Ben Easter, MD, steps onto a rocky ledge overlooking a dry riverbed. He cranes his neck and points into the canyon.
“Right here,” the emergency medicine doctor says with a gleeful glint, belying his boyish looks, “we’re going to foment some chaos and see what happens.”
The simulation is designed to test whether students, thrust into a search-and-rescue scenario where they must navigate rugged topography and rapid-fire events, are able to organize into teams and solve cascading problems, all the while racing the clock to save injured and ill crewmates.
“We want them to walk up onto this ridge and not know where exactly the patient is, and have a kind of ‘oh crap’ moment,” says Easter, on the teaching staff of a new class that blends wilderness medicine and aerospace engineering.
In a remote part of southern Utah – at the Mars Desert Research Station to be precise – 21 University of Colorado Boulder aerospace engineering students, a mix of graduate students and undergrads, became Martians. They experienced seven days of gut-knotting, brain-twisting moments along with after-burner bursts of inspiration – nudging more than a few students into changed-life territory.