Crew 172 - Journalism Reports
Journalist’s Report – December 19th Journalist’s Log – Sol 01
Waking up from cryo is strange, but after cycling a few hundred times in training, we’re all used to the feeling. Waking up from cryo and seeing the surface of another planet is not something you get used to.
We woke up slowly. All around the same time, but one by one. Not on much of a schedule yet. We’ll put that together after breakfast. Our emails are full of automated messages from CAPCOM. They know we’re “out cold” and aren’t expecting any response. Still, the crew works through their inboxes and we pass along a notification that we’ve successfully arrived and comms are functional.
We spent some time slogging through the ship’s stores (sorry, it’s the “hab” now, isn’t it..) and eventually decided on pancakes. We were supposed to save the mix for a special occasion, but collectively decided that hitting the surface aptly qualifies. Freeze dried blueberries are oddly comforting after almost 300 days of being freeze dried yourself.
At around 11am MST (Mars Standard Time, obviously) a local supply drone arrived with fresh water. Right on time – the ship/hab’s small in-flight tank was close to 6L. Not more than a day or two max with all of us active. The crew got the water system rerouted to pull from the station’s existing tank instead of the hab’s small in-flight tank and we successfully transfered a fresh supply over from the drone. As we would find out later in the day (only after a few showers and meals of course..) the drone malfunctioned and poked a hole in our supply line. Nothing was actively leaking, but next time we transfered water we’d have some issues. A short engineering exploration was conducted and we were able to retrofit the line to bypass the leak. We’re waiting for some adhesive to dry and will be testing the system tomorrow. Fingers crossed. Dehydrating within 3 days would not be a great start for the first people on the red planet.
We were also able to get the hot water heater and the greenhab heater started. After lunch, the hab is already starting to feel like home. I guess that’s a good sign. Going crazy would also not be a great start. The crew is getting along well. Obviously we’ve known each other and trained together for some time. Waking up from hibernation in a strange place that’s inherently running low on standard survival resources will put a strain on any relationship though. Christmas, New Year’s, and a Birthday should help to waylay any concerns there, at least for the meantime.
Anyways, our bandwidth is limted and there’s plenty of work to do still and some non-frozen sleep would be nice. More updates tomorrow. As it stands, we’re alive and warm and nothing is too broken.
Journalist’s Report – December 20th Authored by Anselm Wiercioch
We put together a schedule yesterday, but it may take some time to get on that sleep schedule. We all woke up about an hour late today. Fortunately, we didn’t have anything super time sensitive on the agenda so we just shifted everything back an hour. Good to go.
Everyone handled their own breakfast and we had a morning briefing around 11am. We decided to prioritize an EVA as soon as possible after landing and ensuring basic resources were available in order to assess the situation. The hab lands automatically and there haven’t been any mishaps since the early moon colonization days, but it never hurts to check. Most of our systems showed nominal by last night, so our briefing this morning mostly revolved around prepping for that adventure.
Around 11:45, the first EVA crew was suited up and ready to roll out. The suits took some adjustment to get everyone fitted, but even at their best they were heavy and awkward. The suits are thickly insulated and restrictive (not that I’m complaining, freezing isn’t fun), and the helmets cut your field of view to about 60 degrees vertical and 90 horizontal. Functional, but it takes some getting used to. Our commander has some vibrating-boot-augmented-reality system that’s supposed to identify obstacles so that you can keep your head up. After wandering around in these suits a bit, I think a system like that could be pretty handy. Guess we’ll find out later this week. At noon the three of us (Commander Gibson, Geoffrey, and myself.) entered the main airlock. The hab crew walked through the depressurization proceedures while the three of us walked through our own mental depressurizations. A few seconds later the outer door opened and we stepped onto the surface of an entirely new planet.
You’re supposed to have some deep, meaningful message to drop at this point. Something short but poignant. “One small step for man” and all that jazz.
We were more focused on not dying. The suits (uncomfortable as they are) are designed to keep us warm and alive and oxygenated, but it’s one thing to read the spec sheet and another to put your life on the line testing them in an environment you’ve never seen before. An environment nobody has ever seen before with their naked eyes. It’s beautiful. The landscape isn’t much crazier than the Utah desert, but there’s something immensely humbling about seeing it. It’s hard to describe. We’re further away from earth than anyone has ever been. And we’re going for a hike.
We’re not nearly poetic enough for this. What we are though, is alive. We looked over our own and each other’s suits and we ran all typical system checks and everything looks good. We sent a plan to CAPCOM that we’d be circling the hab at a half mile radius, and there’s a hill to the north that offers a good vantage point, so we head that direction. Once we reach the top of the hill, the land plateaus for a solid mile or two before hitting some steeper hills. Looking back, the hab appears well settled. Nothing unexpected. The landing algortihms did their job perfectly and everything was in place before we woke up. Solid.
The landscape is mostly soft dusty hills with clay and rock interspersed. Rolling hills suround the hab (the site was carefully selected to avoid dust storms and provide the best landing opportunities) but off in the distance there are many plateaus and further away, snow capped mountains. The thin atmosphere makes the limited color spectrum pop vividly. Rich reds and browns dominate, but there are streaks of purple and grey and blue interspersed and they break things up nicely. The sky is gray and dull, but not cloudy. Just.. flat. It sounds sad, but it’s not. It’s a warm, comforting gray, and it makes the surface feel even richer.
We take some recon photos to compare to our maps later, and we head off to the north, following the ridgeline. After another half mile or so, we run into a dry stream bed that runs back down to the desert floor. We follow the stream as far as it goes and reach the ground. Another five or ten minutes wandering yielded a broken chunk of solar panel and an old, worn battery. Must’ve been from one of the ancient rovers we sent, back in the day. Comforting to see another thing made by our species, even if it’s been torn to shreds. Nothing useful though. We’ve been out for about an hour now, so we head back toward the hab and open coms for the other crew to prep the airlock for our arrival. When we get back, we go through the motions, careful not to track dust too far from the airlock. We strip our suits and help the second crew get their packs on. We have water now, and even though mars is chilly, our suits are warm and our packs are heavy. A shower is definitely on the agenda. After we get the second group out the door and ensure their systems are functional, we take turns manning the radio, showering, and eating lunch. Canned spinach and salmon. Nice.
A nap and some basic reports later, the second crew returns. They followed much the same path as us, and noted a lot of similar observations. Double EVA was a success. Ok guys, our work here is done. Good job. Let’s go home.
Not quite. Another day down and 13 to go. Let’s rock and roll.
Journalist Report – December 22nd Sol 04 Journalist report to be posted Authored by Anselm Wiercioch
It snowed for a few hours today. That’s not supposed to happen.
Going to have to put some serious effort into revamping our understanding of Mars’ climate. Coldest day since we landed. The EVA crew decided to postpone until tomorrow due to potentially inclement weather. I’m not on tomorrow’s crew, but we might need to reprioritize some climate data while they’re out.. Will keep investigating. Otherwise, today was a slow day. Some progress was made in the greenhouse, and the network connectivity issues persist despite many hours of messing with it. Felt like a snow day in elementary school where you’re off class and can feel christmas around the corner.
Our crew engineer engineered some cinnamon raisin swirl bread and it’s magical. The freeze dried food stores will probably start to wear on us eventually, but for the time being we’re living it up. As long as coffee and tea holds out, crew morale is going to be coasting just fine.
Connor and I’s sleep schedule is holding out strong. We aren’t being too strinct about the schedule and we aren’t going too extreme – still a solid six hours or so per night, spaced into ~3 naps. We’ve been ever so slightly tired but that’s to be expected on the first day or two. Generally feel pretty energized though.
The most annoying thing at the moment for me is just being cooped up in a tin can. Really struggling to understand how all those super smart engineers on the ground decided a treadmill wasn’t necessary. Yoga and pushups only get you so far. The hab’s air system isn’t exactly refreshing either. Meh. It’s all good though. I’m sure we’ll get used to it. Or at least, we’ll be gone before it really starts to get to us.
We did find a massive binder of awesome (mostly old and/or super goofy) movies, so that’s helping the nights pass faster after work is done each day.
Nothing too crazy. The days are moving by faster as a whole.
Journalist Report – December 23rd Sol 05 Journalist Report Authored by Anselm Wiercioch
The main event of the day (other than fresh scones) was the second major EVA to the area we’ve named the “dinosaur quarry.” There are a lot of interesting geological formations there that resemble dinosaur bones. The area seems like it may have been a small reservoir at some point, but is obviously long since dried up. It’s about 15 minutes away on our individual electric rovers. A cold, bumpy ride but not too bad. Some insulation lessons were learned from the first expedition on Sol 03. After a long exploration of the quarry area, the crew regrouped in the hab. A few showers and some greenhab work rounded out the majority of the day.
The weather was pretty typical today – bland skies and lots of cold. A small amount of precipitation, but not much stuck. Still too little data to draw conclusions about that. We shouldn’t see much snow at these latitiudes. I mean we’re hardly equatorial, but we’re a ways from the pole.. Maybe the wind currents are strong enough to escape some ice off and carry it all the way down? *shrug* Jury’s still out on that.
Speaking of the cold, our greenhab progress is.. slow. We suspect some small leaks in the insulation that are causing the heating system to overload and shut down until things are near freezing, then snap back on full blast. Back and forth. We attempted to seal some of the gaps we found, but one of our mission commanders back home told us to postpone repairs. Not sure yet how that will affect our research. Hopefully some lettuce can last a few light frosts.. On the other hand, all germination attempts are going well. We’ve got red and green oak lettuce, raddish, and some mysterious unlabelled seeds that we found stowed away in the hab.. I’ll let the biologists talk about that more though. I’ll just complain about the weather instead.
I guess I shouldn’t be complaining about snow, really. Some of the crew came from dry desert areas on earth and have never had snow for the holidays. Chrismas is coming up soon (we haven’t been here long enough for the time difference to throw us off yet – the first Martian Christmas will still be on Earth’s Dec 25.) We all brought small gifts for a white elephant exchange and are trying to decide on a fancy meal to celebrate. I’m sure we’ll think of something interesting. We’ve got a creative group.
Despite minimal coffee intake (gotta save water, ya know?), a lot of freeze dried food, rare showers, intermittent wifi, etc., crew morale is holding strong. Personality is obviously a major concern in the astronaut selection process – technical skills are a dime a dozen, but teams that work well under stress are more difficult to find. I have high hopes for the coming week. We all bring very different attributes to the table, but ones that fit together and are greater than the sum of their parts.
Of course, even with the crew getting along well, I’m still more than happy to complain. A massage and a shower would really hit the spot. It’s only been a few days, but those helmets are heavy and hard on the shoulders and We’re building up some considerable stank. We don’t have those ISS goon’s luxurious air filtering system or low gravity to keep things cleanly. Maybe we should just take turns snapping the airlock open for half a second each and freeze drying all the bacteria off of us.. Super dangerous. Not doing that.. At least for another 3 days.. Ha.
Journalist Report – December 26th Sol 08 Journalist report to be posted Authored by Anselm Wiercioch
Hey gang! Long time no see. Or, read.. or whatever. Hope everyone planetside had happy holidays!
This was one of the quietest and strangest Christmases I’ve had (first tin can holiday, woo), but was still very warm and wholesome. The crew feels almost like family at this point. We had some fresh croissants and played charades and trimmed the tiny Charlie Brown tree someone brought. It was cute. We exchanged white elephant gifts – some books, some legos, lots of fun stuff (I got a sweet Brown jersey). It was fun. Festivities aside, we also had our first martian dust storm! Right in the middle of the night after things had settled down, the hab started shaking violently. I know this is a thoroughly engineered structure, but it’s also heavily mass optimized and no matter what the math says, a thin sheet metal wall does not feel very strong when it’s standing between your warm comfy Christmas night and a brutal frozen iron oxide space storm. That’s a unique Mars experience for sure. After about 3 hours of struggling to fall asleep in a vibrating bunk, things got really exciting. The hab includes a small hemispherical skylight dome right in the center of the roof, and our tiny haboob blew it straight off. We were all awake at that point luckily, but we’re sitting around drinking tea and reading books, not planning what to do when your house suddenly and loudly depressurizes and you get flash frozen. Despite popular opinion, it kind of sucks.
Our training kicked in anyways and we were able to pull on our emergency pressure suits before anyone was severely injured. We all complained our fair share over the decade or so of building muscle memory for things like this, but you’re sure happy when it comes to task. A quick trip to the engineering bay yielded a solid replacement (in my humble opinion, much more solid than what we started with) and we were able to seal the hole without much trouble. It took about 10 minutes for the emergency system to repressurize, but the kitchen and loft area were coated in a fluffy layer of red sand.
Somehow we all slept pretty well after that. Go figure. About 9 hours later we woke and assessed the damage. (Yeah yeah, we missed morning briefing. Priorities. Meh.) The hab as a whole seemed to survive alright, as did the slightly buried but generally unbroken rovers. The landing site is situated in between two small dunes against a hillside to avoid things like this, and I think we avoided the brunt of the storm. The interior was fluffy and red, but it gave us some nice meditative cleaning work this morning.
After everything was basically back on track, if slightly behind schedule, the day’s EVA crew suited up and headed out for Candor Chasma. Some kind of massive geological rift NE of the hab. I stayed home and started inventorying the engineering bay, but apparently it was pretty spectacular. I’ll find out tomorrow on the follow-up crew.
Over all it was a pretty slow day. Lot of mindless work and gradual mental debriefing. We’ve got a lot of work to do this week as our primary mission winds down. Gonna get to sleep pretty early tonight. And hey, my shower rotation is back up tomorrow. Little victories.
Journalist Report – December 28th Sol 10 Journalist Report Authored by Anselm Wiercioch
We’re out of water. So there’s that.
We transferred the final dregs from the resupply drone (250L?) into our primary tank and the drone left. That was a few days ago though and we haven’t seen anything back. It shouldn’t take more than two days to boop up to orbit, hit the big transport ships, and boop back down to us. It’s fully automated and there aren’t many other places for it to go. We should definitely get those microwaves and condensers up and running ASAP though. They were supposed to be running when we got here, but like a lot of things about this mission, got sidelined last minute. We’re intended to run on tanks carried here instead, which will never be a long term solution. Good thing our primary mission is ending soon. None of us we’re expecting to return to Earth for sure, but I can’t say the prospect is disappointing. We’ll see what happens. We still have a few sources we could pull from for water and last long enough for the resupply drone. Day by day.
On the bright side, Mars is gorgeous. The follow-up crew hit Candor Chasma today and it was breathtaking. Grand Canyon got nothing on Mars. Something about the rich colors and years of erosion by dust storms mixed with the desolate, frozen geology is awe inspiring. Like the ruins of a long dead but once great civilization. It’s kind of creepy too, because you can tell it was the kind of civilization that fixed all our technological issues and got past all the social divides we’re stuck on and somehow still got wiped out. Desolate doesn’t begin to describe it. As nice as going back would be. There’s so much to do here and so much to see and millions of people may never see any of this. Just seems like a bit of a waste.
We also tested out Commander Gibson’s research project and helped gather some data for an augmented reality obstacle avoidance system. Would be really nice to have sometimes. These helmets are absolutely horrible to hike in. Once the soil gets muddy or soft, you’re done for. Add it to the list of improvements. That’s why we’re here though, right? To take a great chance and figure out how to make things easier for the next crews and generations.
Hab life is good. Things are becoming routine now. People are generally not going insane or injuring themselves too severely, so that’s good. We’ve got an overall mission report coming up soon so I won’t go into things too much here. We are starting to feel the isolation though. I suppose it’s a good thing that it took this long, but it’s a curious feeling. These five people are our family now – very possible the folks we’ll grow old and die with. Our Martian Elysium is insanely beautiful, but also very empty. A planet inhabited, other than us, entirely by robots. Other crews will come in time, but not within easy visiting range, and after the first few, they’ll stop sticking around. No guarantees when that will be though or whether one of those shuttles will have room for us. We might never see anyone again solely because the wrong politician gets into office and the program drops funding. Humans are weird like that.
Journalist Report – January 2nd Greetings from the Red Planet!
This morning we woke up in full “SIM.” Meaning our 14 day simulation is officially underway. Limited communication with Earth, having to wear a space suit when going out on the Martian (Utah) landscape, and eating mostly dehydrated food are the biggest changes. Remember we are on Mars!
The entire crew is allowed 500/mb TOTAL of daily internet access, which is predominantly used to talk to CAPCOM back on Earth about our mission progress. The Hab has two airlocks which are used to De-Pressurize/Re-pressurize the environment between the light atmosphere on Mars, and the denser atmosphere humans comfortably live in. If you, or any human for that matter, were to go out in the Martian atmosphere without the help of a pressurized and oxygenated spacesuit – you would die in a matter of moments. The main reasons for eating almost all dehydrated food are: it lasts much longer and has significantly less mass (making it easier to launch to Mars) due to all the water being taken out.
Our day began around 8am with a team breakfast and briefing. Cereal with dehydrated milk.. Not the best tasting and a bit watery, but it did the job. After breakfast, the entire crew got ready for our first Extra Vehicular Activity or “EVA.” Myself and Anushree, the crew biologist, stayed back to be on HABCOM. Anushree is the longest tenured analog mission member among us, she has spent over 80 days in simulation to date, so naturally she was called upon to be in charge of communicating with the EVA team to start. Doing anything the first time takes longer than the next, and we were no different. Getting everyone geared up, dealing with radio issues, and completing every necessary check of the EVA protocol delayed us a half hour after our scheduled start time (but due to that thoroughness no one ended up falling victim to the Martian environment).
Pierrick Loyers), the crew Scientist, was today’s EVA leader. He was joined by his project’s co-investigator Gwendal Henaff (Health and Safety Officer), Patrick Gray (Green Hab Officer), Troy Cole (Engineer), and Ilaria Cinelli (Crew Commander). The main objectives of the EVA were to get everyone used to the suits, go through the regular engineering checks (water levels, ATV/vehicle power checks, diesel for the generator, and propane for the Habitat furnace), and to test the instrument that will be used to scan the Martian subsurface (Pierrick and Gwendal’s main project while on SIM). After two hours, the EVA was complete and all crew members depressurized inside the airlock for the needed three minutes before coming back into the Hab.
The EVA crew was tired upon return, but exclaimed how exhilarating the experience of walking around on another planet had been. They were greeted with hot potato soup for lunch (Cooked…ok prepared… by yours truly) – which they gobbled up quickly. After chow, the crew took 30 minute power naps. We will be participating in a sleep study while on sim, so everyone will be taking mandatory naps in the middle of each day – today was our “training.” (I can get used to this!)
After some Zzzs, the crew wrote reports, fixed and calibrated equipment, and discussed the coming days schedules/crew duties. All in all, a great first day on Mars. CAPCOM window is coming up quick, as well as dinner. Patrick is on cooking duty, so we will see if he can match my creamy potato soup . (highly doubtful, but he is resourceful so he may give me a run for my money. Ha!)
Sol Summary – January 3rd Dear Earth,
The feeling of walking around on another planet is surreal and intoxicating. It is also somewhat overwhelming. Today I took part in my first EVA, and it was an incredibly memorable experience.
I joined Pierrick and Gwendal on their scheduled EVA to look for underground Martian water sources. But before you take even one step on Mars(One small step for Man, One giant leap for mankind, and all that) an exhaustive procedure of safety checks must to be completed. Every crew member wears a flight suit, boots, and gloves – along with a healthy amount of duct tape to seal the extremity gaps. Then each crew members dons a rectangular, roughly torso sized, Oxygenator backpack that is the primary life support system used while on EVA. The final piece of the equipment puzzle is a 2ft diameter plexiglass “bubble” helmet that allows each Marsnaut a 180 degree field of vision. Oxygen flows to the helmet by flexible tubes that are attached to the Oxygenator packs. You are now ready to explore another planet!
After the necessary three minute depressurization and the normal engineering checks around the Hab, we were off. The Frenchmen took Deimos (our larger rover, duly named for one of Mars’s moon) while I took one of the ATVs. After a 15 minute ride through the Martian landscape we arrived at what looked like an optimal location – a flat plain with signs of ancient water flows. G & P’s research is to use ground penetrating radar (on what looks like an ottoman sized sled you drag on the ground) that emits radio waves, at 200 mhz, into the soil. As the wave moves through the soil, it is reflected differently when it reaches each layer of soil. Water has high dielectric properties (good conductor), so when the wave passes through the ground and encounters water among the soil, this finding is sent as a unique reading to the control screen that is carried by one of the Marsnauts.
We got some partial readings that are promising, but further examination will be needed to confirm if the waves hit water or something else. You know the saying: Time flies when you’re having fun? Well that statement is just as true on Mars as it is back on Earth. Three hours after stepping out of the Hab, we were back inside the airlock waiting for the necessary three minutes of re-pressurization. Hot soup and tea were waiting for us which quickly warmed us up after being in the windy environment for 180 consecutive minutes.
After chow, the crew took our mandatory afternoon nap (as part of Commander Ilaria’s sleep study, more on that tomorrow). The rest of the afternoon was spent doing reports and planning tomorrow’s EVA. CAPCOM window is opening soon, and I can smell more food cooking. Until tomorrow, Crew 172 signing off.
Written by Nicholas McCay, Crew Journalist
Sol Summary – January 4th Sol 3 Summary – Written by Nicholas McCay, Crew Journalist
Crew 172 has settled into living on the surface of another planet. It is definitely a different experience than living back on Earth.
I feel like I am a human guinea pig. I guess that is a good thing since experiments and research are the main point of analog simulations. Testing humans, equipment, and procedures inside a “controlled” but still stressful and hostile setting (environmentally, physically, and/or psychologically). In actual human spaceflight missions there are many unknowns, so sims take some of the guess work out of the “What could go wrong?” equation. We have encountered many of these unknowns before in actual missions, and sims are an ideal test bed for solutions.
I explained yesterday that some of the research we are actively testing on our mission is a possible answer to the question: “Could an astronaut bring equipment that would allow them to see a subsurface water source?” I also said that I would explain more to why we are taking mandatory naps in the day. Well… another question (lead by Commander Ilaria) that we are trying to answer in the next two weeks is: “Could astronauts wear a device while sleeping that would help them fall asleep quicker and thus improve overall sleep and performance?”
Last night we began to test that hypothesis. Each Crew 172 Marsnaut wears a semi-comfortable visor over their eyes while they begin to sleep. Inside the visor and directly in front of each closed eye is an orange lighted circle that alternatively turns on and off or stays lit the entire duration of the 30 minute sleep improvement period. At the same time, the flanges of the visor that rest on either temple have tiny speakers that play “white noise.” The idea is that these stimuli will induce the astronaut, or any user for that matter, into REM(Rapid Eye Movement) sleep faster than normal. One of the main reasons for poor sleep is not being able to fall asleep in a timely manner – this is especially an issue during stressful situations like exploring Mars – so this is a direct attempt to test a solution to that problem. I can say confidently that last night, it did not work and I had trouble falling asleep due to this being the first time we used the devices before lights out. However, I can say just as confidently that today during our 30-minute mandatory nap I experienced something completely new and promising. During my lay down, I felt like I was dreaming in and out of different situations like, but I never actual fell completely asleep. I know… Pretty trippy. Three of my crew stated they had similar experiences.
Let’s rewind a bit to before our nap. Five us went out on a walking EVA of the Martian landscape to stress us physically. Remember all the equipment that we have to wear to keep us alive in the lower atmosphere? Yeah… All of our gear and clothes weigh a total of ~ 45 lbs. Now imagine walking, basically hiking, on different terrains (sand, rock, incline, decline), with the Oxygenator pack, AND a bubble helmet that inhibits your vision while frequently fogging up enough to make it difficult to see exactly where you are stepping. Don’t forget the constrained oxygen from the suit and high altitude in our “Martian” desert. Fun times right?!?! But hey you pay your dues. Even with everything I said above, going on EVA is the crème de la crème of SIM. You really feel like an Marsnuat! The scenery (Southern Utah) is absolutely breathtaking, and is about as close to “Mars” as we can get here on Earth. (There are a few other locations: Hawaii volcanoes, The Artic Tundra, and high deserts around the world that are close. I will talk about these analogs in future posts.)
Fast-forward to after our nap. The crew was up working on their own personal projects for a couple hours. Before dinner, Gwendal (our Health and Safety Officer, and a certified paramedic in France) led us in a First Aid briefing. In the US, being an hour away from a hospital is “Wilderness,” so we are definitely in the Martian wilderness, that is for sure! We went through situations such as: bleeding, choking, concussions, and my favorite – broken bones. I have broken my arm twice in my life – comes with the territory of being the oldest of 3 brothers in TN ha…What up Jordan and Austin?!
Now it’s chow time, and I can smell an amazing curry scent. Anushree is cooking something from her native country of India. I, and the crew, are excited for some much needed spice! Remember most of the food we are eating is dehydrated, so pepper, salt, and spices are our dear friends. After dinner, we will have our normal reporting with COMMS and head to bed for another round of wearing the sleep study visor. Here is to hoping that tonight’s sleep will be better than last night! Crew 172 signing off.
Sol Summary – January 5th Today we were visited by Aliens! And with visual and audio equipment to boot. The three of them were part of a peace-keeping and research envoy from the Solar System News Network – RYOT.
We were not expecting any company until after the weekend, when our mid mission resupply would arrive, but that was only supposed to be robotic visitors. This was a welcome surprise, and the crew jumped at the opportunity to convey the importance of our mission. Myself, Patrick (Green Hab), Gwendal (Health and Safety), Pierrick (Scientist), and Commander Ilaria suited up to greet them outside the Hab. The RYOT crew peculiarly were not wearing any life support system – as far are we could tell – and were not fazed by Mars’s lower 0.006 ATM. For those keeping score back on Earth, remember you live at 1.0 ATM. Thus, the reason we humans wear Oxygenator packs when we traverse the Martian landscape. The aliens wanted to see what type of research projects we were going to undertake while on the red planet – we happily obliged.
The crew took our large rover and three ATVs to a nearby waterbed to demonstrate the Frenchmen’s Ground Penetrating Radar, while the visitors observed from close by. The weather began to turn for the worst halfway through our planned expedition, so we scraped the rest of the EVA, even though we had plenty of oxygen and fuel. Good thing because almost as soon as the airlock door was closed, with all crew and visitors inside, it began to snow outside. I know! Snow! In the Martian desert! We are not located at either of the poles, so a bit odd. However, we are at 1,300m above sea level, so the elevation is the likely culprit for us seeing precipitation. After a few hours, it now looks like a winter wonderland. The first time the crew has seen anything other than a reddish-brown landscape since arriving.
Back inside the Hab, Anushree (XO & Astrobiologist) gave our new friends a tour of the science dome where most of her research takes place. She is the most seasoned Marsnaut out of all of us. She participated in the first 80 day analog mission, earlier this year, of a total 160 day simulation that will have its second 80 days take place this summer in the Arctic. Our 14 day sim is a walk in the park for her. Anushree’s project is trying to answer the question: “Is there a type of unique micro-organism that could survive extremely high salt concentrations?” Why salt you ask? Well two main reasons: first, a previous Mars robotic rover mission found gypsum (a type of salt), and secondly, there are more than 600 locations on the southern hemisphere of Mars where scientists have discovered salt deposits through using a tool on a Martian orbiter called THEMIS (Thermal Emission Imaging System). Yesterday, I told you about how analog missions are fantastic test beds for hypothesis’ before applying the potential solution (experiment, procedure, equipment, etc.) on an actual spaceflight mission. We believe there is a strong possibility of brine (salty water) existing on the Martian surface in the past, with the liquid water evaporating and leaving behind only the salt as a deposit. In the left over salt, there is a chance we will find extreme environment loving micro-organisms (extremophiles) that thrive in salt (more specifically, halophiles). That COULD, don’t quote me on this, be the first sign of any life, other than that on Earth, that we (humanity) have discovered. Are you as pumped as I am about that possibility?! Woah.
After Anushree was finished explaining her work, the RYOT crew were guided to the GreenHab to talk to Patrick. He explained to our visitors the benefits, there are quite a few, of being able to grow food on Mars. The first advantage is the physiological benefit of having fresh food in your diet (more nutrient dense, less preservatives), and the second is that there is an emotional benefit to growing your own food and being in a green, humid, and natural environment. Time in a greenhouse environment has been shown to be a major de-stressor on long duration Antarctic missions. Lastly, the satisfaction of eating food that you yourself grew is invaluable. Here at MDRS, we are installing a sustainable aquaponics system to efficiently grow fresh food. There is also space for visiting researchers to run their own experiments in this unique environment. I can’t wait to try Martian sweet potatoes in my mom’s homemade casserole recipe!
During our “tour,” the RYOT trio set up 360 degree cameras at every location that will soon allow any interested party to access an interactive map of the MDRS campus. The idea is that you will be able to “teleport” yourself (not physically, but through VR goggles or the Internet) to each different setting: The Hab (Engineering Bay, Airlock, common area, and crew quarters), The Science Dome, The GreenHab, The Observatory, and on EVA with our transport vehicles.
The aliens stated they will be back tomorrow to complete their tour and interview the other crew members. Now CAPCOM window is open, and the crew is wiped from a long day of entertaining our “guests.” Hot dinner and a movie is on the docket in this freezing weather. Until tomorrow, Crew 172 signing off.
Sol Summary – January 6th It started snowing yesterday at 4pm, and didn’t stop until after we were asleep. We woke up this morning to an all white Martian landscape with no “Red Planet” in sight.
Back on Earth this would be primetime for a snow day, but sadly that was not the case here on Mars. We have numerous life support systems that need checking, every day, regardless of weather. However, Commander Ilaria did let us sleep in for an extra hour, so the crew was happy and rested to begin our day of operations.
We waited until 2pm, the hottest time of the day, to go out on our daily engineering EVA. Troy led Gwendal and I to check the propane, diesel generator, water tank levels, clean the solar panels of snow, and fill the oil & gas in the ATVs. This took about 15 minutes, and we were eager to get back to the warmth of the Hab. At that same time, our friends from the Solar System News Network – RYOT – reappeared. They wanted to ask us more questions about our mission, and to better understand the motives of subjecting ourselves to this analog simulation. Our scheduled quarter hour EVA turned into a frigid 2 hours. The highlight was hiking up to the nearest hill that overlooks the MDRS campus for panorama shots. The scenery was literally breathtaking, and the crew drank in the view before deciding that we might freeze if we stay out much longer. Back to the safe confines of the Hab came the order.
The Hab’s heating furnace never felt so good when we finally got back to it’s warmth. My toes felt like ice cubes and took some time to defrost. Our lazy day had unexpectedly turned into a full day of running around, but that is par for the “Mars” course. Be ready for anything!
Dinner and CAPCOM are coming up, and it seems like the crew cant wait to get in their bunks for the night. A good night’s rest is needed after the last couple of days. Crew 172 signing off.
Sol Summary – January 7th The word of the day is: Teamwork. As you may of guessed from back on Earth, everything doesn’t exactly go as planned on Mars, and you have to be able to adapt to any circumstances. I shouldn’t have to reiterate that we are currently living in a hostile, and most of the time dangerous, environment, but I will let that though marinate for a second before I continue…
We started the day bright and early after the crew woke up from our best (I say that loosely, we all crashed hard when yesterday’s CAPCOM window closed – two days of alien TV crew will do that to you) night’s sleep in a few sols. We were warm and toasty inside the Hab, but outside was not the same. It got down to a bitter low of 12 degrees last night. Long story short, the pipes between our static water tank (outside) and our loft tank (inside and the primary h2o reservoir used for toilet flushes, cleaning dishes in sink, and any other use other than drinking). We were running desperately low in our loft tank around mid-day, and when we tried pumping water from outside to in like normal – no dice.
Troy, Partick, and Anushree suited up for our daily engineering check with identifying and fixing the water problem as the primary objective of the EVA. Propane, Diesel, and Rover checks were reported nominal. The water issue was saved for last, as it eventually took the scheduled 15 minute EVA to the 90 minute mark. Warm water with salt & baking soda, with a the help of a screw driver, were the first option. This helped minimally, so hotter water was the request to the HAB. We boiled another pot of water inside, and the second option was to pour the water over the frozen pipes in hopes that hitting the problem from both inside and outside would give us a better chance for success. That did the trick and we were back in business! After our loft tank was full again, the crew were able to exhale.
Water conservation is one of the central tenets of analog mission simulations, as it mimics what actual human spaceflight missions will face when traveling through the solar system. Every drop will be recycled and reused multiple times over, just like on the International Space Station right now as it travels overhead…I will spare you what would of needed to happen if we didn’t fix the pump, but lets just say it involved bags. YAAAACK ha. Good thing we had our trusty engineer, Troy, with the rest of the crew ready to WORK THE PROBLEM.
Hot tea and grub were waiting for the EVA team when they were finally back inside. (That has become our one-two punch to get anyone back to equilibrium after being in the cold with only a few layers on.) The crew worked on their own projects and daily duties for the next couple hours – still on a high from the earlier accomplishment. A relaxing evening will be our reward. CAPCOM and dinner are coming with the knowledge that tomorrow (Sunday) will be our first “day off” since we have arrived on Mars. That means sleeping in and not “having to” work on our projects. We will be taking full advantage of that off time, and we will be busting the VR headsets out to “get away” from the Red Planet. (Thanks to Experience 360 in LA!)
Today was tough, but we got through it as a crew. This is a perfect example that shows the importance of working together. If we fail, we fail together, and damnit if we succeed – we succeed TOGETHER. In the words of THE Martian – Mark Watney: “Fuck You Mars.” Crew 172 out.
Daily Summary – January 8th Today we are officially halfway through our two week analog mission, and Houston we have a BIG problem. Of course this happens on our one “off day” during the mission. On Mars you never have a real day off, but we did take advantage of staying up late last night to watch the classic Apollo 13 and sleeping in late the morning.
When we woke up we were greeted with the sign: “Do Not Flush. Use Plastic Bag.” The nightmare I hinted at yesterday came to fruition. I will spare you the details, but Number 1 in the toilet and Number 2 in a bag.
The piping from outside the HAB to inside froze again, and we were subjected to strict water conservation levels. Troy led the Commander and Patrick on the daily engineering check of all of our systems, and everything was reported as nominal. That is, other than the water situation. We were able to unfreeze the pipe connections outside and fill the loft tank up to capacity, but we have to assume that this is all the water we have for the foreseeable future. We have been waiting for a water replenishment the last few days, but in these harsh conditions our resupply probe has stayed in orbit waiting for the weather to clear. Fingers crossed for a delivery tomorrow, as it is supposed to be up to 45-50 degrees.
Another problem that was solved later in the day was, at first, looking like an unsolvable problem (at least until after we completed our SIM). The sleep study computer which has all of our sleep data on it bit the dust in the morning. This is less than ideal for Commander Ilaria, as that data is THE key in her sleep study and we have collected it every day since we arrived seven sols ago. After a few hours of working on it, along with some choice words of encouragement, the computer was brought back to life. The immediate next step was to back everything up just in case it died again. A sigh of relief for the Commander and crew.
Everyone took advantage of the extra off time today to catch up/get ahead on their projects, read, and lounge around. CAPCOM and chowtime are on the horizon and the crew is eager to relax later in the evening. I believe that after tonight the crew will have finally got back to equilibrium after a hectic/stressful schedule the last four days. But then again, tomorrow is a brand new week and the craziness will start right back up again at 7am. (Who am I kidding…Has it ever stopped since our arrival? NOPE ha) Here is to wishful thinking! Crew 172, over and out!
Sol Summary – January 9th BEGIN TRANSMISSION
Hello again Earth! Today’s guest writer for the Sol 8 Summary is Patrick Gray, our crew’s Green Hab Officer. Take it away Patrick!
We woke up as a team today and it truly feels like we’re settling into the Martian routine. We had a quick breakfast and debriefing about today’s research and engineering objectives before everyone jumped into their work. Our EVA was scheduled for 10AM and just before suiting up mission support notified us that they would require a third crew member to join the EVA team for safety given the icy conditions. Having slightly fewer obligations today I volunteered and had one of my most epic ventures yet into the Martian hinterland.
Our objective was to the test the Frenchmen’s heads up display (HUD) – an augmented reality instrument that allows you to read GPS, elevation, and other important information just above your line of sight – like a scientific version of Google Glass. Today’s test was to establish the HUD’s accuracy in determining elevation – which meant some mountain climbing. We set out and shortly after mounting our first hill we lost sight of the Hab and radio contact with our crew – this was my first expedition that felt like true exploration. Visibility is incredible out here in the desert; from the mesa we summited you could see for dozens of miles in every direction and it was all barren, without a sign of life – human or otherwise. Two hours later we returned with the test data in hand and photos to document our route. After the EVA we melted back into what has become our daily routine, a shift to cook lunch, dive into our space nap (part of Commander Ilaria’s sleep study), and then spend the afternoon working on our individual research.
This afternoon’s various scientific investigations were interrupted by a welcome sight. After four days of water shortage, which has significantly impacted life in the HAB, our resupply probe is back with 1100 gallons of potable H2O. This resupply will last beyond our mission and well into the next crew. When in short supply it really makes one recognize how often we run through careless amounts of water for daily tasks, as simple as flushing the toilet and as seemingly innocuous as watering the garden. Our crew has proved surprisingly resilient to limited water rations but the inconvenience is constant, and running out completely has been a dark cloud over our heads for half of the mission. Another typically limitless resource that is severely constricted here is Internet. While “overuse” of Internet in the modern world doesn’t have the same environmental implications as the rash waste of water, 500 megabytes between seven crewmembers still does a good job of reminding us of the infrastructure and convenience we rely on daily for communication, productivity, and entertainment.
Thanks to Anushree, Troy, and Ilaria’s efforts and exertions (in the rain and cold) we are now fully resupplied on water and look forward to flushing the toilet and our, now luxurious sounding, three-minute showers. The team is well into the groove of Martian life, we’ve overcome a number of obstacles thrown at us by the close quarters, language barriers, andconstrained resources, and our work is progressing as planned. Mars is no joke, but we’re all looking forward to the remainder of our time exploring this unique environment.
Crew 172 – GreenHab Officer
Sol Summary – January 10th BEGIN TRANSMISSION
It looks like we are on Mars again! The snow that kept us around the MDRS campus for the last four days finally melted. Instead of a winter wonderland, the landscape is now reddish/brown for as far as the eye can see. (Except for the top of Olympus Mons aka Mt. Hunter in UT which is perpetually snowed in)
Today we woke up as a crew and had our normal breakfast of cereal (as well as: dehydrated fruit – Apples, Strawberries, and Blueberries mixed in powdered milk mix) and oatmeal. Along with coffee and Tang to wash it all down. Due to the weather over the last few days we scheduled our EVA in the afternoon, so the crew worked on projects, read, and fixed things around the HAB.
The Frenchmen’s research unit has had many electronic failures due to the cold, harsh environment, so we all got to play “Macgyver” in trying to fix the issues with the limited resources available here on Mars. Their HUD micro-controller blew, but was brought back to life after some soldering and TLC – good thing they brought extras for this exact reason. The batteries that power the unit have been losing their charge quicker than expected due to the cold, so some bubble wrap and aluminum foil were used to insulate. And finally, their battery charger stopped working due to the harsh climate, and it had to be replaced. Great lessons in always being ready to adapt in a foreign environment and using whatever you have you around to get the job done. The Frenchies finally prevailed!
After lunch and our daily space nap, Gwendal led Pierrick and Patrick to test their improvements in the muddy landscape using Deimos (Rover) and one of the ATVs. Success! Their equipment worked great, and communicated all the necessary data back to the HAB without issue. Hopefully tomorrow the terrain will have dried enough for them to take their full scientific suite including GPR(Ground Penetrating Radar), terminal, and controller. They have been itching to get out there and utilize their equipment, as we now only have three days left for scheduled EVAs (Wed, Thurs, Fri). I think we may do a chant to the weather gods tonight to increase their chances.
After the EVA was completed, the crew filled out our daily reports and scheduled tomorrow’s day. Hard to believe that tomorrow it will be ten sols since arriving on Mars. As the absolutely cliché saying goes – Time flies when you are having fun…Maybe too much fun? Never. We are killing it as a crew, and could for sure stay here for a little while longer if we needed/wanted to.
Dinner and CAPCOM are coming up and Pierrick is trying to translate his electronic Macgyvering skills into the kitchen by cooking a French specialty – CREPES! Let’s just say the crew is pumped to try. Now just what to put into these crepes: Nutella? Definitely. Honey? Absolutely. Peanut Butter? Yes, Yes, Yes. Or for me: all of the above! I can almost taste the fluffiness. I hope you can too back on Earth. Crew 172 signing off.
Journalist Report – January 11th BEGIN TRANSMISSION
Greetings Earthlings! Guest writer Pierrick Loyers wrote today’s Sol Summary. Let’s see what he has to say about Crew 172’s activities…
We woke up this morning at 07:30 am in great shape for the most of us. Martian crepes were added to the breakfast menu this morning. Honestly, Martian crepes made with powder eggs and powder milk are not as good as Terrestrial crepes but no time to complain! The EVA this morning started 30 minutes earlier than normal in order to clean the ATVs and Deimos (Rover) of mud.
After everything was checked and batteries for the scientific equipment fully charged, Gwendal, Ilaria, Nick, Patrick, and I opened the main hatch at 09:30 am sharp. After 40 minutes of cleaning our vehicles, Patrick (who accepted to help us for this task) returned back to his work within the HAB while the rest of the EVA team heading to the South. We parked near “Zubrin’s Head” (A rock face named after Robert Zubrin – the founder of The Mars Society), in front of a stunning Martian landscape.
We decided to start hiking one of the hills, avoiding to take rocky paths which could be dangerous in our suits. The trail was quick but “physically challenging.” We reached the top of our objective, out of breath, but so satisfying because of the rewarding view of this infinite and chaotic desert. Beyond this poetic hike with epic scenery, Gwendal and I still had a scientific objective. The objective of the 3D cartography system that we have designed is to follow and record the profile of the field encountered while the astronaut is walking through it. After going back down the hill, we investigated the area which seemed to be appropriate for a geophysical analysis with the GPR (Ground Penetrating Radar) and then returned to the HAB for lunch.
The lunch of today, prepared by Patrick, was composed of scrambled eggs (protein!), several vegetables (healthy!) and the inevitable dehydrated cheddar cheese – which has become an addiction for many of the crew members. After a good meal and the physical activities of this morning, our daily space nap (with the sleep mask on obviously) was necessary and we slept well.
Half an hour after the space nap began the crew woke up feeling refreshed. Troy, Nick, Gwendal, and I prepared for the crew’s second EVA of the day. We decided to head back to the area of this morning for GPR investigations and continuing altimetry measurements of it. During this EVA, we split into two group: Gwendal and I were doing soil probing with the GPR, while Nick and Troy (bravely) accepted to climb another hill. (This ridge being higher than the one of this morning and having to lug the 3D cartography system all the way up there was not for the feint of heart.)
50 minutes later, the mission had to be aborted because of the weather conditions. As everyone knows, electronics and rain are not really good friends and we preferred not to try to prove the opposite. Troy and Nick went back down their hill, slowly but safely. It was not an easy hike apparently but as Troy said: “It was an honor for me to help to expand the sum total of the scientific knowledge of Humanity.”
We came back to the HAB where our biologist, Anushree , prepared Masala tea – Spicy but so so good! Physically tired from the day, crew members easily melted into the couches to read space books with some good tunes in the background. We are on a Moby, Artic Monkeys, and Coldplay kick the past few days. Tonight, Patrick is making dinner (again!). Our chef is going to cook mashed potatoes with crumble sausages, and I know it will be delicious. Crew 172 signing off.
Sol Summary – January 12th BEGIN TRANSMISSION
Our Crew Engineer, Troy Cole wrote today’s Sol Summary. Here is his take of our crew activities from an Engineer’s point of view:
Hello from Mars! We are in the home stretch of our mission here, and I honestly feel odd about our eventual deviation from our Martian daily routine. Today we awoke for our brief breakfast and overview of the day’s activities. The weather took a turn for the worse , so we delayed our planned EVA (Extra-Vehicular Activity) until the afternoon giving each crew member time to go about their personal tasks and projects beforehand. My tasks today as Crew Engineer mostly involved tidying up my little domain, the Engineering Bay, in preparation for handoff to the next crew’s engineer. After a couple hours of task/project work, it was time for lunch which I happened to be assigned cooking duty. I treated my (meat-eating) crewmates to the first taste of bacon we’ve had since our mission began – which they greatly enjoyed. After our space nap, our French colleagues accompanied by our crew journalist, ventured forth onto the Martian surface to continue testing their geo-location recorder. The excursion proved successful and the crew settled in for dinner, report filing, and some well-deserved R&R. From an engineering perspective this mission has been most enlightening and really helped broaden my perspective on how engineers in the future will work extra-terrestrially. For example, little innocuous irritations can have outsized and grave consequences on places “off planet.” One such irritation is when you are out on a warm sunny day and once you enter an air conditioned room your glasses tend to fog up. Now this is no big deal, you merely remove them from your face, wipe them off, and go about your business. However, if instead of glasses it was your EVA helmet fogging up while walking around on severely rocky conditions with no way to wipe it off, then that minor annoyance becomes a major one really quickly. This particular irritant has been a constant during our mission and we all have had to learn ways to mitigate it as best we can and when that is not enough adjusting our operating procedures to maximize crew safety. Another feature of working in a remote location is the lack of access to information. On Mars we have a severely limited internet access, with only 500 MBs of total data available to a crew of seven. That means I can’t quickly Google search for the operating manual to a random AC power supply in the tool chest to verify if the voltage is compatible with charging batteries for a science experiment. All you have is your own knowledge and experience to work with, so you must be comfortable with the “trial and error” approach to making repairs with anything available on hand and the inherent risks that some with that. The vast majority of repairs I’ve had to make during this mission were things I have never fixed before but knowing that mine and my crews continued survival depended on me doing a good job steeled my nerves against self-doubt and focused on working the problem. While tending to things in the Hab, I’ll regularly steal a glance at the Order of the Engineer ring I wear everyday and recall what it symbolizes, “Do your best work possible, for the lives of the public depend on it.” These past two weeks have pushed my engineering skills to their limits and I’m glad to know that I have the capacity to handle most any problem that comes my way and keep people alive. Crew 172 signing off.
Journalist Report – January 13th BEGIN TRANSMISSION
Today is our last day in Simulation. Tomorrow we will wake up in Southern Utah, and NOT on Mars. What a weird and surreal feeling…Just as our crew has hit our stride of living and working on Mars – we are leaving in less than 48 hours.
Our last day of SIM was one of the busiest since we arrived 13 sols ago. We woke up at the normal time of 7:30am and immediately got to work after breakfast. I am not going to miss dehydrated milk and cereal with weak coffee every day, but this morning we were treated to a delicacy on Mars that we have been saving the entire length of our mission – BACON & Eggs!!! Troy happily fried the strips and prepared the eggs. The HAB was overwhelmed by the delicious aroma of a quintessential American breakfast. Eating just two pieces immediately put most of the crew (Anushree is vegetarian, so she got extra oats and honey to compensate. She was content and had her usual smile.) into a tranced state as they savored each bite. Our operations plan for the rest of the morning consisted of finishing crew projects/reports, taking photos and videos for outreach, and another round of virtual reality for all the crewmembers.
The morning flew by and before we knew it lunch was being served. Anushree treated us to a delicious Indian dish of naan bread with vegetables mixed with Thai curry paste. This was quite possibly the best and also most “traditional” meal of our analog mission. The crew went to our space nap happy and full. This would be our last space nap, as tomorrow morning the sleep study will be concluded. The whole crew, myself included, hasn’t napped this regularly since Kindergarten. We all wish this was part of our daily schedule when we return back to Earth. I doubt the corporate ladder will agree, but that is a discussion for another day.
After our nap, the crew prepared for our last EVA. We were scheduled to do a short walk around of the close by Martian hills. As Pierrick, Ilaria, Anushree, and I donned our space suits we got the call from on-site Mission Support that our EVA would need to be cut short to only include our regular engineering check due to muddy conditions and impending weather. The crew wasn’t exactly ecstatic about this news as this was our last possible EVA, but in the end we followed mission support’s commands. A quick check of all the HAB life support systems along with a short walk around the MDRS campus was concluded in under an hour. Each crew member drank in the views and experience, as the next time we step out of the airlock will be without our oxygenator packs and bubble helmets. The realization of soon being out of SIM had started to sink in.
Once back inside the airlock with re-pressurization complete, the real work of the day started up again. The crew cleaned the entire HAB from top to bottom and sideways. A place, especially a confined place such as the HAB, can become quite dirty with 7 adults living in it non-stop for almost two full weeks. We knew we only had to do it this final time, so everyone bit the bullet and we were done in under two hours. With the freshly cleaned HAB, the crew settled in for dinner. Our last bag of tortilla chips, any kind of chips for that matter, and melted Velveeta cheese was our appetizer. (It is the simple pleasures on Mars that usually give the most reward.) Our last dinner as a singular crew was beans and mashed potatoes topped with corn. We ran out of actual dinner options many sols ago (other than lunch today which was saved as more of a “going away” meal), and we have been scrounging whatever we could find (typically topped with chips, cheese, hot sauce, and salt to make up for lack of variety). Again, the word – adaptation – just never ceases to be true here on Mars.
Our crew is a resilient one that has weathered many storms inside and outside of the HAB, personal or group, stressful situations and times of joyous laughter, but we are all stronger from this unique experience. One that we will all cherish for years to come. We hope you have enjoyed following our story. We have certainly enjoyed living through it – TOGETHER! Crew 172 signing off for good.
Sol Summary – January 15th BEGIN TRANSMISSION
Greetings from Crew 173! We are a crew of five (for now, our 6th crewmate, Arnau Pons Lorente, a Spanish Aeronautical Engineer will be with us soon, but not for now)- our Commander Michaela Musilova from Slovakia, Executive Officer Idriss Sisaid from France, HSO Roy Naor from Israel, GreenHab Officer Rick Blake from Australia, and then my good self, Niamh (pronounced ‘Neeve’ by the way- its Gaelic, and a girl’s name) Shaw your Irish Crew journalist.
We arrived yesterday afternoon to a lovely warm welcome from Crew 172 and their commander Ilaria. After our group photo outside the Hab, Ilaria and her crew gave us an extensive training session (Crew Engineer, Troy was especially awesome with his 3hrs of ‘Hab Top Tips’, thank you Troy!). Patrick cooked up a lovely meal of curried rice and vegetables and we shared with them a toast of sparkling apple juice in their ceremonial bowls in honour of the completion of their mission. We all bedded down for the night and while it was pretty snug, we had a reasonably good nights sleep on the communal area floor (well, for those of us on the inflatable beds that didn’t deflate anyway!).
At 7.30am on Sol 0, we waved goodbye to Crew 172 and we began our time on Mars in earnest. The last thing Ilaria said to us was that our toilet had become blocked overnight. Little did we know in that moment the impact those words would have on our first day here.
It rained quite heavily overnight, so the terrain outside is very muddy and we were confined to indoor duties for the day. After unpacking food supplies and selecting our state room, we had our first breakfast of oatmeal, Cheerios, and dried apple, washed down with an assortment of tea, coffee and for some, nutritious servings of Tang. We worked on our cooking and cleaning schedule for the mission, which includes Pancake breakfast duties (for special days including my Dad’s birthday tomorrow, Roys mothers birthday on the 24th and Australia Day on the 26th) and preparing special meals of our countries on alternate evenings (we’re calling these Culture dinners).
And we began to tackle our first major objective of the mission- getting the toilet unblocked.
I made a somewhat successful lunch (a hearty serving of gumbo and brown rice) and afterwards Shannon arrived to take us through additional training. She informed us that due to the inclement weather, we will have our ATV and Rover training Tuesday, if all goes well. And then we talked a lot about the plumbing problems and the various permutations and combinations of flushing and plunging and other alternatives.
Roy and Idriss ventured outside and pumped the remaining water in to the main water reservoir, emptying both tanks on the trailer. As I write this, they are recounting enthusiastically their adventures in learning how to use the pump (without electrocuting themselves) and acclimatising to the cold and wet muddy weather. It was a big moment for them, for they claim that their relationship was found in that moment working together on this new daily task.
Our plumbing problems continued throughout the day and Roy (who has worked as a plumber in his native Israel) assessed the septic tank with Shannon and concluded that the issue with the toilet is attributable to a full septic tank rather than an ‘at source’ problem. And so we ceased our incessant flushing and plunging. We agreed for the foreseeable future, to poop in plastic bags and disposing of the biohazards material in a dedicated refuse sack (to be burnt at a later date when the rain stops and the plumbing problem has been resolved). We discussed other methodologies. It was an extensive discussion but believe that we have found the optimum solution, given the circumstances.
Idriss and Roy worked on setting up the 3d printer, but discovered that the filament spools didn’t work. They then tried to heat up the extruder to force the filament to go out, but the filament remains clogged in the printer. They are currently working on solution.
We are still figuring out how to optimise our limited toilet options. Trial and error is the general consensus.
Rick monitored hourly temperatures of the GreenHab, outside, the lower floor of the Hab and the grow tent in the greenHab. He also took an inventory of our spices. He’s also on dinner duty, he’s baking bread. Its looking very promising and may inherit the title ‘The Breadmaker’ if successful. Michaela re-planted her spinach seeds in the bespoke apparatus she has brought, designed by her students in Slovakia.
Our first CAPCOM is imminent and we are looking forward to an evening of settling in to our new home for the next 2 weeks on Mars as our plumbing problems continues.
Crew 173 signing off. END TRANSMISSION