For Metro Vancouver

The surface of Mars

A massive crater on an uninhabited island in the Arctic is a site worthy of a science-fiction movie.

With a vegetable greenhouse and an Internet network, it is a futuristic vision for how humans could survive an expedition on Mars within this generation.

The Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) has already begun to explore this possibility by leading experiments on Devon Island, Nunavut.

Researchers from Simon Fraser University, NASA and the Canadian Space Agency have partnered up to see how biological systems could flourish on the red planet.

Dr. Stephen Braham, a quantum cosmologist, is a co-investigator exploration communications for HMP. He is designing the data for a computer program that controls the experiments from his chair at SFU.

“We’ve got two vehicles nearly there, and we’re going to test out NASA technology in the Arctic,” he said. “We’ll have nearly 100 kilometres of empty, Mars-like terrain to test our moon rovers.”

Steven Baird, 21, is a third-year student at the University of B.C.’s Mechanical Engineering program. He camped with Braham last summer at the project’s site.

Its polar-desert climate, remoteness and geological features make it the ideal place as a terrestrial testing ground for missions to Mars.

Much like a space expedition, Baird described the northern setting as “isolated and confined.”

“The HMP offers insight into the possible evolution of Mars’ landscape, as well as the possibilities and limits for life in extreme climates,” he said.

For now, HMP is making its way across the Northwest Passage in the first vehicle-expedition in the area, which is entirely made of ice.

Baird said that the team plans to stay there up for four weeks running experiments.

“You can only test your ideas so far in the lab. Having an on-Earth testing ground for humans is incredibly valuable,” he said.

Braham has camped with the team running experiments on site for the past 11 seasons. A report from the CPA said that lettuce and other vegetables have been growing there since 2002.

A friend of technology, Braham makes daily updates about HMP on Twitter at