"Money was maliciously introduced in ancient times as a tool of enslavement" -
Michael Tellinger

"The present belongs to the future and future generations, and all old laws, religious and other, should be abrogated immediately. Free us!" - Vinay Gupta on Twitter

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - R. Buckminster Fuller

"You find the strangest ways to be positive!" - Diane Duane, Wizards Abroad

Monday, February 22, 2010

Back to Mars - with an all-Belgian crew! And - Can We Garden on Mars?

Photo, above, from "Can We Garden on Mars?" at

Further, can we terraform Mars? New National Geographic presents this as their "Big Idea."

BTW, even the New York Times can see the wisdom in making Mars our goal ("We believe the target should be Mars — the planet most like Earth and of greatest scientific interest.") Where's Obama, the champion of science and technology?

Now to the main story. This is why I love the Mars Society. Have you read Mars on Earth yet? It explains what this is about -  how Mars enthusiasts, stymied by the government's abandonment of human space exploration, took matters into their own hands with science of their own, on earth. Amazing accomplishment - and the creativity of these people just keeps going. Here's the latest mission report from the Mars Society. I can't help smiling at the enthusiasm here! And feeling a little encouraged. From: http://www.marssociety.org/portal/crew_90_summ

Freya Jackson of the Mars Society reports (last modified 2010-02-22 11:18):  
The first fully Belgian crew is en route home. Having participants from a country that has such a clear divide in language, either Flemish Dutch or Walloon French, brought its own hiccups in communication with mission support, but no more than to be expected. This crew had absolutely no failed communications with their home country as they had almost daily interviews and even two tv-crews following them around for a few days. By now it is unlikely that anyone in Belgium is unaware that MDRS exists. Read about their trials and tribulations.
(6-19 February 2010)

Pierre-Emmanuel Paulis, Executive Officer week 1, Journalist
It was a great honour for me to be part of the first MDRS 90 crew.
Like for my first mission, 7 years ago, it is a rich personal adventure.
The mission has been mixture of science, joy, bursts of laughter, discoveries, exploration, and also difficulties: but all that is what forms the richness of such an experiment, and renders it unforgettable, and also brings progress in life. And in this case the objective is very far away in the sky, in the form of a small red dot that so often makes me dream. Here we touch both the past and the future. They meet in the grand motivation that animates us: to raise our eyes towards the sky and to understand our origins. Thank you for that.

Nancy Vermeulen, commander
Mars is not science fiction for me anymore, it has become a reachable goal within now and 30-40 years. After having organised the 8th European Mars Conference in Belgium, I noticed the growing interest and the need to be a pioneer within our country to motivate people to believe in further human exploration. MDRS crew 90 was an entirely Belgian mission, organised by the Mars Society Belgium, founded early 2009 by a couple of passionate fans of space travel and astronomy, focusing on the planet Mars in particular.

Obviously, this event constituted a major first for our country. Though a number of fellow countrymen took part in a similar expedition in the past, never before an entire team consisted of Belgians. 3 Flemish and 3 Walloons made up the team : Nancy, Nicky and Arjan are the Flemish Belgians, Pierre-Emmanuel, Nora and Margaux the Walloon Belgians. This line-up not only took the ratio between the sexes into consideration, but also included the 3 Belgian communities : Flemish, Walloon and German. The aspect ‘youth’ was not left out either, our youngest team member Margaux is only 17 years old.

Promoting science was one of the prime goals during this mission.
Besides the scientific program, our goal was to do a lot of educational events like live contacts with schools and astronomical organisations all over Belgium.
In total we did 25 live contacts with schools, astronomical associations and Radio Stations in Belgium during our rotation.

We were followed by two television crews: one French speaking and one Flemish speaking.
In total we did 17 EVA’s, collected fossils and rocks for study in the lab and made 15 educational movies to use afterwards in the classroom. About 25 science reports were sent in.
The aerosol measurements for RMI will be interpreted in the lab back in Belgium.
The plant growth experiment was partly successful: some plants did grow, most of them, didn’t, including the “space plants”. The plants that grew, were cultivated in wet river soil.

My biggest challenge as commander during this rotation was to keep together a group of 6 totally different people, with totally different ages and backgrounds. I turned out to be a very interesting psychological experiment!

Conclusion: On personal level it worked fine, as we resolved interpersonal conflict by talking, humour, empathizing and showing respect for our different ways of being. After every clash, you feel that everybody understands each other better, has more respect and the team spirit moves forward. The trick is to suppress negative feelings and to motivate each other.

On professional level, it was sometimes difficult: in this kind of mission a basic professional attitude is necessary, if not the whole group gets in trouble and I notice a lot of stress on the team when some people don’t perform their tasks as expected. Here flexibility and task repartition are necessary.
Preparation and full dedication to the mission are of utmost importance. First comes the common goal as a group, then the individual goals.

Everybody has to respect the standard operating procedures and rules to succeed in future manned missions to Mars!

We all enjoyed this mission, learned a lot and are very grateful to have had the opportunity to be the first entirely Belgian crew at MDRS.

Nicky De Munster, Executive Officer week 2, Chief Engineer
First of all I was honoured that Nancy contacted me to be a member of the first Belgian MDRS crew. It was a dream coming through. I was designated as an engineer because of my technical training in High school. I prepared myself as best I could for the mission according to the instructions sent by email. It was a tough job, because I had to do this almost on my own. But I am very happy that I managed to keep all systems running.

My objective for this mission was not just engineering, as I am a teacher too, more specifically a space teacher for Euro Space Society. Therefore I was interested in the experiments of our geologist Arjan and our physicist Nancy. I got the opportunity to accompany them in their experiments and to take a lot of pictures and videos.

After the mission I will share my experience as lecturer and teacher with the children at primary schools. My goal is to motivate them to study science and technology. They are the astronauts, scientists and technicians of the future. MDRS was a lifetime experience I will never forget.

The landscape was quite similar as it is on Mars. The Mars Society could have selected no better place to put the Habitat. This image will remain in my memory for ever.

Thanks to everyone involved!

Arjan van der Star, Chief mission scientist and educator
I’m honoured to have been part of the First Belgian MDRS crew. Mars is every geologists’ wet dream! Utah may be just a warm little pond in this case, but for me as geologist the mission taught me how the first geologist on Mars should work and could feel. The science part of this mission, however, got way too little attention in contrast to the media frenzy.

Still, I got the chance to work here in my own geology lab and perform school experiments that were part of a contest held by NASA and Space Florida. It doesn’t happen every day I get to do experiments in the middle of a desert.

Also I collected lots of landscape images and experienced many things that I will use as a science educator in several of my courses. My visit to Upheaval Dome and the satellite phone conversation with Frank de Winne were certainly some of the highlights. And of course the live links with schools and associations, and with my students, were fantastic. I hope to have really stimulated my geography students to become passionate science teachers. Because they will educate tomorrow’s Martian colonies…

Nora Martiny, Health & Safety Officer
We have reached the end of an exceptional simulated Mars mission that led us to discover facets of each crewmember’s personality. The educational and scientific experiments were fabulous, and my personal objectives were met. The discoveries at the human and social level, however, were quite incredible.

Over the course of 15 days, one cannot maintain a mask and hide oneself behind an appearance crafted in advance over several years. The isolation of 15 days dissolves that mask and reveals everything. Here, in the last resort, everything comes to the surface, and true personalities are revealed. If you’re not happy with yourself, if the life you lead in Belgium is not fulfilling, then you cannot expect that things will go well here. Intellectual skills are not in question. Instead, I refer to the crew’s individual personalities.

I am quite happy with myself. I’m 52 years old, and I have experienced some fantastic moments. I am a very positive person, but I am certainly not na├»ve. I have a good head on my shoulders. This simulation has been a true success for me, and I think that some people should examine their personal lives in order to change what is needed to be happy with themselves and their lives.

Margaux Hoang, Crew Astronomer, Photographer
My stay at the MDRS is the culmination of my education at school of the last 3 years. I have greatly enjoyed these two weeks. To life with only 5 adults, and no one my age, was obviously something new for me. And of course the station was not that clean and comfortable, but it didn’t prevent us to having fun. I know I was very lucky to have had the opportunity to participate in this adventure, but I don’t realize right now fully what experience I have lived. I am delighted by everything I saw, heard and experienced. Living with passionate Mars fans was an unforgettable experience.


For further information about the Mars Society, visit our website at http://www.marssociety.org/. Your donations are welcome.