Being an astronaut is a full-time job. In fact, that is probably one of the most stressful parts of the gig. No matter how you try to create a work-life balance, the truth of the matter is that you live in your office, and that means you’re always on call.
Being an analog astronaut is no different. We live in the Hab at MDRS, which is a two-floor, ~30-foot diameter structure. There are three offshoot buildings we can access, the RAM, the GreenHab, and the Science Dome. The bottom floor of the Hab includes the wash room, toilet, airlock, and spacesuit room, which leaves…. The top floor of the Hab. Half of that is “staterooms” – long tube bedrooms you can slide into at night – and the other half is the kitchen and common space table.
Most of life in the Hab takes place at that table.
Because of that, you’re permanently on stand-by, even on your time “off.”
This is a peek into how tightly our days are packed, and how vital it then becomes to make the most of alone and “off” time.
A Sol in the Life:
0730: Wake up, do any morning routines to get ready.
0800: Breakfast and a Crew Briefing for the Day. Multitasking to get a little extra sleep in!
0830: Move to the bottom floor of the Hab and begin procedures to leave for EVA. Procedures include, for the EVA Crew, sterilizing equipment, going over equipment checklists, vitals with the Health and Safety Officer, getting into flight suits, and checking comms – before of course, moving into the spacesuit “clean room” and being fitted into your spacesuit (a backpack/oxygen tank combination, in our case, turning on air systems, and completing final comms checks. The Hab crew assists in all of the above. Just prior to the EVA time, the EVA crew will head into and seal the airlock. One of the crew members, appointed “Habcomm,” will run a 5-minute timer for the compression of the airlock before giving the EVA crew permission to leave.
0900: The airlock is opened and the EVA crew can leave. They turn on the rover (named Perseverance!) and choose one of the two ATV’s. Over the next ten minutes, as they leave the Hab grounds and the immediate vicinity of the Hab grounds, Habcomm begins to lose comms with them. For the next half an hour, the EVA crew travels by vehicle to their location, and the Habcomm checks in every minute or so until they are out of comms rage.
0930: (1) The EVA crew arrives at their target location, and confirms using the map of the local area and GPS coordinates. Typically, they prioritize the EVA into the following categories.
1. Find and evaluate a primary emergency shelter.
2. Find an ideal spot for science given the targeted geology of the day. Take 3-4 soil samples using determined procedure.
3. Take photos of the area surrounding soil samples.
4. Find a second emergency shelter.
5. Take additional footage and photos for STEM outreach, PR, and other reasons.
(2) During this time, the Hab crew goes about other morning tasks. Personal items tend to include brief military showers, face-washing and teeth-brushing, and short exercises. Group items tend to include doing the dishes from breakfast, cleaning up the common spaces, and report-writing for our daily reports back to CapComm. Work items include checking on science research, monitoring Hab operations and power/water usage, and staying near the comms in case the EVA crew needs them. These activities tend to take up the entire time until the EVA crew gets back in Comms.
1115: The EVA crew begins to head back to the Hab, allowing for an extra time buffer.
1130: Around this time, the EVA crew gets back into comms range with Habcomm, and confirms an estimated time of arrival back to the Hab grounds. The entire Hab crew begins to prepare for arrival of the EVA crew and conclude their activities.
1145: The EVA crew requests permission to enter the Hab grounds, parks, turns on, and puts the Rover on a charger, and sends back information regarding charge and hours used. They then receive permission to enter the Hab airlock.
1150: EVA crew enters Hab airlock, Hab crew remains in spacesuit antechamber. The EVA is complete with ~10 minutes to spare.
1155: The EVA crew exits the airlock back into the Hab. One Hab crew member takes the science samples and puts them into the Space Dome freezer, while the other two help the EVA crew to take off their spacesuits and store the suits and helmets safely. Typically, one crew member has also begun lunch, and returns to the kitchen to continue working on it.
1205: The EVA crew takes time to change out of their flight suits and store electronics and other personal items taken on EVA. EVA crew members also check on their scientific research if needed.
1245: Lunch is served!
1345: Lunch concludes, including a debrief of the morning EVA. The crew splits up. Members who need to check on scientific research go to do so, while those who are less obligated at the moment take point on cleaning the dishes and the kitchen. Crew members who are working on studies that require check-ins with the rest of the crew call on individuals to come together for those moments (i.e., our dexterity study where each of us needs to take dexterity tests daily wearing different spacesuit gloves). Once the kitchen, dishes, and common spaces are cleaned, those crew members often begin writing summary reports on their day or doing other jobs related to their crew role. Often, the crew will call on each other to assist with tasks throughout the afternoon.
1645: Typically, tasks for the afternoon begin to wrap up and crew members return to the Hab.
1700: Crew Chef begins to brainstorm and prep dehydrated foods for dinner, other crew members sit down together to work on reports and requests for support from Capcomm for the next Sol. This is a more social time on the top floor of the Hab, and discussions take place to help strategize the use of the following Sols. Crew members who don’t have work assist the Crew Chef in cooking.
1830: Dinner is served!
1900: Capcomm window opens up, and crew members log online in turn in order to upload reports and photos. Those who don’t have reports due take point on cleaning dishes and kitchen.
2030: All reports are due, crew scrambles to finish last items. Crew members return to GreenHab and Science Dome as needed to do final experiment checks.
2100: The window with Capcomm closes, all reports have been responded to and commented on. Changes are made as necessary by this time. The crew shares responsibilities communally and works to fill in for each other. Crew members will sometimes take showers, write emails home, or take personal time if there’s nothing else to do.
2145: Final work items for the day are finished.
2200: Around this time, the crew comes back together into the hab. Sometimes, there will be a late-night snack. The crew will spend time talking and reviewing any daily traditions. “Most Valuable Martian” is given out in order to show appreciation for the crew! If the crew has energy, we might spend some time talking about non-work items and play a game. Between 2230-0100, the crew members will go to sleep.
See much time for relaxing in there? We don’t, either. We all manage to sneak 10-30 minute periods throughout the day whenever no one needs help, but the reality is that if someone needs help, we all care about each other and will volunteer to pitch in, so most of the time, free time is a misnomer. It’s always on call, even if your jobs are done, because as a crew we leave no one behind.
Learning how to make those few minutes quality time, and learning how to speak up for yourself, your energy levels, and your social battery is important. We’re one week into living on Mars, and this reality is an ongoing discussion, and likely will be for not just this mission, but the many missions we hope to undertake as a crew in future.
We don’t expect to find a solution, but we do hope to continue to improve our self-care, work-life balance, and care for each other while we live on Mars.