Emergency Preparedness

AARG’s Fourth Space Analog Mission: ‘Calidum Ad Infernum’

The AARG-4i crew in entrance of the rover. Image courtesy of Dennis Miller.

By Dr. Kristen Miller
Faculty Member, Space Studies

In June 2023, American Public University System’s Analog Research Group (AARG) accomplished its fourth house analog mission. This mission occurred on the Inflatable Lunar-Martian Analog Habitat (ILMAH), owned and operated by the University of North Dakota (UND).

At first, this mission appeared like enterprise as common. But for the crew of AARG-4i, this ILMAH mission was something however unusual. 

The AARG-4i crew confronted excessive warmth circumstances not like every other earlier ILMAH crew whereas concurrently navigating higher-fidelity controls and protocols not like their predecessors. The experiences, challenges and success of the AARG-4i crew paint an intriguing image of the realities of life in house on Earth.

The AARG-4i crew members. Image courtesy of Dennis Miller.

The AARG-4i crew consisted of three folks:

  • Commander Dennis Miller, a grasp’s pupil in space studies at American Military University (AMU)
  • Mission Specialist (MS) Olivia Turner, a grasp’s pupil in management at American Public University (APU)
  • MS Beau Malnack, a grasp’s pupil in house research at American Military University

Flight director Shae Rackeley (AMU) and deputy flight director Laura Rieske (APU), each grasp’s college students in house research, led the mission.

planting flag in front of ILMAH

MS Turner and MS Malnack plant the University flag in entrance of the ILMAH habitat. Image courtesy of Dennis Miller.

Related: Research Explores Using Algae to Grow Plants in Outer Space

Regulating ILMAH’s Temperature Proved Difficult During High Heat Conditions

The crew entered the habitat on June 4. They remained in isolation for 13 days till their exit on June 16.

Due to the potential of excessive summer time temperatures, ILMAH had by no means been used throughout June for any analog missions. But when scheduling constraints pressured a June mission, the AARG-4i crew hoped the climate would cooperate. Unfortunately, the habitat space skilled unseasonably excessive temperatures all through your complete month.

Temperatures in ILMAH soared throughout the day, reaching a peak of 89 levels Fahrenheit within the core module and an insufferable 101degrees within the plant module. However, the AARG-4i crew joked that the excessive warmth impressed the mission motto: ‘Calidum Ad Infernum,’ which roughly interprets to “hot as Hades.”  

The UND group supplied assist with moveable air-con models. The air-con lowered the temperatures sufficient for the crew members to proceed the mission.

The AARG-4i crew responded to the excessive temperatures with decided resilience, sustaining a optimistic angle regardless of the bodily discomfort. They rearranged the day by day schedule to reap the benefits of the cooler temperatures throughout the very early morning.

Mission Specialist Olivia Turner devoted numerous hours tending to the crops to maintain them alive regardless of the excessive temperatures. Her efforts have been rewarded when the crops grew in two out of three of her experiments.

AARG microgreens
Microgreens rising within the plant manufacturing module. Image courtesy of Dennis Miller.
Turner watering microgreens AARG
MS Turner watering the crops. Image courtesy of Dennis Miller.

AARG-4i and Communications with Mission Control

The AARG-4i mission was a Mars simulation, which means that the crew operated underneath a 20-minute, one-way communication delay for many of the mission. This communication delay meant that it took at the very least 40 minutes to obtain solutions to the crew’s questions in addition to data the crew requested.

In addition to the communication delay, all communications have been routed by means of a single level of contact referred to as mission management (MC). Mission management volunteers have been the only supply of knowledge, help and communication for the AARG-4i crew throughout your complete mission.

This assist was the primary time that an AARG crew had been supported by a full mission management employees. The expertise was extraordinarily profitable. 

While the mission management/crew interplay can generally be tense and even adversarial, a bond developed between the MC volunteers and the crew members. AARG-4i’s mission management employees have been recruited from the UND house research program; they participated in two hour-long coaching classes however in any other case had no prior expertise.  

The mission management employees’s enthusiasm for his or her function confirmed of their reliability and dedication. They shortly and effectively managed all communications with the AARG-4i crew by answering questions and offering assist and requested data. The mission management employees additionally ensured that day by day crew stories have been full and clear.

The mission management employees made a optimistic distinction to the crew’s morale. They shared information trivia, memes, and jokes with the crew, offering much-appreciated levity amidst the challenges of isolation and excessive temperatures.

Despite the scorching warmth they encountered, the crew exemplified unwavering resilience.  Their capacity to endure and adapt underneath excessive temperatures is a testomony to the energy of human willpower and the bond that unites us within the pursuit of exploration.”  – Aedanaya Diamond, 4i Mission Control volunteer

AARG-4i Crew Research Projects Involving Drones and Plants

With the assist of mission management, the AARG-4i crew efficiently accomplished analysis research involving drone surveillance of the habitat and vascular plant progress. The goal of the drone venture was to find out long-term weathering and put on and tear on an inflatable habitat.

Due to an incapability to manage typical drones whereas sporting spacesuit gloves, MS Malnack used the rover as an statement module to take care of visibility throughout all drone operations. Visibility proved to be important and obligatory for all take-off and touchdown sequences resulting from atmospheric circumstances. Using the rover additionally supplied elevated safety for the crew as they operated the high-speed, high-altitude drone.

Using recorded drone footage, MS Malnack discovered a sample in exterior injury from UV, wind, and precipitation. This data prompt {that a} predictable pattern in vulnerability might be calculated for upkeep necessities. 

Furthermore, the experiment proved that drones can be utilized throughout missions to preemptively estimate ILMAH degradation. They can establish susceptible factors on the outside materials of a habitat earlier than rupture or leaking happens. Also, MS Malnack was in a position to make use of good practices and classes realized on this preliminary experiment for future research.

AARG crew member Malnack with drone
MS Malnack prepping the drone for an EVA. Image courtesy of Dennis Miller.
AARG Malnack checks habitat
MS Malnack taking habitat measurements throughout an EVA. Image courtesy of Dennis Miller.
Turner tending ILMAH plants
MS Turner tending to the crops. Image courtesy of Dennis Miller.

In ILMAH, the AARG-4i crew efficiently grew natural, non-GMO (genetically modified) combined microgreens consisting of mustard, kale purple Russian, and arugula. MS Turner sowed the microgreen seeds into three totally different soils:

  • Earth natural mix soil
  • Lunar regolith with Earth natural mix soil
  • Martian regolith with Earth natural mix soil
AARG crew member Turner with plants
MS Turner within the plant manufacturing module. Image courtesy of Dennis Miller.

She included coconut coir fiber into the soil-regolith mixtures to assist water retention and aeration. The teams with soil and with the soil-Lunar regolith each produced useable crops; the soil-Martian regolith didn’t.

MS Turner discovered that the extremely acidic nature of Martian regolith offered a problem for rising crops. She plans to resolve this downside with future analysis.

As the crew commander, CO Miller created the operations order doc. This doc held the blueprints detailing why and the way the crew was to conduct the mission. 

The operations order doc included:

  • The mission assertion
  • The communication plan
  • Risk evaluation data
  • AARG-4i crew roles and obligations
  • Other essential data

Developing such a plan is a crucial a part of a profitable mission. It offers goal and path to all stakeholders whereas remaining versatile and adaptable.

In addition, CO Miller recorded helpful video footage of the habitat, the analysis, and the EVA and day by day debriefing classes.  These movies will serve an necessary goal in offering coaching for future crews.

The ILMAH mission was really a singular expertise that I’m grateful for having been part of. It is humbling to assume that I may need performed a small however essential half within the general development of the human race in colonizing Mars.”  – Dennis Miller, Commanding Officer

Related: Space Research: AARG Successfully Completes a Third Mission

Coping with Challenging Situations, Planned and Unplanned

No house or house analysis mission goes precisely as deliberate; points incessantly come up which check a crew’s problem-solving and teamwork talents. Coping with difficult conditions is particularly tough throughout isolation and time-delayed communications, which require a better diploma of crew autonomy than regular working circumstances.

In addition to the day by day points that come up in each mission, AARG-4i crew confronted two difficult conditions: one deliberate and one unplanned. 

The deliberate state of affairs was a simulation train, which was a part of the mission’s communications analysis. This simulation train was designed to judge the flexibility of the AARG-4i crew to work each independently and collaboratively with mission management to mitigate a mock emergency involving an oxygen leak in ILMAH.

Prior to the June 2023 mission, the crew and mission management employees have been skilled in emergency protocols particular to 4 totally different simulated emergencies. While they knew {that a} deliberate and difficult state of affairs would happen throughout this fourth mission, they didn’t know when it might occur or which of the 4 conditions would happen.

The AARG-4i crew efficiently accomplished the train of coping with the “oxygen leak,” working with one another and with mission management employees. The crew labored principally autonomously, sending stories however not ready to obtain suggestions from mission management earlier than continuing. The time delay with mission management supplied sturdy motivation, and the crew resolved the emergency earlier than it grew to become essential.

The unplanned state of affairs occurred when ILMAH’s communications system, referred to as ECHO, grew to become overwhelmed by the amount of information alternate. ECHO failed with out warning at 8:12 a.m. on Mission Day 10, initiating a no-communication interval that lasted for roughly two hours. 

The comms blackout induced gentle panic in each the AARG-4i crew and mission management employees.  The actual incapability to speak in any respect was way more nerve-racking than the simulated oxygen leak.

AARG crew member Miller with flag
CO Miller with the APU flag in entrance of ILMAH. Image courtesy of Dennis Miller.

The AARG-4i analog analysis mission was probably the most difficult that AARG has accomplished up to now. Its success was within the dedication, professionalism, and resolute cheerfulness of the crew, in addition to the cautious planning by the flight administrators and the teamwork between the crew and mission assist employees.

About the Author

Dr. Kristen Miller is an affiliate professor of house research. She holds a B.S. in physics from Brigham Young University, an M.S. in astrophysics from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a Ph.D. in astrophysics from the University of Maryland, College Park. Her thesis work studied turbulence in magnetic fields within the protostellar disks surrounding younger stars utilizing supercomputer simulations, investigating each the methods wherein turbulence permits angular momentum transport throughout the disks and the way coupling of the gasoline to the sector influences the path of the accretion stream onto the protostar.

Currently, Dr. Miller leads the APUS Analog Research Group, which recruits and trains groups of scholars to take part in analog analysis missions. She additionally leads the Supernova Search Program, a bunch devoted to detecting supernovae and different transient objects in close by galaxies.

Dr. Miller is the college advisor for the APUS pupil chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). She is the co-Editor in Chief of the Space Education and Strategic Applications (SESA) Journal and likewise serves on quite a lot of committees on the University.

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