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WAYNE COUNTY — The Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) near Hanksville has become a spectacle to locals. When it comes to role-playing a mission to the red planet, they take it very seriously.
"Space is my life," Susan Ip Jewell, an aerospace medicine specialist from Wales, said. "My passion and personal goal is to become a commercial astronaut, and also to become one of the first settlers on Mars."
Ip Jewell is part of a crew of seven who are competing for a chance to spend a year at a mock Mars space station on Devon Island, located in the Arctic region of Canada. The competition is being run by The Mars Society, a nonprofit group based in Colorado, which built the MDRS in 2002. It says its mission, called the "Mars Arctic 365," is unprecedented and will give scientists a chance to study the effects of long-term isolation, as well as how well a small group can survive autonomously.
"I will become a part of a legacy of people that are committed to exploring and eventually colonizing another planet," Greg Leonard, a researcher from the University of Arizona, said. "If we don't explore, if we don't push the limits, then we perish. That's my feeling."
The crew members spend their days as if they were on Mars. No one enters or leaves the MDRS without spending a few minutes in the airlock. Wednesday morning, Victor Luo, a jet propulsion engineer with NASA, went out to gather soil samples.
"I've believed in this since I was a little kid," Luo said. "I've always wanted to go in space."
Luo, who helps design rovers and satellites that have ultimately been sent into space, says he's also willing to settle Mars and never come back. He and fellow crew member Heidi Beemer, of Clarksville, Tennessee, also happen to be finalists in a contest run by Mars One, another nonprofit group that has plans to send astronauts to the red planet in 2018, with no plans for a return flight.
The Arctic 365 is set to begin next July.
"If we can't survive in the Arctic, then we don't stand a chance on Mars," Luo said.