North to Mars!; June 2001; Scientific American Magazine; by Robert Zubrin; 4 Page(s)
DEVON ISLAND IS A BARREN but weirdly beautiful place in the Canadian Arctic, only 1,500 kilometers from the North Pole. About 23 million years ago a meteorite struck there with the force of 100,000 hydrogen bombs, gouging out the 20-kilometer-wide Haughton Crater. The impact killed every living thing on the island and destroyed its soil, leaving a bizarre landscape of condensed powder ridges and shock-fractured stones. Because most of the island is devoid of trees, bushes and grasses, it looks and feels like an alien world. In fact, for the past four years a team of scientists from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has been studying the island's geology to learn about Mars [see box on next page].
In 1998 I founded the Mars Society, an organization dedicated to promoting the exploration of the Red Planet. Pascal Lee, the geologist who headed NASA's Devon Island team, proposed that the society build a simulated Mars base at Haughton Crater. Researchers at this station could explore Devon under many of the same conditions and constraints that would be involved in a human mission to Mars. The things we could learn from such a program would be invaluable. For example, the crew at the Devon Island station could try out equipment intended for a Mars mission, such as water-recycling systems and spacesuits, putting the gear through months of rough treatment in the field instead of merely testing it in the laboratory. While studying Devon Island's geology and microbiology, the researchers could find out how much water an active Mars exploration team would really need. They could also investigate key issues of crew psychology, such as the effects of isolation and close confinement, team dynamics and how the layout of the station would affect the astronauts' performance.