A Family Expedition to the Red Planet
Utah's Mars Desert Research Station under the 'Martian' sky, with the Musk Observatory in the background.
Credit: The Mars Society

Veronica Ann Zabala-Aliberto, National Space Society Projects and Events Coordinator for Chapters is on a mission. A mock mission to Mars, that is.

Veronica Ann, along with her children, manned the MDRS, Mars Desert Research Station analogue, in Utah. Veronica Ann, who is also the founder and current President of the Phoenix Chapter of NSS, served as commander (CDR) during the mission and took time from her busy schedule on Mars to send reports to other Spacers around the globe.

This article contains one of Veronica Ann's CDR Reports from the Mars Desert Research Station. This report, along with others can also be found at The Mars Society - MDRS: Daily Field Reports page:

Commander's Journal
Veronica Ann Zabala-Aliberto Reporting
MDRS Crew 59

"I demolish my bridges behind me - then there is no choice but forward." -- Fridtjof Nansen

We are on Mars. We are here to stay. Everything left behind: our families and friends, our employment, schools, things that make us feel like we belong. We are now moving forward, leaving what we know behind....

Our first couple of days have been "normal." A shortage of water and our generator not charging its batteries in order to keep our systems up and running. Our children keep busy with their school work and are acclimating themselves to the longer Martian Sol. They e-mail their teachers, family and friends back on Earth when they have their free time. The Crew is a little fatigued with the longer days and the technical difficulties but they are adapting quite well.

I am impressed with the level of skill this Crew has exhibited and how well they get along with each other, especially with the younger Crew Members. This is our voyage of discovery...discovering not only our new home but discovering ourselves, on how much we are able to contribute to our mission as well as how much we are able to handle ourselves in a restrictive regime. The Family Living Analysis on Mars Expedition Crew is currently on its third major mission of discovery.

Even though we have new faces on each and every mission we all are appointed certain tasks to ensure that we lead a productive and safe mission.

Our younger Crew Members, four in all, are being apprenticed in geology, chemistry, biology, history, engineering and much more. They are learning the protocols of Martian life. Discipline is something that should be instilled in all Crew Members; young and old alike. We all share in the work. Even as the Skipper, today I spent close to two hours washing the dishes that we could not do because of the lack of water until we resolved the problem with the water tank. Pyscho-social factors test techniques, in order to maintain an effective mission.

F.L.A.M.E., Family Living Analysis on Mars Expedition, is the first in analogue missions to do just that which include children under the age of fourteen. We have an international crew unto which there are no issues with them speaking in their own languages amongst themselves. Respect is another key to a successful mission. We each respect each other's culture, religion and privacy.

Dependencies on everyday tasks are crucial in order to keep morale up and the Hab in order.

Some behavioral markers have been noticed when dealing with the F.L.A.M.E. students. Once adjustment to an already recognizable environment is achieved the children feel relaxed and mark their respective territories with their personal belongings such as toys, clothes and sleeping equipment. The children's perception of tension, cohesion and leadership is different than that of the adult Crew Members. The parents and the Educator are the main role models in this sort of environment.

They learn to implement new procedures and conduct special projects that are not offered in classes back on Earth. This is an excellent way for children to actively participate and contribute to their environment.

Our typical day consists of everyone waking up early and having breakfast and our morning briefing sometimes at the same time. The children then prepare for their classes which are conducted in the galley.

The adults get to work either by going on EVA to scout out for possible building materials, ground water to add to the already existing supply the Hab has, and possible features that can be used for shelter from the harsh environment. The Engineers work on the Hab's systems to ensure the Crew has power to communicate to Mission Support and electricity to conduct experiments in the science laboratory. Other Crew Members go to the GreenHab to plant seeds so they will have fresh food to eat in the coming weeks. We try to get together for lunch but sometimes a few of the Crew eat later because of the tasks they are working on or because they are on EVA longer.

One thing that is constant is that everyone comes to the galley for dinner. Here we can talk about our day to keep everyone informed, share our stories from the past, or share some visions for the future.

After dinner the children help clean up and the adults sit at the Communications Console and write their reports for Mission Support and for the people back on Earth to read. Sometimes we have "Movie Night" and everyone camps out on the floor to watch a movie and eat popcorn.

Then we all go to bed. Our days are long but productive.

By the F.L.A.M.E. Crew's efforts we hope to give a renewed enthusiasm for human exploration. With a predetermined destination we embark on a voyage in which we hope to inspire our children and others to reach as far as they can, for exploration is the act of searching for the purpose of discovery. Exploration challenges us. Have you felt challenged lately? If not, what can you do to be a part of the wonders of space exploration?

Veronica Ann Zabala-Aliberto
Commander, MDRS Crew 59
Family Living Analysis on Mars Expedition (F.L.A.M.E.)

Veronica Ann Zabala-Aliberto is the founder and president of the NSS Phoenix Chapter and serves as NSS Projects and Events Coordinator for Chapters. The MDRS Crew 59's F.L.A.M.E. expedition ran from March 4-17 earlier this year.

NOTE: The views of this article are the author's and do not reflect the policies of the National Space Society.

Visit SPACE.com/Ad Astra Online for more news, views and scientific inquiry from the National Space Society.