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.