Let’s get ready for Mars! We are the Mars Desert Research Station biological research team, Crew 210. We are David Murray, Mike Irvine, Paul Sokoloff, Shannon Rupert and Samantha McBeth.

Have you ever wondered how science projects are created for space? How astrobiology is a field of biology, while the only place we have ever studied life is on Earth? With live Earth analogues.

The MDRS Crew 210 is checking in from the Mars Society base in the Utah desert. By bringing traditional earthbound tools and techniques (such as plant presses and quadrats) to these space age surroundings, our team is working to identify and describe the biodiversity within the deserts surrounding the Mars Desert Research Station.

Out of the team of 5 people for doing biological research in this Mars analogue, 3 are from Canada and 2 are from the USA.

Ask a Martian Anything!

Our Proof: https://imgur.com/txBZ5or https://imgur.com/PrW4v95



Edit: 04/16/2019 21:00 MDT Please keep the questions coming! We'll be doing a bit of lab work for our samples from today, but we'll keep answering questions throughout the night and tomorrow morning. Cheers! - MDRS210

Edit 2: 04/17/2019 9:00 MDT These questions have been awesome and we are looking forward to more! We are going out into the field but please feel free to ask your questions, and we’ll get back to you tonight. Check out https://twitter.com/LiveItearth/ or follow #MDRS210 and #MarsBio for our daily updates and fun facts that we’ve been pisting from the MDRS. - MDRS210

Edit 3: 04/17/2019 18:30 MDT Thank you all so much for participating. These questions have been super fun, but hard to keep up with while in the desert. We’ll try to answer what we can over the rest of the week. As this is voluntary science work that we do on top of our real jobs, support us by sharing, commenting our posts on social media and by donation here: paypal.me/LiveItEarth - MDRS210

Comments: 97 • Responses: 34  • Date: 

WiseWordsFromBrett24 karma

Do you exist on Mars Days (extra 37 minutes) or Earth Days?

MarsBioCrew21010 karma

We exist on Earth Days, at the delay is not compatible with our program. The Mission Control team works on Earth time, so it wouldn’t be reasonable to add the delay. Some Crews do do it though.

bravodelta4918 karma

What sort of plant life could be found on Mars?

MarsBioCrew21025 karma

Hi! Thank you for your question. Sam here.

The old adage astrobiologist use would be "follow the water". Looking underground, looking in lava tubes, or looking under the ice caps at the poles. We are looking for something small, something microbial.

It would probably be an extremophile, something that can survive extremes like heat, cold, salt or acid. The radiation is very strong on Mars, so underground would offer the necessary shelter to protect tiny organisms.

kahr919 karma

You have probably seen "The Martian"?
Could we grow plants on mars like Mark Wahlberg did in the movie?

MarsBioCrew21016 karma

David here, director of the Green Hab (greenhouse.)

You could potentially grow crops on the surface of Mars but it’ll much more difficult than it is on Earth. Here are a few reasons: 1) Wild temperature fluctuations. During the warmest months, the surface of Mars can reach temperatures up to 20 C during the day and around -73 C during the night. 2) Perchlorate. Perchlorate (ClO4-) is found in abundance in the soil on Mars and eating crops grown in that soil without removing it could cause serious health concerns to humans, as the plants would accumulate this toxic chemical. 3) Maximum solar iridscence on Mars is 59% of Earth’s maximum solar iridscence so photosynthetic potential is limited without spending energy on artificial lighting. The plants biochemical reactions (their metabolism, etc.) is reduced.

_The_Real_Guy_3 karma

So, theoretically, Mark Whatney would have succeeded?

  1. To combat temperature issues, he re-purposed a portion of the HAB (living quarters) so that he could provide a controlled area for plant growth.
  2. He didn't address this issue in the movie, and I haven't read the books so I'm not sure if they did that there. Is there a reliable way for us to remove perchlorate from soil samples?
  3. I'm not sure what the energy impacts were, but they did opt to use artificial lighting.

MarsBioCrew2105 karma

Farming on Mars is going to be so so labour extensive. The first missions to Mars are going to bring their own food, and will grow food on Mars as a supplement, for a moral-boost, and also because it would be pretty cool!

  1. Exactly. Having an isolated control Hab would allow the martians to protect the small crops from radiation and winds, keep the temperatures stable, preserve water, etc.
  2. It would be necessary to remove the perchlorate from the soil. This is still being researched to get the technique right, but it is definetly possible to remove as perchlorate is a good oxydyser.
  3. Yes, growing would need both martian light and artifical lighting. Again, very energy intensive.

doodoobrowntown7 karma

Life on Mars must be tough. Are you proud that you've outlived the previous 209 crews, or sad knowing that crew 211 is chomping at the bit for you guys to die so that they can get a crack at researching the shit out of some Mars?

MarsBioCrew21010 karma

If you die on the MDRS you do not die in real life.

Hahaha, how morbid. We see it as transitting out of Mars back to Earth.

Spongbaaaaaab6 karma

Would a journey to Mars be a one way ticket? In the sense that if you ever go to Mars, would it be a one way ticket for you ?

MarsBioCrew21014 karma

Shannon here:

All Mars plans except Mars One (now defuct) have return plans for their expeditions to the red planet. Most of them plan to be on Mars 30 days.

This idea of colonising is romantic and a big dream, but it’s not going to happen for a long time. The first people that will be sent to Mars will be astronauts with full expectations of coming back. If they think Mars is a one way ticket, they have a death wish and they won’t be selected for a Mars Mission.

EdgeofCosmos4 karma

As an astrophycisist (master's) from Denmark, what would be the best way for me to do a trip to the Mars desert research station?

I've worked on several Mars projects during my studies, including developing a new type of moss designed to survive the surface of Mars (http://2015.igem.org/Team:UNIK_Copenhagen), as well as a Mars rover outreach project.

MarsBioCrew2105 karma

How awesome. Please check the Mars Society website.

Application for the 2020 and 2021 field season opens in July. Good luck!


Do you simulate the 26 minute round trip delay in communications with the people simulating Mission Control? How has this affected your communications protocol?

(I would imagine that in case of true emergency, this protocol can be bypassed, but it is an easily doable variable to add to the sim.)

MarsBioCrew2106 karma

Shannon here:

Yes we add asynchronous communications to our sims. It makes everything slower and collaboration harder for sure.

And you are correct, health and life before the simulation at all times!

Moonrider2578123 karma

Could we terraform mars to make it a earth like planet ? I feel that the human population is just going to explode in the near future and we are running out of space on earth. We need another planet or moon to live on.

MarsBioCrew21026 karma

There are multiple challenges to terraforming Mars. It’s pretty close to impossble, and life on Mars will never be easy, as we look at it.

Mars doesn’t have a magnetosphere, its planetary core completely dead. There is nothing protecting the surface from extreme solar radiation, and the ground doesn’t retain heat. The atmosphere is thin and unbreathable. The perchlorate in the soil and the rarety of water will make growing anything a challenge. Mars is also so very far away. The sheer feat of engeneering requiered to make Mars Earth-like is staggering.

It would require substantially less energy and raw resources to fix the problems on Earth and to make it comfortable for all to live, then it would take to make an entirely new planet even a little bit like the home we have now.

SaltyMarmot58193 karma

Honestly, how much difficult would life be on mars with all the required infrastructure?

MarsBioCrew2105 karma

Sam here:

It would be difficult. Mars is harsh and dangerous, living on Mars means protecting yourself from it non-stop, a t every moment. It would mean living in a cramped Hab for most of the time there. Martian astronauts would hardly leave the confines of their living hub, to limite exposure to radiation!

LexPlex90002 karma

I made a video to help people understand how hydro-engineering works.

What is your favorite Simpsons quote?

MarsBioCrew21012 karma

Paul’s is : “I’m in danger! :)” Mike’s is : “Hi! I’m Troy McClure. You might remember me from...” David’s is : “All the best bands are affiliated with Satan.” Sam’s is : “I’m a level 4 vegan, I don’t eat anything that casts a shadow.”

donniethebeaver2 karma

Are you the people that ikea visited to research compact living conditions for furniture design?

MarsBioCrew2102 karma

Yes we are!

TheFourGuys2 karma

Mike: on a real trip to Mars, what would you like for LiveIt’s involvement to be if you were going and were given full freedom to do whatever you want?

MarsBioCrew2102 karma

Mike here:

Great question! In short I would create virtual field trips to share the experience and work required to survive Mars. I would try to capture the day to day, research, support from Earth and educational moments through livestreaming, video highlights, photo and 360VR so everyone back on earth could feel like they were a part of the journey. Currently this is what Live It offers but only to K-12 (tv.liveit.earth). I might have to create a new plaform called tv.liveit.mars

Is there something you might like to see/experience?

Something I would like to capture is a 360 POV wth audio from an astronaut during a launch!

puertonican2 karma

Where in Utah?

MarsBioCrew2101 karma

Near Hanksville.

LaplaceMonster2 karma

As someone with an engineering bachelors (materials) and and engineering masters degree (nuclear) but a passion for joining the space sciences, do you have any advice for me in doing so? I am dedicated to entering the field, but am finding it unmotivating that my academic background isnt pure physics.

MarsBioCrew2101 karma

I guess the best advice is always to reach out to people who are doing the exact thing you want to be doing. That background sounds perfect for space sciences! We are biologist, so engineering is unknown and frightning to us. ;)

Reach out to SEDS (Students for the Exploration and Development of Space). They are huge and would have the best advice on who to reach and what to get involved in.

baymax182 karma

So cool what you guys are doing! What about the desert makes it an ideal place to simulate life on Mars? And what sort of life do you expect to see on Mars?

MarsBioCrew2108 karma

David here.

The Utah desert is a true geologic analogue. The processes that created the landscapes are similar to those that created the landscapes on Mars. The topography, relative isolation of the field site, limited available resources, and extreme temperature shifts of the desert allow us to test us lots of similar projects that we would like to conduct on Mars.

Direlion2 karma

Hey all! Can you tell us about your beds and sleeping materials? I’m curious what they’re made of and what you like - and dislike - about them.


MarsBioCrew2106 karma

Hi! They are foam mattresses on solid cots attached to the walls. I (Sam) think they are quite hard, hahaha. We are so tired from work that it’s easy to sleep at night, but also very easy to get up as well.

David: “We have hard beds and bright orange jumpsuits and can’t leave and are stuck together, and sometimes outsiders study us. So it’s like prison, a bit?”

aaronzxcasd1 karma

Hey MDRS team, just wanted to show my support of what you guys are doing.

You guys are trying to push our world to the next level. HOW AMAZING IS THAT!!!!!

I read some article saying that Mars is significantly smaller than Earth, but the surface area we can operate on is a lot bigger than Earth because of the sea.

I also read that we found some sort of ice under the surface of Mars?

When do you think we can actually move civilization to Mars?

Although I know nothing about space, I get so excited by reading this.

Keep up the amazing work, guys.

MarsBioCrew2102 karma

David here:

Hi aaronzxcasd! Thank you for your support and your questions.

On the northern pole of Mars there’s a water ice cap that spans about 750 miles in diameter and has a depth of about 2 miles. The ice cap on the southern pole is composed of solid carbon dioxide.

I don’t think we’ll be moving humanity to Mars anytime soon. Human expeditions are likely and the construction of a Mars habitat is a very real possibility. However, life on Mars will never be easy. Humans are the product of billions of years of adaptations and all of those adaptations were in the context of living on Earth. We are not as well-suited for existence on another planet. “Living on Mars” is more accurately described as “surviving on Mars”. I view an expedition to Mars as an amazing feat of humanity’s innovation, determination, and progress that everyone should take pride in, but Earth is, and always will be, humanity’s preferred home.

Frozallen1 karma

In your opinion, will Mars be the only planet that our civilization will be able to visit ?

MarsBioCrew2101 karma

Great questions! We honestly don’t know.

Any Mars mission that is a true success will be an multinational effort. Just like the Crews here at the MDRS!

MarsBioCrew2101 karma

We hope that we can continue to see more of the universe. So far, we’ve visited lots of other places in our Solar system with probes.

Raider4401 karma

Who do you think will reach Mars first? SpaceX, Nasa, or the Chinese?

MarsBioCrew2103 karma

Great questions! We honestly don’t know.

Any Mars mission that is a true success will be an multinational effort. Just like the Crews here at the MDRS.

claymachine1 karma

how long u doing simulation? are u full isolation from outside world?

MarsBioCrew2105 karma

Simulation with full isolation usually last from a week or two, but have been up to 80 days in the past!

We are not currently in full simulation, as it makes biological sampleling difficult, and we have limited time to do our biological survey of the area around the Mars Desert Research Station. We would not be able to talk with the Reddit community in full sim either, as the internet is very choked, limited to communication with Mission Control. As for this project, we are creating the baselines for all the desert biodiversity around the station, so that future projects involving biology at MDRS will know what out there, for their own projects, in and out of sim.

We still have to do maintenance to the Habitat and care for the other experiments on site, like the Green Hab (the isolated greenhouse) and the Lab Dome.

The station is rather isolated, and feels pretty far from the outside world... the night skies are amazing.

bobthepomato1 karma

Where are your gloves!?!? You can’t breath on mars yet!

MarsBioCrew2101 karma

Sam here.

Hahaha. We were out of sim for that picture! ;)

digitalbits1 karma

If your team of 5 broke into two competing factions while on Mars what would you name each faction?

You all don’t have to pick sides yet.

MarsBioCrew2105 karma

Sam here. It would depend on how they broke down!

We are all massive, massive nerds, so it’ll probably be names related to science fiction or fantasy.

We would have to know what caused the riff? Food, probably. Team Soylent and Team Replicator?

xxBrun0xx1 karma

Are you using a sebatier variant for clean water?

MarsBioCrew2102 karma

No, we have a regulated water source.

As a simulation, the Mars Desert Research Station is an operational analogue, not a technological analogue. Sometimes, a crew can like the Canadian Space Agency come in and they test out new tech, like the Mars rovers! Sometimes, film crews come to do a shoot (like John Carter of Mars, etc.)

112121961 karma

Did you ever imagine how you got where you were in high school, college? How did you get to where u are?

MarsBioCrew2101 karma

Hi, Sam here! What a great question. In high school, I knew I liked science, and liked being outside. I never imagined I would be doing what I am doing today, but man, I’ve learned never to say no to cool, meaningful opportunities. I also allowed myself to make mistakes, and try many kinds of science! I have a MSc now, and I’m a polar scientist. I work in the Canadian Arctic and part of the year in Antarctica. The barren, extreme temperatures found there means the life you study is both very resistant to condition that would kill a bunch other lifeforms, and highly specialised. This kind of work translates well to astrobiology.

DirtyRainStop1 karma

Since you guys are getting ready for people to be living on Mars, what's the biggest issue with actually living on Mars that you're trying to solve right now?

MarsBioCrew2102 karma

The biggest issue is people!

Crew composition. Who do you send? There is a lot reaearch here at MDRS on how to get very different people with a set of objectives get along for so long with all restrictions of isolated living.

captain-kiwi1 karma

hello! How does one exactly get into the field of astrobiology? I'm a student right now so I'm wondering about what steps to take if I want to do something like you guys are (totally a long-shot, but I'm still curious!).

MarsBioCrew2102 karma

Hi, Sam here! I got to take astrobiology as a course during my biology undergrad. You can absolutely get into that field, it’s not a long shot by any means. I would recommend you learn as much microbiology, geology, hydrology and biogeology as you can. A few biochem courses would do nicely as well. Look for projects in analogues on Earth, like cave systems, the Polar regions, salt flats, oceanic volcanic vents, etc. People study extremophiles living 3 kilometers under the Antarctic ice cap in pockets of water, species that haven’t been in contact with light, air or minerals in thousands of years! This is such a great lead to what may be found on Europa.

Feel free to reach out to any of us, or the Mars Society, if you have more questions.

Plow_King1 karma

Do you know a NASA contractor named Pablo from Spain? He's working on the next generation of satellites and probes looking for life on Mars. He stops into my bar from time to time. He's a great guy and I'm envious and impressed with the work you all do. Thanks for helping move humanity forward!

MarsBioCrew2101 karma

Thanks so much for your support! None of us personally know a Pablo for Spain who works for NASA. Lots of cool folks working an specific aspects of the space equation.

HurleyBurger1 karma

Just finishing up my BS in geology and I have an interest in GeoBiology for grad school. I’ve done some research (geochem, sedimentology with the Curiosity Rover) and I’m starting new work with a couple people at Goddard. How could I join your team!?

MarsBioCrew2101 karma

You seem perfectly qualified! How are you not already here? Please look into joining a field team for during the 2020 and 2021 season! Check out the Mars Society website. We look forward to seeing you around.

cnewton2031 karma

About to start college majoring in astrobiology. You guys have any tips? Anything would be super appreciated!

MarsBioCrew2102 karma

Take a mix of microbiology and geology! Actually go to your classes.

People in the field of astrobiology are always available and willing to talk, so feel free to message them, email them and talk to them at conferences. Good luck, and enjoy!

Codyskank1 karma

How long does it take to get to Mars and how long will you be there?

MarsBioCrew2109 karma

Samantha here.

Ha, well it took me two connections and a full day of flying to get to Grand Junction, and another half day of driving to get to the MDRS. It is a remote station in Utah. But it's value as a Mars analogue is how similar it can be to Mars, and how much more accessible it is then not only Mars itself, but also the Polar regions that are also used as Mars analogues.

For the big journey, it varies, but could take 6 to 9 months with current technology, so long as the spaceship launched during that window when Earth and Mars are closest.

Morph77-1 karma

Is this Shannon or Samantha?

MarsBioCrew2105 karma

All of the crew is here, so ask your questions!