Posted 08/25/04 - Updated 11/15/2004


November 22, 2004 - Initial Project Feasibility Findings
November 22, 2004 - First Call for MDRS Moon Mission #1 Crew Volunteers


photo of the Mars Hab in its surrounding landscape


Project Status:

This project is in the initial brainstorming stages.

It is something that could be both exciting and fruitful, if done right.

But that will require a lot of preparation.


Project Background:

The Mars Desert Research Station in Hanksville, south central Utah,[interactive zoom in/out map] has proved very productive. M.D.R.S. is the second Mars Society Analog Research Station, the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station, F.M.A.R.S., on Devon Island in Canada's arctic north being the first. While the latter is located in terrain more analogous to what we expect on Mars, its operable season is only six weeks long. The Utah location allows several months of operation.

Because of those limitations, time is much more precious at the Arctic outpost, and talent and expertise requirements more exacting. It is now the practice to accept no application for a 2-week long crew rotation in the Arctic unless the applicant has already served a stint in Utah.

But the Mars Society is having two problems:

  • The first is funding the long season in Utah,
  • The second is finding suitable applicants for the six crew members each crew rotation slot.


M.D.R.S. for Rent?

The Mars Society is soliciting proposals to rent out the Utah Outpost
  • to other interested groups for two-week long stints.
  • The suggested price is $7,000 for a 6 person crew for 2 weeks, no food or transportation included.

For us, the salient facts are these:

  • The Moon Society can not afford at this time to design, build and deploy its own analog station, though that is our long term goal. (Project LETO)
  • The Moon Society may also not want to pay for a two-week stint at M.D.R.S. out of its General Operating Reserves.
  • If we design a well-thought out plan to use M.D.R.S. in a way that will provide useful experience and knowledge,
  • We should be able to raise this amount of funding from any number of interested sponsors.


The First Step - Designing a Program

The terrain surrounding the Utah M.D.R.S. is very suggestive of Mars, in coloration certainly. But colors can be ignored, or forgiven.

We need to design an outpost simulation program that would concentrate on operations that will be unique or special to outposts on the Moon. Join Team

What would that include that does not also apply to Mars? That is important to determine, because we can let our presently better funded friends in the Mars Society take care of simulating those operations that are valid for both worlds. After all, why reinvent the wheel, unless we determine that some of their findings need independent validation.

Some top-of-the-head Suggestions

Testing Outpost Habitat Ergonomics

The crew should note what inside operations could benefit from more elbow room, or need less than provided. What activities could be better placed together or better separated. It may be that all F.M.A.R.S. and M.D.R.S. crews to date have worked on the same shift.

Some of the operation simulations we may want to conduct would work better during local nighttime, requiring nighttime sorties. We could try a two shift operation and make notes on whether sound insulation needs to be improved in the crew quarters, which operations of on duty crews are disturbing to off-duty crews, etc.

Simulating the lunar time cycle and its effect on crews and operations

The Mars day is some 39 minutes longer than our own. This seems close enough to our own that there has been no effort to simulate the Martian day/night cycle to determine it's effect on crews. Actually, this could be done elsewhere, in a windowless closed environment, for example.

By such means as covering the windows for a 14 day period, and then in a second two-week stretch shining a flood light into them (and on the surrounding terrain) during the local nights, we could get some of the feel for the lunar cycle. Lighting up the terrain, but not the sky, at night would simulate the high glare surface and pitch dark skies of the lunar dayspan. Would that be worth the effort? At stake: practicing nightspan acclimatization (and dayspan); around the clock 2- or 3-shift operations during the dayspan stressing where possible energy intensive tasks, practicing dayspan power storage for nightspan usage, and lighter schedule, manpower intensive, energy light tasks during the ensuing nightspan.

To do this would require a pair of back to back two week crew rotations, i.e. at double expense.

Simulating Polar Lighting Conditions

At the poles, sunlight will be coming in at or near the horizon, at no more than a degree and a half elevation. That means the slightest depressions will be inky black, and the appearance of the terrain will change radically from 24 hour day to day, the sun shifting clockwise (at the Moon's north pole) or counterclockwise (at the south pole) about 12.5 degrees a day.

By using a strong search light beacon parallel to the ground on moonless or totally overcast nights, we could simulate those conditions. And by sending out "sorties" in the same terrain on successive nights, the searchlight having been shifted appropriately, we can simulate what we would find at the poles and see how easy or difficult it is to cope with. On the airless Moon, with almost no scattered light, the shallowest of shadowed depressions will appear as deep as a bottomless pit. How dangerous are such conditions? How much or how little does it help to have rover headlights of spacesuit helmet lights? How easy is it to lose one's bearings? Could this be a reason to consider the poles an extreme operating environment? Note that using Night Vision Goggles would give misleading results. On the Moon, black is black, the amount of reflected light illuminating shadows being quite minimal.

Shielding Emplacement & Teleoperations:

The Mars crews have not gotten into shielding emplacement or teleoperations of any kind. We could do that by teleoperating (with or without a 3-second time delay) test robotic equipment to pile soil on an inexpensive dummy inflated structure or other type of mock up structure. Shielding is not an issue being addressed in the Mars Society. While it may not be necessary for short term stays, we want to pave the way for transition to settlement.

We could run a prior automated/teleoperated shielding emplacement design competition for most efficient way to cover a pre-landed outpost habitat with a regolith shielding blanket before to the arrival of the first crew. How long it takes is less important than minimizing the mass of the required equipment and maximizing its hardiness and reliability and simplicity of repair. The winning designs could be selected for realistic trials at M.D.R.S. Moon Society expeditions.

Please do send us your suggestions of lunar outpost operations you think we could reasonably simulate in the Utah desert.


Possible Moon Society Outfitting Improvements on M.D.R.S.
Improvements that would enable better simulation exercises for both Moon and Mars Outpost Simulations
If not for right away, then good ideas for follow-on yearly M.D.R.S. rental sessions. They are listed in order of simplest and least expensive to more complex and involved and expensive, by a quick first estimate of what would be involved. We could brainstorm the simplest designs to be fabricated by a small local team that would work for simulation purposes and then cost these out. Possibly such donated improvements to the facility would defray some or all of the "rent." These improvements could be installed off-season. 

Testing various designs for semi-shielded, non-pressurized ramadas, canopies, or hangers that provide "lee" space protection from the cosmic elements of cosmic rays, solar flares, ultraviolet rays, micrometeorite rain, and thermal extremes. Attached lean-to structures would allow explorers to do routine outdoor activities in lighter weight "unhardened" space suits. Simply attaching a semi-peripheral canopy (in real application it would be covered with some shielding but exposed to the lunar vacuum or the thin Martian atmosphere) would allow ongoing simulation operations to determine which activities ought to be carried on in habitat-hugging protected space and how ample a shielded space should be provided for. It might also suggest where similar sheltered but unpressurized storage might be a best solution for other kinds of items such as those infrequently needed, but subject to weather damage.

A prior design competition would identify options that would require the least imported mass, and be able to use elements made of locally processed building materials, and which could be erected with no or minimal human EVA, automatically or by teleoperation. Competition winners could be field tested at M.D.R.S.

Verifying designs of add-on units that allow solar and visual access for shielded habitats. In a real outpost situation on the Moon (or Mars) with radiation protection provided by 2 meters or more of a moondust (regolith) blanket, this is how crews would have visual access to the surroundings and be able to import sunshine inside. Nothing helps fine tune design better than actual real-situation usage. Either option would require a prior visit to M.D.R.S. to make the suitable measurements to insure a good fit. We would not need to do both simulations at the same time The one that required the more elaborate apparatus, probably the solar access unit, could be left for a return visit to Utah in another year.

1) A periscopic picture window unit. This could be temporarily affixed to the outside of one window

2) A heliostat-sunpipe system to follow the sun across the sky and reflect it via outside and inside window attachments into a ceiling mounted sun pipe sunlight distribution grid. Some of the sun-pipe components should be available commercially and would require customized assembly but not customized fabrication. If light concentrating fiber optics where used to channel heliostat gathered sunlight into the habitat, only a small portion of one of the existing windows need be taken over by this system, leaving most of the window for direct visual access to the countryside. The effects of such a system on the moods of the crew would be observed. During cloudy periods, an outside sunlamp could provide the "sunshine" input into the system.

Contributing a 2nd vegetation-assisted waste water primary treatment facility of a different design than the current GreenHab - The experience of our crew(s) and other crews could help perfect this "Modular Biospherics Friendly" technology. This would be an ambitious follow-on project for a second year effort. Designing such a system to be retrofitted in the cramped volume of the main M.D.R.S. structure would be a major challenge. It might be easier to place it in a separate but adjacent structure. It could eventually be integrated with the GreenHab structure/system already in place. There is a home in Houston where such a system, designed by a retired NASA environmental engineer, had been working reliably for over twenty-five years.

Spacesuit-airlock integration - A far more ambitious project would be to design a "turtle back" space suit. To enter the habitat, the wearer would back up to a "conformal" dock contoured to fit the openable turtleback hatch. The dock hatch would engage the turtle back and on a signal, the two would retract into the habitat. The crew person would reach backwards and up to grab a hand bar inside the habitat to pull him/herself out of the suit and into the habitat. The hatch & suit-back would close, and the suit be disengaged to be removed to an exterior storage rack. See illustration below. If we could validate such a system or at least identify the engineering challenges that need to be addressed, we would have laid the groundwork for a system that will (a) help keep dust outside the habitat; and (b) help cut down on nitrogen and oxygen losses through cycling of large volume air locks.

What else could we do that would be useful?

The suggestions above may be too demanding, at least for an early program. What we need to do is have a discussion group that will, with discipline, look at one possibility after the other and come up with a list of doable simulation exercises that

  • (a) are uniquely relevant to Lunar Outposts; or
  • (b) relevant to both Lunar and Martian outposts but have not been addressed by F.M.A.R.S. or M.D.R.S. crews; and
  • (c) are prioritized according to reverse order of difficulty to set up and expected costs. Any of the above "advanced simulation" activities that we enable by providing the needed equipment or systems will help us get a handle on technologies that need further development.

The Bottom Line

  • It is not worth executing a poorly thought out program
  • We will have difficulty finding sponsors for a poorly thought out program.
  • We stand to gain useful knowledge, and to identify technologies that need further development, concentrating on those where potentially profitable terrestrial applications could pay for the needed R&D.

If we can design a good program, for 2 weeks (one crew rotation) or 4 weeks (2 crew rotations) it is a good bet that we can secure funding.

If we can pull it off, we will have advanced the opening of the lunar frontier by that much. Attendant "good" publicity will gain us new support: new members, new funding, new connections.

If we can come up with good follow on programs to run each year, or every other year, that would exciting and productive.

So we have nothing to lose and everything to gain by taking the first step: designing a good and appropriate lunar operations simulation program. Not a penny need be spent until we have completed that homework.


Five near-term goals in sequence

  • (1) Put together a program brainstorming team of interested members and Advisors, Fall 2004
  • (2) Have a program defined by early spring 2005
  • (3) Begin casting the net for sponsors mid spring 2005
  • (4) Secure a crew rotation time slot (or two) later in the 2005 season.
  • (5) Send out requests for members meeting certain qualifications late spring 2005


Join L.U.N.A.-M.D.R.S. Crew # 0
[L.U.N.A. = Lunar Underground Nightspan Anticipator] (a good acronym if we are going to simulate dayspan/nightspan operations.) Your suggestions for what the acronym might stand for are appreciated. Email

Crew # 0, the Program Brainstorming Crew, unlike the actual crews involved in the simulation exercises, is not limited to 6 persons. It is open to any and all who want to help brainstorm and define a good, doable Lunar Outpost Simulation program that stands to provide us with profitable learning experiences.


To join LUNA-MDRS Crew # 0,

1. If you are not a member or your membership has lapsed, please join or renew. If you are rejoining or renewing, please indicate that.

2. Two Ways to Participate:

  • Go to and select Renting Mars Desert Outpost for Lunar Outpost Simulation Exercises
    • You will first need to have selected a user name and password at
    • You can send messages to
    • You can post sketches & photos to your own personal page and email the link, or also join the Yahoo Group below
  • Go to and click "Join this Group" - The advantage of the Yahoo Group is that it will allow team members to post sketches and photos as well as messages in a common location. Messages will be echoed to the Moon Society Team email address above (
    • Then send an email to to notify the moderator that you are applying for group membership. Give your full name and email address.
    • As soon as we can verify your current Moon Society membership status, your membership in the Moon Sims at Mars Desert Station Group will be approved.
    • Check our Yahoo Groups Page for postings that will guide and summarize our progress.
    • You may post sketches, photos, and messages

Getting familiar with the Mars Desert Research Station

M.D.R.S. Information and Links - Check it out!


Mars Desert Research Station in Hanksville, Utah:


Photo of the Mars Hab in its surrounding landscape

The view out of one of the Mars Hab portholes

Photo of an especially Moon-like area nearby

A look inside a crewmember cabin

Daily Field Reports

2003-04 Field Season 3

2002-03 Field Season 2

2001-02 Field Season 1

MDRS Operations Manual

MDRS Habitat Floor Plan

MDRS Surrounding Area Topgraphical Map

MDRS Mission Rules

MDRS Crewmember Packing List - what to bring

MDRS GreenHab & Graywater Treatment System

MDRS Musk Observatory

Geological History of the area around the Mars Desert Station



Copyright © 2000-2009 The Moon Society. All Rights Reserved.
Questions and comments to:

Submit a Request to update this page