What would you miss the most on Mars? That was the question I asked my crew-mates before our departure from the Mars Desert Research Station after a two-week simulated mission. During those two weeks, though rather remotely, we have managed to get a glimpse of what life, or a mission, on Mars would be like.
Most of the things my friends mentioned could seem rather plain – forests, seas and rivers, fresh air in the lungs and wind in the face. Or more physical activity – as the Mars Desert Research Station habitat is not equipped with a treadmill or any other sort of exercise equipment, crew members that are not assigned to outdoor exploration tasks on a particular day barely move their bodies. It requires as little as five steps to get from your bed to your working desk and kitchen and at best 30 steps to get to the bathroom. Thus, after only a couple of days, most of us have started noticing our physical shape deteriorating. I tried to stick to my yoga routine but with the limited space, I was all the time obstructing some important access pathways.
From my perspective, I would definitely miss the taste of fresh fruit and vegetables (at least during the early days before a Martian greenhouse starts producing a decent amount of fresh veggies).
It’s been an intense two-week ride and I guess we have learned quite a lot – about ourselves and about each other. We learned that going to Mars would be tough – imagine spending all your time with only five other individuals – how long would you manage? And how do they manage at the International Space Station? Though technical skills and scientific knowledge are a must for every wannabe astronaut, a calm mind and the ability to maintain good personal relationships in the most weird and uncomfortable situations are at least of the same importance (and I guess our mission ended before we could even see the real dimension of the psychological effects of confinement.)
We learned that the future Martian astronauts would have to be incredibly versatile, managing all various tasks between the six of them – tending plants in a greenhouse, maintaining life-critical technical equipment of the station, keeping the greenhouse running, cooking, maintaining their health, performing all various scientific tasks as well as expanding the station.
We also learned that a human mind is exceptionally flexible. When we arrived, I was shocked – by the coffin-like size of the bedrooms, by the overall limited space and the restricted water resources. By the end of our two-week stay, it felt nearly like home and to some extent, when we were handing the station over to the new incoming Belgian crew, we felt rather sentimental.
We performed six scientific experiments and gathered lots of data that would keep the scientific part of our crew busy for at least a couple of weeks, if not more, and hopefully will result in scientific publications. We were probably the first people in the world to test Google Glass in a simulated space suit (well, despite all the hype it wasn’t always performing that great – for example you can barely see the display in sunny conditions and if you have a bit thicker foreign accent – like our French executive officer – the voice commands just won’t get through). We have left the greenhouse much more alive than it was when we arrived. And of course, we have taken hundreds, maybe thousands of photos, and hours of video footage.
When I asked my friends whether they would go to Mars for real, most of them said they would – for whatever – mostly scientific reasons. However, they would be reluctant to go with a one-way ticket, as they realised that the Earth is just a too good a place to be left behind.