Canadian Museum of Nature scientist joining two-week Mars simulation
Paul Sokoloff, a botanist with the Canadian Museum of Nature, has always been fascinated by space. Now, he gets a chance to further this interest the last two weeks of November as part of a scientific team for an international “Mars” simulation mission in southern Utah.
From November 15 to 30, Sokoloff will join two other Canadians (from Montreal), as well three crew members from Russia, the United States and France at the Mars Desert Research Station, located near Hanksville, Utah. Sokoloff’s team is among a number of crews that are being evaluated for a potential long-term, one-year mission at the Mars Society site on Devon Island. Psychological tests administered before, during and after the mission will help assess the team’s compatibility, leadership skills and cohesion.
The admitted “space nut” was a successful applicant for the program, which is supported by the Mars Society, a not-for-profit that funds research into the sustainability of life on the Red Planet. It funds two research sites – on Devon Island and the Utah site in the American desert – which are selected because the geology and terrain provide an “analog” that might approximate the world of Mars.
“It’s like exploring Mars, without leaving Earth,” explains Sokoloff, who will be the crew biologist and health and safety officer. “I’ve always been a space nut,” he says, noting a memorable talk by Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk that inspired him. Among other things, Sokoloff will use his botanical expertise to survey plants in the area, and to manage a database of all the surrounding flora, fauna and geology.
During their two-week “mission”, the crew will live and conduct research in a circular pod that provides basic amenities, living space, and lab and computer areas. Anytime they need to step outside, such as to explore the surrounding terrain, crew members are required to put on a space suit—just as if they were stepping out onto the real Red Planet.