Mars Desert Research Station

Volunteers Needed For MDRS Crews:  Hard Work, No Pay, Eternal Glory

Call for Martians: The Mars Society is requesting volunteers to participate as members of the crew of the Mars Desert Research Station in southern Utah during extended simulations of human Mars exploration operations. The first Desert Station field season ran from December 2003 through May 2004. The MDRS operates from late fall to May every year. Normally each crew rotation lasts two weeks.

Volunteers should state clearly whether they are volunteering for MDRS, and what segment of this span they are available. Both volunteer investigators who bring with them a proposed program of research of their own compatible with the objectives of the MDRS and those simply wishing to participate as members of the crew supporting the investigations of others will be considered. Research proposals which focus the effort of or require selection as a team of up to the full six-person crew will also be considered.

Applications will be considered from anyone in good physical condition between 18 and 60 years of age without regard to race, creed, color, gender, or nation. Scientific, engineering, practical mechanical, wilderness, and literary skills are all considered a plus. Dedication to the cause of human Mars exploration is an absolute must, as conditions are likely to be tough and the job will be very trying. Those selected will be required to participate in certain crew training exercises and to act under crew discipline and strict mission protocols during the simulations.

All of those selected will also be required to sign a liability waiver. The Mars Society will pay travel and related expenses from Salt Lake City, Utah during training and simulation, but there will be no salary. Applications including resume, character references, and a brief letter explaining why you wish to participate should be sent to Mars Society, PO Box 273, Indian Hills, CO 80454. Total length of applications should not exceed 3 pages. Please include 9 copies.

The Mars Society
email : MarsSocInfo [at] aol [dot] com

“The interests of the Mars Society-an organization with the overarching goal of colonizing Mars-tend to elicit snickers from non-space fans. Why talk about building homes on Mars when we have problems on Earth like war, bird flu, AIDS and global warming? To the Mars enthusiast, these scourges simply count among the reasons to ditch this rock and head for the Red Planet. Robert Zubrin, the founder of the Mars Society, likes to point out that Columbus encountered similar resistance from noobs when he pointed across the Atlantic. But Zubrin isn’t a seafarer-he’s a scientist, with calculations that say people could create an oxygen atmosphere on Mars in just over 1,000 years. Compare that with other scientists’ predictions of 20,000 or 100,000 years, and he might seem like he’s peddling interplanetary snake oil, but there’s no denying that his scheme for “terraforming” is thoroughly conceived.”

According to Robert Zubrin, the founder of the Mars Society, colonization will take place in three steps, and we’ve already started with the first: exploration. Multiple human landings are necessary to uncover mineral materials, ice deposits and suitable habitats. Next, bases will be built, and finally, a self-sufficient colony must be established. Now it’s time to start terraforming. For this article, let’s say the year is 2150. Terraforming begins with the warming of the planet. Zubrin describes it as “trying to drive a runaway greenhouse effect.” He proposes three methods to get the planetary hot tub started. Critics argue that the first two will be ineffective; the third is sketchy but feasible.

Option A: Orbiting Mirrors
Temperatures on the Martian equator already touch 32°F in places, but to thaw things out permanently, the outer atmosphere would have to heat up to more than 104°. The first temperature catalyst Zubrin suggests is a giant mirror for Mars-according to his calculations, one that’s 77 miles in diameter (large enough to cover about a third of Long Island). Orbiting at 132,973 miles above Mars, the mirror would direct the sun’s rays over to specific regions of the surface where gases and water could be exposed. The prohibitive factor is building and launching a reflective surface that big. Space construction methods would be necessary to avoid the complication of propelling it out of Earth’s orbit.

Option B: Ammonia Asteroids
Asteroids are essentially frozen stockpiles of greenhouse gases. If earthlings could direct an asteroid 1.6 miles in diameter to a collision course with Mars, the energy from impact would be enough to melt one trillion tons of H2O, and the amount of ammonia released from the asteroid could raise the Martian temperature by 37°F. Zubrin believes that the impact of 40 such space rocks could make Mars’s atmosphere inhabitable. But steering the asteroid would be really hard-much harder than, say, driving an 18-wheeler down an icy mountainside while trying to avoid schoolchildren playing at the bottom. Exhaust blasts from four thermonuclear rockets could put the asteroid on track but would be time-consuming: From rocket launch to impact would take 30 years (10 years of guiding it with rockets and then 20 years, once on course, until the collision). And if there were colonies on Mars, Zubrin notes, “the force of impact could create problems for the inhabitants.” Asteroids certainly weren’t good news for the dinosaurs.

Option C: Global Warming, The Earth Remix
The best way to warm a planet-Earth, for example-is with strong artificial greenhouse gases. With evidence gleaned from our own global warming, scientists have a good idea of which emissions are best suited for climate change. Zubrin, among others, believes tetrafluoromethane (CF4) is the best gas for the global-warming job. Twentieth-century thinking says factories are the best way to create emissions. So Zubrin proposes building several chemical plants on Mars to release fluoromethane continuously. Emitting 1,000 tons of gas an hour would raise the temperature by 50°F over 30 years. This could be done using 5,000 megawatts of energy-the output of five nuclear power plants (which would themselves run on solar power).

A mere three billion years ago, Mars possessed a thick carbon dioxide atmosphere. Huge amounts of remnant CO2 have been absorbed in the soil but could be liberated by warming temperatures. In other words, Mars is cold and boring now, sucking gases into the soil, but warm it up and you’d have a CO2 planet party. To keep within our stated 1,000-year timeframe, Zubrin says: “The additional gases [liberated from the soil] will raise the temp another 10 degrees over 20 years, thawing some ice, which will lead to evaporation and the first signs of weather.” By these calculations, Mars’s atmosphere would have .10 atmospheres of CO2 by the year 2200- just 50 years after beginning the terraforming process.

By 2250, the 100th anniversary of the first CF4 factory opening, the atmosphere will be one fifth as thick as Earth’s: about .21 atmospheres, with .20 atmospheres of carbon dioxide. Martian residents will be able to walk outside without spacesuits (though they’ll still need oxygen). Not only will this introduce the first interplanetary fashion trends, but the climate will be suitable for planting, flying planes, and building domed (these would be more efficient for oxygen management) cities. Once the equator’s surface reached a constant temperature of 32° and up, Mars would have liquid water, and it would be time to start gardening. But, Zubrin warns, “you can’t start with maple trees. It will be a deliberate process of planting photosynthetic bacteria and lichens first.”

Growing plants will begin the process of converting the carbon dioxide atmosphere into delicious oxygen. But there’s a speed bump: Leaving the dead plants to decay (as farmers do today, in the process of tilling fields under) would release more carbon gas, slowing the process down. Zubrin believes that the solution would be for Martian residents to aggressively harvest plants and dispose of waste materials through a careful composting process, to prevent CO2 leakage. Genetic engineering could play a part too. Zubrin imagines a strain of “Little Shop of Horrors”-style mutant plants that would produce more oxygen.

It’s all seemed so simple to this point-50 years to experience weather and then another 50 to walk outside in your new Martian threads. But it would take our little space gardens 1,000 years to produce enough oxygen for Martian colonists to breathe unassisted. During those 1,000 years, residents would have to continually plant and harvest, playing the role of Mother Nature to speed the conversion of the atmosphere from carbon dioxide to oxygen.

“The Mars trilogy is Kim Stanley Robinson’s most well known work. It is the epic, yet realistic, saga of the colonization and terraforming of the planet Mars by the human race. Admired for its immense detail and thorough research, as well as its memorable characters and sociological analysis, it is a modern science fiction classic.”