Earth's closest neighbor, Mars, has always intrigued scientists, who now believe that humans could be living and working on the planet within the next 20 years. To prepare for that possibility, NASA has set up a simulated Mars base - in the desert in the Western state of Utah.
A habitat in the Utah desert was built to replicate living conditions on Mars. The Mars Desert Research Station is one of several sites built by The Mars Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to the human exploration of Mars. A group of NASA scientists and explorers spend two weeks in this facility, trying to simulate how humans will live on Mars, and while getting there. Traveling to Mars will take years, and the crew must be well prepared, physically and mentally.
Dr. Ephimia Morphew is a space psychologist from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. "When you are in a spacecraft, you cannot vent your frustrations anywhere," she says. "All of the frustration is within this capsule, right along with us. There are very few ways to vent [let out your feelings]."
When Dr. Morphew needs to talk individually with someone - she uses the main airlock as her office to ensure privacy. Meanwhile, crew members are collecting rock and soil samples from their surroundings for study. They are operating under full Mars conditions, wearing space suits and gloves.
Penny Boston, a planetary scientist, says this will help determine how scientific study and research will be carried out on Mars. "It gives us the ability to practice doing stuff in tough circumstances, which all the planning and paper-pushing and imagining, doing it in the world - doesn't prepare you for actually doing," she says.
The crew also uses all-terrain vehicles to navigate rough terrain. A similar vehicle would be needed for traveling from one place to another on Mars.
The daily routine of living together and wearing spacesuits while moving from one place to another, along with research, is not easy. Many times, the crew is frustrated and angry. But this is good training for the future astronauts, who will have to deal with life on Mars, entirely on their own.