CERN engineer prepares for simulated Mars mission


A UK engineer working at CERN is gearing up for a 30-day mission at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in Utah that will simulate life on the Red Planet.

In around a month’s time, Zoe Townsend will join six other members of the LATAM-III crew to experience what life might be like on a future manned mission to Mars. Each of the team members will have specific tasks and challenges to carry out while at the MDRS, ranging from engineering and astrophysics to space farming and group problem-solving.  As crew journalist, one of Zoe’s responsibilities will be to document mission progress via video updates. She will also be providing an inside track on her experience for The Student Engineer via a series of blogs, alongside conducting research into mining Martian resources with the aid of a rover.

“My project is a collaboration with the University West of England, where I would be taking a rover with a modular drill station to theoretically investigate the ability to mine resources for a base,” said Zoe. “This is with support from individuals at Catapult, Satellite applications. Another part of my work will be in outreach and creating video diaries for the Steminist platform.

“During my daily life, I am a CERN Engineer where I am working on the integration between the cryostat and the 16T magnets for the Future Circular Collider. Therefore, we also have support from CERN and as such, they will be promoting the mission.”

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Picture of the MDRS from above (Credit: MDRS)

Known as Crew 212, the seven members of the team hail from all over the world and bring a variety of technical skills and experience. Ahead of the T-minus 30 day countdown to the start of the mission, Zoe provided an update on the crew members to mission control

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Today Mission control received the following message from Crew 212:

LATAM III to mission control, we confirm we are on time and due to touchdown in 30 days on the Mars Desert Research Station, The Mars Society Peru are on standby with support. Italian and Spanish co-commanders Vittorio Netti and Mariona Badenas-Agusti confirm that all seven crew members are in good spirits.

“Colombian Crew Engineer Camilo Zorro would like to confirm the transportation of the modular drilling rover, Photogrammetry and Inspection drones. That they are safely secured and ready for deployment upon touchdown. Mexican Greenhab Officer Héctor Palomeque adds that the bacteria samples are contained with Peruvian Crew Scientist Marlen Castillo Vilcahuaman, stating she cannot wait to eat some Mars grown tomatoes once we arrive at the base.

Italian Executive Officer Paolo Guardabasso would like to report the finalising of the schedules; EVA’s are confirmed throughout the crew.”

Watch this space over the coming weeks for further updates from Zoe on the progress of the mission.

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