MARS DESERT RESEARCH STATION

Commander Report – February 25th

Dear Earth,


The Hab is definitely not made to host a crew for more than two weeks:
we spent the first 12 Sols of a typical two-week rotation perfectly
safe in our little haven, and now that we reached the fateful Sol 13,
it seems that the Hab is trying to kill us all… some say that it was
built on a Martian cemetery. Moreover, we feel like a small family
that would take care of an isolated hotel in the middle of the winter,
if you see what I mean.

This morning, Simon, Mouâdh, Louis Maller and I deployed the balloon
north of the Hab and then visited the grey landscapes of the Moon-like
area. Meanwhile inside the Hab, Xavier, Louis Mangin and Victoria
faced a rather critical issue: no water flowed up from the exterior
tank to the upper deck tank, and we only had 15L (4 gal) left in the
latter. In our referential, it represents 2 showers, or 2 flushes, or
a little less than what is needed to cook and wash the dishes. Water
is everything for us, particularly since most of our food needs to be
rehydrated… Fortunately, just before twelve, nature stopped playing
with our nerves and pushed the ice cubes out of the pump.
Unsurprisingly, the night was so cold that the pipes were frozen. The
melting happened just in time for the return of the brave explorers!

In the afternoon, Simon and Xavier established a set of emergency
procedures for medical issues happening outdoors. Indeed, we want to
try some first-aid moves during later EVAs, after having adapted them
to our spacesuits and vehicles.

The obscure force that seems to inhabit the Hab struck again later in
the afternoon. When one of us climbed to the loft to take a look at
the water counter, this unfortunate fellow fell violently off the
fourth bar of the ladder, because of the lack of an upper bar to hold
on to. Everyone else rushed to the injured crewmember and moved him to
the sofa. We were quick and efficient, and did not go easy on
anti-pain medication and ice. Luckily, the Fallen Astronaut is now
safe and sound. The Overlook Hote… sorry, the Hab will not trap us so
easily!

Ad Astra!

Arthur Lillo
Commander of the Shining-proof Crew 175

Commander Report – February 24th

Dear Earth,

Sol 12 was particularly cold.

This morning, Louis Mangin, Louis Maller and Simon did an EVA under
the lead of Xavier. Our Executive Officer was equipped with the
augmented reality glasses “Optinvent”, so that Mouâdh could watch on
his computer inside the Hab what Louis was seeing outdoors. However,
this helpful technology was only usable in the vicinity of the Hab
(for instance during the engineering check), because of the short
range of our WiFi connection. The rest of the EVA was dedicated to
exploration, heading to the remarkable landscapes beyond Tank Wash. An
area east of Factory Butte looked a lot like the grey hills around the
Apollo landing sites. Our four brave astronauts came back
freezing-cold and were overjoyed by the hot meal they encountered on
upper deck.

The afternoon began with card game time (the main debate here is about
what game should be played after lunch, between “la coinche”, “la
belote” and “le tarot”). Today “la coinche” won the fight, and was
followed by the usual partition of the crew in the different modules:
Victoria in the GreenHab, the two Louis and Mouâdh on the upper deck
of the Hab, Xavier, Simon and I in the Science Dome. In the meantime,
we tried to revive the 3D printer which is still reluctant to our
efforts. I am optimistic though, given the inventivity of my team.

Ad Astra!

Arthur Lillo
Commander of the cold-resistant Crew 175

Commander Report – February 23rd

Crew 175 Commander Report 23Feb2017
Dear Earth,

We began Sol 11 with the usual physical training on lower deck, followed by a generous breakfast. Despite the rationing of the food, we insist on absorbing as much energy as possible during the first meal of the Sol, particularly for the crewmembers going on EVA, since they are performing physically exhausting tasks outdoors.
Victoria was an excellent EVA leader this morning, taking initiatives, showing commandership and caring for her EVA buddies Xavier, Mouâdh and I. We discovered a very interesting area north of the Hab, at the crossing of Main Road and Tank Wash, full of gorgeous red hills. We took measurements with the sextant to determine our position on the map afterwards.
In the afternoon, we did a second work out inspired by Louis Mangin’s rowing training, and everyone worked on his experiments. Simon and I did some DIY: we recycled the only raw material we have large amount here, which is empty cans of dehydrated food. In the end, the cans were turned into winches for the balloon’s ropes and into a compass to report the sextant measurements. No rest for this crew of engineers!

Ad Astra!
Arthur Lillo
Commander of the enthusiastic Crew 175

Commander Report – February 22nd

Dear Earth,

Yesterday, we agreed to take a day off for mid-rotation: Sol 10 was
the first Sol without EVA.

As usual, we woke up at 7 AM to do our physical training, but for the
first time we had breakfast without the hurry of the EVA preparation.
The idea behind this day off was to take time for ourselves. We played
card games, watched TV series, baked bread, took a nap after lunch,
wrote personal e-mails… Despite the weekend-like frame of mind, we
could not resist the inertia of the mission, so at the end of the Sol
everyone had worked on his experiments.

We are now on the brink of the second half of our mission here. I feel
that everyone has taken his marks, and the different personalities
seem to be more in accord than in the beginning. Indeed, the splitting
of the team during the EVAs was sometimes used as some sort of
confessional, where we talked freely about our relationship with the
other crewmembers. It allowed us to steer clear of tensions before
they happened, and to maintain a very friendly atmosphere in the Hab.
I am always pleased to see how we manage to abandon ourselves in
passionate debates, on the deepest subjects (geopolitics, religion…)
as well as the most trivial questions (TV series, imperial VS metric
system…). Definitly the best crew ever!

Ad Astra!

Arthur Lillo,
Commander of the friendly Crew 175

Commander Report – February 21st

Dear Earth,


We are currently living our ninth Sol on Mars, and fortunately the
weather was kind enough with us to allow a three-hour EVA.

Louis Mangin, Louis Maller, Victoria and Simon went out at 9 AM and
began by looking for a good place to anchor the balloon (this maneuver
being planned for a later and less windy EVA). The plan is to let the
balloon fly during an entire Sol, at about 80 meters of height (260
ft) and attached to a heavy rock. During the night, it will slowly go
down, and we will pick it up on the next morning to recover 24 hours
of atmospheric data. To conduct that experiment, we need a long period
with less than 10mph of wind, so we keep our fingers crossed for the
next Sols.

The EVA team finally found the right place, in a plain North-East of
the Hab, visible from its windows. After that, they took two ATVs and
a rover to explore and take pictures at White Rock Canyon, which was
discovered during yesterday’s EVA. Meanwhile, Xavier learned by heart
the datasheet of our electric supply, Mouâdh prepared a delicious rice
with tomato sauce (rice is the only food we have in large quantity,
beside the tremendous amount of snacks of all kinds), and I made a new
funnel from cans, for the refilling of the ATVs’ oil.

The wind rose around 11 AM and went on during the whole Sol. It was as
if the Hab could be blown away at any time. Sometimes the noise
covered our usual musical ambiance, but the work continued,
undisturbed by the elements. We had an important debate in the
afternoon, about our rationing of the breakfast, until we found a
brand new jar of active yeast well hidden on the shelves (our previous
jar vanished with yesterday’s bread). We are saved!

My report was almost over when we realized that the sky was finally
Mars-like: the orange-red clouds in the evening sky were spectacular
and gave us an impression of fireworks’ grand finale, after the wind
storm.


Ad Astra!

Arthur Lillo
Commander of the stunned Crew 175

Commander Report – February 20th

Dear Earth,


Sol 8: we have been here for an entire week now, and this morning we
woke up with the foggiest weather we had since our arrival.

Mouâdh took the commandership of our morning EVA, leading Louis
Maller, Xavier and I to the southernmost part of our map: White Rock
Canyon. The mist was nearly gone when we arrived there, but on the
inside part of the helmet glass, the fog was terrible. We could only
drive at a very low speed to stay on the Main Road. Despite its not so
impressive size, the canyon was stunning. We discovered orange-red
water when walking along the valley, and lots of colored strata with
various orientations.

Then, the plot thickened: deep inside the canyon, Xavier realized that
its backpack had stopped sending him fresh air. Mouâdh reacted quickly
and wisely by taking the decision to recover to the rovers and to head
back to the Hab. Xavier and I agreed on a solution inspired by our
scuba diving experience to provide him with air: I plugged one of my
air-supply tubes to his helmet, keeping the other one on my own
helmet. That way, Xavier could not only breathe fresh air, but also
see through his helmet, the fog being cleaned by the airstream. We
walked side by side on our way back to the rovers, and then the EVA
team came back to the Hab after almost two and a half hours outdoors,
with the sun finally showing up. This experience was quite inspiring,
indeed afterward we defined some emergency protocols regarding this
kind of situation, likely to happen again if we forget to turn off the
backpack when they are recharging.

In the afternoon, we tried a new physical training proposed by Louis
Mangin, inspired by his usual rowing training. Demanding, but we felt
good after this physical effort, and it was an excellent teambuilding
activity. I am glad to see that even after a whole week in here the
crew is still dynamic and motivated! Ahead of us, we still have about
twelve Sols of mission, which is the typical duration of a rotation at
MDRS.


Ad Astra!

Arthur Lillo,
Commander of the sportive Crew 175

Commander Report – February 19th

Dear Earth,

We began Sol 7 with the same bad weather as yesterday.

Today’s EVA was shortened like the last one. The rain from last night
had left a very muddy environment, where it was not safe to take the
rovers. Simon was in charge of the EVA, with Victoria, Louis Mangin
and I. We went East of the Hab to determine the range of the walkie
talkies and test the radio repeater built yesterday. Unfortunately,
the results were absolutely not concluding, probably due to the
weather: even with a line of sight, sometimes we could not communicate
with each other while the Hab was hearing us. The second experiment
was the marine sextant, with which we measured the angles between
distant objects (the Hab, a remarkable hill…), to determine our
position on the map afterward. The significant humidity in the air
covered our helmets with fog before long, preventing us from seeing
where we stepped. Thus, after an hour out of the Hab, Simon took the
decision to abort the EVA and come back to the main airlock.

Unlike the EVA, the debriefing was efficient. There are much more
lessons to learn from an aborted mission than from a successful one.
We took this opportunity to define protocols for foggy situations
(guidance through radio), or non working radio (non-verbal
communication inspired by diving codes).

The afternoon brought a sunnier touch on our activities, allowing us
to watch our first (and unlikely) Martian rainbow. The experiments
went on normally, with interesting results. The sprouts in Victoria’s
Vegidair grow quicker than the ones in the GreenHab; the coordinates
on the map seem to correspond to our position when using the marine
sextant; the Aquapad petri dishes show without a doubt the destruction
of all bacterial life in boiled water compared with tap water (our
teachers did not lie to us!).

Apart from the crew, there is another busy inhabitant in the Hab: no
rest for the bread machine, the “perpetual bread” is on its way. The
psychological effect of eating fresh loaf everyday is undoubtedly
positive, and I am convinced that a shortage of flour would cause the
mutiny of my crew. I keep an eye on the stock, and an escape plan just
in case.


Ad astra!

Arthur Lillo,
Commander of the EVA-aborting Crew 175

Commander Report – February 18th

Dear Earth,

Sol 6 was DIY time.

The morning EVA had to be aborted quickly due to the rain. We found
four wet astronauts in the airlock after a single hour out of the Hab:
Xavier, Mouâdh and the two Louis were quite disappointed. Luckily,
they could confirm that the seismometer resisted the storm, and they
brought back the USB key that recorded the seismic data of the last 24
hours.

For the rest of the Sol, the Hab was turned into a two-story garage,
filled with this kind of DIY atmosphere that counters the monotony of
rainy days on Earth. Xavier, Simon, Louis Maller and I repaired two
broken walkie talkies, which will allow us to keep in touch with
crewmembers in the other facilities even when four of us are on EVA.
While we were soldering the electronic cards, we figured out a way to
turn the walkie talkies into a radio repeater aboard the atmospheric
balloon. It should let us keep a voice contact with the Hab during
EVAs, even if the line of sight is broken by a hill.

Xavier kept the MacGyver mood for the entire afternoon, turning a
stack of wood and cardboard into a robust piece of furniture. It is
now finished and sustains Victoria’s “Vegidair”, the
computer-controlled kitchen garden with which we share our living
room. Meanwhile, Mouâdh looked at the CCD camera of the observatory,
Louis Maller and Simon built a new platform for the balloon, Louis
Mangin worked on our communication plan with French journalists,
Victoria took care of the crops in the GreenHab, and I put a few drops
of filtered water and boiled water in the “Aquapad” petri dishes, to
compare bacterial pollution. Quite a busy afternoon despite the rain!

Ad Astra!

Arthur Lillo,
Commander of the MacGyver-ish Crew 175

Commander Report – February 17th

Crew 175 Commander Report 17Feb2017

Dear Earth,

Sol 5: back to normal after yesterday’s festivities.

Mouâdh, Victoria, Simon and I went on EVA this morning to install the
seismometer in the hole we dug close to the Main Road, South of the
Hab. We had also planned to deploy the balloon for the second time,
but the wind was too strong. The exploration we did afterward led us
to the top of the Ridge, where we discovered a stunning panorama: in
front of us the red plain enclosed in mud hills, behind us the
colossal mesas of Skyline Ridge. Our hike offered us an unusual sight
on the MDRS from above. We should definitely come back up here on a
later EVA!

A very strong wind rose after lunch, blowing away all the outside
stuff that was not attached (typically: the unused cardboard we stored
yesterday). In order to avoid further mess and to take a look at the
potential damages around the station, Louis Maller and Xavier went out
for a short EVA. In the end, no hurt was noted on the different
facilities, but Louis and Xavier preventively fixed a water tank on
the rear of a rover. We were glad to see that our upgrade on the
tunnel stood still (we call it “The Wall”). This storm reminded us of
the non-realistic beginning of Andy Weir’s novel “The Martian”, with a
minor difference though: the terrestrial wind is strong enough to blow
away heavier things than sand… So better stay aware, even if this
situation is totally impossible under Mars thin atmosphere.

Otherwise, there is nothing to worry about. The crew stays in a good
mood, science goes on and we have plenty of food left (at least for
the moment).

Ad Astra!

Commander Report – February 16th

Dear Earth,


The whole crew is now aware of what the exterior world looks like.
Indeed, Victoria, Xavier and Louis Mangin went out of the Hab with
Louis Maller leading the EVA#2. Reminiscence from Mission 164 was
useful to find the gorgeous canyon called Candor Chasma. This EVA was
dedicated to exploration, and the new electrical rovers Phobos and
Deimos are perfect for that purpose: less risk of losing one
crewmember than with the individual ATVs (helpful when you are in
charge of a non-expendable crew).

Sol 4 brought a festive atmosphere to the MDRS: 21 years ago, our
favorite journalist-photographer-cameraman-community manager Louis
Mangin was born far away from here, on a pale blue dot called Earth.
Thus, he will no longer be the only one in the crew being proposed a
glass of water in American restaurants. However, we had no alcoholic
beverage here to celebrate, only a powder supposed to give you orange
juice when rehydrated (I have my doubts about it). Anyway, Simon’s
baking skills saved the party when he took his delicious birthday cake
out of the bread machine. Louis’ gift was to learn how to play the
card game known as “Barbu” in France, which basically means “Bearded”.
Note for future Mars-Mission commanders: a card game involving the
whole crew is an excellent way to divert them from preparing a mutiny.

Otherwise, we spent a typical afternoon full of work: science, DIY,
reports writing, bread baking, dish washing, nap to recover from the
EVA… The crew keeps busy, making good use of all the facilities of the
MDRS. The only thing I can criticize about it: we spend less time
together since some of us work in the Science Dome or in the GreenHab,
while last year only the Hab was usable on Mission 164. Not
necessarily a bad thing though, sometimes having a break from the rest
of the group can be useful for the general mood (otherwise we could
turn mad quite quickly…)


Ad Astra!