Journalist Report – May 26th

Crew 281 Journalist Report 26May2023

Journalist Report

By: Rachel Jones

12th Sol, It’s Time for Crew 281 to Roll

My morning started very early. I wanted to see to the Sun rise on our last day of Mars. The Sun peaked the horizon at about 6:05 AM. As I reflected on this wonderful experience, I couldn’t be more grateful to have such amazing team mates.

Ana and Ritu were up early preparing for their longest EVA yet. Their explorative spirt and prospective on future scientific scanlines took them out to the Special Region (Burpee Quarry). First, Ritu conducted additional payload tests with the Medical Device Delivery Drone, “Peggy.”. Then, they traveled back to Marble Ritual to get additional aerial shots of the first scanline. Finally, they went out to the Special Region where dinosaur bones are being excavated. This EVA wrapped up all of Ana and Ritu’s scientific goals here at MDRS.

After MDRS, Ritu plans to publish her findings in a peer-reviewed journal. The data from her experience will be used for performing basic ratings and calculations for a larger drone system that will be capable of carrying a heavier load and of carrying out safe flights in high winds and lower air density.

Ana will further analyze her collected samples and the images that Ritu provided for further publication. Ultimately, Ana wants to publish a geotechnical zoning map for future MDRS crews.

KC was Hab Comm for the EVA. He then inventoried the entire kitchen. One of the things he wished he had was more preemptive information on kitchen supplies before he came to MDRS. He wants to give future crew better information. KC has been doing an amazing job as the Crew Engineer. Going above and beyond daily maintenance.

Megan made fudge brownies as a surprise for the EVA team while they were gone. Afterward, she spent almost six hours closing down the GreenHab for the season. For the finale, she brought in six kilograms of produce.

I, surprise, surprise, spent my day on the radio. I’ve learned a lot about HF operations. I made some mistakes. I learned how to jump into a pile-up (i.e. when multiple stations are trying to reach one station). It was really on this last day of operations that I got to experience some of the magic of amateur radio. Early in the morning, I got to hear operators from Australia and Japan. No, I didn’t get through those pile-ups, but it was amazing just to hear the other side of the world from a portable 20 Watt station in Utah.

As we close our journey here at MDRS, we think about the magic of what we are doing and why we are doing it. Each of us have a different dream we are pursuing. Ana, Ritu, and Megan want to be the first women on Mars. KC wants to farm on Mars. Ana wants to develop geotechnologies for building on Mars. I am passionate about space communications. Each of have our dreams to further human presence on Mars.

Thank you MDRS and thank you to all that have been following our journey. 73s.

Journalist Report – May 25th

Crew 281 Journalist Report 25 May 2023

Journalist Report

By: Rachel Jones

11th Sol, Went for a Stroll

It’s almost the end of our time here on Mars, but our crew still has a thousand things to do. KC, Ana, and Ritu went on a long EVA to an alluvial plane along Watney Road (I wonder if Watney Road is named after the main character from The Martian…I hope so). They then walked a kilometer from Cow Dung Rd to Barrainca Butte. They collected samples and took additional drone footage at both locations.

For lunch, I successfully got some of Ritu’s leftover casserole. Ritu, Megan, KC, and Anna worked on end-of-mission reports. KC also did routine maintenance checks and inventorying.

I spent my morning, afternoon, and evening on the radio. My goal was to make over 50 contacts while I was at the Mars Desert Research Station, and I have! A contact in amateur radio is when two radio operators successfully exchange information. If you are a cyber/aviation geek (like me), think of it like a three-way handshake. A typical conversation might be similar to the following:

Rachel: “CQ. CQ. CQ. This is KO4HLC” (CQ is a code used to say an operator is open to talk with anyone)

Tony: “KO4HLC this is NR1Z, I read you at a 5.5” (The responding operator might give my call sign (KO4HLC), or they might just say their own (NR1Z). They then might give a signal report that indicates how well received one station is to the other.)

Rachel: “NR1Z, I read you 5.3 from a portable in Utah. QSL?” (QSL is a code used to indicate a successful contact)

Tony: “QSL, 73. NR1Z Out.” (73 means “best regards”)

I am grateful for those that took the time to talk with me from around the United States and Canada. I’m also so thankful for my crew mates that supplied me with food and drink as I worked hard to accomplish my contact goal.

This evening, our MDRS Crew 281 talked to the HI-SEAS Crew “Ike Loa.” We each got a virtual tour of each other’s analog Habitats. I particularly enjoyed meeting the Hi-Sea’s robotic seal, Pono.

I’ll still be on the air for one more day. I hope to make some additional contacts before we wrap up our mission on Mars. 73s.

Journalist Report – May 24th

Crew 281 Journalist Report 24 May 2023

Journalist Report

By: Rachel Jones

Sol 10 We’ve Achieved Zen.

Sol 10 started with an EVA. Ana and I went outside to checkup on my HF antenna. Due to the rain and the winds, I wanted to ensure my coax connection hadn’t gotten wet or damaged. While I would have liked to have driven the ground spike in further, KC hypothesized that there was a layer of caliche below the surface, and I wouldn’t be able to get the spike in further. After we checked on the antenna, we attempted to do another series of medical drone deployments. Unfortunately, the winds picked up and made it unsafe for flying. We had to abort that segment of our EVA mission. The final part of the EVA had us take another visual inspection of the outside of the facility. This was a very realistic simulation of a task that might be completed at least once a week on Mars. There were some debates within the crew on how often and whether it should be a human or a drone that conducted those safety observations.

After the EVA, I, of course, had to get on the air and ensure the operation of the radio. I could listen in to a veterans’ hospital net in CA, and then I made four successful contacts within the OM International Sideband Society net. I made contacts in CA, AL, and FL.

For lunch today, Ritu made broccoli, cheese, and rice casserole. It was absolutely amazing. I am constantly impressed by the ingenuity of our crew. Together, we have combined cultures, backgrounds, and flavors to make a creative and dynamic (mostly) vegetarian meal plan.

This afternoon many of us took a moment to relax and reflect upon our time here thus far. We are working on our various papers, reports, and research. Ana and Ritu worked with KC to plan their long EVA for tomorrow. Megan spent time in the GreenHab tending plants and harvesting tomatoes, cucumbers, and chives for tonight’s dinner.

Tonight, we are having pizza made from scratch. Megan and Ritu spent 2 hours working on pizza dough. Then, we rehydrated and supplemented the GreenHab veggies to make individual pizzas. After dinner, I got back on the radio and made 5 more contacts from AR, MO, and PA.

T-minus two sols to go, till our days are filled with cleaning, and then the team blasts back to Earth.

Journalist Report – May 23rd

Crew 281 Journalist Report 23 May 2023

Journalist Report

By: Rachel Jones

Sol 9 and Things are Going Fine

Despite the early EVA, I slept in. The crew mercifully agreed I could sleep in and that KC and Megan could help Ana and Ritu prepare for their 0745 EVA. I woke up just in time to see them start to drive the rover away from the hab. Ana and Ritu were going on a long EVA to the Overlook region. This area is really special because it has gypsum (which glows when exposed to UV light). In the past, this region was nicknamed the “Moon” region because the grey and white sand features resemble the moon.

KC was Hab Comm for the EVA. Hab Comm is a member of the crew that attempts to maintain contact with the EVA while they are in the field. We were warned that the Overlook region and the paths to get there had very bad/spotty communications. Given the current band conditions, I imagine this matter was expounded. While I was never able to resolve my Software Defined Radio (SDR) sound issue, we did observe the waterfall of the crew transmission frequency (i.e. we could see when they were transmitting), even when our radios did not register the transmission. I only wonder if we would have been able to hear them if my speakers were working.

Overall, the EVA was a success and lots of aerial footage and loose samples were collected.

For lunch today, KC went overboard in the best possible way. He handmade noodles from scratch and turned our normal rehydrated and freeze-dried ingredients into an amazing soup. I again tried to get on the OMISS (Old Man International Sideband Society) net but do not think I was heard today. The bands were all over the place.

After lunch, Ana, Ritu, Megan, and I filmed an outreach video of an experiment for the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS). Then we had a rapid segment of high wind and a light dusting of rain.

Before dinner, I was very successful at making amateur radio contacts on 20 meters. Then my friend Tony (NR1Z) helped me make my first Morse Code contact. Morse Code is a method of communication that uses dots and dashes (dits and dahs) to code a message. Morse Code holds some advantages over voice communications as the transmission often requires less power and (some people.…not me yet) is faster. This makes Morse Code very efficient for emergency situations and most associate it with signaling S.O.S (… – – – …). I’m not sure yet, but I might be the first person to have made a Morse Code contact from MDRS.

I continue to imagine what communications on Mars will be like, but till then, I’m signing off: 73s.

Journalist Report – May 22nd

Crew 281 Journalist Report 22 May 2023

Journalist Report

By: Rachel Jones

Sol 8, Getting Our Procedures Straight.

It’s Sol 8, and things are starting to feel like clockwork. Everyone knows I’ll ask them if they have water, if they’ve been drinking water, if they brought extra water, etc. etc. etc. Our EVA of Ana, Ritu, and KC went to Pooh’s Corner test to perform the last scan line and take aerial footage. Our Crew has taken over 950 measurements of rock hardness with the Equotip and Schmidt Hammer. The crew has the system down to a point where neither the slightly damp ground nor the poor band signal interfered with the mission.

Lunch today, prepared by Ritu, was Tofu Thai Curry and white rice. I spent my lunchtime hour trying to check into the Old Man International Sideband Society’s (OMISS) daily net. For those not into amateur radio, a “net” is traditionally an on-the-air gathering. I was on 20 meters and could barely be heard. I plan to try again tomorrow and see if I can get through. You can check them out on

After lunch, the great hair-washing experiment commenced. Our goal was to use as little water as possible. We averaged about 3/4s of a gallon per person. We then reused the hair-washing water to top off and flush the toilet system. From cooking to basic chores, we like to make every drop count. After my hair was washed, Megan our impromptu stylist, put it up in a French braid.

The afternoon sent everyone off to their various tasks. I collaborated with various radio operators to try and diagnose my radio set up to be clearer. KC and Ritu constructed a new on-EVA drone transportation system so that the drone could be carried in a ready-to-be-deployed configuration (gloves make it hard to do in the field). Ana and Ritu then planned out tomorrow’s EVA. Megan took care of the GreenHab and her chocolate plants. The chocolate plants are starting to sprout now.

Dinner tonight was up to me. For all those of you that have waited with bated breath to learn what-all is involved in cooking at MDRS, wait no longer. Given the variety of options we had, I chose to make a MDRS version of stamppotten, a potato and vegetable dish. First, I gathered the various vegetables I wanted to include. Each ingredient had a different amount of time it needed to rehydrate. I put about two tablespoons of the first two ingredients (carrot flakes and cheese gratings) in a large bowl and added warm water. They needed 15 mins to rehydrate. Five minutes later, I added the next two veggies (onion flakes and peppers bits). Then 5 minutes later I added the last two ingredients (spinach flakes and butter powder). On the stove, I put in
2 cups of the instant mashed potatoes mix, salt, garlic, and some of the rehydrated milk mix. Then I added the hydrated vegetables (along with the excess water) into the potatoes and brought it to a quick boil. I think it turned out fantastic.

Feeling full and happy, I bid you all ado for tonight.

Journalist Report – May 21th

Crew 281 Journalist Report 21 May 2023

Journalist Report

By: Rachel Jones

Sol 7, MDRS is Heaven!

A bit of a personal rant before I start my report today. My husband has never found the same joy as I in rucking. What is rucking? It’s an exercise where you wear a weighted backpack and walk. I’ve participated in a GORUCK Challenge and loved it. It taught me to wear a heavy pack and perform various tasks (usually in gloves). Because of this, I feel more confident wearing the EVA suit and performing complicated tasks with gloves on. Furthermore, from my personal experience in today’s EVA, rucking helps train you for Mars.

So, what did I do to feel so superior in my abilities? I beat a drone. (Yes… I know that it was only the terrain and my amazing ability that allowed me to succeed today, and it likely might not in the future).

Sol 7 started like many days with an EVA. Ana, Ritu, and I exited the Hab to perform three separate missions. First, we re-tested the Pegasus scoop. This round of testing avoided the issues we had with the previous deployment and, ultimately, demonstrated the product.

The second test involved baselining a new Mars medical drone supply delivery concept. Ritu first flew the drone from our start position, raised it to 10 meters, and then flew in a straight path 60 meters to our “downed” astronaut model: Ana. Once the drone reached Ana, it was lowered to allow retrieval of a possible payload and then flew back to the starting point. We did several control flights recording the times and battery the drone took without a payload before we tested the delivery system with a 40-gram payload. For the final test, I raced the drone’s time and took the payload to the downed astronaut. I won… but in a real-case scenario, I would not have been able to don my equipment and exit the Hab in the time the drone could have.

The third part of our EVA mission involved checking on my antenna setup. Every afternoon we have a light shower and high winds. I wanted to ensure my antenna was still dry and stable.

After we returned from a successful EVA, KC cooked lunch. It was a mix of noodles, rehydrated vegetables, black bean burger mix, and Alfredo sauce. Megan also made some cinnamon rolls for an afternoon snack.

This afternoon was a lot of report writing for the crew (in addition to what is becoming our routine chores). We each worked on a section for the Mid-Mission report. Megan checked her chocolate seeds and the GreenHab. Ritu downloaded her drone measurement results. Ana cleaned and stored her robotic scoop. KC checked batteries, tunnels, toilets, and our water level. Our crew checks the water level more than required as we compete and challenge ourselves to use less.

I was on the radio making contacts. I was able to reach GA, WA, and TX. The bands might not be great but they were better than yesterday. Dr. Tamitha Skov in her Space Weather Report, suggested the bands might not be ideal this weekend ( ).

This evening we are making smashed avocado tacos, discussing our various reports, and planning tomorrow’s long EVA.

I’d appreciate it if you could catch me on the air but for now, signing off from Mars.

Journalist Report – May 20th

Crew 281 Journalist Report 20 May 2023

Journalist Report

By: Rachel Jones

Sol 6, We Put Out Sticks.

Okay, not really, but it’s hard to rhyme six and an antenna.

Sol 6 was a busy day, and it started early. Ana, KC, and Ritu went on an EVA to Kissing Camel Ridge to gather more rock data from scan lines, test the geotechnical tools, and capture aerial drone footage. This was a longer EVA to start the day. Then, after a quick lunch, Megan and I performed an EVA to set up the High Frequency (HF) antenna. We set up a Chameleon HF Modular Portable Antenna System 2.0 in the portable vertical configuration. While both of these EVAs sound simple, I assure you the extreme Utah weather, in addition to the cumbersome EVA suits, makes any action outside the Hab an adventure.

With the antenna set up, the afternoon sent us all on our various tasks. Megan took on the GreenHab and checked on her chocolate plants. Ana prepared the robotic scoop Pegasus for tomorrow’s EVA. Ritu designed a dummy medical play load for her drone with KCs assistance. I, of course, was on the airways trying to make QSL contacts. Learning new equipment is always challenging, but I hope to get as many contacts as possible (pending weather/band corporation). The HF Antenna is connected via coax to a Shack-in-a-box configured to an Icom 7300, LDG tuner, and external speaker. Unfortunately, while I heard my friend Dan (N4MI) in Grovetown, GA, and Arkansas’ QSL Party, the bands didn’t support reliable conversation. I’m hoping to try again once to sunsets.

Dinner tonight focused on emptying the fridge of leftovers (one of my least favorite things). On Mars, should a crew eat group meals together? Or should individuals be required to meet specific caloric goals (i.e., you’re required to clean your plate)? I can see the pros and cons of both. Our crew enjoys the meals spent together around the table for now.

Till next time, please find me on the air! (KO4HLC/MDRS)

Journalist Report – May 19th

Crew 281 Journalist Report 19 May 2023

Journalist Report

By: Rachel Jones

Sol 5 and Still Alive!

The morning was mayhem and included a last-minute change in EVA plans to move my antenna set-up to Sol 6. Instead, Ritu and Ana had their hands full doing some exciting field tests using the robotic scoop and more drone aerial surveillance. Ana’s robotic scoop has been named “Pegasus” in honor of this mission (our crew is “Team Pegasus”), and there were some challenges with its initial deployment. During the deployment of the scoop, a pin broke off while connecting the battery. The lesson learned is that a human interface redesign is needed to allow easier field deployment by astronauts or those wearing gloves. Meanwhile, Ritu was able to capture some fantastic footage of the deployed scoop and also captured aerial images of the MDRS Campus while geo-referencing a control point for later EVAs. The last part of
the EVA involved an exterior inspection of the Hab and facilities. The EVA team investigated some of the sources of irregular banging heard during periods of high winds in the afternoon. No immediate threats were found, and the images provided should allow mission support to resolve the banging issue in the future.

Lunch today was stewed lentils and quinoa prepared by Ritu. It was served alongside a fresh salad of harvested lettuce, arugula, and microgreens from the GreenHab. Following lunch, the crew came together to perform afternoon chores and do routine maintenance. I imagine this part of the SIM greatly reflects reality, as there are always things to do. Unfortunately, most do not want to hear the trials and tribulations of checking the toilets and water systems.

After getting the day’s requirements taken care of, most of us went on to our individual projects. Ana helped Megan transplant the chocolate seeds into soil in the Science Dome. Ana, of course, started writing a few papers. Megan focused on future reports for MDRS. KC and I did a trial setup for the MDRS High Frequency (HF) antenna that we hope to deploy on tomorrow’s EVA. MDRS has a remarkably versatile amateur radio setup that was designed by Hope L. (ND2L) from the Spaceward Bound Utah’s first all high school which was out at MDRS before the 2022-2023 season began! KC also checked in on all the GreenHab plants and kept an eye on the power status in the mid-day heat. Ritu downloaded her drone footage and started on daily reports.

For dinner tonight, we have leftover lentils and fresh rice. I received some advice on troubleshooting the sound issues I’ve been having with my Software Defined Radio (SDR) set up and will spend the evening attempting various configurations. I’m looking forward to deploying my equipment tomorrow and hopefully getting on the air. For now, signing off from Mars.

Journalist Report – May 18th

Crew 281 Journalist Report 18 May 2023

Journalist Report

Crew 281

By: Rachel Jones

Sol 4 was a science day. The team had been pushing hard on EVAs for
the past three days; thus, a break day was needed. The crew slept in
late (i.e., past 0700). Then KC prepared a chocolate chip pancake
brunch from dehydrated scratch. I spent the morning building a
Raspberry Pi system to utilize an RTL-Software Defined Radio (SDR). My
efforts were frustrating as typical troubleshooting methods (i.e.,
looking it up online) were unavailable. This frustration sparked crew
discussion of a future Mars mission’s possible network architecture
and the need for a Mars intranet.

The afternoon brought each individual to pursue their individual
projects. KC, our all-in-one Crew Engineer, performed Hab maintenance
and monitored systems. He also investigated options for optimizing
GreenHab conditions. During the day, that module can get to over 105
*F, which, for some reason, the current varieties of “MDRS” plants
don’t prefer.

Megan checked on her chocolate plants that are currently sprouting in
the Grow Tent in the Science Dome. I got to help her water the
seedlings as I spent my afternoon researching and troubleshooting
SDRs. Thinking of all the parts I wish I had, I realize the ability to
print tools and spare electronic parts on Mars will be necessary, but
for now, I have a few obstacles to overcome.

Ritu and Ana planned the rest of the crew EVAs. Ritu researched drone
flying techniques to capture scan lines. For our mission, a scan line
is the recorded measurements of the geological and geomechanical
characteristics over a specific distance (i.e., the yellow taped line
in yesterday’s photos). Ana also made educational outreach videos for
the Space for All Nations initiative.

Dinner tonight was penne noodles with fresh tomato sauce. Again, this
sauce utilized a mix of vegetables and herbs harvested from the
GreenHab and supplemented with dehydrated vegetables and spices. After
dinner, activities featured writing reports and working on our
Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) characters.

After a day of rest, Crew 281 is ready to go 100% in Sol 5.

Journalist Report – May 17th

Crew 281 – Journalist Report, 17 May 2023

Report by: Rachel Jones

Sol 3, Today was our first "longer" EVA mission. The whole team worked to prepare KC and Ana. They were going to Pooh’s Corner and Marble Ritual to perform scan lines while testing new geotechnical equipment. Once the EVA team returned everyone helped them doff their gear.

For lunch Megan made fresh bread. We ate bread dipped/spread/stuffed with a sauteed vegetable medley containing tomatoes harvested from the Green Hab combined with freeze dried vegetables and rice vinegar. It was astonishingly delicious. We’ve voted that the rice vinegar KC brought was a welcome edition to the MDRS kitchen.

The afternoon sent us all to our various projects. Megan checked on her chocolate seeds. Ana analyzed her collected data. Ritu started on our reports and planned for the next EVA. KC handled various Hab maintenance. We had strong winds in the afternoon and KC fortified the tunnel system. I (not having cooked) challenged myself to use less water doing dishes. MDRS recommends a sink of soapy water and a sink of rinse water. Then I did general Hab cleaning on the upper floor, before taking an inventory of MDRS’s amateur radio station. Truly, it’s science, maintenance, and cleaning everyday.

Pre-dinner we did a group yoga session. Dinner tonight is leftovers. I’m hoping to eat some of Sol 2’s quesadillas.

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