The Occupy Mars Learning Adventure

Training Jr. Astronauts, Scientists & Engineers

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Poems About Mars: Mick E. Talbot

Enclosed Rhyme: Mars


Twinkle, twinkle all the stars.
Looked again many years ago,
Found some that only glow,
One was red, they called it Mars.

Named after a Roman God.
Their Gods many, this one of war.
Worshiped, and also some adore.
These days we’d be all agog!

No longer worshipped, but
Still thought to be
A contender for life, we’ll see?
Some folk huff, and some will tut!

Many probes have been sent,
Water found, bacteria too,
But not life like me, or you.
Mars searched with good intent.

Travel to planet Mars!
Book now, but remember this!
You’ll not find it a place of bliss.
Outside no there are no  taxi cars.

Space suits will be the fashion.
You’ll find the atmosphere
Is CO2, don’t feel despair,
All’s okay just keep your hat on!

How long will the journey take?
A non stop flight no changes,
Could be one-way no exchanges,
260 days so take some cake!
All © Mick E Talbot 2017/66
Kids Talk Radio

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Who wants to go to Mars right here on Earth?

MDRS Crew 177 – Final Mission Report

The following is the final summary report of Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) Crew 177 (Lone Star Highlanders). A full review of this year’s activities at MDRS will be presented at the 20th Annual International Mars Society Convention, scheduled for September 7-10, 2017 at University of California Irvine. A call for abstracts for the convention was issued recently, with a June 30th deadline.

Crew 177, Lone Star Highlanders, a team representing McLennan Community College, from Waco-Texas, stationed at Mars Dessert Research Station, MDRS, from March 26th until April 1st, for a one-week rotation as a part of McLennan Community College Mars 101 program with the main goal of providing an introduction to analog field research and training in all aspects of MDRS sim.  The team consisted of eight participants, six students conducting independent projects, and two faculty members serving a Commander and Co-Commander. Projects conducted by students were engineering and biology related.

Pitchayapa Jingjit is a freshman at McLennan Community College. She is planning to transfer to a four-year institution to pursue a degree in science in hope to attend a medical school. Her research project is trying to find bacteria producing antibiotics in order to combat the antibiotic resistance crisis. She collected soil samples containing bacteria from different point of interest around the Mars Desert Research Station and bring those samples back to McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas to begin the laboratory work. Furthermore, she conducted a microbiology EVA to find the presence of Gram negative enteric bacteria and Gram positive staph bacteria in the HAB and the Green HAB. As expected, she found both Gram positive and negative bacteria in both the HAB and the Green HAB.

Caleb Li is a sophomore year student of McLennan Community College, majoring in Electrical Engineering. He was planning to design a LED digital clock that put on the air lock to optimize the crew member’s experience while waiting to go out to do EVA. He was using the FPGAs on the Basys 2 Board to implement the clock function, time counting function, and alarm system. On Sol 4 he installed the clock in the air lock.  The afternoon EVA crew used his posted instructions to operate the LED clock when they returned to the hab. He will continue working on the alarm system and more advanced functions back to the school.

Elijah Espinoza is a freshman Mechanical Engineering student at McLennan. He is at MDRS working on a robot with Victoria LaBarre. His part of the robot is an arm that is attached to the robot that can pick up various objects such as rocks. The robot is in the early stages of a long project that will eventually be able to go out on its own and rescue an astronaut that is hurt. It is designed to be a rescue ambulance called the Emergency Medical Service Rover (EMSR). He is using a Vex competition kit to power the arm. On SOL 5 he and Victoria went out to the Cow Patty Field and tested the robot to observe how it moved on the terrain and how it picked up different sized rocks. The robot Elijah and Victoria are working on is a progression from Victoria’s project last year. Elijah plans to continue to work on the project when they get back to McLennan.

Victoria LaBarre is a sophomore student at McLennan Community College, majoring in electrical engineering. This is her second time coming to MDRS. On her first trip in 2016, she tested prototype one of the Emergency Medical Service Rover (EMSR) and conducted two human driver tests. When fully realized, the EMSR will be able to automatically go out into the field and retrieve an injured astronaut to bring them back to the Hab. This year, 2017, prototype two was developed and tested at Mars by LaBarre and her partner Elijah Espinoza. LaBarre worked on the drive train and the programming of the robot. The robot’s strength and dexterity were tested in Cow Patty field by picking up different sized rocks, which were then brought back to the Hab to be measured.

Esteban Ramirez is a first-year student at McLennan Community College majoring in Biomedical Engineering. His project dealt with energy concerns a Mars exploration would have. The amount of available energy to a crew or device is what gives them the ability to carry out their jobs on any space expedition. His project tested the feasibility and consequences of providing a bike generator for a Martian exploration to increase efficiency and health of the crew. Once arriving at MDRS various tests were done on the generator bike to calibrate and fix problems with the battery. Multiple tests on crew mates were done and data was collected such as voltage created, time spent, and calories used. These data will be analyzed and aggregated to find correlations between efficiency and various other variables such as height, weight, and age. Conclusions will be presented at McLennan Community College on Scholar Day.

Joseph Quaas is a freshman computer science student who came to MDRS in order to develop a virtual reality simulation of the MDRS site. The simulation is to consist of a basic rescue operation consisting of the user learning the location of a person, who is need of assistance, driving the rover to their location, and bringing them back to the hab. There were some developmental problems during the week concerning the implementation of certain 3D models and scripting, but good progress was still made on the project. The entire premise of virtual reality, especially a sim based upon a real-life location, is to immerse the user in a virtual environment that is as close to the real-life version as possible. During his time at MDRS, he saw and got the feel of many locations around MDRS and made adjustments to the landscape in the sim in order to make the sim more accurate.

Becky Parker is a Marketing Professor at McLennan Community College.  Her project is preparation of a marketing plan for recruiting student and faculty participants for future Mars missions as well as other travel course.  She used her time at Mars to take photos and videos of the mission to be used in marketing materials, and to conduct interviews with each participant.  She led a brainstorming session in order to get student input for the plan.

Dr. Otsmar Villarroel, chemistry professor at McLennan Community College, served as the crew 177 commander. He enjoyed her second rotation at MDRS designing the every day’s activities during crew’s mission. He also led planned EVAs for Orientation, Geology, Chemistry and independent projects.

We would like to thank the Mars Society and McLennan Community College for allowing us being part of this invaluable experience. We are deeply thankful for the opportunity.

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Mission 18 Teensy XBee Adapter Hookup Guide: Used for Occupy Mars Summer Projects (Advanced)

Barboza Space Center Junior astronauts and scientists are getting ready for the summer Occupy Mars Learning Adventure Projects.   They are building new science centers for Mars.

Teensy XBee Adapter Hookup Guide

Contributors: MTaylor


The Teensy is a great way to get more computing power than an Arduino, and in less space. When a decently ranged, no-frills wireless serial link is required, the XBee series is a great solution. The Teensy 3.1 XBee Adapter joins the two with ease and brings wireless to your Teensy projects. This tutorial will demonstrate the basics of using the adapter board.


This tutorial demonstrates:

  • How to initialize Teensy 3.1 HW serial
  • How to initialize Teensy 3.1 SW serial using softwareSerialAlt library
  • The basics of packetizing data.
  • How to make a simple controller that effects something far away

Required Materials

At a minimum, you’ll need an XBee explorer, two XBees, a Teensy and the adapter board. Here’s a list of things you’ll need if you want two Teensy XBee radio stations that are both off-the-grid, plus some useful extras.

Required Basic Shop Tools

  • Soldering iron and flux core solder
  • Spare wire
  • X-acto or knife for cutting traces (possibly)

Software Requirements

Suggested Reading

Before getting started, there are a few concepts that you should be familiar with. If you haven’t used a Teensy or XBee before, read these tutorials before continuing:

  • Getting Started with the Teensy – How to install Teensyduino, comparison of the Teensy 3.1 and LC, and soldering options.
  • Exploring XBees and XCTU – Guide to configuring the XBees using the XBee tool XCTU
  • XBee Buying Guide – Shows various XBee models including current consumption use an Arduino to control the APDS-9960
  • Serial Terminal Basics – Lots of information about serial. If you’ve only ever used the Arduino Serial monitor (or no terminal at all), this is a good resource. It shows how to get serial terminals working on Mac, Linux, and Windows.

Hardware Overview

Apart from mechanically connecting the The Teensy and XBee, the adapter has a some features to help you get the most from the hardware. Here’s what each section does.

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Key parts of the adapter

  1. Teensy 3.1 (and LC) footprint – Connect the Teensy here
  2. UART1/S-UART switch – Select which serial pins are connected to the XBee (pins 0/1 for the hardware UART, pins 20/21 for the software UART)
  3. XBee socket – Plug the XBee in here matching silkscreen shape
  4. VIN/EXT jumper – short to source Teensy power from the EXT_IN pins
  5. XBee status LEDs – shows data movement, signal strength, and digital IO pin 5 (XBee signals)
  6. Spare ground connections – my gift to you!
  7. TNSY/EXT jumper – selects the source of power for the XBee (Teensy onboard regulator or EXT_IN)
  8. Power LED – shows if XBee is getting power
  9. EXT_PWR in – Supply regulated 3.3v here only when necessary
  10. XBee reset switch – resets the XBee

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Bottom view

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With XBee and Teensy installed

Don’t forget to check out the Getting Started with the Teensy tutorial for information on attaching the Teensy to an adapter.


There are a few theoretical steps to get a project working with the Teensy and XBee that will be discussed.

Here are the basic steps:

  • Determine how to power the system
  • Connect the hardware
  • Configure the XBees
  • Establish serial over XBee (this tests all systems – highly recommended)
  • Build and test the actual project

Determine how the system is going to be powered

The XBee requires around 3.3V to operate, depending on the model. The Teensy has an on-board regulator that outputs 3.3V, which is perfect, but only for lower power radios that consume less than 100mA.

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Powering from the Teensy’s internal regulator

This is the default configuration. The internal regulator can supply about 100mA of current for 3.3V use, including what is consumed by the Teensy and things on the 3.3V rail. XBees up to 2mW (non-“pro” models) consume up to 40mA, so, if you have a basic XBee, this is probably the route for you. Supply 3.7V to 5.5V (or USB power).

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Powering the XBee from an external 3.3v regulator

If you have a higher powered XBee, or more than 100mA of load on your 3.3V rail, you’ll need to disconnect the XBee from the internal regulator and supply 3.3v from somewhere else. A Breadboard Power Supply Stick is a possible power source for this application.

In this case, switch the TNSY-EXT jumper to ‘EXT’, short the VIN-EXT_PWR jumper, and cut the trace between the Teensy’s USB PWR jumper. Now both the Teensy and XBee are powered from the ext power pins, so you’ll need to provide power and plug in the USB if you want to reprogramming the device.

Connect the Teensy to the XBee.

The XBee fits straight into the adapter. Make sure the XBee outline matches the silkscreen on the adapter.

The Teensy and adapter come as PCB without headers. Check out the Sparkfun Getting Started with the Teensy for example of how pins and sockets can be attached.

Connect Periphery Equipment

Use the outer holes to connect all manor of switches and sensors that you wish to read from the Teensy. This tutorial makes a controller, so buttons and LEDs are connected as shown in this diagram.

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Configure the XBees

The XBees are shipped with a default configuration (see XBee documentation). Even if they work out of the box, you’ll be using the default IDs and will be suseptable to unseen XBees interfering with your system (because some other designer had the similar thought, “I’m the only one here, why not use the default IDs.”) Also, you can change other more advanced features once you’re familiar with the concepts.

The parameters used for these demos

  • ID/PAN ID = A5F1 – This can be any 16 bit hex value used to identify your network. Make sure it is the same for both radios and unique in your area. A5F1 was randomly chosen for this guide. You can choose any ID for your network.
  • Data rate = 9600
  • Parity = N
  • All others at factory default

Configuring XBees with USB based explorers

  • Socket an XBee into the explorer matching the silkscreen orientation
  • Plug the explorer into the USB port
  • Open X-CTU
  • Select your explorer’s serial port
  • Querry the XBee to make sure the drivers are working
  • Read the configuration from the XBee
  • Modify the parameters
  • Write the new configuration to the XBee

Repeat this process so that both XBees have the new configuration.

Power the System!

Apply to the system. Powering through the Teensy, use 3.7 to 5.5v. Alternately, supply regulated 3.3v to the EXT_PWER pins. Does the power LED on the adapter illumniated? It shows if power is getting to the XBee. Try running the blink sketch to determine if the Teensy is really powered and ready to recieve firmware.


Working with your serial ports

Working with wireless devices is more difficult than just a single arduino because more than one serial port is in use. Where Arduino allows you to simply load the serial monitor to talk to your code, be extra careful remembering which ports what device and which terminal are using.

The first serial link in use is between the XBee and computer through the serial explorer. Get this port open and communicating to the XBee, then leave it alone. It ushers bytes you type into it into the air, and prints whatever comes into it’s antenna to your screen. When the system is fully functional, this terminal will tell you what buttons are being pressed.

The second serial link is the Arduino serial monitor, which connects to the Teensy over the USB cable. Eventually the Teensy will be disconnected from the computer but it can be usefull to get debugging information from your program while working with it. Be careful not to confuse it with the other serial ports. When you upload a sketch, the serial monitor automatically closes. If you’re using a 3rd party terminal here make sure it is closed before upload in order to free up the USB port for programming.

The trickest serial link in this project is the one that goes from the Teensy to the XBee because we have little information about it. Without expensive scopes, use the Din and Dout LEDs to monitor if there is activity from the Teensy to the XBee. One illumniates when the Teensy sends data to the XBee, and the other for showing when data is comming from the XBee to the Teensy.

Test your serial and XBee configuration

Note: This example assumes you are using the latest version of the Arduino IDE on your desktop. If this is your first time using Arduino, please review our tutorial on installing the Arduino IDE.

If you have not previously installed an Arduino library, please check out our installation guide.

Two sketches are provided to ease bringing the XBees on line. They pass data between the XBee and the serial monitor using the HW UART or the SW UART ‘AltSoftSerial’ library. You can get them from the Github repository for the Teensy_3_1_XBee_Adapter or by copy-pasting from below



    //Serial test using the hardware uart on pins 0/1 (UART1).
//Connect an XBee and Teensy 3.1 to the adapter board
//Connect an XBee to a serial terminal of your choice (USB dongle for example)
//Characters sent out the XBee terminal go:
// Onto the airwaves -> into UART1 RX -> out the serial monitor
//Characters sent out the serial monitor go:
// Out the UART1 TX pin -> onto the airwaves -> out the SBee serial terminal
//Be sure to select UART1 on the adapter board's switch for HW serial

void setup()
  //Begin serial monitor port
  //Begin HW serial


void loop()
  // Take data received from the serial monitor and pass it to the HW UART
    Serial1.print(, BYTE);

  // Take data received from the HW UART and pass it to the serial monitor
    Serial.print(, BYTE);

  //Wait to reduce serial load

Set the adapter’s serial switch to UART1. Then, load and run the example. Open the serial monitor. Text entered in the serial monitor will be passed to the XBee, and come out the X-CTU (or other, I use Tera Term) serial monitor. Typing in that terminal will send the text back to the Arduino serial monitor. This tests the HW UART and XBee configurations


    #include <AltSoftSerial.h>
//Serial test using the software uart on pins 20/21.
//Connect an XBee and Teensy 3.1 to the adapter board
//Connect an XBee to a serial terminal of your choice (USB dongle for example)
//Characters sent out the XBee terminal go:
// Onto the airwaves -> into S-UART RX -> out the serial monitor
//Characters sent out the serial monitor go:
// Out the S-UART TX pin -> onto the airwaves -> out the SBee serial terminal
//Be sure to select S-UART on the adapter board's switch for HW serial

AltSoftSerial altSerial;

void setup() {
  // initialize serial communication at 9600 bits per second:
  //Begin serial monitor port
  //Begin SW UART serial


// the loop routine runs over and over again forever:
void loop() {
  // Take data received from the serial monitor and pass it to the HW UART
    altSerial.print(, BYTE);

  // Take data received from the HW UART and pass it to the serial monitor
    Serial.print(, BYTE);

  //Wait to reduce serial load

This sketch works much like the UART1 example but with the AltSoftSerial library, leaving the HW UART free to connect to other resources. Set the adapter’s switch to UART1 and run the sketch. Text should be passed between the two serial terminals.

Running the demo sketch

One sketch is provided to demonstrate passing data between a computer with SparkFun XBee Explorer USB and the Teensy with XBee. You can get it from the Github repository for the Teensy_3_1_XBee_Adapter or by copy-pasting from below



    #include <AltSoftSerial.h>
//To use this example you will need to have the following connections:
//  4 buttons connected to pins 14 through 17, normally open, short to ground.
//  8 LEDs connected to pins 4 through 11, each with their own current limiting resistor.
//  The sketch is intended to have leds with a common ground, though using a common power
//  will work invertedly.
//You will also need:
//  A Teensy 3.1 to XBee adapter board with XBee
//  A 2nd XBee connected to serial terminal (USB dongle with Tera Term for example)
//  The S-UART / UART1 switch set to S-UART for a software UART using the altSoftSerial library
//Load the sketch and press the buttons.  In the serial terminal the '0's change to '1's.
//Press 1-8 on the keyboard in the terminal window.  The LEDs will illuminate.  Press enter or
//any other key to clear the LEDs.

// Define pin locations
int upleftButton = 14;
int uprightButton = 15;
int downleftButton = 16;
int downrightButton = 17;
int led1Pin = 4;
int led2Pin = 5;
int led3Pin = 6;
int led4Pin = 7;
int led5Pin = 8;
int led6Pin = 9;
int led7Pin = 10;
int led8Pin = 11;

AltSoftSerial altSerial;

void setup() {
  // initialize serial communication at 9600 bits per second:

  // Setup the pin directions
  pinMode(upleftButton, INPUT_PULLUP);
  pinMode(uprightButton, INPUT_PULLUP);
  pinMode(downleftButton, INPUT_PULLUP);
  pinMode(downrightButton, INPUT_PULLUP);
  pinMode(led1Pin, OUTPUT);
  pinMode(led2Pin, OUTPUT);
  pinMode(led3Pin, OUTPUT);
  pinMode(led4Pin, OUTPUT);
  pinMode(led5Pin, OUTPUT);
  pinMode(led6Pin, OUTPUT);
  pinMode(led7Pin, OUTPUT);
  pinMode(led8Pin, OUTPUT);


// the loop routine runs over and over again forever:
void loop() {
  // Transmitting.  This section reads button states and builds a packet
  // that is shipped over the airwaves.  The basic packet has a start
  // char of ~, 9 user bytes, and terminates with a carriage return
  // "~000000000\r"

  int buttonState;

  //Write the tilde to the XBee.  This signifies start of packet

  // read the input pin:
  buttonState = digitalRead(upleftButton);
  Serial.print("up left is ");
  // print out the state of the button to the serial monitor:
  buttonState ^= 0x01;
  // write the value to the XBee packet

  // read the input pin:
  buttonState = digitalRead(uprightButton);
  // print out the state of the button to the serial monitor:
  Serial.print("up right is ");
  buttonState ^= 0x01;
  // write the value to the XBee packet

  // read the input pin:
  buttonState = digitalRead(downleftButton);
  // print out the state of the button to the serial monitor:
  Serial.print("down left is ");
  buttonState ^= 0x01;
  // write the value to the XBee packet

  // read the input pin:
  buttonState = digitalRead(downrightButton);
  // print out the state of the button to the serial monitor:
  Serial.print("down right is ");
  buttonState ^= 0x01;
  // write the value to the XBee packet

  // fill the rest of the packet with zeros
  // Proved an end of line char for the interpreter to pick up on

  // Receiving.  This section check for new serial data and turns on an
  // LED that corresponds to a number key entered.  All other characters
  // including return, LF, CR, etc. cause all LEDs to be turned off.
  if (altSerial.available())
    char c;
    c =;
    case '1':
      digitalWrite(4, 1);
    case '2':
      digitalWrite(5, 1);
    case '3':
      digitalWrite(6, 1);
    case '4':
      digitalWrite(7, 1);
    case '5':
      digitalWrite(8, 1);
    case '6':
      digitalWrite(9, 1);
    case '7':
      digitalWrite(10, 1);
    case '8':
      digitalWrite(11, 1);
      //Clear all pins on other keys
      digitalWrite(4, 0);
      digitalWrite(5, 0);
      digitalWrite(6, 0);
      digitalWrite(7, 0);
      digitalWrite(8, 0);
      digitalWrite(9, 0);
      digitalWrite(10, 0);
      digitalWrite(11, 0);



  delay(100);        // delay in between reads for stability

This sketch demonstrates bi-directional communication and shows off operation that is more than just data echo.


  • Attach buttons to pins 14-17 of the Teensy, and to ground. The pins are pulled up inside the teensy and will float high until a button is depressed.
  • Attach LEDs from pins 4-12 of the Teensy, through a current limiting resistor, to ground. It’s not so important to have all 8, 2 or 3 is enough to demonstrate the effect.

Each time the loop() runs, the sketch:

  • Converts button presses to an ascii repersentation
  • Prints the button states to the Arduino serial monitor
  • Transmits the button states as a series of ascii characters
  • Checks for received data from the XBee. If a number 1-8 is received, the associated LED on pins 14-21 is illuminated. If any other character is received, all 8 LEDs are are switched off.


The Teensy is really a great small-footprint powerhouse. Paired with the XBee you can get a great long distance serial connection, and with the 72MHz of processing speed (48MHz for the Teensy-LC) you can do a lot with the information. The Teensy is also capable of being a “class driver” device, you can get that data into a computer with ease, turning it into a keyboard, mouse, serial, or midi device.

Resources and Going Further

Here’s some links for getting extra information:

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Humans to Mars

Report of

The Fourth Community Workshop on Achievability and Sustainability of

Human Exploration of Mars (AM IV)

Team AM IV

The highest priority for human space flight beyond low Earth orbit is a sustainable campaign of missions with a successful initial mission to the vicinity of Mars before the mid-2030s.


Click here to View the Full Report of The Fourth Community Workshop on Achievability and Sustainability of Human Exploration of Mars (AM IV)


Character of Workshop:

To continue to build broadly based consensus on the future of human space exploration, the Fourth Community Workshop on Achievability and Sustainability of Human Exploration of Mars (AM IV), organized by Explore Mars, Inc. and the American Astronautical Society, was held at the DoubleTree Inn in Monrovia, CA., December 6–8, 2016. Approximately 60 invited professionals from the industrial and commercial sectors, academia, and NASA, along with international colleagues, participated in the workshop. These individuals were chosen to be representative of the breadth of interests in astronaut and robotic Mars exploration.

AM IV built upon the three previous Affordability and Sustainability Workshops (i.e., AM I–III) held in 2013, 2014, and 2015 respectively. Those previous workshops assessed and reported on the affordability and sustainability of multiple scenarios for human exploration of Mars. For that reason, our organizing committee concluded that the 2016 workshop would concentrate specifically on achieving critical capabilities (or “long poles”) in human exploration of Mars. Nine expert teams were assembled and each was charged with assessing the achievability of one major element common among scenarios for initial human missions to Mars. Included in each assessment, each of which was critically reviewed during the workshop and which is reported on here, are such characteristics as key elements of the long pole and the length of time required for development, venues for demonstration, precursors, and scenarios that take advantage of the long pole.

The output of the workshop consists of observations, findings, and recommendations that will be presented to space agency leadership, policymakers, and at professional conferences.

The Third Community Workshop on Affording and Sustaining

Human Mars Exploration (AM III)


The highest priority for human space flight beyond low Earth orbit is a sustainable campaign of missions with a successful initial mission to the vicinity of Mars before the mid-2030s.


Click here to View the Full Report of The Third Mars Affordability and Sustainability Workshop



Character of Workshop:

Representatives of major stakeholders in human exploration of Mars within about two decades, including government agencies, academia, industry, and science.

Consensus will be sought and confidentiality will be respected.

Unless otherwise stated, individuals will represent only themselves.

A Program that is Sustainable is By Definition Affordable.

A Program that is Affordable is Not by Definition Sustainable

An affordable program is an activity that stakeholders are willing to support because it returns value commensurate with its cost. A Level 0 requirement for Mars human exploration architectures is identification of the sustaining sources of funding and how the architecture will return value to stakeholders. A sustainable campaign is one that is affordable with returned value sufficient to ensure stakeholder support over decades.

Workshop Outcomes and Deliverables

  • Observations and commentary on the affordability and sustainability of Mars architectures and strategies presented at the workshop, especially elements of Mars architectures that are robust against cancellation or delay.
  • Priority science objectives enabled by human presence in the vicinity of Mars and elements of Mars architectures particularly useful to scientific exploration.
  • Findings and recommendations on viable common features and capabilities of different architectures, priority near-term actions and investments for the space agencies and industrial partners, future design and architecture studies, international participation, etc.
  • Outreach and engagement strategy to professionals, especially with respect to other scientists, engineers, and architects of human space flight scenarios: follow-on workshops, conference presentations, briefings to NASA and other human space flight leaders
  •  A professional engagement strategy to the general public and stakeholders

Guiding Workshop Assumptions

  • Scientific exploration of Mars will be a major activity in the decades ahead, as well as a significant component of human exploration.
  • Early and focused technology investment, including precursors and demonstration missions, is essential for the timescale adopted here.
  • Technical/engineering solutions exist for landing and long-duration operations on the martian surface.
  • Partnerships (international, industrial, commercial, academic . . .) will be an essential component of human Mars exploration.
  • Research and development will continue on ISS at least through the mid-2020s.
  • SLS and Orion will be available during the time period considered here.
  • The budgets for space agencies will be approximately flat at least for the next few years. Budget growth is possible in response to an international commitment to travel to Mars.


To view a presentation, click on the title that you wish to view and the presentation will open in a new window

Day One (2 December) Morning First Session (Plenary)

0800 | Introductions, workshop goals & deliverables, discussion of ground rules and assumptions

0830 | Prepared presentations and discussion (30 min each): current concepts, affordability & sustainability


1230 | Working lunch and brief meeting of breakout sessions


To view a presentation, click on the title that you wish to view and the presentation will open in a new window

Day One (2 December) Afternoon Second Session (Plenary)

1300 | Prepared presentations and discussion


1520 | Exploration scenarios (30 min each)

  • Plenary discussion and opening instructions to breakouts


To view a presentation, click on the title that you wish to view and the presentation will open in a new window

Day Two (3 December) Morning Third Session

0900 | Breakout instructions and opening presentations


1000 | Breakout sessions: kick-off and initial discussion: two topics, each covered by two breakout groups

  • Comparing and contrasting the architectures: strengths, challenges, key milestones, etc. on the basis of science enabled and enhanced by humans in the vicinity of Mars
  • Sustainability: the international context, programmatic priorities, characteristics that promote sustainability, etc.
  • “Snapshot” plenary presentations by breakout groups

Day Two (3 December) Afternoon Fourth Session

  • Lunch plenary review of first morning, feedback, mid-course update
  • Facilitated breakout sessions: two topics, each covered by two breakout groups
    • Compare and contrast the architectures: strengths, challenges, key milestones, etc. on the basis of science enabled and enhanced by humans in the vicinity of Mars
    • Sustainability: the international context, programmatic priorities, characteristics that promote sustainability, etc.
  • Afternoon plenary review and discussion


Day Three (4 December) Morning Fifth Session

  • Integration/summary of breakout reports and plenary presentations
    • Closing breakout (or plenary?): next steps to sustain this activity, including writing assignments


Guiding Questions for the Breakout Sessions

For the sustainability and affordability sessions:

  • What are the strengths/challenges of the Mars exploration scenarios presented in plenary (with solutions to the challenges)?
    • What characterizes a campaign that will endure?
    • What can be done to minimize the chance of program cancellation after the precursor robotic and earliest human Mars missions?
    • What specific near-term activities need to be carried that would enhance sustainability and by whom?
    • What are key roles played by stakeholders?
    • Which of NASA’s technology development priorities are most enabling of sustainable and affordable Mars exploration? And on what timescale? (e.g., which must be developed within a constrained budget to permit an affordable initial mission within about two decades?)
    • How do we best leverage partnerships of all kinds to improve sustainability, including reducing cost?
    • How can human and science mission objectives be tailored to more effectively to engage the public, which will result in improved program sustainability?

For the science enabled by human spaceflight sessions:

  • For prioritized scientific objectives for the martian system (the planet’s surface, in orbit, or on its moons), what are the most enabling capabilities of the exploration architecture(s) and why?
    • How might the exploration scenarios be altered to enable better science (connection to higher priority objectives, results more definitive, more objectives pursued, etc.)?
    • Which science objectives might be modified to increase science return within the existing exploration scenarios? How might SLS be used to advance the science return?
  • Which robotic precursors and instrumentation are necessary to enable initial human Mars exploration?
  • How do we best leverage partnerships of all kinds to improve sustainability, including reducing cost?
  • How can human and science mission objectives be tailored to more effectively to engage the public, which will result in improved program sustainability?

The Affording Mars & Sustainability Workshop Series Reports


Affording Mars 2014




To continue building community consensus on the future of human space exploration, the Second Mars Affordability and Sustainability Workshop (AM II) was hosted by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and held at the Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) conference building on the Caltech campus in Pasadena, CA, October 14 – 15, 2014. Approximately 60 invited professionals from the industrial and commercial sectors, academia, NASA, and the Canadian Space Agency participated in the workshop. These individuals were chosen to be representative of the breadth of interests in astronaut and robotic Mars exploration.  AM II continued the work that began with the first Affording Mars Workshop (AM I) in 2013. AM II conducted side-by-side comparisons of potential Mars mission architectures and strategies, discussed potential science goals associated with architectures for human missions to Mars, and examined how to design and advance a humans-to-Mars program that is fiscally and politically sustainable. The output of the workshop consists of observations, findings, and recommendations intended to guide space agency leadership and national policymakers.

View Entire Report Here:

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Affording Mars 2014 Report_1-2

The Affording Mars Workshop 2013 Report

Affording Mars Web

Human Mission to Mars is Both Feasible, Affordable

Industry, Government Leaders Issue Consensus Statement on Six Principles to Achieve a Human Mars Mission by the 2030s

WASHINGTON, DC January 14, 2014 — A global working group of more than sixty leaders from more than thirty government, industry and academic organizations issued a joint statement today announcing consensus that a human mission to Mars is both feasible and affordable assuming policy consistency among international space agencies and levels of funding consistent with pre-sequestration levels and modest increases annually in line with inflation.

This group launched this initiative with the goal of building stakeholder consensus on what is necessary to make human Mars exploration feasible, sustainable, and affordable within two decades. To begin this international effort, Explore Mars, Inc. and the American Astronautical Society (AAS) hosted the Affording Mars Workshop on December 3-5, 2013 at George Washington University.

Participants assessed scenarios for compelling human and robotic exploration of Mars, the role of the International Space Station (ISS) over the coming decade, possible cost-effective “bridge” missions in the 2020s to follow ISS, key capabilities required for initial missions, international partnerships, and an actionable definition of affordability and sustainability.

Leaders agreed on six core principles:

1)         Sending humans to Mars is affordable with the right partnerships, commitment to efficiency, constancy of purpose, and policy/budget consistency.

2)        Human exploration of Mars is technologically feasible by the 2030s.

3)        Mars should be the priority for human space flight over the next two to three decades.

4)        Between now and 2030, investments and activities in the human exploration of space must be prioritized in a manner that advances the objective of initial human missions to Mars beginning in the 2030s.

5)        Utilizing the International Space Station (ISS) is essential for human missions to deep space.

6)        Continuation of robotic precursor missions to Mars throughout the 2020’s is essential for the success of human missions to Mars.

Click here to read full report:

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Mars Crew 175 Report

Crew 175 – End of Mission Summary

Crew 175, the MDRS Supaero Crew is composed of six students and one young graduate from ISAE-Supaero, a leading French Aerospace Engineering school in France. Arthur Lillo and Louis Maller, former Crew 164 members gathered a team of people with complementary skills among the students of the school, most of whom had supported the MDRS 164 effort. Together, we worked on many and varied experiments in Technologies, Human Factors, Earth Sciences and Astronomy in the Mars Desert Research Station that we helped keep in a good shape. Many of the experiments we had prepared prior to coming to the station, and we also had many other tasks to carry out on site.


Our team:

Commander: Arthur Lillo

Executive Officer: Louis Maller

Engineer: Xavier Rixhon

Astronomer: Mouâdh Bouayad

Biologist:  Victoria Da-Poian

Journalist:  Louis Mangin

Health & Safety Officer: Simon Bouriat


Main Projects

Here is a list of the main projects we conducted at MDRS:


Solar Balloon

During the entire simulation, we used a balloon that just uses the difference of density of the air to fly. The sun’s rays heat the balloon and the air inside gets hotter than outside. It is a really simple technology with advantages like a very light mass, small volume and no external energy needed.

We took the balloon out four times. The first and third times were quite successful as the balloon flew perfectly. The second flight went really bad though the wind was only around 12km/h. The balloon tore apart and we immediately put it back in its box. For the last flight we changed the camera position and intended to leave the balloon out for 24 hours. We eventually removed the camera and later on, the platform broke and the balloon flew away.

Our main observation is that the balloon doesn’t resist the wind. We got some data and videos and can say that the balloon is a good idea. It can replace a drone to study the atmosphere. It could be used with spectrometer to study the ground, with water radars or even to calculate the dust amount in Mars’ atmosphere which could be important to plan EVAs.



The deployment of the Martian seismometer and acquisition system was quite laborious, because of the gloves and the spacesuit weight, which really reduces the precision of movement. The fog in the helmets also damages precision. Regarding data collection, we could do it without any problem.

However, the weather influenced the acquisition, because the sensor has moved several times, though slightly. We were unfortunately limited in the depth of our acquisition zone, because it was difficult to dig manually, especially with the spacesuit’s weight, which is an additional difficulty.

The data collected is coherent in terms of spectrum of the measures, which is quite satisfying. Further analysis would be needed, but the main goal of the experiment – deployment of the material by astronauts – was met with success.


Optinvent AR Glasses

This is the third Supaero crew to take with us the Optinvent glasses. This year we had the new ORA-2 version.

We were able to use movements of the glasses in order to take voice recordings and pictures.

Movement detection works, but there are few movements available, and a compromise must be found between the ease to trigger the action in the spacesuit, and the fact that it could be accidentally done.

We used the AirDroid App in order to monitor the glasses from inside the Hab, as long as they were in range of the Hab. We were able to see from inside what the astronaut was seeing, screenshot these pictures, and download files from the glasses. This was particularly useful for the engineering check results.

We failed to implement control of the glasses from a phone on the arm through Bluetooth, because of software problems. But this solution should be ready in the future, when we should be using in an optimized manner the different means of control (motion detection, touchscreen, vocal control, eye tracking).

All applications use Bluetooth or local networks, no need for an internet connection.

The new generation of glasses are lighter, easier to use, with good visibility and battery life.

As this technology matures, it will probably be implemented on actual EVA helmets, maybe as a heads-up display, but with significant resemblance to what we are doing with the glasses.


Navigation by Sextant

The sextant experiment conducted by Arthur was developed to help astronauts find their position, given that it is impossible to use a magnetic compass on Mars and there is not likely to be a GNSS constellation around the planet at the beginning of its manned exploration.

The material needed was a marine sextant, a color map, a notebook and pen. Arthur uses the sextant horizontally to measure two angles of sight between three reference points in the landscape. The position of the point must be known accurately on the map. After the measurement, Arthur notes the two angular values and the points associated on the notebook. Inside the Hab, using geometry, it is easy to find the position of the astronauts on the map.

We took the sextant during every EVA Arthur took part in. Doing measurements on the seismometer spot, we obtained precision of two to three meters, which is better than the usual 5-meter accuracy of the GPS. The most valuable lesson of this experiment is that the sextant was very ergonomic in the spacesuit: it has no lens so one can use it at 20 cm of his eye; the moving part is easy to handle with gloves and the angular dial is readable even through helmet fog.

The experiment was a success, since the sextant is handy in spacesuit and we were able to find our location afterward with a high accuracy. It seems possible for future Mars explorers to use this navigation method.


Aquapad – Water quality monitoring

This experiment provided us with an easy way to monitor the bacterial pollution of our drinking water. Water can stay for many days in our different tanks, thus bacteria can grow in there. The Aquapad system was developed by the CNES (French space agency) and is currently used aboard the ISS by French astronaut Thomas Pesquet. It is composed of spaceproof Petri dishes, syringes and a tablet application for picture analysis and recording.

At the beginning, we took three samples: tap water, water from the jug water filter and from the electric kettle. The bacteria grew on the agar media and showed up as red dots behind the sealed glass. We then took pictures of the bacterial colonies with the tablet and the application counted the red dots. Unsurprisingly, there was no difference between tap and filtered water (the jug water filter removes many common impurities but cannot cope with microbes). The Aquapad results were that the water could be considered healthy. The real difference was between these two waters and the boiled one: there was not one red dot in the third Petri dish, which proves that all the bacteria had been killed in the process.

When looking at the results of our study, it seems that the bacterial pollution remained roughly constant during the whole mission. It was a very simple and quick way to monitor such a critical matter, and could be generalized to non-space applications.


Vegidair – indoors Vegetable Garden

Victoria brought an autonomous vegetable garden created by a French start-up called Vegidair. She installed this Vegidair in the living room of the Hab so everyone could see it and our new vegetables. When we opened the Vegidair after the long trip from Earth to Mars, we discovered it was cracked. We fixed it with sealant. Victoria planted some lettuces and some roquettes. and decided to plant the same seeds, with the same fertilizer, in the same pots and put this in the GreenHab to compare the growth between a natural way and with the Vegidair system.  We really believe that it had a positive psychological effect on the team to see our fresh food growing in the Hab. Victoria is leaving her little Vegidair here for the next crews. and hopes they will take care of it and enjoy the fresh lettuces and roquettes it will produce.


Physical Training

Physical activities have been done through a particular training made with Cyril Vieu, responsible of the physical trainings at INSEP (Institut National du Sport, de l’Expertise et de la Performance) and with Frederic Bouriat, physiotherapist and member of the AKEF (Association des Kinésithérapeutes des Equipes de France). At the beginning, I was supposed to do this training alone but my crew kindly proposed to join me for the entire simulation.

The training is quite simple, made of three sessions each week composed by the same simple exercises. This activity had a very positive impact on the health of the crew each day. It forced us to wake up early and was a moment where everybody was together. To make the planning, I followed some rules I had set up before reaching the station, respecting rest days and taking EVAs into account. Everybody has progressed during the three weeks. Sunday of the second week was the only day we didn’t do the physical training because everybody was really tired and needed to rest.

This experiment has helped improve team building, maintain the physical health and it represented a fresh start each day. The program is really well made as it fits everyone despite the different physical capacities and moreover, it really allowed me to follow everybody’s performances. – Simon, HSO



It took Mouadh some time to get used to the astronomy and astrophotography instruments, but he finally managed to take some great pictures of the sky. He believes the guides written by Peter are crystal clear. Unfortunately, the weather conditions were not favorable half of time, but he could make 8 observations in total, which is more than was expected. He discovered an entire universe, and now definitely wants to know more.

Objects viewed: Orion Nebulae, Betelgeuse, Jupiter (and moons), Sirius, Andromeda Galaxy, Saturn (and moons), Moon, Mars, Venus, Pleiades.


Journalist activities

As we had a “full-time journalist” this year, Louis Mangin, only one person managed every type of communication. We tried to focus on making daily journalist report as accessible and detailed as possible, written both in French and in English, with eye-catching pictures, to allow our relatives to share it easily, to gain notoriety, to spread through social medias and discussions. We received a lot of attention from French media. We also worked hard on a rotation video, which is not finished yet. We tried to build a wide quality photo bank, with panoramic views, aerial pictures from the balloon, to be able to reuse it for communication purposes for the year to come, also to gain interest from a wider public.

Emergency Procedures

Accidents happen in everyday life on Earth, and usually require assistance. This might be a simple sprain, a temporary fatigue or worse, a loss of consciousness. When these critical situations happen, the very first minutes after the incident can be lifesaving.

The same can naturally occur on Mars. The Sol 14 EVA (#13) was then dedicated to these procedures that can save lives. After a short briefing given by Simon and Xavier to our three buddies (Louis Maller, Mouâdh and Arthur) on the lower deck, we carried out the following exercises before the Hab: bringing the patient to sitting position, recovery position, on his back and finally carrying him on the rear of the Rover.

After taking photos and debriefing the different procedures, Xavier and Simon are currently writing an illustrated report summing up the results and the conclusions from this EVA.


NASA Human Factors Survey

During the simulation, we had a survey brought to us by Michigan State University and NASA. It was a personal survey each member filled in with questions about how we feel about our personal interactions within the crew, mission support and “Earth” but also about how we perceive ourselves.

This survey helped us reconsider what we did or how we felt each day. Each time, we did it in the evening, after dinner. It took us approximately thirty minutes each time and we needed to be really focused. Occasionally, some of us could not filled it, exhausted by a long and busy day.

We all think that this study will give a lot of data about how a crew like ours currently works. It could be very interesting as our crew is composed of people knowing each other well. The results will probably be far from more classic crews and might answer important questions about team strategies.


Other Tasks

Here are some of the other activities done in the Hab during the rotation:


GreenHab care

Victoria’s second goal was to take care of the GreenHab. Every day she went two or three times in the GreenHab tending to the plants. She noted the temperatures and the humidity rates in the tunnel and in the GreenHab. She watered twice a day and when she harvested a lettuce or some radishes she planted new ones. The next crews will have several nice lettuces in the Hab and in the GreenHab.


Backpack troubleshooting

When we arrived at MDRS, backpacks #2 and #3 weren’t working. Xavier took care of this and fixed them up. About #2, it was simply the ground wire of the charger connector (inside the backpack) which was loose and had to be reconnected. Concerning #3, the electrical joint linking the wire from the external switch and the one to the battery was broken. Therefore, the battery was fully charged but we weren’t able to switch it on. In the end, we had 6 working backpacks (out of 6).


3D printer troubleshooting

We intended to see if the 3D printer was up and running, in case we needed to print some spare parts for our different experiments or for the Hab. We found it in a sorry state. Some of the material was missing (USB flash card, quick start guide, spatula…). The plastic cartridge wasn’t operational. It was fixed, but some other issues remained:

– The printing head seems unable to melt the plastic correctly;

– The knobs supporting the printing plate are damaged, one of them is not usable for calibration anymore;

– The printing plate itself seems damaged, its surfaced scraped.


Radio Troubleshooting

When we arrived at MDRS, 6 talkies were functional out of 9. We fixed up the 2 first non-functional talkies at Sol 6 and ended up with 8 functional radios (out of 9).

We also tried to build a two-way radio relay system by using two talkies, on VOX on two different channels, but tests showed the limits of this system, which was too unstable.


Power system troubleshooting

Since the beginning of the simulation, we’ve been experiencing power being drained from the batteries when the generator was turned off.

At the end of the Sol 5 troubleshooting session, thinking that one of the two solar arrays circuit was open, we came up with the following strategy: while waiting for the solar arrays contractor to come over and try to fix this up, we’ll have kept the generator on in order to prevent batteries from being drained their power.

During two days of troubleshooting (Sol 9 and 10), the generator had been running (and keeping batteries 100% charged), setting the batteries voltage high enough and the sun had been pushing the solar panels to power the batteries at an even higher voltage. These 2 reasons naturally led to shut down two thirds of the PV arrays via the PT-100 Charge Controllers.

Finally, Xavier assumed that, since the PV arrays have been installed, they got through some mysterious “incidents” making them unable to hold up the batteries (even during full daylight). This forced the auto-start of the generator to turn it ON and made it run for a time period exceeding the “Max Run Time” (implemented in this generator controller). Since then, this auto-start has never worked again.


Engineering check document

Given the number of tasks to do and of data to collect during the pre-EVA engineering check, Xavier set up an EVA Engineering Check document. The final version of this Excel file, filled in by the HabCom of the corresponding EVA, is split in 5 sheets, containing instructions and a data synthesizing table:

  • Before: It allows to check that everything which will be used during the EVA is ready, and also aims to check EVA participants are correctly and safely geared up.
  • Start: This sheet consists of all the tasks to do before the actual EVA can start: check various systems readings. As time is precious during an EVA, this procedure has been optimized so the two pairs of EVA participants can complete it in the shortest time possible.
  • End: At the end of the EVA, some checks are necessary about the vehicles used during the activity. THE sheet also aims to prevent EVA participants from forgetting EVA equipment in the vehicles;
  • After: this sheet allows to check everything is back in its place after the EVA.
  • Report: This last sheet gathers all the data needed to fill in the Operations Report.


Xavier drew a special attention to get this document through all the crew members so he could make it as understandable, efficient and straightforward as possible. In the future, it aims to be used by every crew member, even the non-Crew Engineer.


Tunnel extension building

When we arrived at the MDRS, we noticed the great work that had been done covering the tunnel. The idea was to improve the feeling of immersion in simulation. Still, the tunnel was not hiding the view from the engineering airlock’s doorstep. That is why we decided to intervene.

The day before the beginning of our mission, we assembled some pieces of fence in the form of a wall around the engineering airlock, prolonging the tunnel to the static tank. We covered it with a large plastic sheet and attached it with ropes and metal wire. It was our first teamwork and we were quite efficient, finishing it within a few hours.

The wall held on for a dozen Sols, but finally we had to recover the plastic sheet to prevent the strong wind from tearing it apart. The fence is still in place, materializing the pressurized area.


Water consumption monitoring

Since water is maybe the most important resource on Mars, we set a water consumption monitoring study.

On a daily basis, we collected several data to compare their share in the total daily consumption. We noticed that one third of our daily consumption was gone with the flushes (2 gallons per flush) and only 10% dedicated to showers. The other measured water consumptions have been the jugs of filtered water to drink and the water used to fill the Greenhab watering can. We figured out that more than 50% was gone through food rehydration, dish washing and smaller things (teeth and hand washing, coffee and tea).


BBC interview

The BBC came to the Hab on Monday 27th February, to complete a documentary regarding missions to Mars. They came in at 9 am, and our guest was already wearing a spacesuit. He spent the day respecting simulation rules. After a briefing, we went on EVA, and we showed him the seismology experiment, did some exploration north of the Hab on the Grey Moon site. After getting back to the Hab, we had lunch together, discussing the mission and Mars exploration.



We are glad that we could carry out our science program and all the other tasks that we faced in the station, grateful for the analog environment and protocols that allow us to experiment as much as possible what it would be like on Mars.

This three-week rotation was filled with interesting lessons, and allowed us to know a lot of different aspects of the station and to explore our environment, with different kinds of weather. The crew enjoyed the variety of Martian landscapes we were able to discover. Living and working together was an interesting challenge, and the crew managed to overcome it successfully, despite crewmembers having very different personalities. We were united by our desire for this mission to be a success as a crew. We experienced the need for some rest days after the first two-weeks, which is just one example of the lessons that having three-weeks instead of two have taught us. We are very grateful to the Mars Society and MDRS Mission Support Team for having awarded us this extended rotation, that also allowed us to carry out more complex experiments, and feel the results of confinement and isolation a bit better. The crew still thinks that time flew by quite fast!

We would also like to thank Mission Support for their presence, support and reactivity during our mission.

Credit goes to our crowdfunding donors, Colas, the Mars Society, Association Planète Mars (French chapter of the Mars Society), our university ISAE-SUPAERO, the ISAE-SUPAERO Foundation, Staneo, Optinvent, Vegidair, ISAE-SUPAERO Space Systems Laboratory, CNES and VittaSciences, for having supported this mission, making it possible for our crew to join the MDRS 2016-2017 season.

We also thank all the experts that have helped us prepare our various experiments during this mission.

We are hoping that next season will see another crew of Supaero space engineers take part in the MDRS adventure!