Journalist Report – January 13th

[Sol 13] [The
Final Countdown]

The team awoke to the song: “The Pioneers of Mars” and to the exciting news of the safe arrival of crew 187 on this desert world. After one final pancake breakfast we threw ourselves into our cleaning duties, eager to make a fine impression as the previous team had with us. When our colleagues arrived in the early afternoon with their pressurized rover we had only just finished preparing the habitat for them. There was a short break to introduce ourselves, but the new team was excited to learn the ropes of maintaining the habitat. We organized ourselves into pairs and taught them the quirks of each of the hab’s systems.

With familiarization and photos out of the way, we plan to spend the evening socializing with the new crew over dinner and some card games. Overnight we will travel to the ascent vehicle and begin preparations for launch at dawn. As such, this will be my last update until we reach orbit.

It is said that the 4 stages of teamwork are forming, storming, norming, and performing. Over the past mission I have seen our team pass through each of these stages and though circumstances have been tough at times, I can say with confidence that we leave this world more capable, humorous, considerate, and farseeing than the people we came as. The soaring mesas, grand vistas, and infinite textures of this remote planet have changed us. But our greatest hope is that we have in turn changed it. To make what was a desolate, frozen expanse more livable, meaningful, and ultimately more human: this is the goal of humankind’s voyage to Mars, and the goal, perhaps, of our journey to the stars.

We wish Crew 187 all the best for their mission. For those on Earth, we would like to thank the legions of support personnel for making this grand adventure possible. With luck, we will be seeing you all soon!

Justin Mansell, MDRS Crew 186 Journalist

P.S. Photos attached. Photo of the day: 13Jan2018 Crew186-187 hand off.jpg

Journalist Report – January 12th

Sol 12 – Harvest

Today was our final EVA. A small team consisting of Melanie Grande (crew engineer), Sam Albert (health and safety officer), and myself, departed the habitat around 11 am and embarked on a long and bumpy drive out to Skyline Rim. We did not arrive until well past noon. What initially seemed like a row of jagged teeth along the western horizon soon grew into a towering mesa of red stone that commanded our admiration. It was a humbling vista.

Our purpose was to collect and analyze samples of shale on behalf of our geologist, Cesare Guariniello. To do so, Sam and Melanie ascended an escarpment to the layers of stone strata. Though their height was hardly even half that of the monolithic ridge, Sam reported that he was able to see all the way to the habitat. But given the long drive back, we couldn’t stay for long. By 2:30 pm we had returned to the habitat with only a short break along the way.

Meanwhile, the rest of the crew has been busy measuring the yield of Mark’s microgreens experiment. Though most of the crop was reserved for his experiment, a portion was kept for tonight’s meal. The whole team gathered early this evening to partake in the harvest of fresh radish, lettuce, dill, cilantro, and green beans. It will be the first fresh food we’ve had since the mission began. For the graduate students on the team, the wait has been even longer!

The meal will be one to savor, for it will be our last dinner in this habitat. Mission control confirms that the refueling of our ascent vehicle using in-situ resources has completed and that the vehicle registers nominal on all system checkouts. Tomorrow at noon our crew will depart the habitat, travel to the ascent vehicle, and prepare for launch at dawn on Sunday morning. It will be the culmination of our grand adventure to the Red Planet. But until then, a frenzy of cleaning and preparation awaits!

Justin Mansell, MDRS Crew 186 Journalist

P.S. Photos attached. Photo of the day: 515300_4251200 12Jan2018 Skyline Rim.jpg.
(Sorry for the huge photo, but it really is incredible. The credit goes to Melanie Grande for taking it!)

Journalist Report – January 9th

[Sol 9]

Another slow day at the hab. The crew awoke to frigid temperatures and a shroud of blowing Martian dust – our first sandstorm. Unwilling to test our luck in the tumultuous conditions, we immediately cancelled the planned EVA and have postponed it to tomorrow. Despite the storm, however, life at the habitat remains quite pleasant. The rarefied Martian wind is too tenuous to threaten our immediate safety and instead fosters a sense of coziness here. The crew enjoyed a television show after breakfast and has spent the day working, reading, and debating various topics. For those who participated in yesterday’s chilly EVA the downtime was certainly welcome.

By the late afternoon the dust had begun to clear and a robotic supply rover which landed earlier this week was able to complete its slow trek to the hab. After a quick excursion to obtain the supplies the crew delightfully unpacked a brand new bread maker and put it to use right away. At the time of writing the team is eagerly awaiting the results.

Justin Mansell, MDRS Crew 186 Journalist

P.S. Photos attached. Photo of the day: 09Jan2018 Crew mental health questionable.jpg

Journalist Report – January 10th

[Sol 10] [The
Lost Astronaut]

The day began with our usual order of activities – yoga and breakfast followed by EVA prep. The purpose of this EVA was a dedicated test of the radio navigation experiment. But unlike the previous tests, the astronaut using the antenna would have their vision restricted to only their immediate area by a cardboard visor strapped to their helmet. This, combined with the flat lighting of the gloomy sky, meant there was no possibility of using visual cues to return to the hab. Furthermore, the antenna would not be in the hands of her designer, but the crew’s greenhab scientist, Mark Gee, who possessed no previous experience using the antenna. It was out closest simulation yet of a real lost astronaut imperiled by low-visibility conditions.

Due to the risk of precipitation in the morning, the EVA team did not depart until slightly past noon when the weather began to stabilize. Cesare Guariniello and Melanie Grande supported Mark on EVA (i.e. ensured he wouldn’t accidentally walk off a cliff) and led him on foot to the east until he was thoroughly disoriented. At 1 pm, we switched on the habitat’s navigation beacon. Thirty minutes later, the EVA team emerged from behind a distant ridge within sight of the habitat. Melanie and Cesare later reported that they struggled to keep up with Mark as he aggressively chased the signal back to the hab. But before the test could proceed to completion, a freezing Martian snow began trickling from the skies. By mission rule the team was forced to abort and return immediately.

The team made use of the extra time to relax and prepare for an evening teleconference with the Purdue chapter of the Mars Society. It went splendidly. Since then, Mark has been cross pollinating plants in the greenhab, and Sam Albert, the health and safety officer, made preparations to take additional microbial samples tomorrow. The rest of us are gearing up for another test of the navigation antenna soon.

Justin Mansell, MDRS Crew 186 Journalist

P.S. Photos attached. Photo of the day: 10Jan2018 Preparing the lost astronaut.jpg

Journalist Report – January 7th

Sol 7 – Back to the Grind

Today’s clear skies allowed the warm sun to erase any lingering Martian frost and set the stage for our most ambitious EVA yet. The vast canyon surveyed in EVA 3 was but a tantalizing preview of the wonders that lay below. We had to return.

A team of 4 led by our commander, Max Fagin, suited up and departed the airlock around 10:30 am, reaching the turn-off to the Maxwell Montes around 11:15. But instead of walking north along the canyon’s ridge as we had done previously, the team searched eastward for a safe passage into the canyon itself. They succeeded and soon found themselves immersed in a sprawling labyrinth of rocky channels. Invigorated by the thrill of discovery, the team pressed on, and after some wandering was able to locate the base of the enormous stratified walls identified in EVA 3. The team’s geologist, Cesare Guariniello, studied the crossbeded layers of sandstone and salt with a trained eye, but the wander through the maze of chasms had cost the team time. Before long it was time to head back. The EVA team returned at 3:30 pm, exhausted, but with smiles on their faces.

Nothing exciting is planned for this evening and I’m sure today’s EVA crew will appreciate the downtime. Last night we played our first few trial runs of the self-made cooperative Mars-themed card game which we have named “Mars Quest”. We plan to iterate on the rules slightly, as the game felt a little too easy. But the team still greatly enjoyed the experience.

Justin Mansell, MDRS Crew 186 Journalist

Journalist Report – January 6th

[Sol 6] [Astronaut’s Day Off]

Today was a cold and gloomy day. Even if this wasn’t our day off, I reckon that the crew would have been less than enthusiastic about any EVAs. But the weather has been a perfect excuse for a slow day around the hab.

Our commander, Max Fagin, allowed the crew to sleep in past the usual wake-up time of 7:30 am. Instead of an early breakfast, he cooked us a brunch of French toast and scrambled eggs. The crew was skeptical of the powdered and freeze-dried eggs at first, but warmed up to the taste after a few bites.

Members of the team have since spent the day tending to odds and ends for our various experiments. A sprinkling of tenuous Martian snow dusted the landscape in the late afternoon and has served to make the metallic bulkheads and thick pressure doors of our habitat feel almost cozy. Tonight our executive officer, Kshitij Mall, will treat the crew to a dinner of noodles and fish. Afterwards the crew will relax over a cooperative Mars-themed card game written by myself during today’s free time.

All in all, though the day has been slow, it is a welcome break before we continue with our second EVA to the distant Maxwell Montes tomorrow.

Justin Mansell, MDRS Crew 186 Journalist

Journalist Report – January 5th

[Sol 5]

Temperatures have plummeted and the night left a thin dusting of frost that lingered in the shadows throughout the day. Last night the team planned one of our most complex EVAs yet. One that would require the maximum compliment of 5 crewmembers on EVA at once. The goal: locate elusive hematite “blueberries” (named for their rounded shape and color) that could indicate the presence of liquid surface water in the distant Martian past.

The convoy travelled south to revisit areas explored on EVA #2. This time the team focused our search around a possible ancient stream bed. But alas, the search was unsuccessful. Still, the EVA traversed a variety of terrain and allowed all members of the EVA to gain experience identifying the different geologic formations. Back at the hab, our health and safety officer, Sam Albert, has begun cataloguing microbial samples from around the hab to better understand the microbial environment.

I am also happy to report that last night’s pizza was a hit, if not only due to Cesare’s magic touch that saved the dough. The crew was able to fit in some astronomical observations of the double Martian moonrise before relaxing over a television show. Tomorrow we will continue these leisure activities and have dedicated the day to relaxation to mark the halfway point of our mission.

Justin Mansell, MDRS Crew 186 Journalist

P.S. Photos attached. Photo of the day: 05Jan2018 Building a microbe catalogue.jpg

Journalist Report – January 4th

[Sol 4]

Today proved relatively restful for most of the team. Cesare Guariniello, our geologist, cooked chocolate pancakes for the crew after an early morning yoga session once again led by Kshitij Mall, the executive officer. Though a hearty EVA to the north in search of salt deposits was planned, it was cut short by unanticipated difficulties with one of the ATVs. The EVA team of 4 returned just after 1 pm and, given the strenuous expeditions of the last few days, was more than happy to spend the remainder of the afternoon catching up on various tasks. We deployed a small robotic rover built by the NorCal Mars Society and took turns operating it remotely in the vicinity of the hab. Mark Gee, the green hab scientist, has also made significant progress on his microgreens research and gave the team a tour of his experiments. The gesture complimented the lecture Cesare gave to us last night on the local geology.

Tonight the team will try our hand at making pizza out of the abundance of powdered and freeze dried ingredients. Afterwards we will continue to relax over card games and television shows. Hopefully it will be enough to ease tensions over the nutella. Today’s EVA crew ascended a ridge named “Mount Nutella” (no joke) but the effort proved futile in replenishing our reserves.

Justin Mansell, MDRS Crew 186 Journalist

Journalist Report- January 3rd

[Sol 3]

Today’s EVA was as rewarding and productive as it was grueling. A team of four of us departed the airlock just after 10:30 am and embarked on an epic trek far to the east beyond the bounds explored by any previous crew.

Oh what they have been missing!

An hour of driving brought our rovers to the end of drivable path. From there we continued on foot to the northeast of the Maxwell Montes until we once again reached an impasse. This time: a sheer cliff overlooking a spectacular network of canyons stretching as far as the eye could see! But the real treat were the walls of exposed strata. A hundred feet tall, no less! Though our objective was simply a preliminary survey, I reckon that the crew geologist will soon be back to scrutinize the story contained within the jumbled concoction of earthy hues.

The walk back to our rovers was arduous in the sun and stagnant air, but the EVA team summoned its second wind and proceeded directly into the radio navigation experiment. We drove approximately halfway back to the habitat before splitting into pairs and parting ways. The commander, Max Fagin, and myself were one pair. We dismounted the rovers while the crew engineer, Melanie Grande, and executive officer, Kshitij Mall, returned to the habitat to continue maintenance on the main airlock.

As the two rovers rocked and bounced their way up the dirt path, the commander and I steeled ourselves for the long walk back to the hab. But rather than follow the road, we would be taking a more direct route: one guided through unfamiliar terrain by Morse tones broadcast from the hab and received by us on a utilitarian antenna. It worked perfectly. Homing in on the hab’s beacon, we returned with time enough to spare for many photos. When we at last entered the airlock the elapsed time was nearly 4 and half hours. Grueling indeed!

Back at hab, the crew engineer has been working hard to master the quirks of our fickle generator. The dwindling supply of nutella has also begun to bring out the worst in us. But spirits are high, and our geologist, Cesare Guariniello, has baked a delectable cake in celebration of our green hab scientist’s birthday.

Justin Mansell, MDRS Crew 186 Journalist

P.S. Photos attached. Photo of the day: 521750_4255200 03Jan2018 Stunning strata.jpg

Journalist Report – January 2nd

Crew 186 Journalist Report 2Jan2018

[Sol 2]

The weather is exceptional today. Only faint tendrils of moisture drift lazily across the boundless sky, and we were able to run the habitat for most of the day on solar power alone. The downside to all this, however, could be attested to by the members of the crew who endured the oppressively hot radiance on our second EVA.

Guided by the crew’s geologist, Cesare, the team drove far to the south in search of clay and hematite samples. At one of the sites the crew was able to ascend a nearby butte and was treated to a spectacular panorama of the endless Martian desert. They returned with an overwhelming number of photos and much exhaustion. Our Green hab scientist, Mark Gee, had an especially tiring day, as he spent much of the morning preparing an experiment growing microgreens in conditions of minimal input and testing the effects of the habitat biome on plant growth.

Following a brief rest, the crew returned to preparing experiments and performing maintenance duties on the habitat. These duties included an engineering EVA to move equipment and check the battery status the rovers.

Justin Mansell, MDRS Crew 186 Journalist