This story is based on the original Meta.mk cover. An edited version is republished here under a content-sharing agreement between Global Voices and the Metamorphosis Foundation.
Martina Dimoska is the first female analogue astronaut from the Balkans. As a graduate student at the International Space University, she is striving to become the first from North Macedonia to earn a master’s degree in space studies. She is the NASA Space Apps Challenge Local Leader for 2022, hosted at two prestigious historic locations: Mountain View in Silicon Valley, California, and Cleveland. It’s an annual partnership with NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio, and co-hosted by NASA Space Apps Challenge Strumica in its home country.
Dimoska is from the small town of Kičevo. In 2015, she was recognized as the most successful student at the Faculty of Technology and Metallurgy in Skopje and the youngest patent holder in North Macedonia.
She recently spent 21 “closed” days in a simulated Mars analog habitat environment, with a 20-minute delay in communicating with Earth in each direction. In this interview with Meta.mk, Dimoska talked about what it means to serve in an analog mission, his current research and his future plans.
Meta.mk: What is an analog mission and what is your role in it?
Martina Dimoska (MD): Analog astronaut missions prepare us for future explorations of asteroids, the Moon, Mars and other planetary bodies. It is very expensive to conduct research directly in space, so it would be very dangerous and foolish to begin it before undergoing extensive testing, research and simulation on Earth. These [ground] research efforts are of enormous value to the scientific space community.
By testing new scientific experiments in analog astronaut missions, we save money, resources, equipment and manpower. It makes it possible to develop control studies, in particular for manned space flights, as well as countermeasures that can be tested during these missions, before testing them in outer space.
Astronauts routinely use analog missions during their training to prepare for the different lifestyles, isolation and extreme conditions in space. Often these missions have a very difficult and grueling schedule, training and preparation, and include many scientific experiments. Analog astronauts are deprived of a normal life, and the crew, consisting of a few people, is responsible for independently managing the entire habitat. It can be explained by the analogy of military service, when one is withdrawn from civilian life and has to follow the discipline of a hierarchical system.
Currently, I am a science officer on the 14th mission at the University of North Dakota (UND) Inflatable Lunar-Mars Analog Habitat (ILMAH) funded by NASA. We are “locked in” for 21 days, completely cut off from the world with an appropriate 20 minute offset each way, to account for the 63.4 million km distance between Earth and Mars. In this Martian scenario, our crew, which includes two other members, Mission Commander Tarun Bandemegala and Flight Engineer Pranika Gupta, is conducting research for an extended Mars mission, with experiments ranging from drone flights to on-board testing. the ground for a new type of spacesuit.
Meta.mk: Do you consider it an exciting experience, being the first female analogue astronaut in the Balkans?
MARYLAND: I must admit that the work is really hard, because in addition to my obligations on the mission, I have to do my job as an engineer. I am also responsible for giving interviews and creating content on social networks. Nevertheless, I am very happy to finally open a track for future generations of young people in our region who wish to participate in such scientific experiments. I waited a long time for this experience, it took a long time for it to happen. The path that brought me to this position was enriched by all the experiences and training that I followed in previous years.
My applications for analog assignments had been accepted before, but they couldn’t fit into my schedule. However, after I started my master’s studies at the International Space Institute, my professors greatly expanded my range of analog missions, giving me a better overview of the sector, so that I could distinguish between populist and projects that actually cooperate with space agencies and provide significant contribution to science. Therefore, I could make better decisions to apply based on my career path and future development.
Meta.mk: What type of research are you doing during this mission?
MARYLAND: Within my team, I am responsible for several types of research. For example, collecting EEG data by scanning his brain with electroencephalography methods. We use this research to observe how isolation and long-distance spaceflight might influence cognitive impairment and memory recall.
Another type of search involves maintaining continuous communication through the ECHO online system, which takes 20 minutes one way and 40 minutes two ways. Due to their distance, Mars and Earth have a communication delay of approximately 5 to 21 minutes, depending on their position as they orbit the Sun. In order to carry out our urgent daily tasks and solve an important problem, we must be efficient, quick and patient, and very, very calm and composed.
We are also conducting an exercise study in a special suit measuring our vital signs, called CardioBreath. It is a scientific cooperation developed by Simon Fraser University in collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency, NASA and the University of North Dakota. The same suits are used on the International Space Station (ISS). Other research includes modules for plant growth, where we sow fast-growing seeds for space travel, as well as microgreens, and we use Hamama systems.
We also have an ExoLab device that “captures” carbon dioxide intended to help sustain life on Earth as well as in space. It is planned to launch such devices to the ISS on November 15 and compare the results of the search of the Earth and outer space. We are also doing field testing of an upgraded version of the UND NDX2-AT EVA space suit, used for venturing outside of vehicles, i.e. for space walks.
During the mission, we also use a rover for additional excursions to collect samples, map the terrain for future habitat development, and examine geological samples in a geology lab. We also conduct microbiology, 3D printing and other experiments, some of which are classified. We undergo daily tests, psychological questionnaires, problem solving in life-threatening situations and a very strict schedule to follow.
Meta.mk: What are your future professional projects?
MARYLAND: I would like to establish more serious cooperation between our country and the institutions with which I have cooperated as an individual, in order to enrich our collective knowledge and participation in the space industry. I already have an active team and we recently founded the International Space Alliance. My main focus in this period is the private space sector and, alongside realizing my potential as an engineer, I am actively following other achievements, but especially analog missions.
We are also working hard on NASA Space Apps Challenge hackathons, in very important places with great cooperation with local people. We host the NASA Space Apps Challenge Mountain View in Silicon Valley, California, hosted by NASA Ames Research Center, and the NASA Space Apps Challenge Cleveland in Ohio, hosted by NASA Glenn Research Center. Of more than 300 locations around the world, these two are the only ones taking place on-site directly at NASA Research Centers, supported by NASA staff. This achievement has been widely recognized, while our close cooperation with NASA Space Apps Challenge Strumica in Macedonia opens new doors and opportunities for both participants and our country as a whole.
You can learn more about Martina Dimoska’s journey in the aerospace industry, her scientific research through analog missions, and the Martian analog habitat from this video from IgnitedThinkers:
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