon Society crew in the middle of their tour of duty.

Moon Society Missions at MDRS will prepare us to better locate, better design (inside and out), better equip, and better operate our own analog station someday. Moon Missions in Utah are a first step on the road to Project LETO which will involve a pair of Lunar Outpost mockups, one for tourists in a high traffic area, the other for research in real isolation.

To the Moon, for now by way of Analog Mars!


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