Earth Notes: Martian Home-Away-From-Home: Mars Desert Research Station

May 20, 2020

When seeking a terrestrial equivalent to the Red Planet, the Mars Society chose the red rock country of Utah and a site half-way between Capitol Reef and Canyonlands National Parks. In 2001, the Colorado-based non-profit established their Mars Desert Research Station just outside the tiny town of Hanksville, Utah.

The Mars Desert Research Station, near Hanksville, Utah
Credit The Mars Society


Surrounded by isolated, Mars-like terrain, they built a research facility which includes an eight-meter diameter cylindrical structure called "The Hab", comprising an exterior airlock, bathroom facilities and an area to prepare for simulated Extra Vehicular Activities, using a small fleet of electric ATV's. A rear airlock leads to five other structures.

One the Hab's upper deck is a common work and living area, fully operational kitchen and bunks - all tight spaces. 

Over the last two decades, around 220 crew and over 1,200 participants have carried out a series of two-week simulated Mars missions during field seasons lasting from October through May. Other than the blue sky and occasional jets flying overhead, it's easy to forget you're on Earth once a simulation begins. the 6-8 person crew has a day for training, then the doors are closed, signaling their "arrival" on Mars.

After that, the crew only go outside wearing simulated space suits - not quite full NASA models, bug designed to feel like the real thing, with inbuilt communications. Team members carry out research on everything from emergency medical procedures to collecting geological samples. 

Gaining valuable insights on living an isolated lifestyle and working in cramped quarters may help prepare future off-world explorers for a life far from home.