In 2013 Kiwi school kids had the rare opportunity to follow a mock Mars Mission at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in the Utah desert for the duration of two weeks.

Education Log-MDRS

The following log is written to give a record of what type of questions were being asked by the students and teachers who interacted with the crew in SIM. The method of communication was via “Chatroll” an online tool of instant messaging.

Early morning sky at MDRS

Chat Log Te Awamutu College - edited

Questions from studentsReplies from the crew of TasMars

How different is gravity on Mars to Earth, and what effects does that have on the human body?

Gravity on Mars is about 1/3 of Earth. It's less than Earth but more than the Moon. We know we can do things on the Moon But after a long space journey to Mars, it will be really hard on the astronauts. They will feel weak arriving on Mars, and even risk broken bones from bone density loss in zero gravity.

Are martian rocks similar to Earth rocks?

There are some rocks on Earth that are very similar. Mars once had water so there are similar kinds of rocks, also Mars had volcanoes, so there are volcanic rocks. But Mars hasn't had surface water for over 3 billion years, so that makes rocks different.

Is it worth a manned mission to Mars or can a rover do better?

We don't know enough about how what humans perceive compared to rovers. That has actually been part of our work here. Human eyes can detect and analyse amazing things, some of which may be hard to detect with instruments.

Is there a way to make Mars livable to humans?

Mars is only likely to be liveable for humans anytime soon in a habitat like the one we are in. But you could be very comfortable in a good habitat on Mars. You’d have to contend with radiation, toxic atmosphere and cold though.

What about latest facts about water on Mars?

Mars definitely has water. But because of the lack of atmosphere, any ice sublimes directly to gas. Most of it is underground and frozen, although we also think that there may be liquid water underground.

So was water actually found there?

We have seen evidence for water from satellites and in the geology.

Are there any planned spots to land like Gale crater?

Gale crater was one of eight spots seriously considered for the Curiosity landing, many of which have been studied less, so there are plenty of other interesting spots to go.

What are the weather pattern like?

Mars has seasons like us and like us is warmer at the equator and colder at the poles. Mars is windy but the atmosphere is thin so it wouldn't feel like wind on Earth.

If life is found on Mars how long will it take before general public know about it?

I’m not sure, but the main thing that would slow the release of information down is that the scientists will want to verify their evidence.

How long will it take to go to Mars using modern rockets?

It took 8 months for Curiosity to get there, but we think we would aim to get people there in about 6 months.

Are there any microbes on Mars that were brought by Curiosity or other probes?

We don't know of any microbes brought by landers. There was some work on the Viking lander in the 1970s where they looked at the likely levels of contamination, and concluded that some microbes might be associated with it. Earth microbes are unlikely to survive the radiation levels on the Mars surface though.

Are there traces of oxygen on Mars?

Yes there is oxygen on Mars. In the atmosphere it is less than 1%, negligible really.

What would be the cost of manned expedition to Mars?

It would run into the billions. Curiosity cost 2.5 billion, but it would cost more to send people. Only a few days of war in Irag though.

If you plant trees on Mars will that create a higher percentage of oxygen?

One of the biggest problems for life on Mars is the radiation levels, as Mars doesn't have an ozone layer or much atmosphere. So far, trees wouldn't survive. But in a habitat, you could grow trees to produce oxygen.

Who do you think will go first to Mars Russians or Americans? Will it be Shuttle or a rocket?

It will be a rocket, since the shuttle is no longer flying. Opinions differ, but it could easily be an international group.

What temperature is Mars?

The highs at the equator get to 20 degrees C , but winter is very cold especially at the poles, carbon dioxide freezes. The average temperature on Mars is below zero, and often it gets colder than Antarctica.

How do the radiation levels differ from that on Earth?

They are really high compared to Earth. That's one of the big problems for astronauts going to Mars -and any life on Mars.

If people travelled to Mars would the close confines cause them to go insane a bit, being only in contact with certain people?

Long confinement with a small group of people can be really hard, but they are doing experiments on that by having people in confinement for over a year. People cope for long periods on the International Space Station.

Is it the truth that Russians were ready to send people to Mars in 70th but after the death of Sergey Korolev no one was able to complete his project?

Yes he did want to go to Mars, but it was the Russian Moon missions that were disrupted because of his death.

My mum wants to know, do you guys argue a lot?

We never argue - we haven't had one argument. But we are an awesome crew.

What foods do you consume there?

We eat dehydrated food,freezed dried food and some really concentrated food. Check out my reports on the Kiwispace webiste, I have even posted recipes.

Do you enjoy that food?

We all enjoy the food. People keep complaining about weight gain from all the good food.

If they create an artifical habitat on Mars how long could it last and how much would it cost?

It would be self-sustaining and initially cost many billions, but over time the cost will decrease.

Can you see Nibiru from Mars?

You can see Earth, Phobos, Deimos, Jupiter, Saturn and Mercury from Mars with the naked eye.

How is water recycled and purified on the station?

Here, we have fairly limited water purification and recycling. On a real Mars base,everything, including urine, would be recycled.

But on real station? Could urine be recycled to drinking water?

There is someone at NASA Ames working on water recycling that includes urine recycling.

Do you have height restrictions for austronauts?

Yes, but they are quite broad. Probably not many basketball players going to Mars though.

Will the public know if by chance you will find an intellegent life on Mars?

Yes, the public will hear, probably pretty quickly. It might take a while to be sure that it isn't a mistake though.

Is nuclear power a viable option for propulsion?

Yes, Curiosity is powered by nuclear power, but not fission.

Is Mars better than Uranus?

Uranus has a lot more gas!

Question from MDRS to Te Awamutu College: any of you want to be astronauts and go to Mars?

Two so far!

Martian skies at MDRS on Day 10

"This is an exciting opportunity for students around the country to talk to real scientists doing real exploratory work at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah," said Kiwispace Education Coordinator Haritina Mogosanu. A crew member on two previous MDRS missions and Flight Director for TasMars, Mogosanu said "students don't need a passion for Mars, just a passion for knowledge".

"The varied work done by the crews at MDRS covers human interaction, geology and geography, palaeontology  nutrition, engineering, biosecurity and more," she said. "There are so many areas of the New Zealand science curriculum covered."

The TasMars 2013 Team - following on from last year's KiwiMars mission - was stationed at MDRS two-week analogue mission to study planetary science, engineering, biosecurity and human factors at the mock Mars base.

Two members of the crew (David Willson and Jen Blank) are from NASA AMES Research Center in the heart of Silicon Valley in California. Willson is an Australian engineer working on future Mars sample return instrument concepts. Blank is a geochemist and member of the Mars Science Laboratory science team working with the Curiosity rover that landed on Mars last August. The other two members are Melanie Newfield, a biosecurity manager at New Zealand's Ministry for Primary Industries, and Emma Braegen, an aeronautical engineer from Australia working for BAE Systems.

Courtesy of the KiwiSpace Foundation, all schools around New Zealand have a chance to interact live with the team at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) via the mission's chat facility page

The TasMars crew will remain at the base until 10 February. 

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