Fallon graduate selected for Mars-simulation mission
November 17, 2006
Eryn Andrews, a 2003 Churchill County High School graduate and a senior at the University of Nevada, Reno, is participating in a Mars mission-simulation project in Utah.
She is volunteering for the Mars Desert Research Station’s (MDRS) Crew 51 as the environmental engineer, which is her field of study at UNR. Andrews plans to pursue a career with NASA after graduation, “no matter how long it takes,” she said.
She developed a desire to join the NASA program after a field trip to the space center in Florida, where she once lived.
“I’ve dreamt of working with NASA since I was a little girl,” said Andrews. “I fell in love with it on a field trip and have been hooked ever since.”
Andrews said she first heard about the MDRS project from her academic adviser in October, and applied to be a member of Crew 51. She received a call from the commander, Paul Graham, advising her she was in the top five candidates. Her final call came early this month, again from the commander, who offered her the position as the environmental engineer in Utah.
“It feels as if I’ve been selected for a real shuttle mission,” said Andrews. “I know this experience will bring me one step closer to achieving my dreams with NASA.”
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Throughout the two-week simulation, e-mails will be delayed by four hours, cell phones will be prohibited, and any time crew members exit the habitat, they must be in simulated space suits.
“Even though it’s make-believe, we treat it like it’s the real McCoy, so it’s just as exciting as the real thing,” Andrews said.
The MDRS, near Hanksville, Utah, is run by the Mars Society, with funding from NASA, and supported by many other contributors, said Tony Muscatello, director of MDRS operations and mission support.
The program began with global stations designed for Mars exploration, operations research test-beds to complete field operations studies. These studies are in preparation for future human missions to Mars.
There are four Mars-like research habitats, each with different functions based on their location. The research stations are in the deserts of the American Southwest, the Canadian Arctic, the Australian outback and Iceland.
Construction of the habitats began in 2000.
The first mission simulation was conducted in 2001 at the polar-desert station called Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station in Devon Island, Canada.
More habitats began Mars simulation studies in 2002 and 2003. The first mission at MDRS with Crew 1 was in 2002, said Muscatello.
The MDRS habitat operates continuously, with overlapping dates throughout the season, said Graham. This is his third MDRS mission.
He said the ultimate goal of the simulation habitats is to provide an environment to test equipment, tools and exploration methods.
“These are basically ‘dress rehearsals’ for when we actually go to Mars,” said Graham. “We make our mistakes here and now, because when it’s real, (United Parcel Service) is eight months away at a cost of nearly $2 million.”
The flight engineer for Crew 51 is MDRS veteran Ben Huset. The remaining crew members are graduate or undergraduate students. The crew’s executive officer is from Alabama, the geologist is from Montreal, and the biologist is from Arizona State University.
• Contact reporter Viktoria Pearson at firstname.lastname@example.org.