Florida Tech’s Passion for Mars

Buzz Aldrin and other professors focus on the realities of  human life on Mars

The world took notice this summer when Buzz Aldrin announced that he was coming to Florida Institute of Technology to form the Buzz Aldrin Space Institute and serve as a research professor. The university received media attention from around the globe, like here, here and here. Exciting times, for sure.

Besides being a famous Apollo-era astronaut and second man on the moon (or, how about he was one of two humans who were first to walk on the moon? Let’s give the man his due…), he seems to hope that helping humans get to Mars may be his biggest legacy.

“I am proud of my time at NASA with the Gemini 12 and Apollo 11 programs but I hope to be remembered more for my contributions to the future,” Aldrin said at the press confence. “FIT will play a key role in my ongoing legacy and Cycling Pathways to Occupy Mars. You ain’t seen nothing yet!”

Aldrin, who wrote a book about Cycling Pathways concept as a prescribed way to colonize Mars, will dedicate the new Aldrin Space Institute to promote human space flight.

Florida Tech has a long and steady relationship with space. The school was founded as a night school for “missile men” working at Cape Canaveral during the height of the space race. Notable astronauts such as SunitaWilliams, Winston Scott and others have ties to the institution and the school is known for having some amazing astrophysicists who have experiments currently on the International Space Station, making discoveries about massive stars and exploring the outermost celestial bodies in our solar system.

But, back to Mars. Aldrin isn’t the only professor here with a preoccupation with the red planet.

Jessica Wildman, an assistant professor at the School of Psychology has analyzed interviews with astronauts and other spaceflight experts to uncover the critical issues surrounding team self-maintenance during what is likely to be a long, tedious, cramped slog to Mars. Wildman, who studies existing psychological research  relevant to improving morale during a mission to Mars, says some of the most interesting themes she has seen emerge are the importance of combating boredom and after-work recovery.

“Because crews will be stuck inside an extremely small space together for an extremely long period of time, boredom is almost guaranteed to occur – movies and video games will only cut it for so long before they start to feel the absence of things like drinks with friends, dinners with family, or just being able to walk outside and get some fresh air and sunshine,” says Wildman. “The ability to stay entertained and recharge at the end of the day when you literally can’t leave your workplace is going to be a serious challenge for effective team self-maintenance during long duration spaceflight.”

College of Aeronautics professor John Deaton, an expert in human factors knows first-hand what it’s like to live in a cramped space with other scientists with no downtime. He spent two weeks living on a Mars simulated habitat in a remote desert in Utah with five other crew members to study the psychological effects of living in close quarters with others under extreme conditions.

“Going to Mars will be extremely difficult,” Deaton says “Not because of the technological challenges, which we have solved them to a large extent. But because of challenges associated with areas we take for granted—food, water, relationships, loneliness —all areas of human functioning.”

With Deaton’s experience at the Mars Society habitat and his academic expertise, he often speaks on topics such as human performance and adaptation in stressful environments, psychological challenges of long-term space travel, and social dynamics of isolated living conditions.

Ondrej Doule, an assistant professor in Florida Tech’s School of Human-Centered Design, Innovation and Art, has led teams of scientists and specialists as commander during two missions of his own at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah.

His research and experience gives him understanding about the skills and personality traits needed to lead Martian astronauts, the challenges of building on Mars and the technology we need to survive on the planet.

Doule is also an expert about building human habitats on Mars as the chair of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Space Architecture Technical Committee. He founded and co-designed the Self-Deployable Habitat for Extreme Environments for both space and earth applications, a project funded by Europe’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development.


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