Mars Desert Research Station Report 174

Mission Summary – Crew 174

Mars Desert Research Station End of Mission Summary

Crew 174 – Team PLANETEERS


Team PLANETEERS (All Indian Crew):

Commander:  Mamatha Maheshwarappa

Executive Officer/Crew Scientist:  Saroj Kumar

Engineer/Journalist:  Arpan Vasanth

GreenHab Officer:  Sneha Velayudhan

Crew Health & Safety Officer/Geologist:  Sai Arun Dharmik

Success occurs when your dreams get bigger than your excuses


The Solar System is a tiny drop in our endless cosmic sea (Universe). Within our solar system, a very few planets host an environment suitable for some life forms to exist. The closest one being Mars after the Earth, following the success of rovers such as Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity and several space probes, the human understanding of the planet has reached new levels. The next important aspect is to find out if there exist any life forms or if the planet had hosted any life in the past. Although the rovers send out a lot of information about the planet, so far humans have not found anything substantial. With advancements in science and technology by organizations such as NASA, ESA, ISRO, CNSA along with private industries such as SpaceX manned mission to Mars seems to be within reach in a few years. To carry out successful missions humans will have to develop key tactics to cope up extreme conditions, confined spaces and limited resources. Team Planeteers (MDRS Crew 174) is the first all Indian crew consisting of five young aspirants from different domain who have come together to embark on a special mission in order to develop such key tactics. The crew was successful in executing the planned experiments. The key for their success is the temperament and dedication shown by each individual and fixing small issues immediately. Since all the members were of same origin, food and cultural aspects was an advantage. Going forward the team is planning out for outreach activities. As a part of QinetiQ Space UK, Mamatha will be involved in outreach, education and media activities (TeenTech & STEMNET). Similarly, Saroj and Sneha will be conducting STEM outreach activities at Unversity of Alabama and Rochester Institute of Technology respectively.

Figure 1 Team Planeteers inside the MDRS Hab

Research conducted at MDRS by Crew 174:


  1. Characterizing the transference of Human Commensal Bacteria and Developing Zoning Methodology for Planetary Protection

The first part of this research aims at using metagenomics analysis to assess the degree to which human associated (commensal) bacteria could potentially contaminate Mars during a crewed mission to the surface. This involved collection of environmental soil samples during the first week of the mission from outside the MDRS airlock door, at MDRS airlock door and at increasing distances from the habitat (including a presumably uncontaminated site) in order to characterise transference of human commensal bacteria into the environment and swabbing of interior surfaces carried out towards the end of the mission within the MDRS habitat to characterize the commensal biota likely to be present in a crewed Mars mission. In the interests of astrobiology, however, if microbial life is discovered on the Martian surface during a crewed mission, or at any point after a crewed mission, it will be crucial to be able to reliably distinguish these detected cells from the microbes potentially delivered by the human presence.

The second part of the research aims at testing the hypothesis that human-associated microbial contamination will attenuate with increasing distance from the Hab, thus producing a natural zoning.  The previous studies hypothesize that there may be relatively greater contamination along directions of the prevailing wind because windborne particles or particle aggregates allow attachment of microbes and help to shelter them against various environmental challenges, e.g. desiccation, ultraviolet light, etc. Efforts are afoot to try to develop a concept of zones around a base where the inner, highest contamination zone is surrounded by zones of diminishing levels of contamination occur and in which greater Planetary Protection stringency must be enforced (Criswell et al 2005).  As part of that concept, an understanding of what the natural rate of microbial contamination propagation will be is essential.

a. Sample collection process:

Two sets of samples were collected as the analysis will be carried out at two different stages.

i. Samples of the soil outside the MDRS were collected aseptically into sterile Falcon tubes. Sampling sites included immediately outside the habitat air lock (with presumably the highest level of human-associated bacteria from the crew quarters), at increasing distances from the airlock along a common EVA route (to track decrease in transference with distance), and at a more remote site that ideally has not previously been visited by an EVA (to provide the negative control of background microbiota in the environment).

Figure 2 Soil Samples collected at increasing distances from the Airlock


ii. Various surfaces within the crew quarters were swabbed using a standard sterile swab kit to collect microbes present from the course of normal human habitation. These included door handles, walls, table surface, airlock handles, staircase, working table, computer. This did not expose the science team to additional infection risks (such as not swabbing toilets).

Figure 3 (a) Sterile Swab Kit (b) Internal swab collection (working table)

Sampling locations within the habitat and soil sampling sites during EVA were recorded by photographs and written notes. After collection, the samples were refrigerated at the MDRS Science lab, and then returned with the crew to London for storage and analysis. This is analogous to medical samples being collected from ISS astronauts and returned to Earth for lab analysis. The molecular biology sample analysis and data interpretation, including all the metagenomic analyses to identify bacterial strains present, will be conducted by Lewis Dartnell in collaboration with John Ward. The collaboration agreement is already in place and lab space and resources confirmed. The analysis is carried out in two different stages:


a. Stage 1 Analysis:

The first set of samples will be tested using off-the-shelf simple tests for the presence or absence of human associated microbes, namely coliforms.  These are simple to use and give a yes/no answer, so plots will be made of yes/no results with distance from the hab in different directions.  This could be correlated with prevailing wind directions and/or to show common human pathways from the hab versus directions in which people typically don’t go.

b. Stage 2 Analysis:

The second set of samples (internal swabs) will not be cultured or otherwise processed back on Earth (as culturing of human commensurate and environmental microorganisms could present a biological hazard to the MDRS astronauts). All sampling materials and storage containers were provided by the study, and thus will require no consumables or other resources from the MDRS. All sample collection pots and sampling materials will be removed by the study scientists, and the sampling process itself (small soil samples and surface swabs) will not impact the MDRS habitat or its natural environment.


  1. Zoning and sample collection Protocols for Planetary Protection


Planetary protection is one of the major subjects that require immediate attention before humans travel to Mars and beyond. MDRS being one of the closest analogues on Earth with respect to dry environment on Mars was the best site to perform and simulate issues related to planetary protection. Our work on planetary protection was to simulate zoning protocol to be used to manage relative degrees of acceptable contamination surrounding MDRS and implementation of sample protocols while at EVA’s for soil sample collection, geological study and during hab support activities etc.


a. Zoning protocols for crew exploration around MDRS

During the mission, we extensively studied the zoning protocol in and around the hab and how contamination issues on Mars can be restricted.  On the first day on ‘Mars’ we used the geographical map of MDRS exploration area to formulate and characterize zones around the hab and the strategy for sample collection.

i. Zone: 1 (Area within Hab) – This area is believed to be the most contaminated with the human microbes.

ii. Zone 2 (About 20 meters from the hab) – This is the area where most of the hab support systems and rovers are parked. This zone is supposed to have less microbial contamination than hab but higher than Zone 3 and 4.

iii. Zone 3 (Beyond 20 meters but within 300 meters around the hab) – This area is considered to have regular human presence during an EVA. Soil samples of Zone 2a and 2b were collected for future analysis in lab to study human microbial contamination.

iv. Zone 4 (Special Region) – This area was considered to have insufficient remote sensing data to determine the level of biological potential. This area was marked as no EVA zone and can only be studied in detail by remote sensing data using satellites or drones.


b. Sample collection protocols

The crew studied the sample collection protocol requirements for all the activities such as soil sample collection, geological study and during the operations of hab support systems etc., this was to avoid forward and back contamination.  The protocols were planned to be initiated from the time a crew member leaves the airlock for EVA and until he/she returns from the EVA to Hab. During the EVA, the crew noted every experiment procedure and made sure there was no breach in spacesuits and no human microbial contamination during soil collection. The tools used for the soil collection were required to be completely cleaned and sterilized. The study of rocks on site during an EVA was one of the major challenges where it was realized that special tools were required to pick the rock samples without getting them exposed to spacesuit gloves. Using only gloves to pick rock samples could also rupture the spacesuits and thus there could be a decompression issue. Even with a detailed geological exploration map of MDRS and high resolution satellite imagery, it was noted that the use of drones can drastically reduce the human EVAs and lots of geological and terrain information can be obtained in a shot span of time. This step would heavily reduce the human EVA and thereby contamination issues to special regions where there could be a possibility of having a biological activity. Water, a major carrier of human microbes is proposed to be within the structures of hab. During the simulation, the crew made sure that there was no water spillage outside the hab.


  1. Development of New Techniques to Enhance Plant Growth in a Controlled Environment

A crewed mission to the Mars demands sufficient food supplies during the mission. Thus cultivation of plants and crops play an important role to create a habitat on Mars. There are some factors to be considered before cultivating crops on the Martian surface. First, the planet’s position in the solar system, Mars receives about 2/3rd of sunlight as compared to the Earth that plays a vital role in crop cultivation. Second, the type of soil used for crop cultivation should to be rich in various nutrients. Since the MDRS site is considered as one of the best analogue sites on Earth to simulate Mars environment, the experimental results of plant growth at MDRS was considered for this research. This research aims at growing fenugreek (crop that is rich in nutrients and grows within the mission time) to determine the effect of Vitamin D on the growth.

At MDRS, the fenugreek seeds were allowed to germinate for 2 days. In the mean-time, an EVA was carried out to collect soil from different parts on ‘Mars’. The soil was collected based on the colour and texture. Five types of soil, white (01), red (02), clay (03) coloured soil, course grey soil (04) and sand from river bed (05) were collected. Two set of experiment pots were made as shown in the Figure 4. Each had 15 pots, 10 pots with Earth soil (ES) labelled with different levels of Vitamin D (0- 0.9) and 5 pots of Mars soil (MS) labelled according to the area of the soil collected (0-5). One set of 15 pots was placed in the Green hab and the other in the controlled environment (under the Misian Mars lamp) after planting the well germinated seeds. The plants were watered twice a day in order to maintain the moisture in the soil.

Figure 4 Experimental Setup with Earth and ‘Mars’ Soil

The temperature and humidity levels were monitored twice a day throughout the mission both in the green hab and the controlled environment (Misian Mars Lamp). It was noted that there was a steep increase in the temperature in the green hab as the outside temperature was high that inturn decreased the humidity in the green hab drastically. The situation was managed by switching on the cooler and then by monitoring the heater thermostat. The plants were watered with specific measurement of Vitamin D every day. The experiment was successfully completed by monitoring the growth regularly, it is evident that humidity and temperature impacts the growth of plants. The plants in the green hab showed more growth of primary root than the secondary, the leaves were normal in colour and growth. In the controlled environment, the root growth was fast, the plants developed many secondary roots in few days. The plants looked healthy, the leaves were dark green and bigger than the ones in the green hab as seen in Figure 5.

Figure 5 Plant growth in (a) Misian Mars Lamp (b) GreenHab

In conclusion, the graphs were plotted for the root growth for the Earth Soil with Vitamin D in the green hab and the controlled environment from Sol 08 to Sol 13. The graphs indicated that the low level of Vitamin D (0.1) enhances root growth in the green hab. Under misian Mars lamp, the growth rate is high for ES 0 (without Vitamin D).   Readings tabulated for the Mars soil was plotted on daily basis but, after few days it was noted that there was neglibile growth in the Mars soil. The graphs plotted for few days are as shown in the Figure 6.

Figure 6 Root growth of seedlings (a) Misian Mars Lamp (b) GreenHab


  1. Study of magnetic susceptibility of the rocks and their comparison


The primary objective was to study the magnetic susceptibility and magnetic minerals of the rock samples collected and compare them with multi-spectral remote sensing data back in the lab. MDRS contains a range of Mars analogue features relevant for geological studies. It contains a series of sediments derived from weathering and erosion from marine to fluvial and lacustrine deposits containing also volcanic ashes (Foing et al. 2011). With the preliminary understanding of the MDRS geographical exploration area and identification of potential targets, the lithology can help us decipher the structural history of the region, with understanding of genesis of such rock types and aid exploration efforts. The previous studies done at MDRS reveals that the magnetic susceptibility did not vary significantly near the Hab. Hence, the locations of various geological formations far away from the hab were selected to study the distribution of magnetic minerals. The selected locations for the same were sedimentary outcrops, cattle grid, burpee dinosaur quarry, widow’s peak and near the Motherload of concretions.

We found layers of horizontally bedded sandstone and conglomerates, sandstones and siltstones. Some of them seem to have inverse grading which could have been created by the debris flow. Gypsum and lichens were spotted around the area of sedimentary crops. In the next visit to Motherload of concretions, we have seen a variety of lichens: yellow, black, orange and grey. And in the Cattle grid region, colors of mudstone and conglomerates bands of rich cream, brown, yellow and red were found. The basalt samples were collected from the gravel in the cattle grid region and from the URC north site (porphyr) to be studied in the lab. Near the widow’s peak, shales were found along with gypsum shining bright, distributed around that area. Most of the region was covered mostly with loose soil. The locations of all the samples collected from different regions were marked with the help of GPS. The magnetic susceptibility of rock samples were measured and documented them using the magnetometer in the science lab. Inspection of samples was possible with the microscope at the science dome, with 10X zoom as seen in Figure 4. They need to be studied in thin sections for better understanding and will be done on Earth under the guidance of specialists.

Figure 7 (a) Porphyr under microscope (b) Siltstone under the microscope


  1. Drone Experiment

‘Mars’ has a harsh environment that risks Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA). The main objectives of the drone experiment were:

a. To ease EVAs by understanding the scenario of a region that is hard to access by rover/ATV.

b. To simulate the application of drone in search of a crew member during an emergency situation and during loss of communication.

c. Video making and photography for outreach activities.

The first objective to make use of drone in isolated regions was successfully executed on Sol 07. Since it was the first trial, the drone was operated in beginner’s mode restricting the field of operation to 30m range. The crew was looking out for soil samples, when confronted by a medium size hill the drone was sent out to check for soil sample availability on the other side. The region looked to be same and it was easier for the crew to take a decision to abort the mission and move to a different location.

Execution date:                Sol 07 (Earth date: 02/05/2017)

GPS Satellites:   13

Flight mode:                     Beginner’s mode of max 62 FT altitude and within 30m range.


The second objective was to simulate an emergency situation when one of the crew lost communication with other member during EVAs. The beginner mode range was too less and hence the drone was operated in advanced mode to search the missing crew member. The mission was successful in identifying the crew member.

Execution:         Sol 11 (Earth date: 02/09/2017)

GPS Satellites:   14

Flight mode:                     Advanced mode with 121 FT altitude and 500m range.


Figure 8 Drone Searching a Crew Member


Several photographs/videos were captured as per the planned outreach activity.

Mars Crew 173 Reporting

Kids Talk Radio Science is following the work of Mars Crew 173 and we are using the information to help us in our STEAM++ project-based learning.   This is a wonderful resource for helping our team to advance our work on the Occupy Mars Learning Adventures. and
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MDRS Crew 173 Issues Final Summary Report

The following is the final report of Mars Desert Research StationCrew 173 (Team Prima, a multi-national team of scientists and researchers).  A complete review of this year’s MDRS activities will be presented at the 20th Annual International Mars Society Convention, to be held September 7-10, 2017 at the University of California Irvine. The call for papers for the conference will be posted soon at:

MDRS Mission Summary
Crew 173 (Team PRIMA)

Commander/Astrobiologist: Michaela Musilova (Slovakia)
Executive Officer: Arnau Pons Lorente (Spain)
Engineer/ Astronomer: Idriss Sisaid (France/Morocco)
GreenHab Officer/Astrobiologist: Richard Blake (Australia)
Crew Artist/Journalist: Niamh Shaw (Ireland)
Crew Health & Safety Officer/Geologist: Roy Naor (Israel)

Facebook: @marsmission173
Twitter: @MarsCrew173

Team PRIMA is made up of highly qualified scientists, engineers, artists and leadership experts from all over the world. We all first met during the International Space University (ISU)’s Space Studies Program. The crew was successful in undertaking a wide range of research projects and outreach activities at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) during their mission there, detailed below. One of the keys to the smooth running of the mission and projects were great group dynamics, and the multicultural atmosphere the crew nurtured. Amongst other things, we regularly organized “culture nights”, in ISU’s spirit, during which the different international traditions and cuisines of the crew members were presented. Another thing, which bonded the whole crew, was our passion for reaching out to the public and inspiring others to pursue their dreams, just like the crew is doing. They believe this mission alone helped raise the awareness about the importance of the space sector in all of the crew members’ countries.

Research Conducted at MDRS

3D printing of bricks through In Situ Resource Utilization

The aim of this project was to develop and test 3d printed blocks, which can be used to build multifunctional buildings on Mars. The shape of the blocks was optimized to withstand different types of heavy loads, contain water (for daily use by astronauts) and to provide extra-radiation shielding for the astronauts. Furthermore, the idea was to use in situ resources to make the blocks, therefore minimizing the amount of material that would need to be transported to Mars.

The first week at MDRS, we encountered several issues with the 3D printer present here (including the cold temperatures at night for example), which didn’t allow us to print bricks but we managed to print 5 bricks over the last few days. Every brick took 17h on average to print. The outer shell of the brick was printed using PLA filament (plastic). For future studies, we suggest laser sintering technology to simulate 3D printing using Martian soil. The printed blocks are, however, a great success as the interlocking system was fully functional. With the crew geologist Roy Naor we evaluated the different types of soil that can be used within the brick to strengthen it. Filling the blocks with appropriate soil was also successful and the process was fairly easy (less than 1min per block). We then built a small structure at MDRS during an EVA, in order to prepare for the next iteration of the proof of concept.

GreenHab related projects

The work in the GreenHab during this has mission comprised of three main experiments:

The temperature fluctuation was measured across the day, from a range of locations: inside the GreenHab, inside on the ground floor of the main Hab, outside, and, inside the grow tent (which was initially located within the GreenHab).

Due to the extremely high temperatures in the growth tent (50◦C ~120◦F), the grow tent was moved to the lower level of the main Hab. With the grow tent inside the main Hab, its temperature hardly fluctuated at all. With ~65% humidity, it now represents an ideal seed germination area. The GreenHab still gets quite hot during the day, getting to ~40◦C (~105◦F), but with no wind and regular watering, the plants thrive. Similarly, with a working heater, the night- time temperatures now only get as low as ~17◦C (~63◦F), which is a perfectly adequate temperature to keep edible plants happy.

This involved two similar experiments designed by universities in the Czech Republic, and brought by the crew commander, Michaela Musilova. The first was a corn experiment, designed by researchers at the Masaryk University, to be used as a base line for a future experiment testing the effects of heavy metals on the growth of corn. The experiment at the MDRS involved measuring the height of corn seedlings each day as well as recording the number of leaves each plant had.

The second experiment saw six different crops sown in pots with seed densities ranging from 1 to 12 seeds per 4 cm2. Some seedlings have already sprouted but it is still too early to gather meaningful results. This experiment is to be followed up by researchers at Mendel University.

Both projects are to be continued by future crews at MDRS – we will leave them appropriate instructions for this. Hopefully, in this way, we will be able to engage multiple crews in this international project.

This experiment was borne of the need for more soil to grow plants in. Samples of soil were collected from geological locations in the surroundings of MDRS. These samples were tested for their pH, as well as salinity. With kitchen and garden scraps forming compost, this could improve the regolith to the point it could be used to grow more crops in the future. Hopefully, this could reduce dependence on outside sources to bring in more potting mix, and more fully recreate a Martian simulation. Unfortunately, the instruments to measure pH and salinity at the MDRS were insufficient for this, and thus this experiment warrants further investigation.

Chemical and isotopic fingerprints of MDRS carbonates

The potential of extraterrestrial life on Mars is well connected to the history, and distribution of water and carbon on the planet. Carbonate minerals are seen as powerful tools with which to explore these fundamental relationships, as they are intimately tied to both the water and the inorganic carbon cycle. The carbonate analysis work at MDRS concentrated on locating and sampling carbonate minerals in the topsoil and exhumed formations in the Martian-like environment. After an initial study of the geology of the area, carbonates were sampled and tested on site, using HCl 5% to test for a reaction of the rocks with the acid. The verified assemblages were then brought back to MDRS for further testing. The sampling was performed in a very rigorous way, documented meticulously, while keeping the work analogous to what extraterrestrial field work would be like one day.

The samples will be sent for analysis of the carbonates’ chemical and isotopic fingerprint at the Weizmann Institute of Science (Israel) (including crystal separation, mineral/chemical identification (XRD, EDS, CL), textural analysis (SEM, micro-CT), isotopic analysis (SIMS)). The results will be added to their datasets with the intention of publishing them in academic journals.

Art-Outreach project

The aim of this project was to capture the public’s interest in Mars, MDRS and space:
+ By telling the real-time human story of our mission pre-, during- and post-mission,
+ To inspire the younger generation to pursue STEAM education and realize that everyone can play a part in the exploration of space
+ To raise awareness of the importance of analog missions, specifically MDRS and the opportunity for non-Space agency individuals to play their part in Human Space Exploration.

We believe that we accomplished these aims: together we documented our entire experience here at MDRS using audio, video, time-lapse, 360 cameras and photography. We began by making videos pre-mission to reflect the time and effort in preparation for our mission. During mission, we captured every EVA in photography and video and conducted time lapse videos of our experiments, and daily life during our mission. We will continue to record our experience post-mission to capture further reflections about our experience at MDRS. During our mission, we shared a summary of our daily activities on social media and on blogposts in our native countries using this content. We also created short 90 second tutorial videos for school children to inspire them to consider careers in STEM, especially in the space industry, to be posted to our YouTube channel post-mission.  We also worked with a number of companies, research institutions and journalists/media organizations around the world. Awareness of Mars and MDRS has most definitely been achieved, and we all return home to requests for further interviews and requests from schools to speak about our experience here.

Israeli outreach & educational projects

One of our outreach projects involved a challenge for high school students in Israel to design a set of small experiments for the team to conduct under simulation. They were: 1) Detecting variances in rock type near MDRS (involving sampling and examining the geological characteristics of each of the formations present here); 2) Testing the strength of the 3D printed bricks as a function of the different rock material they will be filled with (thus testing the variance in their strength properties ); and testing the effect of repetitive EVAs on the time it takes the crew to prepare for it (timing and documenting the process of putting EVA equipment on). All crew members took part in this research lead by Roy Naor. The projects yielded interesting results. For instance, there was a great improvement in the EVA preparation time (decreasing from 30 minutes to 15 minutes throughout the mission). This projects already got a lot of media coverage and the results be published in the Israeli media after the mission.

“Mission to Mars” competition and research project

Michaela Musilova organized a competition for high school and university students in Slovakia called Mission to Mars (Misia Mars), together with Slovenske Elektrarne. The aim of the competition was to motivate young people to design an experiment worthy of being taken and performed on Mars, whether real or simulated at MDRS. Students from all over Slovakia participated in the competition in 2016. The winning experiment has been brought to MDRS with Crew 173 (Figure 5). It is focused on enhancing the speed and yield of spinach growth under simulated Martian conditions. Michaela communicated regularly with her students in Slovakia, who remotely advised her on how to perform it. The experiment was very successful, as the spinach grew much faster than the spinach grown in the GreenHab. It also yielded enough leaves to treat the crew to a mini spinach salad on their last evening at MDRS. All the follow-up analyses will be performed in the students’ school in Detva, Slovakia. As per the other outreach activities, this project attracted a lot of attention from the media and was followed by many schools throughout Slovakia.

“Space food” or food for extreme conditions

A practical way of eating is the key to long-term expeditions in extreme conditions on Earth and in future long-duration missions in space. Food will have to be compact (for easy transportation), full of the most important nutrients (for maintaining good crew health and performance), but also diverse for all the different human senses. Hence, a project focusing on food for extreme conditions (nicknamed “space food”) has been prepared by the Slovak Organization for Space Activities (SOSA) and several Slovak research institutes and companies. The aim of the work at MDRS was to monitor the changes in the quality of the space food products and their nutritional content, rather than to test the products on the crew. In particular, the effects of the different extreme conditions (e.g. varying temperatures) on the food were studied for health and safety reasons. The project went very well and most of the products managed to survive the simulated Martian conditions. Further analyses will be performed at the Slovak institutes upon the return of the products to Slovakia, with the aim of publishing the data in academic publications. Future plans include using the data in the food industry, and preparing products for athletes and even the military, even one day for the space sector.

For further information about the Mars Society, please visit our website at

STEM Stories: DNA Occupy Mars Learning Adventures



You May Not Like Technology But It Likes You

Science and the digital world have overhauled our world, but the stakes just got higher: Now technology wants to remake you, using everything from the internet to stem cells.


01.21.17 9:01 PM ET

In Greek mythology, Prometheus taught man how to farm. But when he gave man fire, the gods felt he had gone too far. And so as punishment, Zeus chained Prometheus to a rock where every day an eagle would come and eat his liver, which would regrow because he was immortal.

Prometheus’s story is about mankind’s dominion over its world and how much power is too much. But counterintuitively it is Zeus, not Prometheus, who many artists and writers in the last thousand years have sided with. The story is relevant today because humanity is at a turning point, and two opposing forces are locked in a war that is just beginning to come into being. On one side are our innovations and the power that comes with them, and on the other side is the fact that when it comes to us ourselves, there seems to be no innovation.

For tens of thousands of years, technology has been directed outward—on the world at large. Now, for the first time in human history, technology has reached a point where it can be directed inward—back on its creators. Technology has found something new it would like to change: Us.

In 2010, researchers at the University of Colorado performed what they thought would be an unremarkable experiment on lab mice. They injured the mice’s limbs and injected them with stem cells to heal the damage. Then something strange happened. The muscles in those little limbs nearly doubled in size and strength. Not only that, the muscles stayed that way for the life of each mouse, defying even the aging process itself. Essentially the researchers had accidentally created a race of “super-mice.”

Another experiment in 2001 involved injecting human stem cells, of all things, into the brains of aging mice. Soon after, the mice began to perform better on the Morris water maze test. In other words, the stem cells had made them smarter.

When people think of stem cells, they usually think of a potential cure for diseases like Parkinson’s. But there is another, potentially far darker, use for stem cells, and that is on people who are perfectly healthy. It is this application, fundamentally changing the human body, that gave me the idea to write my novel, The Prometheus Man.

We’ve all heard stories about a mother who’s able to lift a car off her child as her body mainlines adrenalin. Imagine using stem cells to triple the size of a person’s adrenal gland. You’d produce something on par with one of those people who are so zombified on PCP that they get shot three times and still manage to beat up six cops. The military uses for such a technology, the parts of the human body that could be “improved,” pass through your mind like something from a sideshow in a bad dream.

And we haven’t even gotten to the most lethal part of the human anatomy: the brain. There’s a fixed amount of space in our skulls. Theoretically by growing the parts of the brain you want enhanced, like the part that controls reflexes and coordination, you could also shrink the parts of the brain you want diminished, like, say, the part that contributes to a person’s remorse.

Bear in mind things need not actually play out this way in the real world. As I attempted to capture in my book, it is often the attempt itself that is the true source of horror.

The 20th century saw the innovation of weapons of mass destruction. It also saw innovations in ideology that cheered the destruction of 200 million people, roughly 8 percent of the world’s population, in wars and oppression. But the technologies in their infancy today take things in the opposite direction. By augmenting our bodies, they increase our ability to commit more intimate—and thus more covert—violence. They take us back to our roots. And they do it at a time when wars aren’t fought by equals on a battlefield. They’re often quick attacks—over before most people know about them—where the goal is to inflict maximum despair not on the target but on the people viewing at home.

But it doesn’t end there. Technology can weaponize the human body, but with the internet, governments and other actors have the ability to go after the mind.

The internet is the greatest source of data on the human spirit in history, and it’s about to go even deeper with virtual-reality. People’s hopes and dreams, their fears, their hatreds, it’s all right there. And over the last decade, we have witnessed the rise of something perfectly designed to make use of it: algorithms. Algorithms regularly outperform human analysts on Wall Street. They also make more accurate diagnoses of mental illness than psychiatrists. The algorithms are so much more effective than the doctors that the doctors underperform even when they’re given the results of the algorithm.

Algorithms are getting so good at predicting human behavior that they have the power to identify not just undesirable urges and interests but the activities that predict those undesirable urges and interests. Serial killers, terrorists, dissidents—it’s highly likely that their online habits cohere around some common patterns of behavior. Theoretically we could understand the direction of their lives better than they understand it themselves. And once you understand something enough to predict what it will do, you can control it.

Yet intervention isn’t the real goal. The real goal is to go much further. It is to alter something fundamental to who we are: our experience of reality.

Research is uncovering patterns in our most primal needs that can be exploited. If that sounds paranoid, consider Robert Cialdini, PhD. Dr. Cialdini wrote a bestseller, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, about the ways others play on our programming to create impressions that aren’t true and compel behavior that isn’t in our interests. The stated goal of his book was to free us from this manipulation, but this ideal didn’t stop Dr. Cialdini from becoming an adviser to the Obama campaign. Obama’ objective merits were evidently insufficient on their own. The good doctor felt the candidate’s presidency was so thoroughly in your best interests that he had no qualms about using the dark arts to place his thumb on the scales of your mind.

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There’s a conclusion here. People start out simply wanting to understand reality, but in truth they always hunger to change it.

But Dr. Cialdini was targeting something voluntary: voting. Consider, by contrast, the Reid technique, a nine-step algorithm of sorts that the FBI uses to pressure suspects during an interrogation. The Reid technique has been tested and refined on tens of thousands of suspects, but it has a bug. It produces false confessions. In other words, the technique is so effective it causes innocent people to sign away their freedom, just to make it stop.

The Reid technique, at the height of its powers, creates a false reality in the suspect’s mind more powerful than the fact-based reality outside it. Forget changing someone’s body. The Reid technique achieves the most fundamental change of all. And it is an innovation of perhaps the most frightening kind of violence, the kind that gets us to hang ourselves.

Manipulating our bodies, manipulating our minds—these are pretty scary things. In response, there are those who believe the ethical issues raised by these new technologies can be resolved through debate. But when have we ever done that before? Nuclear weapons could destroy the human race, and yet they still came into existence. Strike that. It was rational for some countries to bring them into existence. That says something pretty stark about us. That says that the larger truth may be the scariest thing of all: we’re not really in charge. It is us—our morality, our virtue—that lags technology, not the other way around. Maybe there was a reason that Zeus didn’t hash things out with Prometheus, but simply put a stop to him altogether.

I love to read things that were written long ago—centuries ago, even thousands of years ago. I’ll tell you what got the hook in my mouth. I realized that many of these writers were just like me. And I felt this … connection. Because it meant the things that frustrated me and fascinated me weren’t unique. They were a part of what it means to be alive.

But there’s a corollary to this. If someone who lived hundreds or thousands of years ago is just like me—and also you, assuming you’re as retrograde as I am—then that means to a large degree we have stayed the same. Yet in the meantime, aided by technology, our power grows. Think about what that means. Technology doesn’t just shrink the world to our convenience. It is magnifying what’s inside us. And in freeing us from a hard-scrabble existence where we have to work 12-hour days to survive, it is giving us room to express our deepest selves.

Our deepest selves, though, are deeply problematic. For the last 50 years, the developed world has experienced unprecedented peace, prosperity and technological comfort. And this is the result. In the U.S., one in four women is taking a prescription drug for mental health. According to the Centers for Disease Control, life expectancy isn’t increasing. It’s just dropped. Data from the Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows 25 percent of men age 25 to 64 don’t work full-time, and most of them are no longer looking for a job. You would expect people to have become less violent. Instead, starting in the ’70s, there was an explosion of violent crime, which was eventually brought under control only by incarcerating the highest percentage of our citizens of any country in the world. Meanwhile, according to the General Social Survey, from 1972 to 2006, women rated themselves less and less happy each year, as by almost every objective measure their lives improved.

Because we are more free from hardship than anyone before us, you would expect us to be healthier, wealthier, and wiser. But in significant ways, we have become the opposite. Why? Because we’re flawed. Because our deepest selves want things they perhaps were never meant to have. And for many of us, prosperity has simply given us room to go to pieces.

The world, it turns out, isn’t infinitely progressive. It’s mean-reverting, and not due to the impersonal factors of randomness or scarcity, but because of the most personal factor of all: us.

There are those who believe that people are so flawed that society must step in and control them with vast amounts of regulation, i.e., with force. But there’s a limit to this, and we can see it by looking at Europe. Europe, with its giant welfare/regulatory states, has higher unemployment than the U.S., lower GDP growth, far less technological innovation, and fertility rates that can only be described as self-repeal. Every problem the U.S. has, Europe has it 20 percent worse. And the funny thing about all that regulation? In Europe, the informal economy, i.e., the part that doesn’t pay taxes or obey the law, is bigger than it is in the U.S., much bigger. So instead of making people more moral, the attempt to control them has only driven them underground. At a certain point, idealism breaks itself on the reality it is attempting to bend.

The Europeans have attempted to take the risk out of life. Instead they’ve taken the life out of themselves.

What emerges from all this, and what’s so amazing about the world, is that life is something we just can’t win. It seems there will never be a war to end all wars, enough wealth to end all poverty, or a perfect order to end all disorder. And there will never be a formula for the human spirit. Experts can’t solve us. We can’t solve us. That thing technology is magnifying, the gravity holding it all together, is the thing we control least of all.

Joe Kennedy once described his children as “hostages to fortune.” I think of my own hostages to fortune, a tough little two-year-old boy and the girl currently incubating in my wife. The world may have its problems, but it really is a wonderful time to be alive. One thing, though, is certain. As technology and prosperity begin to enhance not just our stuff but us ourselves, the future will increasingly be one of our own creation. The problem is that we seem to be the biggest variable of all. And that variability is something we never have been able to suppress or engineer away. That variability, in fact, seems to be a large part of what it means to be alive.

As for Prometheus, Hercules eventually came and broke his chains. Mankind, it seems, will always find a way to set him free.

Scott Reardon is a graduate of Georgetown University and Northwestern Law. He currently works at an investment management firm in Los Angeles.The Prometheus Man is his first novel.

Teaching and Learning Garden

Dr. Jose Barbosa, loading up produce.

This year, students in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) have been able to get their hands dirty while putting down roots in the community – literally!

The UTC Teaching & Learning Garden began this past spring, taking students out to learn about raising food in an urban environment. In total this year, the Garden was able to raise 2100 pounds of produce that was donated to the Chattanooga Community Kitchen.

“And that’s pesticide free during an extremely difficult summer without rain. The students are learning more than they could have imagined. More than any of us could’ve imagined,” said Dr. Joe Wilferth, UC Foundation Professor and Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

The last harvest of the year, approximately 400 pounds of produce, was delivered to the Community Kitchen in time for Thanksgiving.

“They had quite a Thanksgiving feast!” Wilferth said.

UTC student Chloe Dente

The Teaching & Learning Garden is more than just a community garden, however. The Garden is a hands on learning space that addresses topics that UTC students care about, like sustainability, gardening, local food economies, health and food production

Dr. Jose Barbosa, Associate Professor of Biology, Geology, and Environmental Science in the College of Arts and Sciences, is the primary faculty sponsor for the project, providing oversight and planning of the space. Most of the students who worked in the garden were earning class credit in Barbosa’s Urban Gardening classes. However, students not in Barbosa’s class also volunteered.

“The garden is open for academic use to faculty and students all across CAS. In the future, faculty are invited to approach Dr. Barbosa or me if they wish to integrate the garden into their coursework,” said Wilferth.

Wilferth looks forward to the opportunities for interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary work both within CAS and across the campus that the Teaching & Learning Garden provides. Approximately 125 students in Art, Biology, English, Environmental Science, Political Science, and Sociology all participated in the project since spring.

“The garden may be used by specific courses across the CAS as it exemplifies experiential and hands-on learning. It could be expanded in the future to include courses and experiential learning opportunities in other colleges on our campus—e.g., courses in other colleges that focus on food production, nutrition, health and wellness, environmental literature, as well as the sociopolitical and socioeconomic factors involved in food production and food quality,” Wilferth said.

A bountiful harvest of radishes.

The Garden is located behind the outfield wall of Engel Stadium, just around the corner from the Value Lot. This past March, the folks in Facilities donated their time and resources to clearing the land, which wasn’t previously in use, for the Garden.

“This is an ideal space because of its proximity to campus. The shuttle service can take students to and from the garden. Class meetings wherein students visit/work in the garden will not require additional time, nor will the students’ academic schedules be interrupted,” Wilferth said.

This year, all of the produce to come out of the Garden went to the Chattanooga Community Kitchen, but in future years some of the food may also end up in students’ stomachs.

“In the future, we are considering ways to have something like a farmers market on campus where the proceeds might go to support student travel and undergraduate and graduate student research,” explained Wilferth.

The Chattanooga Community Kitchen would still receive at least a third of the harvest.

The Environmental Task Force, which oversees the “Green Fee” funds, supported half of the garden’s costs this year.

“This first year, of course, was the most expensive year simply because we had to get the garden going. We had to purchase tools, a storage facility, and more,” said Wilferth. “Other offices around campuses committed funds, too. Significant support came from both the Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity and from the Vice Chancellor for Research and Dean of the Graduate School. In the end, this is a relatively cheap project that has potential for a big impact. We’re doing something exciting here. We’re literally growing!”

Farewell to NASA’s General Bolden

 Farewell to NASA’s General Bolden:   Kids Talk Radio Space Science News


Ivor & General.jpg

In 1964, a high school junior dreams of attending the US Naval Academy in Annapolis Maryland but he faces some major obstacles.   He is African American in ‘Jim Crow’ South Carolina and he has no political sponsors. Undaunted, he writes to President Johnson asking for his help and, as it would happen, LBJ has just launched a program to recruit minorities for the military academies. The president dispatches a recruiter to South Carolina.

Charles Bolden goes on to become a Naval Academy graduate, a Marine jet pilot, a major general, a four time space shuttle astronaut and NASA’s Administrator from July 2009 until January  2017.

Because of my association with Nichelle Nichols I was fortunate to have several wonderful encounters with “General Bolden” like the one captured by photographers at NASA Headquarters in Washington DC.  One of our last conversations was about Nichelle and I flying to the “edge of space” aboard the 747 Jumbo Jet carrying SOFIA, NASA’s airborne telescope. I wanted to leverage the notoriety of the flight as a way of inspiring young people to star gaze; Bolden responded by asking NASA’s entire education department to assist me in my endeavor. I never saw so many names cc’d on an email chain. I was truly overwhelmed.

Overwhelmed can be used to describe NASA when Nichelle Nichols recruited the first African American and female astronauts in 1978—and that Bolden was among those who she pursued! Ultimately, he decided to take her advice and applies for astronaut training two years later and the rest is history.

Because Bolden considered Nichelle a friend and mentor, NASA wanted her to be a part of their official farewell video to their boss. I was honored to be present when Nichelle recorded her funny and heartfelt farewell.


NASA is losing a friend and mentor –and also a mensch.  Thank you for your service, general sir!


Bolden and Deputy Director, Lori Garver in video salute to Nichelle Nichols in 2010

The man in the black suit is Ivor Dawson.  He is the owner of the Traveling Space Museum in Los Angeles California.  From time to time he collaborates with Bob Barboza producing school workshops in STEM and Star Parties where the community can come together to learn more about space science.   Ivor is a fantastic presenter and he is loved by his audiences.   For more information about STEM and STEAM++ projects visit

IK Multimedia releases MODO BASS – the breakthrough physically modeled electric bass virtual instrument for Mac/PC

Kids Talk Radio Science is touring museums, public libraries, VA Hospitals, county offices of education and science centers.  We are presenting hands on workshops dealing with the physics of jazz, electronic music and laser music along with our humanoid robots and the Occupy Mars Band.  IK Multimedia leads the way with innovation and they have supported us when we needed to be leaders in the area of innovation.

Bob Barboza, Founder/Director: The Occupy Mars Learning Adventures and all teachers Occupy Mars Band.

For immediate release

IK Multimedia releases MODO BASS – the breakthrough physically modeled electric bass virtual instrument for Mac/PC

MODO BASS is the first physical modeling virtual electric bass instrument that gives players and producers limitless bass sound possibilities and a new world of unmatched realism and playability for their bass tracks


November 30, 2016 – IK Multimedia, the pioneer in analog effects modeling, is pleased to announce the release of MODO BASS®, the new breakthrough physical modeling technology that brings a completely new level of realism and playability to the world of virtual bass instruments. MODO BASS is a customizable physically modeled virtual bass instrument that recreates the sound of the electric bass and how it’s played in real time – from all of the physical instrument components, the human technique of how the instrument is played, to the entire sound signal chain with effects and amplifiers.
Unlike traditional sample-based virtual instruments, MODO BASS utilizes modal synthesis technology and an ultra-optimized sound engine to model each string as a nonlinear resonator – the string’s acoustic behavior is determined by its physical parameters as well as by the interaction of the string with fretboard, body and pick-ups of the instrument. The action of the player is then modeled as a nonlinear physical interaction with specific areas on the string surface. Then using IK’s cutting edge analog modeling expertise, the amp and effects rig of the electric bass is added to the sound chain. This gives MODO BASS the ability to create hyper-realistic sound in real time.

Every electric bass sound imaginable
MODO BASS contains a collection of 12 physically modeled iconic electric basses that span the history of bass sound in recorded music – more bass models than available in most other virtual instruments. Models include “60s P-Bass” based on an Alder body 60s era Fender Precision Bass®, “70’s P-Bass” based on an Ash body Fender Precision Bass®, “70’s J-Bass” based on an Alder body Fender Jazz Bass®; “Modern J-Bass” based on an Ash body Fender Jazz Bass®, “Devil Bass” based on Gibson® EB-0; “Bass Man 5” based on Music Man® StingRay 5-string; “Rick n’ Bass” based on Rickenbacker® 4003; “Studio Bass” based on Yamaha® RB5; “Violin Bass” based on a Hofner® Violin Bass, “Thunder Bass” based on a Gibson® Thunderbird, “Japan Bass” based on an Ibanez® Soundgear, and “Flame Bass” based on Warwick® Streamer.

Every detail of each bass has been meticulously analyzed and modeled to capture their true sonic character; the shape and type, the wood used for the body and neck construction, the hardware components, the original onboard electronics and controls – every aspect and detail has been recreated to provide the highest degree of authenticity of the original instrument. But the sounds available with MODO BASS extend far beyond the 12 modeled basses – with the available customization features, users can craft virtually every electric bass sound imaginable. MODO BASS is able to produce an unmatched and unlimited palette of bass sounds because everything can be customized.

Pluck, Slap or Pick – modeled playing styles
Once the bass has been selected, players can choose from 3 playing styles – pluck, slap or pick – and control parameters of each style and how they influence the sound. Adjustments can be made to the force applied to the strings, the position of the hand, the direction of the stroke, the fingers used to play the instrument and how the strings are approached, the impact of the thumb slap and the finger pull on the string and even the thickness of the pick and style of its attack. Every aspect of playing style has been modeled as a non-linear interaction with the strings to provide a dynamic, ever-changing sound output.

String Customization
IK painstakingly studied and recreated all of the factors that affect string tone and performance. Players can choose the number of strings on the bass, the construction type and material of the strings (round or flat wound), the gauge and age, plus the physical action height of above the fretboard. Each of these options contributes its own character to the output of the bass and introduces realism never before heard in a virtual instrument.

Custom pickup configuration
There are 20 iconic bass pickups from which to choose that can be freely interchanged and added to the instrument – up to 2 pickups per bass. Users can change the type of pickups used, neck or bridge single coil or humbuckers, and their physical location under the strings can be moved freely for unlimited playing and tonal variations – a feature virtually impossible in the physical world. MODO BASSalso gives players the ability to mix in the sound of an under-bridge piezo pickup for added resonance and top end. Switching from Passive to Active electronics option also enables a 3-band parametric EQ to fine-tune the pickup output tone.

Customize FX and Amp choices
With MODO BASS, players have full control over the post-instrument signal path as well and get 7 bass stomp boxes and two classic bass amplifiers derived from IK’s AmpliTube flagship software. Stomp box effects include an Octaver, Distortion, Chorus, Compressor, Delay, Envelope Filter or Graphic EQ. Each stomp box gives players full control over the effect applied to the signal, parameter adjustment and overall output volume into the next effect. Also available is a classic all-tube amplifier and 1×15 cab, or a solid-state model with a 4×10 cab.

Expressive control in real time
MODO BASS provides MIDI control of critical parameters that can be automated in real time. With the MIDI Control section, players control and adjust the application of vibrato, the playing style, the application of Mute technique and the amount of slide technique applied while playing.  The frequency of the vibrato, the amount of the bend, plus the amount of slide and detach noise while playing can all be controlled in real time on the fly.

Keyswitching in MODO BASS allows players to create amazingly real techniques like slides and percussive ghost notes. Users can switch on the fly between chord mode and note mode, the type of stroke used for playing, the fingers used and the method of playing, which provides the ability to completely customize the sound in real time.

Pricing and availability
MODO BASS is available now from the IK Multimedia online store for a special introductory price of $/€149.99* until December 4, 2016. After that date, MODO BASS will be $/€299.99* and a crossgrade will be available for $/€199.99 ** to qualified users.

*All prices excluding taxes. 
**Any previous purchase of an IK Multimedia product with a value of $/€99.99 or more qualifies for crossgrade pricing.

For more information, please visit:

To see MODO BASS in action, watch the videos:

Warm regards,

Starr Ackerman
USA/CA/SA PR Manager

IK Multimedia. Musicians First.
954-846-9101 ext 313 |

About IK Multimedia: IK Multimedia is a computer music technology company that offers a diverse range of affordable and easy-to-use music production tools with great sound quality and a realistic look and feel. With millions of installations worldwide, the IK range has been adopted by musicians of every level, from beginners to professionals, to gain access to high-end, studio-quality gear from their computers or mobile devices. MODO BASS® and AmpliTube® are registered trademarks of IK Multimedia Production, Srl. All other trademarks are property of their respective owners.