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.