Crew 101 Research Objectives and Plans

MDRS Crew 79 has set forth an ambitious research effort for our rotation, slated for 13 March through 26 March 2011. The crew's engineering and science experiments are detailed on this page. Projects will continue to be updated and added through the beginning of the mission.

1.  Engineering

1.1.   Radio-based Voice and Data Communication Corrections and Enhancements

This proposal seeks to continue the effort of previous Georgia Tech crews by providing reliable communications between an EVA team and its base. Crew 101 will use prior studies from past crews to determine what worked well and what fell short of the MDRS crew needs. This crew will attempt to improve the communication system previously established by ensuring power is maintained and also experimenting with placement of equipment and its range.

Based on the experience gained from these prototypes, Crew 101 will use the same set-up as previous crews in order to correct previous issues and establish a reliable communication system. Interviews held with members of previous missions will outline the needs for modification of the communication system. Aspects of the system that performed well will be kept in the new system as much as possible unless, through the course of a redesign, an improved method is found. The interviews will also allow mission members to provide useful insights and input into the redesign so that their needs and desires are included.

This crew will test links established between Kenwood TH-D7A APRS enabled radios and attached GPS units on each space suit, a pair of deployable APRS and voice repeaters using a Kenwood TM-D700A for the digital repeater, and two Icom IC-W32A radios for a cross band repeater. Figure 1 diagrams the previous and current system. The system, as designed, will help establish improved surveying and mapping missions of the terrain through the automatic position reports forwarded to the habitat module via the APRS data links. Figures 2 and 3 show the mapping possible, especially with the combination of the data and Google Earth in Figure 3.

No additional radio equipment is necessary, however, a voltmeter will be secured in order to keep a log of battery power to ensure power is not lost during an extra-vehicular excursion (EVA). Interviews with past crew members indicated that equipment had failed due to a lack of necessary power. The goal is to have less dependence on only battery power, which requires an exploration team to retrieve the batteries at regular intervals for charging. A combination solar and battery power system will be constructed to provide long service time for the repeater. A solar panel from the Hab will be used to aid this generation of power on the hilltop. Battery power will be tracked and recharged as needed.

As seen in the past, placement and power supplies may limit operation and range. The digipeater will be placed strategically and range will be measured to see how far the explorers can go before communication is lost. Equipment may be moved to different locations for testing. This will provide data for future missions.

Sponsorship was secured in past years with the Kenwood Corporation, Amateur Radio division, which produces the TM-D7A handheld and TM-D700 mobile data radio. These units have been used at MDRS in the past, and are directly compatible with the Amateur Packet Reporting System (APRS) as designed by Robert Bruninga, WB4APR, of the United States Naval Academy. The Kenwood radios and APRS system has seen extensive use at MDRS during several crews for tracking of EVA teams, digital messaging and voice communication.

The APRS protocol allows for arbitrary data transfer formats in addition to position and message formats. This is suitable for adding telemetry devices in the field that can report back to the mission members and beyond. Some remote sensors suggested for use are sunlight intensity sensors, temperature sensors, and radiation sensors. These can be interfaced to the APRS system by way of an OpenTracker APRS telemetry interface from Argent Data Systems, a BASIC Stamp from Parallax (if needed by the sensor to digitize the data), and an inexpensive handheld radio such as the Kenwood TH-K2AT. Together, a full one-way telemetry system can be added to the many tools available to mission members for remotely monitoring their environment.

Radiocommunications system
Figure 1: Radiocommunications system based on Amateur Radio

Surveying and Mapping
Figure 2: Surveying and Mapping

Google Earth
Figure 3: Visualization in Google Earth

1.2.   Mineral Analysis and Extremophile Study

During our tour, we will conduct mineral and soil analysis at various sites and depths to search for plausible nucleobases, intercalators, as well as potential extremophiles and alternative-use bacteria. We will focus on visualizing the nucleobases, adenine, purine and cytosine from prepared stock solutions using thin-layer chomotography (TLC) and paper chromotography to develop a standardized Rf (retardation factor) which we will use throughout our experiments for the remainder of the trip.
If extremophiles or alternative-use organisms are found, we may consider performing an onsite polymerase chain reaction of the genetic material of the organisms. If no analytical methods are available for the reactions described, samples will be purified and retained for analysis when we return to a facility with appropriate analytical capabilities.
Soil samples will be collected from the areas of the Mars surface most likely to currently or recently have liquid water, such as in the inner channels of the Nanedi Valles or the gulleys of the crater Newton. In addition, the team will identify regions on the Mars surface likely to harbor pools where nucelobases and intercalators may have had the ability to accumulate, polymerize, and potentially lead to the evolution of extremophiles. The most appropriate areas for investigation will be determined and coordinated when the Crew is on site in Spring. In addition, sites will be well photographed prior to sample retrieval. All samples will be marked according to date, location, and time of day collected.
Due to limited analytical instruments on site, analysis of minerals and plausible nucleobases will be performed using thin-layer chromatography (TLC) and paper chromatography. Permitting resources, on-site DNA extractions from extremophiles or alternative-use bacteria found, and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) may also be performed.
Full Write Up of Experiment(PDF)

1.2.   Aerohasing & Low Altitude Aerial Photography as an Exploration Pattern (XKCD Mars)

Exploration patterns generally focus on choosing an interesting portion of terrain to focus study upon; however, some extremely interesting features can easily escape even the most diligent plan. This proposal suggests using a randomly generated, yet verified coordinate to be the focus for exploratory parties.

The coordinates are generated daily with the input of the date and the most recent opening of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. These numbers are run through an MD5 cryptography algorithm, which generates two hexadecimals that are then are converted to decimal. An exploratory boundary is defined, and the decimals determine the point by modifying the normalized latitude and longitude from the base value. This technique was adapted from that of geohashing, by Randall Monroe. The benefits of using the Dow and date as inputs for coordinates are that each coordinate is verifiable at any point in the future, while still being completely random. The randomization term could also be changed in order to remove reliance on communication for the excursion attempts.

To augment these expeditions, low altitude aerial photography will be performed at each site and at any geologically significant site passed along the route. These photos could be used to create a higher definition topological view of the MDRS site, and if compared between missions, used to observe significant amounts of erosion at the site due to wind. This portion of the experiment will require at least one kite to mount a modified camera on, though more would be ideal in order to be prepared for varying wind conditions. The camera would be modified to run CHDK, an alternative firmware, so the photographer could use one of a number of scripts to take ideal photos for the day of the expedition.

In addition to these photos, firsthand accounts will be recorded describing the journey to the generated destination. These accounts would illustrate ideal or attempted methods of bypassing obstacles, notes on geologically significant regions, and any other useful anecdotes. The ultimate goal is to create an electronic mash-up any presently available MDRS maps that could be enhanced with these notes and photographs.

To prove randomness, the algorithm was used to place a red dot at each point generated. No pattern emerged.