Simon Auclair - SSP06


marsagainMessage from Mars!

On August 21th, the Mars Society's unprecedented long-duration simulated Mars mission in the high Canadian Arctic reached a triumphant ending: the mission had lasted more than 100 days, and we had proven a crew could live on Mars Time! This was the first attempt ever made to date, so all our scientific break-troughs will soon be published in international papers to help making manned missions to the Moon and Mars a reality.

Pretending to be on Mars in the space-constrained FMARS habitat module is of extreme realism, and more rigorous than I had imagined! Nevertheless, the experience is of great value since we learnt from direct experience how to explore an unknown and dangerous environment such as Devon Island. From late April to late August, we conducted a comprehensive program of field exploration, quadrupling the one-month duration record set by previous crews. The island's Mars-like polar desert, on the edge of the Haughton meteoritic impact-crater, is recognized as the best site on Earth for Mars-analog research. It was therefore easy to find myself on the red planet with a spacesuit on, and even more stunning wearing red-tinted sunglasses!

Overall, we made excellent science and coped with some unexpected factors. For instance, helped by the crew I was able to adjust the rock hand-drill at the start of the mission to make it function in the cold and snow. Without a proper drilling strategy, there would be no valuable science. I could only really test it once in the field, when all constraints were playing against me so that I could adapt, and it worked! As a crew geologist, I study the effects of the meteoritic impact on the local rocks in collaboration with Dr. Gordon Osinski who has just left CSA to start at the University of Western Ontario in Canada. I collected data on permafrost along with the biologist to see the changes as the Arctic seasons shift. We compared geological features such as patterned grounds and "weeping cliffs" similar to those found on Mars to better understand conditions on the red planet. The Science PI of our expedition, Dr. Chris McKay of NASA Ames, said, "This expedition was doing an in-depth study of the transition of permafrost ground from winter cold to summer warmth. This data will be relevant to Mars but also to understand the response of the Arctic to global warming on Earth. There is a lot to learn up there in the land of the midnight sun."

The intensity of the mission increased when we switched onto "Mars time", which I feared would interfere with our EVA schedule. Throughout July, we lived according to the Martian Day (or 'sol'), which is 39 minutes longer than the 24 hour Earth Day. This caused us to drift out of synch with the rest of Earth. Due to our polar location, there was no night and little light variation during July, therefore no external cues to as to the time of day. This was the first time that a group, in realistic space exploration conditions, lived and worked so long according to the Martian Day. Our collaborative researchers wanted to know how well a crew could adapt and the way to compensate for any effects. To assess this, we followed a strict exercise program, a sleep study and several cognitive tests. As the preliminary results suggest, a crew could function normally on Mars time, although part of the crew had to adjust at the beginning of the study. I personally felt a little sleepy when going out on EVA at midnight (Earth time).

Finally, my SSP06 friend Elizabeth Taylor and her colleagues at JSC helped us coordinate a live satellite phone talk with American Flight Engineer Clay Anderson onboard the International Space Station. I must say this was really rewarding as our mission was ending, I felt on Mars one more time! Thank you all for this success story!