Mars One candidates may join the year-long Mars Arctic 365 mission

Looks like a nice place for a picnic. Mojave Crater as taken by Nasa's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: Nasa/JPL-CalTech/Univ. of Arizona

Looks like a nice place for a picnic. Mojave Crater as taken by Nasa's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: Nasa/JPL-CalTech/Univ. of Arizona

The Mars Society announced the finalists for Mars Arctic 365, its year-long simulation of a mission to Mars. The Society chose 21 people from 10 countries who will travel to the arid deserts of the American Southwest later this year for a series of 2-week test missions at the Mars Desert Research Station. Their performance will determine which of the finalists join the year-long mission in 2015. A few of the finalists have a more on the line. As candidates for the Mars One Project - the daring one-way journey to settle Mars - joining the MA365 mission could give them a leg-up over the other 700 Mars One candidates.

Unlike Mars One, space agencies plan for round trip missions. Astronauts will spend 6 months traveling to Mars and 6 months returning to Earth. Due to the nature of orbital mechanics, that leaves them 12 months on the Martian surface. The Mars Arctic 365 project simulates the on-the-ground portion. Unlike many other long-endurance projects, the project's volunteers won’t be locked in a laboratory on the campus of a space agency or university. In the summer of 2015 a helicopter will carry the 6-member crew into the Canadian Arctic hundreds of kilometers from the nearest town. 

Perched on the rim of an ancient asteroid impact crater, the Flashline Mars Analog Research Station is more than a hundred kilometers from anywhere. Source: Mars Society MA365 Project

Perched on the rim of an ancient asteroid impact crater, the Flashline Mars Analog Research Station is more than a hundred kilometers from anywhere. Source: Mars Society MA365 Project

That’s where the Mars Society built a simulated Mars base, the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station. FMars as its called reproduces the conditions of a Mars base - at lease as much as it can on Earth's surface. It’s built onto the rim of an ancient meteor crater, isolated from civilization, and experiences such extreme weather that walking outside unprotected constitutes a death sentence.

The main habitat is an 8-meter wide, 7-meter tall cylinder where the 6 pseudo-Martians will work, eat, and sleep for a full year. Everything they do will mimic the activities of future Mars explorers. Due to the extreme Arctic conditions, they will spend most of their time working and living inside the habitat module. An artificial delay in communications with mission control will mimic the actual time signals take from Earth to Mars.

Keeping it real - or close to it. Everything the crew at FMars does must simulate a real mission on Mars. Want to go for a walk? Put on your spacesuit, sit in the airlock to "decompress", and then conduct your extravehicular activity. But watch out for the polar bears. Source: Mars Society MA365 Project

Keeping it real - or close to it. Everything the crew at FMars does must simulate a real mission on Mars. Want to go for a walk? Put on your spacesuit, sit in the airlock to "decompress", and then conduct your extravehicular activity. But watch out for the polar bears. Source: Mars Society MA365 Project

Once or twice a week they will leave the habitat, but not for a breath of fresh air. Any time they go outside they must go through the laborious process of donning a simulated spacesuit. While outside they will collect geological samples from the crater floor, conduct atmospheric research, and maintain the habitat. The only concession to living on Earth? One of the astronauts will carry a rifle and watch for curious polar bears.

This isn’t a stunt for starry-eyed space junkies - its real science. Testing the technological and operational details of a Mars mission here on Earth lets scientists and engineers identify the gaps in their knowledge and moves us one step closer to making human exploration of the red planet happen.

 

And some of the Mars Arctic 365 crew may be among the first settlers of the red planet.