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Simulation gives teachers experience of living, working on Mars

Posted at 1:59 PM, Jan 11, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (KSTU) — As mankind inches closer to the first boot prints on Mars, several teachers from Utah got to experience a weeklong simulation that shows what it would be like to work and live on the red planet.

Jen Jones is an astronomy teacher and assistant to the principal at Quest Academy Charter School in West Haven.

"It allows a lot of different groups to come out and do research as if they were on Mars," she said.

Jones was selected for the first time to participate in a program called Spaceward Bound Utah with a cohort of teachers.

"They have a hab unit, which is the place where you live and work out of while you're there doing an analog," said Jones.

The NASA-funded program through The Mars Society allowed Jones and five other teachers from across Utah and as far away as Australia to participate in the simulation at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS).

The station is located in Hanksville, which is considered a near-perfect geological analog of the Martian surface.

"They also have a greenhouse; they have a science dome," said Jones.

The simulation allows these educators to get the full experience of what exactly it would be like on Mars.

"If you leave the tunnel system or any of the buildings to go out in the general area while you're in [the simulation], then you have to get suited up and wear a space suit to do it," said Jones.

Jen Carver-Hunter is a fifth-grade teacher at Mountain View Elementary School in Salt Lake City. She has served as the Spaceward Bound Utah Commander for the cohort of teachers for the past three years.

"The simulation pieces where we step out of our comfort zones, and we are actually in a Mars simulation — thinking like Martians, acting like Martians, and trying to stay alive," she said.

The experience, Carver-Hunter says, allows these teachers to bring what they learned right back to their classrooms.

"What I bring back, my students actually do habits — habitability surveys — of our playground to determine if our playground would be habitable if it was a location on Mars. They determine landing sites," said Carver-Hunter.

Both teachers hope this will also help get their students excited about space exploration.

"We're going to, you know, need all kinds of different scientists and engineers to prepare all the equipment for their journeys," Jones said. "There's just so much that needs to be done that there is a place for almost anyone in the preparation to go to Mars."

Jones says 271 crews have done research at MDRS since 2001, and there have been more than 2,000 scholarly papers developed from that research.

This story was originally reported by Chris Arnold on