Ben Durkee, Crew 218 Journalist
"Hydrate or die-drate!"
This was our mantra of the day as we prepared for our first EVA in a week. There’s a knife’s edge to tiptoe between under-insulating and over-bundling before heading out onto the snowy Martian terrain. The consequences of playing your cards wrong are either suffering icy numbness or heat exhaustion. Regardless of your position on the thermal spectrum, lugging around the EMU (Extravehicular Mobility Unit [my favorite acronym]) is some serious cardio. The only thing you’ll be burning more than calories is precious H2O, and you can’t drink while in EMU mode, so drink up beforehand and maybe store some in your cheeks too. But don’t forget that our EMUs don’t have lavatory functionality yet, so don’t drink too much. Basically, if your EVA is longer than two hours, godspeed.
Knowing that we were rusty with EVA procedures, we began preparing for our expedition over an hour prior. I reassembled the antenna I built for my research project and gave it one last test before its maiden voyage. Antenna is a strong word – it’s more like a haphazard amalgamation of PVC, copper wire, and coax cable. In the hopes that the electrical tape would hold together, we began suiting up. Pat, Jonathan, and Shefali helped LuzMa, Cesare, and I wriggle into our suits. We meticulously checked and double-checked every aspect of our expeditionary ensembles. Hats, gloves, bandannas, radios, microphones, EMUs on, straps tightened, helmets secured – ready to rock and roll.
Cue the fog machine and dramatic music; we stepped into the airlock. Pause the music, please allow five minutes for full depressurization. The time drags on as the 3 of us are sardine’d in the airlock cylinder with my PVC Frankenstein’s monster. Four minutes remaining. Three. As the air gets thinner our suits get tighter, something seems amiss. Why do my feet feel so… comfortable? The tape securing my microphone to my face contorts as my smile vanishes. I pretzel my spine to get downward view with the helmet on and sure enough: I’m still wearing my slippers. All of that time preparing for our first EVA in a while, and I overlooked my footwear of all things. Here we are about to embark on a monumental exploratory enterprise and I’m equipped like a middle-aged man stepping out to fetch this morning’s copy of The Martian Times.
I immediately alerted the crew and we began repressurizing the chamber. The next few minutes were slated to be agony as I had to stand there and receive infinite (deserved) ridicule over the radio. However, as if it were destiny, LuzMa’s hat jumped off of her head within the EMU helmet. She squirmed her head around the expensive fishbowl trying to reclaim her beanie, but to no avail. I’m glad the radio microphones are muted by default, because I was cackling uncontrollably in my helmet. I now stand by the claim that my shoe mishap was a noble sacrifice of dignity to rescue LuzMa from her impending headwear disaster. I’m never gonna live that down.
We re-assimilated with the Habitat air and fixed all of our wardrobe malfunctions. That was the practice round; now for the real deal. We must have shaken off all the rust on the first attempt, because our second attempt went flawlessly! We ventured out into the frozen wastes and returned to Marble Ritual, the same destination as our training EVA so many moons ago. But this time we were heading there to gather data for the first time. There was something sentimental about returning to that site one week later as full-fledged Martian survivors and scientists. We gathered geological, meteorological, and radio frequency data for our respective personal projects and returned to the Hab safe and sound (and sweaty).
We slithered out of our EMU suits accomplished and exasperated, wrapping up our EVA. With that excitement at its end, we immersed ourselves in data parsing and the energy of the day quickly waned. Before we knew it, the sun and moon had traded places and it was time for reports and dinner. I write this now through watery eyes from accidentally inhaling cayenne pepper powder. I think it’s time for me to concede that today is not my day and retire for the night. It’s bright and early tomorrow for some more potential EVAs. We’ve got a week left to make up for lost science time, let’s make the best of it!