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1. What is the purpose of FMARS?
FMARS serves a critical need in the space community by providing a place where protocols, procedures, tools and equipment can be developed and tested in conditions not unlike those expected to be encountered by the first human Mars explorers. Unlike researchers in typical laboratory facilities or in other scientific expeditions in Mars analog environments, crew members who live and work at FMARS are forced into a unique mindset, as if they themselves were exploring the surface of Mars and living in an early Mars habitat. This mindset and environment provide them a unique opportunity to see technical, psychological and programmatic challenges to which they may otherwise be unaware, developing new solutions and testing those solutions first-hand. Only through such first-hand experience can we develop the knowledge that will prove critical for human safety and productivity on the surface of Mars.
2. Where is FMARS?
FMARS is located in the Canadian Arctic in the territory of Nunavut on Devon Island
. Its coordinates are approximately 75° 25′ 52.75″ N, 89° 49′ 24.19″ W
. The location is ~165 km (103 mi) north east of the hamlet of Resolute
, ~1,609 km (1,000 mi) from the Geographic North Pole and ~1,287 km (800 mi) from the Magnetic North Pole. The station is situated on Haynes Ridge, which forms part of the rim of the Haughton Impact Crater
, a 23 km (14 mi) diameter crater formed approximately 39 million years ago.
3. Why is FMARS in the Arctic?
Mars is a cold, dry place with average temperatures well below freezing, ranging from -143 C (-225 F) at the winter polar caps to 27 C (81 F) at the summer equator. Although it does snow on Mars, precipitation is very slight given the low atmospheric pressure and temperature during most times of the year. The environment on Earth that best matches the conditions on Mars is the polar desert, which is located in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. With temperatures ranging from about -30 C (-22 F) in the winter to 10 C (50 F) in the summer and average precipitation less than 250 millimeters, polar deserts can only support sparse vegetation like mosses and lichens. While birds and mammals such as polar bears do live in the area, they are rare on Devon Island. Like its terrestrial analogs, Mars exhibits geomorphic features such as year-round permafrost, polygonal landforms and glacial modification. Mars is covered by craters and impact breccia resulting from billions of years of impact history. The Haughton Crater is the only impact crater on Earth known to exist in an arctic environment and provides further opportunities for comparison to Mars. In addition, the low solar angles experienced year-round in the Arctic simulate the lower solar radiation that Mars experiences due to its greater distance from the sun.
4. Why is the station a cylinder?
The habitat, commonly referred to as “the Hab”, is a 7.7 meter (25ft) tall cylinder that measures 8.3 meters (27 ft) in diameter. Its basic size and design are based on the Mars Direct architecture outlined in the books by Dr. Robert Zubrin that heavily influenced NASA's current Mars Design Reference Mission architecture. Mars Direct calls for the use of heavy lift boosters to launch all Mars exploration equipment and materials off the surface of the Earth, and 8.3 meters (27 ft) is a reasonable diameter for such a booster. The former Saturn V and the proposed Ares V rockets would meet this requirement. The Hab's cylindrical shape is why it is sometimes affectionately referred to as the "tuna can."
5. Why is it named the "Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station"?
One of the major donors who helped fund the FMARS initiative was Charles Stack, who was also a donor to the Mars Society’s Founding Convention. At the time of the creation of FMARS in 1999, Mr. Stack was head of the software development firm Flashline.com. His company donated $175,000 towards the arctic habitat project under the condition that the station be named “Flashline.” Aside from selling the naming rights, the other major source of initial commercial support for the station was in selling media rights. The Discovery Channel paid $200,000 for exclusive TV rights to the station’s activities for the first two years and featured a documentary on its construction and early missions.
6. When was the station established?
The station was officially selected as The Mars Society's first project at its Founding Convention in August 1998. It was manufactured in Colorado between January and June of 2000. The station was transported to the Arctic in segments and assembled in its final location during the month of July 2000. An official inauguration ceremony took place at 9PM on July 28, 2000.
7. How did the station get to Devon Island?
The station’s structure was fabricated in sections in Colorado then transported by truck to Moffett Field, California. There, the sections were loaded onto three C-130 aircraft operated by the U.S. Marine Corps 4th Air Delivery Battalion. These C-130 aircraft transported the station’s segments to the Arctic, where the Marines paradropped them onto Devon Island. One parachute failed to deploy, sending its payload crashing to the ground where it was destroyed, forcing some resourceful ingenuity to achieve the successful completion of the station's construction on time. For a more complete account of the construction of the station, please visit the FMARS Wikipedia Entry
10. How does the crew get to Devon Island?
8. What research is performed at FMARS?
Research at FMARS involves geological, geophysical, biological, climatological, and technological surface exploration activities, as well as human factors research related to the physical and psychological effects on an isolated crew. These are conducted under constraints similar to those expected by the first pioneers who will visit the Red Planet. For more information, please visit our dedicated Research Page
9. How often does the Mars Society send crews to FMARS?
In its early years of operation, FMARS missions occurred every summer. In recent years, participating crews have visited FMARS every other year.
Crew members fly from their respective home towns to the Hamlet of Resolute Bay in Nunavut, Canada by way of commercial passenger airline. This typically involves flights through either Yellowknife or Iqaluit. After arriving in Resolute Bay (located on the southern tip of Cornwallis Island
), the crew checks in to the South Camp Inn
where they stay for a few days. There they assemble equipment and supplies and conduct any needed final training. When weather allows, the crew travels to Devon Island by way of Twin Otter aircraft (typically chartered with Kenn Borek Air
). The Twin Otters land on a dirt airstrip located a short distance away from FMARS, between it and the HMP camp.
19. How does the crew stay safe on Devon Island?
11. What is it like living in FMARS?
Living in the FMARS habitat is similar to camping in a RV in some respects. Crewmembers enjoy protection from the elements in a strong building and have access to basic amenities like running water, electricity, and gas for heating and cooking. However, unlike RV camping, there are no convenient hookups for these services. Instead, crewmembers must gather water from a nearby stream and purify it, tote wastewater away from the Hab, keep diesel generators running for power, and burn all trash, including human excrement. Just like on the International Space Station, about half of the crewmembers’ time is spent diligently performing daily maintenance of the station’s systems to keep them functioning properly. To improve the mission simulation’s fidelity, the 2007 long-duration mission included a full-time support person who was not officially “in-sim” in order to take some of the maintenance burden off the crew members.
12. How realistic is FMARS?
FMARS missions are not high fidelity in that the habitat and EVA systems are not actual prototypes being tested for eventual use on Mars and that crewmembers must routinely break the simulation in order to keep the Hab systems running (collect water, burn trash, refuel generators, etc.). Instead, the value of the missions is in evaluating how a human crew can live and work together under conditions similar to a Mars mission in order to develop exploration procedures and mitigation countermeasures that could be applied in a Mars setting one day. Some procedures followed by crews help make the mission simulations more realistic too. For example, crewmembers agree to follow a strict policy of restricting communication with “Earth” by imposing a 20-minute delay to simulate the extra travel time it takes for electromagnetic signals to travel from Earth to Mars. On the 2007 long-duration mission, crewmembers actually followed a 24-hour 37-minute daily cycle to better simulate the conditions of living on Mars.
13. What's involved in conducting a Mars Simulation at FMARS?
Simulating a Mars exploration mission is a complicated task that requires the efforts and resources of various individuals and organizations. The bulk of the funding and support resources are provided by the Mars Society and supplemented by the crew members and other volunteers
Approximately one year prior to an expedition to FMARS, the Mars Society lays out a schedule and budget for the mission and begins forming preliminary objectives and selecting Mission Support staff. Crew member applications are generally accepted about 6-9 months prior to the mission and selected crew notified of their selection approximately 3-5 months prior to departure.
Selected crew members spend the months prior to the mission getting to know each other and familiarizing themselves with the mission objectives, logistics, and safety protocol. Crew-led experiments are planned and hardware is sought and secured. Crew members collect and pack personal supplies such as mattress rolls, heavy winter coats, hiking boots, and portable electronics for the expedition.
Approximately one month prior to departure, the Mars Society arranges for delivery of fuel barrels, groceries, ATVs, spacesuits, and medical supplies to Resolute Bay for the crew to carry as cargo to Devon Island. Equipment and supplies required for Hab maintenance are also provided. The Mars Society also arranges chartered flights onboard Twin Otter aircraft for crew and cargo transport from Resolute Bay to Devon Island.
A few days before the scheduled sim start, the crew arrives in Resolute Bay with their personal supplies. The Twin Otter flights transport crew and cargo to Devon Island in stages sometimes spread across several days depending on weather conditions.
The crew typically spends a little over one month on Devon Island, although missions have been as long as four months in the past. The first several days or so of the mission is devoted to pre-simulation or ‘out-of-sim’ tasks such as Hab maintenance, ATV practice, and spacesuit refurbishing.
Once maintenance is complete, the crew enters the in-simulation period which extends until shortly before departure from Devon Island. During this time, the crew adheres to rules such as simulated communications delay back to ‘Earth’ and wearing spacesuits outside at all times.
Upon completion of the simulation period, the crew performs closeout and Hab safeing tasks before packing up and leaving the Hab unattended for several months until the next crew arrives. Twin Otter return flights from Devon Island to Resolute Bay are weather-dependent as well, so it is crucial for the Hab to remain in contact with personnel in Resolute to maintain awareness of the latest flight schedule.
Once the crew returns to Resolute, they head back to the South Camp Inn for a couple of days until their commercial plane arrives in Resolute and they head back to their regular lives. Debriefing continues for several months post-mission in order to wrap up experiment results, reports, and publications based on data collected during the mission.
Each crew member is responsible for his/her own flight arrangements and expenses to and from Resolute Bay, Nunavut, Canada. The choreography of reaching this northernmost (75 deg N latitude) commercially-serviced airport in North America is complicated and expensive. Flights from ‘nearby’ Iqaluit or Yellowknife airports occur only a few times per week and are highly dependent on the arctic weather conditions.
Crew members aim to arrive in Resolute Bay a few days prior to the scheduled departure of the Twin Otter flights because of the risk of adverse weather conditions delaying one or more legs of the flight. The crew members are housed in Resolute Bay at the local South Camp Inn while they await their departure to Devon Island. Exploring the tiny arctic town of Resolute provides a picture of life at high latitudes to the crew members who may never have experienced it before.
Typically, it takes three Twin Otter flights to transport all six crew members, ATVs, and all required supplies to Devon Island. This could take several days to accomplish depending on the weather conditions, and there may be as little as 30 minutes notice before a Twin Otter departure.
The FMARS crew is required to take with them all empty fuel barrels and waste (both human waste and trash). These are flown back to Resolute via Twin Otter flights and then properly disposed of.
While at FMARS, the crew members are isolated and fairly independent. Support resources are provided by the Mission Support Staff mostly via email with a simulated 15 minute time delay. The Hab has internet access via a satellite dish deployed on the outside of the Hab. The crew members submit daily reports to Mission Support via email; documenting science, maintenance, medical, EVA, and milestone activities for the day.
Public Affairs Events are conducted during the mission with students and educational programs across the country. Networking ahead of time to find suitable audiences, Hab internet connectivity, sound scheduling, and event planning are required in order to have a successful event.
Extra Vehicular Activities (EVAs) are conducted almost daily during the ‘in-sim’ phase of the expedition. 2-4 crew members typically embark on the EVA outfitted in their analog spacesuits while at least one crew member remains at the Hab to act as CAPCOM and maintain communications between the Hab and the EVA crew. The EVA starts with a simulated depression period on the FMARS airlock, followed by egress. The EVAs occur either on foot or via ATV to the site of interest. Often samples are collect for science experiments or electronic equipment deployed for taking measurements. A large amount of lessons learned from the analog EVAs relates to human factors, such as how to manipulate small buttons on a GPS or a laptop mousepad while wearing large spacesuit gloves, etc.
Maintenance eats up several hours per week of crew time at FMARS, just like onboard the International Space Station. Crew members spend the first few days upon arrival at the Hab performing upkeep and taking inventory on Hab systems such as HVAC, food preparation equipment, water collection and storage suppies, ATVs, exercise equipment, laboratory equipment, tools, hygiene systems, guns, and spacesuits. Throughout the mission, crew members will spend several hours per week fueling and maintaining power generators and ATVs as well as collecting and disposing of potable water and waste products.
In space exploration lingo, “EVA” stands for “Extra-Vehicular Activity.” The term is used by space agencies to refer to any activities that astronauts do outside their spacecraft. For example, spacewalks to repair the International Space Station or moonwalks on the surface of the Moon are examples of EVAs. When humans reach Mars, EVAs will be the centerpiece of their activity as they explore the surface of the planet away from the habitat.
15. How does the crew get around while on EVA?
FMARS crew members conduct both pedestrian and vehicle EVAs. Pedestrian EVAs are typically conducted in the immediate vicinity of the Hab on the Haynes Ridge. Most EVAs are to areas farther away. In those cases, crew members travel on simulated Mars rovers, which are gasoline-powered all-terrain vehicles (or “quads”, as they are known in Canada). Crew members can cover several tens of kilometers on each EVA with these vehicles. While larger pressurized rovers would offer the advantage of even greater range, they would require crewmembers to don and doff spacesuits each time they want stop and look around. The unpressurized rovers used at FMARS allow drivers to wear their spacesuits at all times for maximum flexibility to stop and look at interesting features as they present themselves during an EVA traverse.
16. How do the simulated space suits work?
The spacesuits were designed and constructed by Mars Society volunteers and consist of heavy-duty reinforced canvas suits accompanied by helmets and life support system backpacks. Their main purpose is to mimic the loss of dexterity, visibility, and movement imposed by real spacesuits. While not airtight, the helmets do restrict air movement to a significant degree as to require an intake of air in order to maintain sufficient oxygen level for the crew members wearing them. The backpacks have two battery-operated fans which draw in air and blow it through two pipes that feed the helmets with continuous fresh air. The batteries can last about 9 hours on a single charge, allowing for a full day’s worth of EVA activities. For safety reasons, the helmets can be removed quickly by simply unscrewing the pipes and lifting the helmet. This is important in the unlikely event of a polar bear encounter, for example.
17. What is Mission Support?
FMARS crewmembers are supported by a number of Mars Society volunteers collectively known at “Mission Support.” Most of Mission Support comes from The Mars Society chapters in Colorado or Australia. Mission Support teams are available for a specific time window each day to receive reports and communicate with crew members. They also help answer questions that may arise and can connect crew members in the field with the Remote Science Team
who advise on the research activities of each mission. “Mission Support” uses the word “support” rather than “control” in its name to reflect the high level of autonomy crews have at FMARS. This is in stark contrast to the way NASA’s Mission Control directs every activity that crews carry out in low Earth orbit. When humans travel to Mars they will no longer have real-time 2-way communication with Earth and must be more self-reliant in a manner similar to the way FMARS operates. Visit our Mission Support
page to learn more.
18. What is the relationship between FMARS and HMP?
Like FMARS, the Haughton Mars Project (HMP)
is an interdisciplinary field project studying Mars exploration located on the rim of Haughton Crater on Devon Island. While FMARS is privately funded, HMP receives most of its funding from NASA and the Canadian Space Agency. Both programs trace their origins to initial expeditions to the island by Dr. Pascal Lee in the late 1990s. HMP staff were instrumental in helping coordinate the siting, construction, and initial operation of FMARS. Today, the two programs operate independently but share a common air strip, and inhabitants at both camps communicate on matters related to logistics and safety. In addition, scientists at both camps try to coordinate their research activities in such a away that does not adversely impact the other group.
Devon Island is a remote, harsh arctic environment. The Mars Society is committed to the safe operation of FMARS and takes a number steps to ensure crew safety, including planning and operational items.
- Medical – Every FMARS expedition includes at least one person who is trained as an EMT or has equivalent emergency medical training. A comprehensive first aid kit is maintained at the station and is equipped to provide immediate care for minor injuries, while stabilizing those with more serious conditions prior to transport off the island. Additionally, a highly qualified telemedicine support group provides real-time assistance and advice to the crew and authorizes, as needed, the release of special medications. The crew can also call on the assistance of medical personnel from the nearby Haughton Mars Project in the case of a life-threatening emergency.
- Communications – The crew maintains regular communication with the mission support group in Colorado, who can provide assistance and advice. This linkage is maintained through the station’s satellite internet link which has sufficient bandwidth to support limited live video teleconferencing. The crew can also make use of one or more satellite telephones to call for assistance, including from the nearby Hamlet of Resolute Bay. Some crews also make use of radio equipment to maintain contact with staff from the Polar Continental Shelf Project located in Resolute Bay.
- Fire Safety – Fire extinguishers are located throughout the station for easy access in the case of a fire. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are also installed at several locations. A breaker bar and rope ladder are located near one of the port holes on the second story of the Hab to provide an additional means of station exit. All fire safety equipment is tested at the beginning of each field season, and each crew conducts at least one fire drill during the first few days of each field season when the station is occupied.
- EVA Safety – Crew members must take special precautions when traveling across Devon Island outside the habitat. In addition to the potential for exposure to the harsh weather, there is an ever-present risk of encountering polar bears. Polar bears typically remain near the ocean where their food supply is located, but they have been known to roam into the interior of the island in the vicinity of FMARS in the past. The crew typically avoids travel near the coast of the island. Whenever crew members conduct EVAs, one individual is selected to travel with them unencumbered by a simulated space suit. This person is on constant look-out for polar bears, and carries a pump-action shot gun and bear deterrent devices. Crew members on EVA also carry with them one of the crew’s satellite telephones, a small first aid kit, and other safety equipment. The crew can decide to end the EVA and return to the station if weather conditions worsen or if there is an injury or equipment failure.
- Emergency Evacuation – In the case of a significant medical emergency that cannot be treated on-site, the crew can be evacuated to Resolute Bay by Twin-Otter aircraft. Each crew also obtains emergency evacuation insurance coverage which can be activated if needed to secure evacuation.
- Training – Each crew is trained in safety procedures and the use of safety equipment prior to arrival at FMARS as well as during the first few days of each FMARS field season. Simulated emergencies and drills provide opportunities for the crew to practice what they have learned so they will be ready in the case of an actual emergency.
20. How can I be selected to go to FMARS?
Open calls for volunteers typically come out about 6 months prior to a mission opportunity. Watch this website or sign up to our email list to be notified when the next call comes out. Usually, The Mars Society chooses a mission commander first, and the commander then coordinates the selection of crewmembers from the applicants who respond to the application call.
21. How can my children and/or students get involved?
We encourage students to follow the missions as they unfold by reading the reports and viewing the photos and videos that crews publish on a daily basis during each mission. They can contact crew members from the website with questions too. In some cases, live audio or video teleconferences are possible from FMARS, which offers students a chance to interact with crewmembers directly and see what it is like living at FMARS. Students can also read about topics related to FMARS and Mars Exploration in the Martian Chronicles newsletter published by the Mars Society Youth Chapter. For more information please visit our dedicated pages to learn how you can Send an Experiment
and take part in an Outreach Event