#41 | arc03 & chr00 – Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station (FMars) and introduction to Chronobiology

Hi guys!

Gosh I am so exhausted. Since January, my social relationships just crumbled but recently I was finally able to build back a part of myself. Like you know, I am actually working on a “therapeutic architecture for the mental health of astronauts in the outer space” thematic. It is a complex subject because there are actually a lot of scientific articles on recent discoveries and experiments, mainly technical or purely psychological. However, my work is not only to talk about the architecture design on my master thesis, but it is also a way for me to get out of my real life mess. It is not always easy but it is a good way to find a reason to survive every day. Oh well, I am not here to talk about myself, right?

Today, I’ll talk to you about one of the first long-duration missions Mars “simulation” on Earth. This mission is called: “Flashline Mars Artic Research Station” or “Fmars” for the acronym. Why am I talking about it now? Because I’ve just finished a great part of the data analyzing stuff (and because I haven’t got a lot of time for learning anything else recently).

So what is exactly FMars?

One of the Human Analog Missions developped by all the space stations through the world, Fmars is a part of the “Mars Analog Research Station project” or “MARS project” and is run by the Mars Society, a multinational and non-profit organization. The purpose of the experiment is to know more how confined space can affect the physical body and psychology of humans in a long-duration journey into the outer space and for extraplanetary settlements.
The first “Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station” was built in 2000 and is located on Devon Island overlooking the Haughton impact crater in Nunavut, Canada. A mission can last between 1 month to 4 months depending on the experiment with a crew of six or seven members. The main module is known as the “hab”, an 8 meters diameter cylinder used for the mission and composed by two platforms: one for the living and working area and the second one for the sleeping area.

In the report written by William J. Clancey, “Simulating Mars on Earth“, he explained the difference between a mission and a pure simulation. It is difficult to make a real simulation of Mars since it is difficult to reproduce Mars gravity, but the real purpose of the experiment is to now the precision of other scientific data that will not differ in the outer space like the psychology in confined space for example. That’s is why the word “mission” is more accurate than the word “simulation”.

Source: http://www.marssociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/fmars.jpg

Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station

There are a lot of information about the experiments and it is nearly impossible to talk about everything, so let’s resume the work really quickly. In the first experiment in 2001, the psychological model used to understand the crew behaviors is the Brahms model simulation that can be used to make a 3D representation after all the data collected and make the spatial configuration at a given time. It will help to understand how the interior pieces of furniture are placed according to the needs.

The inside of the FMars module at 4:15 pm on 13 July 2001 simulated with the Brahms model (source: Fmars, Report From, et William J. Clancey. « Simulating “Mars on Earth” ». In In R. Zubrin and, s. d.)

In this one-month mission, William J. Clancey, one of the six members of the crew, explained the methodology of his work based on participant observation (learning through participation and observation) and a time-lapse photographic documentation. He observed the activities catalysts and explained in his article that the most observable ones influencing individual behaviors are group activities. The living frame and the work frame are scheduled around groups activities. The second catalyst in activities are interruptions: the radio calls, maintenance of the hab, vital needs, etc. These interruptions are reactive reactions to an external action from the outside. Finally, the individual activities fill the rest of the schedules.

The most important space used in the “hab” is the working space since it is the most using room. The table was however too small to make six persons fit together with their computer. The lack of space is a big reason why activities are less enjoyable. The lack of luminosity and the difference of temperature between the two platforms (5°C between the inferior platform and the superior one) make the spatial environment hard to live for a long-term period. In this report, a common space was forgotten in the design conception too, making the working space the same as the living/dining room. Other issues were social interactions between the members. When the crew is a mix of females and males members, an interest for the opposite sex is observable in all the case for a long-duration mission on a confined space. Some tensions can happen and provide some social issues like stress and rejection or avoidance. The issue of putting a member aside in a secondary role can also build frustration and isolation feelings. The privatization of the sleeping space and the living areas can be an issue too; sounds can be heard in all the habitat.

But the biggest problem is the relation between the crew activities and the time: the members don’t have time to considerate potential problems. If a problem that is not planned occurred, everyone will lose a lot of time figuring out how to deal with the issue, so the communication with the base is really important in this case. However, the 20 minutes time delay between two messages is an anxiogenic element. On the other hand, if anxiety arose, the crew will want to go outside in extra-vehicular activities a lot more. In 1997, Norman Thagard, one of the astronauts of the NASA who experimented a long-duration mission on the spatial station MIR said:

“The single most important psychological factor on a long-duration flight is to be meaningfully busy. And, if you are, a lot of the other things sort of take care of themselves (Herring, L. « Astronaut Draws Attention to Psychology, Communication ». Human Performance in Extreme Environments: The Journal of the Society for Human Performance in Extreme Environments 2, no 1 (juin 1997): 42‑47, p.44)

In fact, the crew doesn’t have time to be depressed or anxious because they have too many works to do. Their body can stand this large amount of works because they all got a strict schedule. Their circadian clock is used to be in an artificial time cycle and not in a natural diurnal light time cycle (also called “zeitgebers” in chronobiology term, or a “synchronizer”). The most efficient program for our circadian clock is a strict work-rest schedule like the MIR crew (and all the human analog missions). These observations can be observed ten years later in 2007, on the first long-duration FMars mission in four months.


The chronobiology is the science that studies our circadian clock and its importance for the human body. The concept of this science is to heal someone through is own rhythm: everyone doesn’t work in the same way. Some need a lot of sleep while another one won’t need as much of sleep. That’s the way the chronobiologists study the impact of the luminosity on our daily behavior and give medicine accordingly. In fact, depression and anxiety are deeply related to the lack of sleep or a disturbance in the sleep cycle. Polyphasic sleep can help in the way to heal mental health too because this kind of sleep is more efficient than a monophasic one. I’ve not read a lot of articles about the chronobiology, however, it will be interesting to connect it with the architecture field.


What I’ve talked about in this article is not directly related to the architecture field, but as you can know architects still don’t talk much about these kinds of factors. I firmly believe that these researches can greatly help the human body and their mental health. Even if this thesis is related to the outer space study, these pieces of information can help people who will build architecture on Earth.

What did I learn today?

  • I finally find a connexion between chronobiology and space astronautic field with the “zeitbergers”.
  • What is a “zeitbergers”/”synchronizer”.
  • If architecture can affect chronobiology, architecture can affect space astronautic and vice-versa.
  • The biggest source of most of the mental health issues is related to sleep.


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