Journalist Report – December 30th

Journalist Report
Ben Durkee, Crew 236 Journalist

Sol 11


Someone this rotation was quoted saying “if this crew had a sitcom, it would be called Fourth Rock From the Sun”. Let me tell you a little about how this sitcom would go. For starts, the cast half the time would speak in the most obnoxious British accent you can imagine. And no one is even British. We’re from places like Texas, Singapore, and like Middle of a Cornfield, Indiana. The intro for the show would be one of those 90s type intros where the camera focuses on each one of the crew members and they look up from what they’re doing and smile. Think of the intro scene from an At-Capacity-Home in San Fransisco. In the show, Ben would alway be running late. Tyler would be the one sick of everyone else’s antics. Vladimir would be the one that uses WAY too much water in the shower. Cesare would be the only serious one. Dylan would be the quiet one that delivers the killer one liners. Pavi would be the cool skater girl. And Kasey… well I’d be the single mom the show centers around, trying to get all her kids to soccer practice on time and without a fight breaking out in the back of the minivan. Every episode would end how they all do, with everyone gathering around the dinner table, sharing laughs, love, and all that ~wholesome~ stuff.


In many ways, the work of a Crew Scientist is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their research and their selves to our judgment. I neither lead the charge on our toilet troubles like our valiant engineer nor devote tireless hours to curate daily reports like our crafty journalist, yet I remain proud of my contributions, nonetheless. When I am not collating the research of my crewmates or conducting that of my own, I often find myself performing the role of apprentice to a fellow crewmate: a Green Hab Officer Jr. if you will. Immersing myself in our little pocket of nature helps ground me when the barren Martian landscape feels too stark, and the humidity reminds me of the hometown I so dearly miss. Even so, the inherent difficulties of interplanetary travel did not escape me during this mission. The cancellation and shortening of multiple EVAs due to inclement weather and system failures certainly sought to throw a wrench in my thermal imaging research. Our experienced Executive Officer came to the rescue, however, inspiring a creative redesign of my EVA scanning plan. Thus, I was able to accomplish in one EVA to Candor Chasma what took me two to Barainca Butte. In all, I have been humbled by this experience, and I would not have it any other way. Crew Scientist Out.


I’ve had a blast at MDRS. My duties as crew engineer especially rocketed in week 2, when everything that could break seemed to do so, just to put me to the test. On the bright side, I picked up some basic plumbing skills (thank you, Vlad!), learnt how to troubleshoot EVA suits, and how to keep our furnace from intermittently freezing us (amazing what an on/off function can do). I also successfully cooked a few dinners out of dehydrated foods that did NOT kill my fellow crew members — I’d call that a win. It has been really interesting to see our group dynamic go from "hi everyone, how’s it going?" to "somebuhdy come geederrr". I will surely miss playing mechanic on this red planet, but I think I will miss british-accenting long dead meme references with my fellow crew members just as much, if not more.


MDRS has been a phenomenal experience. Being the greenhab officer has allowed me to take my mind off the normally busy and chaotic world and focus on growing edible food. It has also been a warm escape from the hab and the crew. Being able to do research for my masters thesis has been so much fun. I could not have asked for a better crew. Seriously, these last 2 weeks have been an amazing time and have far exceeded all expectations I had about what MDRS could have been.


I had a great time serving as the Crew Astronomer on this mission! Less astronomy happened than I would have hoped but as is so adequately stated by the finest, and only, journalist on this planet: Martian boys make do. A variety of mechanical problems in the Musk Solar Observatory needed to be solved utilizing nothing but emails with the fantastic astronomy support team. By the time these were solved, high winds and poor weather prevented usage of the solar observatory, so unfortunately no images of the Solar Chromosphere and Prominence were captured. However, nighttime observations saved the day (or night?). The robotic observatories at MDRS are not currently operational, so I was graciously allowed to use the Montana Learning Center’s robotic observatory to capture images of nebulae, open star clusters, and double stars. My favorite images are by far the Orion Nebula and Whirlpool Galaxy. Given the slow local Wi-Fi, I was not able to download all of the huge files necessary to process each image. I have many images left to complete and will be able to continue my work upon departure from the station and output some more beautiful images. Outside of astronomy, this mission was everything I hoped it could be. I truly feel like I got the life on Mars experience and contributed to humanity’s knowledge and preparedness of inhabiting other worlds. Ad Astra


My fourth rotation at MDRS is coming to a close and it is a good moment to think a little bit about it, now that our stomachs are stuffed with homemade pizza. After the mission was delayed by Covid, it has been two years since my last rotation. I came here, as usual, with more challenges to myself (extremely low communications with the world), but I did not know exactly what to expect, being such a seasoned veteran. As usual, MDRS did not betray my expectations: new challenges, unexpected events to deal with, a nice crew with some old friends and some new ones. The rotation felt much shorter than usual, but filled with good work, breathtaking views both from the Hab and on EVA, laughter, team-bonding moments, celebrations. It was particularly good for me to see the reactions of the new members of the crew to all the novelty of life at MDRS. I am glad that I also shared some of that awe when I visited places that I had never been before, including some place that I have been chasing for years. Like always, I am now ready to go back to meet my friends, to being able to communicate with people easily and frequently but also, like always, I will be craving for more time here.


I can’t believe I actually got those suckers to do my job for me. It’s too bad I’m gonna miss ’em.

I’m gonna miss a lot about this place. The infinitely stretching Martian landscape. Cesare’s sensational cooking. Sneaking candid photos of the crew from my loft above the table every morning. Singing to the cuccs and the zuccs in the GreenHab to help them grow (and for my own sanity). The soreness in my shoulders the day after a good EVA. Getting my nails done in the Hab common room while yelling at the wind to stop blasting across the holes in the roof.

Two missions I’ve completed here now, and I’ve never been able to decipher why those holes are there. Feng shui, I guess.

But regardless of its quirks – and maybe as a result of them – this place has an uncanny way of bringing people together. I met some of these people just 11 Sols ago, and I feel like I know them better than I know myself. That’s the camaraderie of making do together – the synergy of shared experience on this cold, unforgiving, incredible planet. That’s the magic of Mars. Or maybe it was just us incessantly joking about the "poop stick."

This mission was a bit shorter than my last, but I’ve enjoyed every second of it. Even the part where I died.

But now, I think I’m ready.

I’m ready to have a drink or three with Vladimir and Cesare at the Denver Spaceport. I’m ready to compulsively slip back into my Martian accent and annoy everyone on Earth. I’m ready to go outside without a fishbowl on my head. I’m ready to look out the window and be greeted by colors other than red. I’m ready to sleep in a real bed with my dog curled up at the foot. I’m ready to enter the new year with a new perspective molded by my time offworld. I’m ready to hold my diploma and finally let the gravity of it all hit me. I’m ready to start the next chapter of my life.

It’s been a phenomenal ride, and I think I’m finally ready to go home.

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