Mars Society analog research stations

The Mars Society operates two Mars analog research stations where professionals and amateurs prepare the world for future missions to Mars. The Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station and the Mars Desert Research Station simulate the facilities of an early outpost on Mars. Six-person mission teams consisting of scientists, engineers, and volunteers live in a habitat module while they test procedures and technologies for Mars exploration. The most ambitious project, Mars Arctic 365, will send six people to live in the Arctic station for a year to simulate a full Mars mission.

Robert Zubrin founded the Mars Society in 1998 to promote Mars Direct, an alternate approach to space exploration. Traditional plans from Nasa and the space industry called for massive, and expensive, development projects that built infrastructure in Earth orbit and on the Moon before sending astronauts to Mars on nuclear-powered spaceships. Zubrin’s plan, popularized in his book The Case for Mars, skips those steps and sends astronauts straight to Mars using traditional chemical rockets. The $30 billion Mars Direct costs would be much less than the $400-$500 billion cost of the traditional plans. The Mars Society developed several projects to begin moving their plans forward while they tried to change the course of America’s space program.

Mars analog stations provide a low-cost way to test the techniques and technologies that Mars explorers might use. A small team of volunteers live in a habitat module as if they are on Mars. They must treat any trip outside the module as an EVA - donning simulated space suits and using radio to communicate with the habitat. Communications with the mission support team goes through the same minutes-long delay as signals between Earth and Mars. The society built the Flashline station on Devon Island in the Canadian arctic where the temperature extremes are as close to Mars as you can get while still being on Earth’s surface. The habitat stands on the edge of an ancient asteroid impact crater which increases the realism for the six-person mission teams. The occasional polar bear visit ruins the effect, but adds some variety to life in the arctic. The difficult logistics of supporting the Flashline station led the Society to build their Desert station in Utah where more than one hundred and thirty teams from have conducted Mars exploration research.

The Mars Society’s members play crucial roles in the analog station program and not just as crew members of the mission teams. The mission support teams are all volunteers. CapComs relay communications between the station and the support teams. Doctors volunteer their time as Flight Surgeons. People with technical skills join the engineering team. Writers and editors produce mission reports. Astronomers and other scientists support both short-term and long-term research conducted at the analog stations.

In 2013 Zubrin announced Mars Arctic 365 - the Mars Society’s most ambitious analog project yet. A six-person team will conduct a “full dress rehearsal” of a year-long Mars mission at the Flashline station. During their year in the Arctic they will test many of the operational and technical aspects of a real Mars mission as well as the way the small group of people handle being isolated in an extreme environment. The Mars Society’s Indiegogo crowdfunding project has a goal to raise $100,000 of the MA365 project’s $1 million cost.