This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

UB students to "explore Mars" in Utah

Published: April 10, 2003

Contributing Editor

UB doctoral student Brent Garry has always wanted to go to Mars, but for now he'll settle for Utah.

Since April 3, he and Abby Semple, another UB doctoral student, have been part of a small team that is simulating the living and working conditions on Mars by donning space suits, exploring the geology of the very "Mars-like" canyons of Utah and essentially living in and working out of a two-story tin can similar to a spaceship.


Two UB doctoral students are part of a team that is living in Utah in a two-story tin can similar to a spaceship as part of a project to simulate the living conditions on Mars.
PHOTO: The Mars Society

The opportunity was made possible courtesy of The Mars Society, a private organization whose mission is to encourage and foster exploration of Mars and which receives funding for some of its "Mars missions" from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Garry applied for the opportunity to live and work at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) with high hopes, but he knew that his acceptance depended on the qualifications the group needed.

"When I found that I had been accepted, I was in a happy state of shock," said Garry, who recommended officemate Semple when he heard there was a need for one more geologist. He and Semple study volcanology and lava flows in UB's Volcano Studies Group and work in the laboratory of Tracy Gregg, assistant professor of geology in the Department of Geology in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The focus of the upcoming mission, which will run until Sunday, is to test equipment, including voice-activated robotic equipment, being developed for use by geologists and astronauts who one day will explore Martian terrain.

"They're expecting us to behave like regular geologists exploring an outcrop we've never looked at," said Semple, who recently earned her master's degree in geology from UB. She added that participants deliberately have not been told much about the geology of the terrain they'll be exploring.

"The idea is to better understand our thought patterns so that the equipment they make can be made more useful to geologists who one day will explore Mars," she explained.

Garry, who has been a counselor at the Space Camp operated by the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., hopes to begin to understand how geologists and engineers can work together toward the common goal of Mars exploration.

"I love teaching geology and space exploration," he said. "One of my goals is to one day help train the astronauts who go back to the moon or to Mars how to do field work."

Garry also has a very practical interest in the mission: He wants to know what it feels like to do geological fieldwork in a space suit.

"I would personally like to come up with ways to make doing field geology in an astronaut suit more efficient," he said.

The Mars Society is on the Web at