Friday, December 01, 2023

Mission to Mars

Staff Writer | October 20, 2022 1:07 AM

COEUR d'ALENE — Charis Adams has always thought of going into space, and Oct. 24, she will — sort of.

Adams, a 16-year-old Coeur d’Alene student, was selected to be a member of Crew 266 of the NASA Spaceward Bound, a high school-aged team to train in the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah. She is a student of Tech Trep Academy, a K-12 home school program.

“I wanted to be an astronaut for many years. It was my childhood dream,” Adams said.

The seven students who make up her crew were handpicked from dozens of applications received from students around the world. They will embark on a five-day mission in a full Martian simulation.

The crew will start with a day of onboarding and training in Utah. Then, they spend five days in simulation before a day of debriefing.

While in the Martian environment, students will complete tasks to maintain the space station, overcome obstacles or make repairs as if they’re on the surface of Mars.

Work can include anything from changing a light bulb, testing operating systems or taking supply inventories.

“And throughout the mission our plan is to have other experts come into the station,” Adams said.

Instructors will guide the students and host training lessons. The Mars Desert Research Station director, Shannon Rupert, will invite research consultants into the station "from other Martian plantations" to further train the crew.

The "Mars station" has outbuildings connected by rabbit holes, or covered pathways, to protect students from intense Martian radiation.

On the grounds, there’s a habitat, a science dome, a repair assembly module and a greenhouse. There are also storage buildings for the electric vehicles the crew will use when traveling outside.

Adams will have to put on a flight suit and space suit in order to go from building to building as if she and her crew were really on Mars.

“We have a guidebook to give us the basics of what we’ll be doing, but we don’t have a ton of experience,” Adams said. “We’ll be learning a lot from professionals while we’re there.”

The Mars Desert Research Station training campus was established by the Mars Society to mimic the environment on the surface of the planet. The model space station is used to train analog astronauts, scientists and crew to live and work in the intense Martian environment.

Spaceward Bound is a Mars Society course program funded by grants from NASA. It’s designed to train elementary school educators to inspire their students.

Adams was passionate about space exploration before joining Spaceward Bound, and she’s already inspired.

“I always thought John Glenn and Neil Armstrong were really cool,” Adams said. “Especially because Glenn has the same birthday as me, and as an 8-year-old that was really cool.”

Adams found out from her school that the Mars Society was taking applications for crew members and she was both excited and reluctant.

“My big role was encouraging her to do it,” said Joanna Adams, Charis' mother. “She wanted to apply, but I remember her saying ‘well there’s no point. They’re not going to choose me.’”

Joanna coached Charis, saying she definitely wouldn’t be picked if she never applied and gave her the confidence to write her application.

“I was super excited for the slight possibility that maybe this could happen, so I applied,” said Charis.

Students who were selected will have all expenses paid with the exception of transportation.

Another Idaho student, from Lewiston, Micah Callaham, also made the cut. Other crew members include Ian Davis from Texas, Owen Flanagan and Riley Nuttycombe from Colorado, Barnabas Pasztor from Hungary and Hope Lea from Florida.

The crew members have been working together online to prepare together for their mission.

“We’ve been able to collaborate on some things because some of our roles overlap, so we were able to figure out what books to read ahead of time together, to better prepare for it," Charis said.

Each crew member has been given a job in advance of the mission, to allow them to research and prepare ahead of their arrival.

“The directors chose me to be the journalist,” Charis said. “Everyone has a different role, and I’m happy with my role.”

Charis admits to being a little nervous about the formal writing structure of a journalist, but she thinks she can do well with it. She hopes to bring poetry to the position, and wants to add art into how she presents the mission.

“Charis is a real light wherever she goes,” said Zak Adams, Charis’ father. “Whatever the circumstance … we’re just constantly being told what a joy she is wherever she finds herself. The joy for me is getting to see her use her gifts and abilities, her heart and her character in more places as she grows.”

Charis’ parents, her sister, Nora, and her family know she’s going to do well on her training mission.

“I think for her own personal growth it's fantastic that she has this opportunity,” said Jackie Adams, Charis’ grandmother. “I think she’s such a great example of what a young woman can do.”

The Mars Society, a nonprofit funded by members and donors, hosts conferences and presents research internationally on their mission to colonize Mars.

They have 54 chapters worldwide in dozens of countries, and manage two research simulation stations: the Hanksville location and another in Canada.

“The Mars Society is the world’s largest and most influential space advocacy organization dedicated to the human exploration and settlement of the planet Mars,” according to their Executive Director, James Burk, in the organization's introduction video.

Astronaut Jessica Watkins was a former MDRS crew member, according to Michael Stoltz, Mars Society director of media and public relations.

Watkins was the first Black woman to complete an International Space Station long-term mission in April.

Charis has had heart conditions and asthma throughout her childhood, so she thinks her odds aren’t very good of becoming an astronaut.

She thinks we’ll send people to Mars someday. With so much going on in the world, she really hopes it will be in her lifetime, but doubts she'll be headed there herself.

“If there were an opportunity to go, just as a passenger, and it became less physically taxing, then I would be all for it," Charis said. "But at the moment I don’t think it’s a super practical career, but I’m open to it.”

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