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Life on Mars: dirty with broken toilets

WHEN it comes to life on Mars flooding toilets, a lack of showers and a endless diet of dried food might not be the first problems that spring to mind.

Elif takes a walk on the Martian surface - or rather, the Utah desert
Elif takes a walk on the Martian surface - or rather, the Utah desert

But these are everyday difficulties a future mission to the Red Planet could face, according to a research project involving two students from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow.

Postgraduate engineers Elif Oguz and Martin Kubicek are currently part of Crew 135 at the Mars Desert Research Centre in the US, which was set up to investigate the problems associated with human exploration of Mars.

The isolated research station is hidden in a rock-strewn corner of Utah, known as the San Rafael Swell, said to be the closest environment to Mars on Earth. Unsurprisingly, conditions are more favourable than Mars, which has an average temperature of around -60°C and an atmosphere with so little oxygen it cannot be breathed.

To replicate a trip to the planet, the seven crew cannot step outside without donning mocked-up space suits, helmets and oxygen packs and have to communicate via radio.

They also have to survive on strict water rations and dried food, and meticulously record all gas and electricity used to assess how to use the limited resources available on Mars.

Oguz said: "It is such an interesting experience. We have dried food such as dried celery, spinach, carrot, tomato and grated cheddar, so we have to boil almost everything before we cook.

"We have to pump water tank once a day, sometimes twice a day. Every day, Martin records our water, electricity and gas consumption in order to report them.

"We are also responsible for all technical maintenance, such as spacesuits and walkie-talkies."

Oguz said problems which they encountered in the first week of the mission included an overflowing toilet and a "spacewalk" on which her oxygen breathing tube did not work properly - issues which would quickly become critical on a real mission to Mars.

She added: "The weather is getting cold everyday. We use thermal clothes but nothing helps. During our mission we have to use minimum energy so it means that we can not take a shower every day.

"Actually, that it is the most difficult thing here for me. I take a shower every day in my life on Earth."

The team, based at the research centre until February 15, is also carrying out experiments including one to find out if the station's structure would survive extreme weather conditions. Every decade or so Mars is hit by a giant dust storm which hides the sun for several months.

Oguz said that taking part in research which could one day assist the launch of a real mission to Mars was an ­"amazing" feeling. She said that the inhospitable environment and difficulties humans would face on Mars would not deter her from taking part in such a trip.

"I know the conditions are very difficult but it would be really worthy to take in part that kind of project," she said.

"I believe everybody dreamed of being an astronaut at least once in their childhood."

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