Crew 178 - Journalism Reports
Journalist Report – April 12th Journalist report Sol 2 – 170412 Mathieu « Mitch » Vander Donckt Crew Journalist and Scientist Crew 178 – UCL to Mars
Second day on Mars. This time I wasn’t surprised at wake up – but of course still excited thinking about the day to come. I guess I got accustomed to my room. A bit cramped but we all knew that we would have to sacrifice comfort for effectiveness. Nevertheless, my personal effects on my shelf give a little warmth to the place and make it mine. The sleeping rooms of all the crew members open up on a half circular shared living room /kitchen /workroom. In a place with so much use, there is always someone. Today I found “Coach” and Elke, that we all call “Patch” now, cooking pancakes – what a delightful way to start a day on Mars! We quickly adapted to local food, composed mostly of dried meat, dried fruits, all sorts of unidentified powders, wheat flour and cereals. So, with water to rehydrate and a bit of imagination we can almost compete with the “Plat du Chef” from French restaurants, as our pineapple chicken from yesterday evening can testify. Pancakes in the stomach, it was time to examine the package that got here yesterday by orbital convoy. It should have arrived days ago, before our arrival to prevent any delay in our tight schedule, but poor management at the Delivering Heavy Loads company deferred the shipment. The use of private companies in scientific space programs is now unavoidable, space being a place of high competition since the opening of the market a few years ago. It has its advantages, like the variety of solutions proposed for space travel and lower prices than when governmental space agencies had to take care of research and development all by themselves, but also bring its lot of difficulties. Due to the cheaper and faster trend, the reliability of those companies diminishes with time, and without news we were afraid that our package missed the connector in Mars orbit and got lost in the darkness of space – this happens more than you would know. After that it would have been a nightmare to get refunded and send another convoy – space law is complicated. But finally, we were glad to receive the last part of our equipment which was too heavy to bring in our shuttle. With the approval of Mission Control and the arrival of the last pieces of equipment, Patch, the Crew Geologist, and myself could proceed to the first Extra Vehicular Activity. So we slipped our spacesuit on with the help of our crewmates, and felt a growing awareness of being in a very unique place at a very special time. Our first foot on Mars, prepared for years and dreamed for decades… The impatience rose even more when we got into the airlock. Five minutes of depressurisation. Our apparatus is ready: Patch, skillful geologist, is bringing a radar to survey the underground for a geophysical study, hoping to map the subterranean composition of Mars. As the airlock opens, we forget about everything else, like we’re in a dream. We walk to the area that we identified on our satellite map, accompanied by the encouragements of our team coming from our radio. However, the disillusion strikes hard! The spacesuits designed to protect us from the cold (-60°C outside) and solar radiations, weight hard, even in the weak gravitational field of Mars. All the systems conceived to protect us eventually seem to turn against us. We feel like in an oven, a box of lead, inescapable under sentence of death. A thought germs in my head. This is a settlement where humans are not welcome. This is a beautiful nature, full of hostility. This place is a trial of strength for our bodies and our minds.
Journalist Report – April 13th Crew 178 Journalist report 13 APR 2017 Journalist report Sol 3 – 170413 Mathieu « Mitch » Vander Donckt Crew Journalist and Scientist Crew 178 – UCL to Mars
A new day begins on Mars. I can see the sun rise from the Science Dome, where the windows are the largest of the station. We have more of them in the Habitation Module, looking like boat portholes, giving a nice view of the vicinity of the base but incomparable to the Dome’s 180° panorama. The sunrise in the morning is a predictable event, witnessed hundreds of times by the majority of human beings. Nevertheless, I never came across someone who couldn’t find beauty in it.
It is a bit different on Mars. Same Sun, same phenomenon, but a different impression. We orbit further away from the centre of our solar system than our neighbour the Earth, which makes the Sun look smaller. The composition of the atmosphere is different, and it is disturbing to see how the colour of the sky can change. At the horizon, we can see a violet radiance on top of a red stony landscape. Even with those unusual details, the slow rise of the Sun still somehow feels like a familiar vision, that makes me peaceful. After the first expedition of yesterday, it is good to have a day in the station. It was an uncommon experience that we will repeat later during our stay on Mars, but we have to prepare more the next time. We were surprised that the spacesuits brought so much restrictions, it wasn’t the same version with which we trained on Earth. Furthermore, the experiment was a failure: the radar malfunctioned when we got to the area of interest. Patch tried to identify and solve the problem when we were in the field to avoid wasting the precious time that was allowed to our expedition, without any success. In the end, we had to get back to the station exhausted and without any results. After working on it for several hours, Patch found a solution and wishes to go out again.
At midday, it was decided that she would go, with Calogero, aka “Tarzan”, Second in Command and Crew Biologist. He wants to make 3D maps of different zones of interest, using very precise probes. Beneficial to everyone, those probes will be more accurate than satellites, and we know for sure that it is hazardous to go outside without a good knowledge of our environment. They have departed for several hours now. The wind blows harder and harder, we can feel the walls of the base shivering. No new of “Tarzan” and “Patch”. The anxiety rises in the station, as one of the major natural danger during our missions outside are the dust storms. Winds of high speed and no visibility are real life-threatening hazards. Our medium-range communication system is deficient and we lost contact with them. It will be the job of “Boss” to improve our communications by the use of relays, but he still needs to put together the devices and place them.
Still no news. We can just wait and hope for the best.
Night at MDRS
A good physical shape is mandatory
Astronaute photo shooting
Miner of liberty
Journalist Report – April 15th Crew 178 Journalist report Sol 5 15April2017 Prepared by: Mathieu « Mitch » Vander Donckt, Crew 178 Journalist and Scientist Crew 178 – UCL to Mars It is astonishing how the situation can deteriorate in a few hours. Being isolated, we cannot depend on external assistance. We need to rely on our own skills and training and have a blind trust in the abilities of our crewmates. That was proved during last day’s incidents, that we afterward named “the cowboy crisis”. Sol 3 ended with the disappearance of two crew members. The dust storm that raged that night made any expedition to lead an emergency rescue, impossible. Besides, protocol forbids to go outside of the base at night, whatever happens. It is of course for our own safety, the lives of all the crew cannot be put at risk for an operation with such uncertain outcomes. However, it was thwarting to stay inside in such a time. We defined an area of search near the sector they were surveying the last time we had contact with them and decided to send one of Tarzan’s probes with an infrared camera. Due to the storm, it crashed into the Northern Rim, a mountain range north of the station. It was a risk to take, and worth it! On the last images send by the probe, we could see our two fellows sheltered at the base of the Rim. A few hours and some minor incidents later, they were in the hands of “Coach”, which is not only our persecutor – I often hear cries of pain from the first floor when she “wants to make us more fit and healthy than when we were on Earth” with her workout – but is also our Health and Safety Officer. Tonight, we will use our only rations of fresh food to celebrate their return and the halfway through our stay on Mars. Tarzan and Patch told us how, after a weary night without sleep, they encountered cowboys. As you know, that’s impossible on Mars. I guess it was tiredness, the low visibility, and queer-shaped rocks. Or maybe they have gone crazy… We will see that in the following days.
Journalist Report – April 17th Journalist report Sol 7 – 170417
Mathieu « Mitch » Vander Donckt
Crew Journalist and Scientist
Crew 178 – UCL to Mars
A new day arises on Mars. The moral of the team is high, everybody being busy with their experiment or discovering new places and landscapes during Extra Vehicular Activity. We landed a week ago, and in a way a routine set in. Same schedule for the meals, at midday we mostly eat the bread that I bake – bread or brick, it depends on the courtesy of my crewmates – and in the evening with all our powder and dehydrated food we can let our creativity loose. Sometimes you even need more imagination to figure out what is in your plate, but it usually is tasty. We make one expedition every day, in general with a different team, location, or objective. We need to be coordinated: the team going outside the hab cannot split up for security reasons and our time is limited, so every second on the field matters. Living together, we get to know each other better. Boss is undoubtedly good at making unfunny jokes, Quentin aka “Dips”, our crew astronomer, is incline to fall asleep when we don’t give him an electrical shock, and we are all impressed by how good Tarzan is at crashing is drone.
But of course, every day has its part of discoveries and advances – this is why we are here. Now I’m working in the Science Dome with Tarzan on hydroponic culture of rice. We were respectively chemist and biologist before being astronaut, and our different ways of thinking about the same experiment is a good illustration of how the diversity of background is beneficial when composing an astronaut crew. The goal of this experiment is to assess the impact of urea on our plantations, and evaluate the impact of using our waste water to grow our food. One more step towards the food autonomy of Mars!
Interestingly, we watched “The Martian” a few days ago on our humble homemade cinema room and found some similarities between the movie and us. Let’s hope that we will not forget one of our crew members when we go home next week…
Journalist Report – April 20th Journalist report Sol 10 – 170420
Mathieu « Mitch » Vander Donckt
Crew Journalist and Scientist
Crew 178 – UCL to Mars
Today comes with great news! Especially for me because it is directly liked to my researches, but also for those who want to know more about the geology of Mars. When humans first explored Mars, decades before sending astronauts, using probes, flybys, and rovers, their main goal was to find liquid water or prove that liquid water flowed on the planet in the past. That is the first step in the search for life, because life as we know it cannot appear nor thrive without the presence of this liquid so common on Earth but hard to find here. One of those rovers is of particular interest to me: Curiosity. Sent in 2011 to Gale Crater – not so far from here –, and staying operational during several years instead of one, it achieved by far more than what was expected. Its mission: study the habitability of Mars. One of its tools: an X-Ray diffractometer, able to analyse the structure of minerals at nanoscale level. A powerful device that validated the theory of presence of water in past Mars.
This morning I was flushed with excitement after the landing of the new package sent by Orbital Convoy. A Bruker diffractometer, small sized but powerful, will help us make new discoveries. Unlike Curiosity, we can cover great distances and make several analyses a day. Last week we explored our environment, taking samples of rock, soil or dust. Now with this instrument we will be able to assess the habitability of Mars with more efficiency than a rover, answer questions about the formation of this planet, and look for vital resources with a view to colonize the planet.
With our journey coming to an end, every member of the crew is aware that we need to terminate our fieldwork. Boss improved our communications outside the Hab, which will probably serve to next crews. Hoover marked the dangerous places around the station to improve our security, only Tarzan didn’t get the concept and tried to fall off a cliff, without major damage. After many tests, Dips is finally ready to detect muons, a cosmic radiation. From what I heard, Tarzan proved that we will need a good processing of our waste water in order to grow our food –it’s no good to pee in a bowl of rice. Patch finished her measurements and found contrasting geological layers in the underground that will help us understand how much ancient Mars was different. And finally, Coach still enjoys making us sweat.
Being on our found reserve, we came back to a what I call a student diet: pasta and (homemade) pizza – not so bad, Tarzan is Italian.
In a couple of days, we will welcome the next crew and share our experience with them. Bad and good habits, the maintenance of the station and all they need to know to survive in the Martian wilderness.