Ben Durkee, Crew 236 Journalist
At 9 AM sharp we were roused from our sleep by Lionel Richie singing "Easy Like Sunday Morning," one of my selections for the daily wake-up songs. Unfortunately, this morning was anything but easy.
We could barely hear Lionel’s dulcet tones over the violent sound of the Hab being relentlessly battered by gale force winds. We were expecting some powerful gusts today, but this was a non-stop barrage of angry Martian atmosphere that peaked at a speed of 42 mph. At one point, it sounded like something massive was banging on the roof right above my loft. I am not ashamed to say that I retreated to the Hab common area and continued my work there.
On the cliffs of England, there is a unique species of seabird called Guillemots. They’re able to fly, but at random intervals they shed their flight feathers, rendering themselves temporarily flightless. So every time they leap from the cliffs, it’s a coin toss on whether or not they’re going for an unplanned swim. As a result, their anatomies have evolved to essentially evolved to become avian beanbags so they can bounce down the cliffs on a botched takeoff and reach the bottom unscathed.
Usually when I come down from my loft, I am as elegant as Rapunzel descending from her tower. He is beauty, he is grace. Not today. Today I was a Guillemot. One that lost the coin toss.
We continued our morning as planned, hoping that the weather would clear in time for our EVA slot. While we toiled away, the sky grew more and more ominous, as if it were laughing at our optimism. Suddenly, the entire Habitat shook and a thunderous bang rang out, the result of some unknown impact.
Kasey and I flew down the stairs to investigate and sure enough, the front airlock door had been blown open by the unyielding wind. And just to add insult to injury, as we peered through the peephole we saw hundreds of icy bullets propelled into the airlock. Hail on Mars. Great. Meteorologically fascinating, but equally threatening to our collective livelihood. Now not only was our planned EVA scrubbed, but an emergency EVA to shut the front airlock would also have to wait. Before we had time to fret about all this, Tyler frantically scrambled out of the bathroom, jarred by the noise. It was just about the funniest thing I’d ever seen, and added some well-needed levity to an otherwise starkly serious situation.
The pressure differential should have held the door shut, but we weren’t taking any chances, so we reinforced the inner front airlock door. When only a single piece of metal separates you from a rapid decompressive demise, you don’t roll any dice.
We remained sheltered in the Habitat for quite some time, and the raging dust storm eventually subsided. Our outdoor visibility returned, and we assessed the damage. A little bit of cosmetic harm to the Hab’s paint, but everyone was safe and all systems were still functional. A win in my book.
The rest of the day was relatively uneventful, but I think we all took that as a blessing after the trauma of the morning’s occurrences.
We’re all set to do our EVA tomorrow instead, and the forecast looks considerably better. Regardless, I think after today’s action we can handle anything this big ball of dirt throws at us!