Our second shoot took place in a very remote location in the middle of a desert in Utah. A place where students and researchers go to practice living on Mars. It’s like space camp for adults! And I’ve actually done it myself, so I was excited to show off the Mars Desert Research Station for our episode about “Preparing for Mars!”
To get to MDRS, we flew into Salt Lake City then immediately hit the road for our 5 hour drive to the small desolate town of Hanksville, Utah. It was one of the most beautiful drives I've ever been on. I recommend you jump on a plane to Utah immediately.
We spent the night in Hanksville and left the following morning for MDRS. My lines were finalized the previous night, so before we left our hotel for our hour-long drive to the habitat I recorded myself saying these lines. Then, on the drive to MDRS I simply played my lines over and over again in the car until I could recite them word-for-word. But the challenge isn't just to memorize the lines verbatim, but to memorize them so well that I can add natural emotion when I’m saying them. On top of this, I am walking when I say these lines and have to hit different marks at different points during my lines. It’s not all that bad, but I’m just crossing my fingers that I don’t come across as a robot!!
What is the Mars Desert Research Station?
MDRS is essentially a laboratory where students and researchers can go to practice living in a remote, hostile environment like Mars. It consists of a habitat (where the crew sleeps, works, eats, and showers), the Green Habitat (a greenhouse where the crew can grow fresh food), and an observatory (where students can use a telescope to observe the night sky).
There are typically 6 members on an MDRS crew, each with a specific responsibility – Engineer, Biologist, Geologist, Commander, etc. You live in the small habitat (see below!) for nearly two weeks with a limited supply of water and mostly non-perishable food at your disposal.
Throughout the duration of the crew’s time at MDRS they are living in “simulation,” which means they are pretending that they are actually living on Mars. When in “sim,” life is challenging. No cell phones, no GPS, and absolutely NO facebook! And every single time they leave the Habitat, they must put on a spacesuit because the puny Martian atmosphere would kill you in seconds! It’s all very nerdy and fun.
To conserve water, bathing is optional and often discouraged! Because food supplies are limited, you have to be creative when preparing tasty meals for the crew. Over the course of 10+ days, sleeping in close quarters with the same exceedingly dirty crewmates, eating Spam in a variety of ways - MDRS eventually poses a psychological challenge as well. Great practice if you want to take the nearly year-long trip to Mars!
On the Show
For the show, we spoke with Crew 139 (a Waco, Texas student crew led by two of their professors). The commander of this crew showed us around the Hab and then took us on a walking EVA (ExtraVehicular Activity). We put on our spacesuits, went inside the pressure chamber, waited for the pressure chamber to “depressurize,” and then left to collect soil samples in various locations in the area. The crew was really wonderful and took the time to make sure we had everything we needed for our show.
We had a lot of fun with Crew 139 and are very thankful that the Mars Society was open to us coming in and showing off this awesome program.
You can follow the Mars Society on Twitter: @TheMarsSociety
If you are interesting in doing MDRS yourself - apply here!