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Ottawa woman living the Martian life in Utah desert research facility

An Ottawa woman is living like a Martian for the next two weeks in a Utah desert research facility designed to simulate life on the red planet.

Elizabeth Howell, a Carleton University graduate and aerospace science PhD student in North Dakota, joins a six-member crew in the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) near Hanksville, Utah. One crew member is from France and four are from the U.S.

The MDRS is a two-floor, 1,200 square foot facility, equipped with bathrooms, bedrooms, and ladders to access a common area. Unable to speak by phone Sunday, she wrote in an email to Metro that her living arrangement is like staying at a cabin, but with a space twist.

“It's powered by generators, we have limited running water, and we leave the habitat in groups of at least two for safety reasons,” wrote Howell. “The twist is that once we enter the simulation, we generally only wear spacesuits while we're outside. That’s because on Mars, you would need a spacesuit to survive.”

Howell was selected to participate in the program run by the not-for-profit group, The Mars Society, until Jan. 20. She is also a freelance journalist for several science publications.

She will act as an observer and document her journey for Space.com as well as gather information for the crew’s experiments.

While she said she believes humans will one day inhabit Mars, she’s not interested in being one of them if it means there’s no return flight home.

Recently, an Edmonton woman was one of the latest Canadians to make the short-list for a one-way trip to Mars in 2024 through The Mars One Project, developed by Dutch space entrepreneur Bas Landorp.

“I’m not interested, myself, in going on a one-way trip -- I adore my friends and family and wouldn't want to leave them behind forever,” wrote Howell. “If there was a return trip home, I'd definitely be interested.”

Howell is also tweeting about her experience at twitter.com/howellspace.