EVA Report – January 12th

Purpose of EVA: Collect and analyze samples of shale obtained from the region below Skyline Rim. Collect samples of fossilized shells that were discovered on a previous EVA near White Moon.

Destination: Skyline Rim

UDM27 Coordinates: 515300E, 4251200N

Destination: White Moon

UDM27 Coordinates: 517100E, 4254600N

Participants: Justin Mansell (Journalist), Melanie Grande (Engineer), Sam Albert (Health and Safety Officer)

Narrative: This was the final EVA of the mission and the members of the team were tasked with obtaining samples of shale from the base of Skyline Rim and analyzing them in the field with a spectrometer. Our secondary objective was to collect a handful of fossilized shells from a deposit near White Moon. This deposit was discovered on a previous EVA but no samples were taken. We departed the airlock at 11:07 am and drove north to White Moon. I led in the Deimos rover followed behind by Sam and Melanie in Spirit. We made a brief stop near Gray Moon to search for the fossil bed but were unsuccessful in locating it. We remounted the rovers after several minutes and continued to Skyline Rim by way of Copernicus Highway 1574 and Sagan Street 1103. We arrived on site at approximately 12:30 pm.

Sam was able to make contact with the habitat from atop a small hill using a ham radio while Melanie and I searched for shale near the end of Sagan Street. Once we had positively identified several samples of shale the team collected equipment from the rovers and proceeded to the base of the cliff. We also made a brief test of the navigation radio to verify the direction to the habitat.

Sam made his way up an escarpment to collect chips of shale directly from the cliff wall using a rock hammer. Melanie also climbed an escarpment to take complimentary spectra using the spectrometer. I remained at the base of the escarpments to monitor Sam and Melanie’s safety. The team then returned to the rovers and departed Skyline Rim at 1:15 pm.

We made a second stop at White Moon on the return journey and relocated the shell fossils found on a previous EVA. We filled a sample bag with a handful of shells and returned directly to the habitat. We arrived at the habitat at 2:23 pm. The total time on EVA was 3 hours and 21 minutes.

Justin Mansell, MDRS Crew 186 Journalist

EVA Report – January 11th

Author: Max Fagin

Purpose of EVA: The last testing of the Yagi-Uda antenna based navigation experiment for navigating back to the hab. Destination change the night before to Skyline ridge allowed photographic reconnaissance in preparation for tomorrow’s geology EVA to the same site.

Destination: Plains to the east of skyline ridge

UDM27 Coordinates: 516000 E, 4251000 N

Participants: Max Fagin (Commander), Kshitij Mall (Executive Officer)

Narrative: This EVA was the final demonstration of the radio beacon navigation system, with the goal of demonstrating its effectiveness when line of sight was obstructed for the duration of the walk. Kshitij served as the lost astronaut, and had the hood in place over his helmet that limited his field of view to 5m from his feet. Max monitored the route and tracked the progress via gps to ensure the route was safe. We left the airlock at 10:36 and walked north along a foot path to the top of the ridge that rises over the hab to our west. After cresting the ridge, we walked due west along Sagan Rd before swinging south 50m to await the first beacon transmission. When the beacon was received, we started back, Kshitij leading the way, and Max monitoring. When Kshitij would stop to check the bearing on the hab, Max tested an experimental chlorophyll detector that Chris McKay and Matteo Borri had designed for us for use on the local flora. A loss of the beacon for ~15 minutes led to a complete turnaround, but it was corrected when the beacon was picked up again. We crested the ridge 45 minutes later at the ridge’s closest point to the hab, exactly where we should have been. So close that Kshitij gave an audible gasp when Max removed the hood and saw the habitat was so close. We deactivated the beacon, and walked north to find the route back down to the hab. Airlock ingress was at 12:37 for a total EVA time of 2:01.

Note: One of the hab’s radios has been damaged beyond repair. I was carrying it in my front pocket as a backup radio, and when I lifted my leg while climbing the ridge, the antenna was pinched against my front and snapped off. Shannon: There are still more than enough radios at the hab to provide spares, so I don’t know if you will want to replace it or not, but either way, I will note this on the checkout sheet as damage incurred. My apologies for the damage.

EVA Report – January 10th

Author: Cesare Guariniello

Purpose of EVA: Testing the next phase of the Yagi-Uda antenna-based navigation experiment for navigating back to the hab. Testing with a stranded astronaut in a condition of low visibility

Destination: End of Mountain Goat Road

UDM27 Coordinates:

519750 E

4250500 N

Participants: Cesare, Melanie, Mark (stranded astronaut)

Narrative: This EVA put an astronaut in condition of low visibility, simulating a dust storm. This condition was obtained with a cardboard placed over the top portion of the ExoSuit helmet. The astronaut has visibility limited to about 5m ahead (for reasons of safety) and can look at the handheld radio when navigating, in order to find the direction of the habitat. The crew egressed the habitat with Mark already “under the hood”, and checked the safety of the hooding apparatus, then the three EVA crewmembers started walking Northwest to the intended destination, guided by Cesare’s GPS unit. During the outward path, Melanie and Cesare had Mark stopping multiple times, to spin around and be redirected so as to be completely disoriented. The outward path was also chosen so that the return direction would not follow it.

Once the turnaround point was reached, Mark turned on the Yagi-Uda antenna receiver and began scanning for the radio beacon from the habitat, sent initially at intervals of 5 minutes. Melanie and Cesare took care of the safety of the path chosen by Mark, but let him decide the direction to walk towards. When rock walls occurred, Mark decided the best path around them, and only once he was requested to stop to avoid excessive proximity to a shallow canyon. The EVA gave significant results to the experiment. Mark was able to locate the habitat with adequate precision even when hills and rocks obstructed the line of communication, though a power attenuator might be required in close proximity to the habitat (Mark could navigate close to saturation of the signal, at about 500m from the habitat). A major problem was the difficulty to follow a straight path. Mark always pinpointed the direction towards the habitat, but walked in wide arcs. For this reason, Cesare and Melanie requested continuous transmission of the beacon signal which helped reducing the path error.

Around 1:40 (one hour and 35 minutes into the EVA), the weather turned to rain. The crew immediately reported the occurrence to the HabCom. Upon indication by the commander the EVA was scrubbed immediately, Mark was unhooded, and the EVA team returned to the hab (which had been in sight for about 20 minutes, and was only 500m away) without delays and ingresses the airlock after collecting two soil samples from the immediate vicinity of the habitat, to be analyzed for use in the Greenhab by future crews.

Cesare Guariniello, crew geologist

Crew 186 – Boilers2Mars

Mars Desert Research Station

EVA Report – January 8th

Author: Max Fagin

Purpose of EVA:

1. Visit the Beige Moon and White Moon areas, which remain unsampled by our previous EVA team during EVA#3

2. Test the Yagi-Uda antenna based navigation experiment by walking back to the hab

Destination: Yellow moon, white moon, beige moon, walk back

UDM27 Coordinates: 516500 E, 4254250 N

Participants: Max Fagin (Commander), Kshitij Mall (Executive Officer), Justin Mansell (Journalist)

Narrative: We exited the hab on schedule and departed north to the Moons region. We started at the western most site, and traveled east, stopping at each site to collect a sample of clay, salt, and a panoramic photo. Despite the cold, not being burdened by sensing equipment was a welcome relief, and we got really good at quickly dismounting, sampling, photographing and documenting a new site. Thanks Cesare for the great geology training! After sampling all three sites, we drove back along Cow Dung road until the GPS indicated we were within 2 km of the hab. We dismounted, set up the radio beacon, and Justin began navigating across the terrain back to the hab, with Kshitij and I following for safety. Inspecting the route on GPS after the fact revealed it was as near to a direct route as could be expected given patches of unnavigable terrain. A great success for the navigation system! All that remains it to duplicate the results with the astronaut’s view of the horizon restricted to remove the possibility of subconsciously navigating by distant terrain features or the sun. We will attempt to do this tomorrow, weather permitting.

After returning to the hab, Justin and Kshitij took three sorties out (one on Opportunity, two on Curiosity) to recover the ATVs that had been abandoned for the navigation experiment and bring them back to the hab.

Note: Another one of our radios gave a low battery signal ~20 minutes into the EVA. Since we were carrying two spare radios as per our decision from yesterday’s EVA, communications were instantly restored. I recommend listing it in the MDRS handbook that the EVA team must always carry at least one fully charged spare radio. It is such a small additional burden, and such a large increase in EVA safety.

EVA Report – January 7th

Author: Max Fagin

Purpose of EVA: Photography and sampling of the previously identified stratified cut in the canyon wall east of the Maxwell Montes region.

Destination: The canyons just to the east of the Maxwell Montes region.

UDM27 Coordinates: 522500 E 4254500 N

Participants: Max Fagin (Commander), Cesare Guariniello (Geologist), Sam Albert (HSO), Melanie Grande (Crew Engineer)

Narrative: We departed the Hab at 10:45 and arrived at the end of Cactus Rd. at 11:15. The initial descent into the canyon was steep but navigable, and we descended 200 ft east down a ridge line and stream bed before we encountered a cliff in the stream bed that we could not safely descend. Instead, we turned north west to follow an offshoot of the canyon in the general direction we wanted to go, then climbed up onto a dirt embankment that lay beneath the Muddy Creek canyon’s west edge. This embankment allowed us to travel a 0.5 miles north with no obstruction, but ended at the edge of a smaller canyon on the west of the Muddy Creek, still 0.5 miles south of our target. As we now had only 45 minutes left until our turn around time, we elected to descend into this canyon (which we named Boilermaker canyon) and sample the stratified layers on its north shelf.

Returning to the rovers was more difficult as we realized that the final slope we had descended into Boilermaker Canyon from the embankment was too steep to safely climb up again without scrambling. In hindsight, this was a mistake, as it made us completely dependent on our gps for safe navigation. The original intent had been to exactly retrace the same route into and out of the canyon so we could follow our footprints back to the rovers in the event that we lost our GPS. Instead, in order to avoid scrambling back up the south slope of Boilermaker Canyon, we turned down slope to the east and walked towards the Muddy Creek to find a more shallow slope back up to the west embankment that would allow us to rejoin our path. We eventually found a route up a ridge and back onto the embankment, but without the gps, this would have been nearly impossible. Our footprints on the embankment were invisible until we were right on top of them, and had we not had the gps to tell us where our track was, we could have easily gotten turned around in the maze of stream beds and side canyons. During the walk back, we made several wrong turns when we lost our foot prints. Because we had the gps, the wrong turns were noted and corrected within seconds, but had we not had the gps, walk back would have taken much longer, producing a late return. This was not a navigation mode that I would consider sufficiently safe for EVA operations, and I do not intend to repeat it in the future. We will no longer venture into terrain where a safe exit would be impossible without digital assistance, and we intend to carry at least one gps in the future to guard against the risk of failure.

We returned to the rovers at 3:00 and made use of the reserve water supplies through a camelback to avoid doffing the suits. The water had been reserved for this purpose, as a Mars suit would be expected to allow the occupant to drink, so we did not consider this a breach of sim. We returned to the Hab at 3:25.

Notes on comms issue: One of the radios indicated a low battery on the outbound trip. We elected to continue as communications were still possible, but turned the radio off between transmissions to maximize its lifetime. We also implemented the practice of the incommunicado crew member remaining close to another crew member who could signal via hand that they were needed on comm, or relay instructions via simulated helmet contact. The radio lasted until we reached the site, but then could not be used at all. We swapped radios and kept the crew member with the dead radio in the 2nd place of a single file line, ensuring they could not become separated.

As this is now the second time as apparently fully charged radio battery has failed on EVA, we are implementing a new EVA policy where two spare radios will be carried with the EVA team at all times, and swapped in in the event of radio failure.

EVA Report – January 5th

Author: Max Fagin

Purpose of EVA: Geological sampling of the Greenstone Rd. area and continuing the search for hematite blueberries

Destination: South of Greenstone Rd

UDM27 Coordinates:

520000 E: 424850 N

Participants: Max Fagin (Commander), Kshitij Mall (Executive Officer), Cesare Guariniello (Geologist), Justin Mansell (Journalist), Mark Gee (GreenHab Officer).

Narrative: We reformatted the EVA after suiting up and a radio conversation with Shannon to be an exclusively geological EVA, and delay the navigation component to a later EVA (we previously misunderstood the EVA rules about crew members separating into teams after departing the hab, and how this would technically constitute two separate EVAs). We departed the Hab at 11:10 and arrived on site at 11:48. We walked a long counterclockwise loop around the area searching the ground and occasionally stopping for spectral samples with Cesar’s portable spectrometer, and for the first time, with the portable laser spectrometer that had been generously lent to us by NASA Ames. Despite spending 3 hours on site and seeing many interesting geologic features, we did not find any of the hematite blueberry deposits that are reported to be in this area. We stopped at the Kissing Camels feature on the way back to sample a layer of Dakota Sandstone from the Cretaceous period and returned to the Hab at 14:30.

I expected a 5 person EVA to only be ~20% harder than our more typical 4 person EVA, but in reality, my impression is that they are ~50% harder. In addition to requiring multiple press/depress cycles, the 5th crew member requires an extra vehicle and more room than is easily available in the suit up area. We will probably stick to the conventional 4 crew EVAs in the future. That really does seem to be the perfect number.

EVA Report – January 4th

Author: Cesare Guariniello

Purpose of EVA: Visit the regions of Beige Moon and Yellow Moon, collect samples of salts

Destination: Yellow Moon

UDM27 Coordinates:
515700 E
4254200 N

Participants: Cesare, Melanie, Mark, Samuel

Narrative: This EVA brought the crew for the first time Northwest of the habitat, in the region of The Moons (White Moon, Beige Moon, Gray Moon, Yellow Moon). After egressing the habitat airlock, the EVA crew members spent about fifteen minutes strapping and securing the spectrometer case and the geology toolbox to the ATVs. This simple activity was very instructive about the difficulties of performing simple tasks when donning bulky gloves and a space suit, being able to communicate only via radio, while always “thinking like a Martian” (for example, this means slow and accurate movements, paying attention to the safety of all crew members).

Due to the low temperature, the crew had to use the choker to start the ATVs. However, despite warming the 300, its engine quit multiple times. Since the EVA had multiple stops planned, the crew decided not to use the 300, and instead added a third 350 (vehicles used were the Honda, 350.1, 350.2, and 350.3). The ride North was quite slow, due to the presence of a delicate, expensive instrument.

Once again, the crew did not spot the unmarked road (in this case, Hwy 1572), and went further North to the end of the ATV road. This detour gave the crew the first spectacular sight: on the way back towards Hwy 1572, the crew drove through the Glistening Seas, and the position of the Sun showed how appropriate this name is. The whole plain was sparkly with reflections from gypsum crystals, which gave a sense of awe. In the middle of the Glistening Seas, the EVA crew spotted the location of Hwy 1572 and followed it towards Yellow Moon. Upon reaching the location and parking the ATVs, the crew geologist began his collection of samples, while other EVA crew members explored the area. The magnificent landscape, open to the East on the red Morrison formation, and shadowed to the West by the brown rims of Mancos shale, prompted a discussion within the EVA crew to discuss about the possibility of reaching the Martian Moons.

Due to the delays at the beginning of the EVA, the crew had to turn around after just 40 minutes in the field. On the way back, two more stops for collection of geological samples were added, before the crew stopped at Mount Nutella (see photos of the day) to climb the sand dune and look at the formations from the top of the mount. Melanie lost communication at this point, but this did not cause any problem: she was put in the middle of the ATVs convoy, and the EVA party was already enroute to the habitat. Upon returning, while Melanie refueled the ATVs and tested the 300 (which worked, since it had warmed up), and Cesare unstrapped the tools, the crew was welcomed by a new pet: the NorCal Mars Society’s rover Phoenix!! The EVA crew played with it for a little bit, before ingressing the airlock to end this astonishing EVA.

EVA Report – January 3rd

Author: Max Fagin

Purpose of EVA: Photographic survey and geological samples of the previously unexplored region to the North East of Maxwell Montes, direction radio experiment, Ham radio repeater communications testing

Destination: North East of Maxwell Montes

UDM27 Coordinates:

521750 E

4254500 N

Participants: Max Fagin, Kshitij Mall, Melanie Grande, Justin Mansell

Narrative: The region to the North East of Maxwell Montes had been indicated to us as a region that no MDRS crew had ever explored. Far be it from us to turn down a chance to go boldly where no one has gone before, we had to perform a photographic survey and bring back some samples to plan for a more detailed investigation later in our mission. And the region did not disappoint. After a 55-minute rover ride followed by a 40-minute hike, we reached the edge of a box canyon which contained a stratified cut covering 50-million years of the Jurassic, so perfectly formed it could be in a textbook (see our photo of the day). The long range of the EVA meant we could only spend 45 minutes on site collecting samples and taking photographs, but we have resolved to return to the region before our mission is over. Next time, we will come armed with two tools we didn’t have this time: 1) Our crew geologist, 2) A mapped out route for getting to the bottom of the canyon to see prehistory up close.

Throughout this EVA, we communicated both through the regular MDRS commercial radios, and through the Hanksville ham radio repeater. Both communication methods had dropouts, but the dropouts rarely overlapped, serving as an effective backup to each other as a way to maintain contact with the hab and the EVA team. This exact solution cannot be implemented on Mars, but a ham radio repeater is a fair analog for the site-to-site communications loop in place through a synchronous communications satellite. A colleague once told me that you can fix any problem with a spacecraft as long as you still have communications and power, and future Mars explorers will likely rely on multiple redundant modes of communication to keep that truism true.

Given our experience from the previous EVA, we elected to make this EVA with the 4 exo-suits, rather than the traditional MDRS suits. They met and exceeded our expectations for remaining comfortable for a long EVA, and the rest of the crew are eager to try them out. Having zero load on our shoulders is a welcome relief, and the limiting factor was really how long you could have your head in the suit without scratching your nose or taking a drink.

On the latter matter (thirst), we tested out a partial solution. It is our crew’s policy to carry a case of water with us in the rover’s trunk on EVAs to treat any case of dehydration. Drinking such water would be breaking sim as we would have to doff the suits to drink it. However, the ability for an EVA suit to provide the occupant with a drink without doffing the suit is already existing technology, we simply haven’t implemented it at MDRS yet. The neck ring design of the old MDRS suits makes the use of a camelback a bit ungainly, but the exosuits are perfectly shaped for it. By feeding the tube of my camelback through the vent in the suit and securing it with a twist tie, I was able to keep the port within easy reach of my mouth for the entire EVA. This solution can’t be permanent, as it would require MDRS participants to share camelbacks, but I have extensively photographed the solution and will be taking it back to the NorCal Mars Society as a proposal to try in future suits (perhaps if MDRS participants wanted to bring their own camelback). I certainly appreciated it.

On the way back, Kshitij and Melanie dropped us off at a point where we had identified on the way out, and proceeded back to the hab. Justin took out his direction radio beacon, and I faded into the background as he began his “lost astronaut” experiment. Using a Yagi antenna to determine his bearing on the hab, he began walking in the general direction while I shadowed him with a gps to check his route. After stopping 3-4 times to recover his bearings and making his way through a narrow canyon where the signal was interrupted, we climbed a hill and spotted the hab directly ahead of us in the distance! This was just a preliminary test, as we both had a fair idea of where the hab was, but on future EVAs, the test will become more challenging, eventually culminating with the test subject starting from a location where they don’t know their bearing on the hab.

Extra commendations to our EVA controller Cesare, for managing three radios while we were out and about, and finding time to suit up and join us for a 1 hour “get ahead” engineering EVA that we began when we found ourselves back at the hab an hour earlier than expected.

Note on our route: We misread the map legend indicating which roads were for PEVs (the rovers) and which were limited to ATVs. We took the rovers north along Cow Dung Rd, East along Galileo Rd and stopped where the foot travel only section began at the intersection of Cactus Rd. and Yellow Zebra Rd., near 522000 E 4253000N, before dismounting to walk the rest of the way to the site. After returning, we realized that Cactus Rd. was marked for ATVs only, and not for PEV travel. Apologies for the mistake, we are clear on the distinction now, and on our next visit, we will only take ATVs to the dismount point.

EVA Report – January 2nd

Crew 186 EVA Report 02JAN2018

Author: Cesare Guariniello

Purpose of EVA: Complete EVA #1 that was cut short: spectral sampling of clays and searching for hematite spherules in Greenstone region.

Destination: Greenstone region east of Greenstone Rd

UDM27 Coordinates:
520050E
4248300N

Participants: Kshitij, Cesare, Mark, Sam

Narrative: This EVA was the first one for the three crew members who had not participated into the EVA yesterday. Since the first EVA had been cut short, the crew geologist joined this EVA to complete the tasks planned for the previous day. The planned sites were the region East of Greenstone Rd, and on the way back the region between Zubrin’s Head and Robert’s Rock Garden, both for collecting more clays and looking for hematite “blueberries”. The crew felt unusual levels of heat, due to a clear bright Sun, which also made it challenging to drive heading South, and possibly prevented the crew from identifying the access to Greenstone Road. Feeling that they might have overshot the intended destination, the crew parked the rovers and found out that they had reached White Rock Canyon, slightly South of Greenstone Road. The incredible sight and the discovery of a stream of frozen water at the bottom of the canyon prompted the EVA crew to take a few photos to document the area, before heading back to the rovers and finally reaching the intended destination, at the beginning of Greenstone Road. While the crew had no luck with the search for hematite blueberries, Cesare analyzed and collected more clay sample, with the support of Kshitij, Mark, and Sam. In the meanwhile, Kshitij also grabbed videos of the crew activity, while Sam took breathtaking photos of the location and of the crew.

After spending one hour and fifteen minutes at the first location, the crew headed back Northwest to stop at a second location, to the West of Cow Dung Road, where one more hour was spent in field activities. Cesare found a couple of promising rounded pebbles which appear to have a spectrum that at least partially resembles hematite.

Having lost communication with the habitat after crossing the first ridge, the crew observed line-of-sight rules for safety, and -among the research work- took time to think of their expedition and their goals. We were all amazed at the extreme resemblance of the location to plains on Mars, in colors, aspect, and mineralogy. Watching the landscape from the top of a ridge while wearing a space suit is an amazing experience!

When the EVA crew members came back, they were welcomed by the rest of the crew with well deserved water, before a very useful debriefing that will help in future EVAs. The crew performed very well with the 25-50-25 rule, actually spending only thirty minutes on the drive out and back, and two hours and fifteen minutes in the field!

Cesare Guariniello, PhD

EVA Report – January 1st

Author: Max Fagin

Purpose of EVA: Spectral sampling of sandstone clay, mudstone clay and Hematite in Goldstone region.

Destination: Between URC South and Kissing Camel Ridge, 200-300m west of Cow Dung Rd.

UDM27 Coordinates:

518100E

424850N

Participants: Max, Melanie, Cesare, Justin

Narrative: We have heard reports of hematite blueberry formations near the Goldstone Road area, and wanted to take samples with Cesare’s handheld spectrometer. Three sample sites were planned along the way to sample sandstone clays and mudstone clays. A late start meant we had to turn back after only one sample site, and limit the EVA to 1.0 hr instead of 3.5 hrs, but we made productive use of the time. While Cesare was taking spectra of rock and clay samples, Justin broke out his directional radio beacon to experiment with locating the hab. Our sample site was in a radio shadow of the the hab, so Melanie climbed a nearby hill to relay instructions between us and the Hab. This problem won’t go away on Mars (where the radio horizon is 50% closer than Earth’s), and we’ve brought equipment to mitigate it. Our crew includes three licensed ham radio operators, and tomorrow, we will use the Hanksville radio repeater (aka, “communication satellite”).

After returning, we checked two items off our engineering EVA checklist: Moving the small generator to the RAM in preparation for powering it up tomorrow, and installing a new window in the Hab airlock.

Our goal for EVA’s on this mission is to hold to a 25-50-25 rule. I.e. No more than 25% of the time from egress to ingress be spent traveling to and from to the destination, and at least 50% of the time spent on site. Today, we only spent 25 minutes on site (plus 7 minutes at the hab working on engineering tasks), which didn’t meet our goal. But we will track our performance on each future EVA to hold ourselves to improvement. Field science means field science. Not
driving-to-the-field science.