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Spending two weeks in the desert with limited water and food supplies while working 18-hour days might not sound like fun. But for Kavya Manyapu it was an amazing adventure and serves as a step, she hopes, toward realizing her ultimate goal: going to Mars.
"I'm ready to go whenever that is. I don't know if it will happen in my lifetime, but if not, I'm ready to contribute in the best way possible," said the 26-year old engineer who recently spent two weeks conducting research at the Mars Desert Research Station in the state of Utah.
The Mars Society built the simulated Mars habitat and invites scientists and researchers to live in the environment to conduct experiments. This is all part of the non-profit's goal of promoting and preparing for human exploration of the Red Planet.
Manyapu, a Boeing 777 engineer fascinated with space exploration, was picked to attend and experience the many challenges expected to surface on a mission to the real Mars.
"I don't know if it will happen in my lifetime. If not, I'm ready to contribute in the best way possible ..." Kavya Manyapu, Boeing engineer on prospect of travelling to Mars
"It's not just the technology part of it," Manyapu said. "We had limited water resources. We could only take showers once every 3 or 4 days."
Manyapu explains that, unlike a mission to the moon, a Mars trip is expected to take nearly two years, including "seven months to go there and a year and a half to return."
This means Mars explorers have to learn to wear many hats.
"Say somebody got injured and we don't have a doctor on board," Manyapu explains. "I mean we can't just run to Walgreen's. It's important that each of the crew train in several areas. We would probably have an engineer trained to be a medical practitioner."
Another challenge is food. A two-year trip would make it nearly impossible to bring a large enough food supply. A study on growing a nutrient-rich bacteria during a Mars mission is underway, a bacteria that Manyapu says could be grown with recycled water. And when she says recycled water, she means, "urine, and other things. Anything we use. Any gray water."
Throughout the two weeks at the Mars Desert Research Station, Manyapu and her fellow researchers conducted experiments to try to address some of these important issues.
Manyapu says it was worth it to pave the way to make space exploration history. "I mean, we had Columbus and [his team] coming to discover America. If they hadn't taken the risks or those challenges, we wouldn't have this land now."
There's no set date for a trip to Mars, but if the call comes, Manyapu is prepared to become a modern-day Columbus.