Crew 218 Journalist Report 30Dec2019

Journalist Report
Ben Durkee, Crew 218 Journalist

Sol 08

The snowy hill east of the Habitat delayed the sunrise just long enough for us to awaken to a sky of vibrant pink and orange. Nothing clears the morning haze from your eyes quite like gawking at the natural beauty of a Martian sunrise. We were fortunate to have such a gentle wake-up call, because the rest of the day was on a tight itinerary.

After an efficient breakfast of astronaut nutrition paste (dehydrated fruit smoothie) we promptly began preparing Shefali and LuzMa for their morning EVA. After an egress that went infinitely smoother than yesterday’s, they set off into the icy brink. The two ladies had the honor of taking our rovers "T" and "Custy" (formerly "Spirit" and "Curiosity," but some of the letters rubbed off) on their first voyage in a week.

The rovers persevered through the quagmire of snow, ice, and mud to deliver the duo to their destination unscathed. The two performed some meteorological surveys that are far beyond my pay-grade and returned to the Hab far ahead of schedule. In an effort to kill two birds with one Martian stone, LuzMa also performed her extravehicular engineer duties before they both entered the airlock for re-compression. Everything went off without a hitch, and they were inside and free of their cumbersome oxygen-backpacks with time to spare.

More time to dedicate to the most important task of the day. See, the past few sols have been consistently below freezing, and our water pipe has been an ice pipe for long enough that we are in full survival mode. The first thing to go when the water gets tight is dish duty, and by today we had a tower rivaling the wonders of the world constructed solely of dirty dishes. Our water reserve was so sparse this afternoon that we had to resort to creating a fire brigade. We spent the period between EVAs today assembly-lining water from the static tank all the way up to the accessible loft tank with our few clean kitchen pots. Our efficiency would have made Henry Ford proud – probably because we had pretty compelling motivation.

Once our liquid life reached an acceptable quantity, there was just enough time for a quick lunch before Cesare, Pat, and I had to prepare for our EVA. We raced to see who could be properly suited up first, and as expected our commander with multiple notches in his Mars belt pulled a clean victory. This time I abundantly confirmed that I was wearing the right footwear. I’m sure I’ll make many more mistakes this mission, but I will definitely not be making that one again.

While we were acting as a human aqueduct, our rovers were replenishing their batteries back to full. For good reason – we intended to use it all. We depressurized and embarked on our longest EVA yet. Our destination: as far north as we could go.

There is a clear division drawn in mud on my flight suit. A contrast between my left side: cozy within the roll cage of trusty ol’ "Custy," and my right side: exposed to the elements as I held out the antenna for some data collection on our northward exodus. We adventured far into the Martian horizon on a journey that felt like an eternity for the muscles in my right arm. We exited the zone of radio contact with the Hab, and then we pushed on even farther. Eventually Cesare’s rover read 60% battery remaining, our threshold for having to cease our migration. We pulled over right there, and the spot proved to be ideal.

It had a flat region – perfect for Pat’s seismic equipment – and a phenomenal view of the nearby mountain – a playground for me and my camera. We spent equal time setting up the equipment as we did gathering data. With our remaining time, we explored the surrounding terrain and then gave our rovers a good 20-point turn to head back home.

Naturally the journey somehow managed to be uphill both ways, but the rovers took it like champs and we were back in no time. By the time we got ourselves and our equipment back in the airlock, it was 4:00 PM sharp. A perfect three hour EVA. We raced out of our suits again, but this time it was fueled by the necessity to empty our bladders. We all parsed our data from the field and then put on some SpongeBob to turn our brains off and recover from the day. Much needed.

Through the yellow rectangle man’s uncanny ability to evaporate time, it was suddenly time for dinner and reports. As Pat slaves away in the kitchen, I’m hunched over my keyboard relaying the day’s events to the best of my ability. It took a week, but I think we’re getting the hang of this whole "Martian Living" thing. Now we wrap up today so we can do it again tomorrow, but even better.

Another sol, another dollar.

Journalist Report – December 29th

Journalist Report
Ben Durkee, Crew 218 Journalist

Sol 07

"Hydrate or die-drate!"

This was our mantra of the day as we prepared for our first EVA in a week. There’s a knife’s edge to tiptoe between under-insulating and over-bundling before heading out onto the snowy Martian terrain. The consequences of playing your cards wrong are either suffering icy numbness or heat exhaustion. Regardless of your position on the thermal spectrum, lugging around the EMU (Extravehicular Mobility Unit [my favorite acronym]) is some serious cardio. The only thing you’ll be burning more than calories is precious H2O, and you can’t drink while in EMU mode, so drink up beforehand and maybe store some in your cheeks too. But don’t forget that our EMUs don’t have lavatory functionality yet, so don’t drink too much. Basically, if your EVA is longer than two hours, godspeed.

Knowing that we were rusty with EVA procedures, we began preparing for our expedition over an hour prior. I reassembled the antenna I built for my research project and gave it one last test before its maiden voyage. Antenna is a strong word – it’s more like a haphazard amalgamation of PVC, copper wire, and coax cable. In the hopes that the electrical tape would hold together, we began suiting up. Pat, Jonathan, and Shefali helped LuzMa, Cesare, and I wriggle into our suits. We meticulously checked and double-checked every aspect of our expeditionary ensembles. Hats, gloves, bandannas, radios, microphones, EMUs on, straps tightened, helmets secured – ready to rock and roll.

Cue the fog machine and dramatic music; we stepped into the airlock. Pause the music, please allow five minutes for full depressurization. The time drags on as the 3 of us are sardine’d in the airlock cylinder with my PVC Frankenstein’s monster. Four minutes remaining. Three. As the air gets thinner our suits get tighter, something seems amiss. Why do my feet feel so… comfortable? The tape securing my microphone to my face contorts as my smile vanishes. I pretzel my spine to get downward view with the helmet on and sure enough: I’m still wearing my slippers. All of that time preparing for our first EVA in a while, and I overlooked my footwear of all things. Here we are about to embark on a monumental exploratory enterprise and I’m equipped like a middle-aged man stepping out to fetch this morning’s copy of The Martian Times.

I immediately alerted the crew and we began repressurizing the chamber. The next few minutes were slated to be agony as I had to stand there and receive infinite (deserved) ridicule over the radio. However, as if it were destiny, LuzMa’s hat jumped off of her head within the EMU helmet. She squirmed her head around the expensive fishbowl trying to reclaim her beanie, but to no avail. I’m glad the radio microphones are muted by default, because I was cackling uncontrollably in my helmet. I now stand by the claim that my shoe mishap was a noble sacrifice of dignity to rescue LuzMa from her impending headwear disaster. I’m never gonna live that down.

We re-assimilated with the Habitat air and fixed all of our wardrobe malfunctions. That was the practice round; now for the real deal. We must have shaken off all the rust on the first attempt, because our second attempt went flawlessly! We ventured out into the frozen wastes and returned to Marble Ritual, the same destination as our training EVA so many moons ago. But this time we were heading there to gather data for the first time. There was something sentimental about returning to that site one week later as full-fledged Martian survivors and scientists. We gathered geological, meteorological, and radio frequency data for our respective personal projects and returned to the Hab safe and sound (and sweaty).

We slithered out of our EMU suits accomplished and exasperated, wrapping up our EVA. With that excitement at its end, we immersed ourselves in data parsing and the energy of the day quickly waned. Before we knew it, the sun and moon had traded places and it was time for reports and dinner. I write this now through watery eyes from accidentally inhaling cayenne pepper powder. I think it’s time for me to concede that today is not my day and retire for the night. It’s bright and early tomorrow for some more potential EVAs. We’ve got a week left to make up for lost science time, let’s make the best of it!

Journalist Report – December 28th

Journalist Report
Ben Durkee, Crew 218 Journalist

Sol 06

I swear these morning workouts get more and more intense every day. Sitting up has now become an ordeal, and don’t even get me started on descending our glorified ladder of a staircase. I feel like a 21-year-old going on octogenarian – perhaps we age faster on Mars? I may have to request some dentures in the next cargo resupply craft sent from Earth…

In spite of our body aches, we spent a good chunk of time today sweeping the snow from our inter-Habitat tunnels again. We still haven’t been able to locate that pesky leak that’s allowing the precipitation in. I suspect it is the Martian mouse from Sol 04 trying to take us out one by one. We haven’t been able to track him down, yet, but have affectionately named him Marvin.

It’s very interesting the way the mind wanders when given the time and space to do so.

“When Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson studies his family history, is it considered genealogy or geology?”

This is the question Pat (the crew geologist) and I pondered over lunch. After involving the rest of the crew in our whirlwind debate, the general consensus became the latter, but we welcome outside opinions on the matter.

After discussing our philosophical quandary, the curtain of clouds parted for the first time in days to reveal unfettered, unfiltered sunlight. Not only does this imply the most snow melting power we’ve had yet, but it also means the sun was finally ripe for observation. Cesare rushed out to the observatory to carpe this rare diem.

Once he had methodically set up all of the instrumentation, he invited us in individually to join in his observation. Eventually my turn rolled around, and I removed my glasses and peered into the gauntlet of mirrors and lenses. We fiddled with the knobs until I got a view of the sun. Circular, as expected. A bit more adjustment yielded better focus, and I was able to watch the surface of the sun subtly pulsate and squirm, like a colossal heart of nuclear fusion.

Cesare spent some time adjusting machinery and software far beyond in an attempt to capture some solar activity. We weren’t able to observe any sun spots or granulation, but in hindsight that may be a blessing considering Mars’s lack of shielding against such radioactive tumult.

The sun soon escaped our grasp and retreated behind the horizon, so we too retreated to the Hab. A dash of Smash Bros. to wind down, a pinch of pepper on our dinner, and the evening had escaped us in a similar fashion. We’ve a cold night ahead of us, but hopefully the sun will return unobstructed to thaw our Martian landscape. If the stars align, we may even be able to go on EVA tomorrow and launch our scientific discoveries into full swing. Fingers crossed!

style=”font-size:12pt”> Report – style=”font-size:12pt”> 27th

Journalist Report

Ben Durkee, Crew 218 Journalist

Sol 05

Today we awoke to find our pump to transfer water from the static tank to the loft tank was non-operational! The static tank is our outdoor water reserve containing all of our liquid life for the entire mission, whereas the loft tank is the tank in the Hab that supplies all of our utilities with water directly. In short, this anomaly meant we had to strictly ration our water usage (even more so than usual) because we only had access to the water remaining in the loft tank until we could sort this out.

It’s a sobering reminder of the hostility of our surroundings when something goes awry that threatens our Martian livelihood. Admittedly, we have slowly slipped into complacency over the past few days, and this was a stark wake-up call. We troubleshooted as much as we could without going on EVA and came up with a few theories for the malfunction. We decided to give it some time and minimize our aqua consumption in the meantime.

It’s also important for us to remember that EVA is a privilege, rather than a right. Our main goal is to survive on this deceptively deadly planet – the work of thousands back on Earth rides on our perseverance.

In light of this, the crew has taken our lack of EVA-ability in stride! We spent a lot of time today planning our GreenHab reshuffle and did some preliminary reorganization of the plants. We only made the urgent changes today – namely moving the shriveling sprouts out of the path of the heater. That unit throws out heat to the point where our snow peas were starting to look like the plant equivalent of the guy who opens the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Now they are happily hanging above the spices. Hopefully they turn around and recover from being blasted by the industrial-size hairdryer!

We may have committed an OSHA violation or two while working in the GreenHab, but that’s alright – there’s no rules on Mars! (Sarcasm – we are using our best judgment and staying safe, don’t worry!) However that begs the question: are there laws on Mars? If there are, it probably adheres to international maritime law. That means our Hab is technically a naval vessel! I must spend some time over the next few days coming up with a good nautical name for our trusty ship. But I digress.

Once we headed back to the Hab, we tested the pump once more and it worked with flying colors. Turns out the pipes had frozen overnight – all we needed was a little patience and a lot of sun to remedy our drought. Those little rays traveled millions upon millions of miles from the center of our solar system just to reestablish our access to drinking water. We are eternally grateful. Now to do all those dishes that we let accumulate…

The biggest bright side of our time indoors is it offers us the opportunity for heaps of crew bonding over chores, movies, and games. Synergy is critical for efficient operations in any context, and we are becoming a tight-knit bunch. When we do receive a window for EVA, we are going to be the most productive, well-oiled machine of a crew on the entire planet. In hindsight, I suppose that’s a pretty easy benchmark to reach seeing as we’re the only people on the planet… but nonetheless I’m confident that we’ll exceed expectations.

And not a moment too soon – the meteorological powers that be have predicted quite a few consecutive days of sun. Just the medicine we need to clear up the white blanket covering our landscape. If all goes well, we may be lucky enough to get some EVA time on Sunday! Regardless, priority number one remains the same: survive. We conquer this unforgiving Martian frontier to improve life for those on Earth.

Journalist Report – December 26th

Journalist Report
Ben Durkee, Crew 218 Journalist

Sol 04

It’s sol three of being trapped in the Hab. Our first sol without the puzzle to keep us
sane. The snow shows no intention of melting in time for us to be able to EVA tomorrow.
My crewmates have reported seeing a mouse-sized Martian creature in the Hab. It may very
well be a mirage. A fire alarm went off in the RAM (Repair & Assembly Module) and we
rejoiced having something interesting happen. Luckily, it was a false alarm.

Sanctuary has been found in the digital realm. The six of us rotated around playing
Super Smash Bros., abusing our four controllers with incessant button mashing. It’s
strange how much release can be derived from those random AABB button combos – but hey, I’d rather we take it all out on Jigglypuff than on each other.

However, contrary to the picture I’ve just painted, we aren’t completely aimless.
Shefali and LuzMa both have research projects that can be performed from the confines of the Hab. The rest of us have been helping out as much as we can, but one requires taking readings over long spans of time and the other is a psychological study, so they are both slow boils.

Jonathan also has big ambitions for us to reorganize the GreenHab tomorrow if we are
inhibited from EVAing. It appears the current agricultural arrangement is inefficient
and even detrimental to the growth of a few of the young plants. I’m excited because
the Save the Sprouts Initiative offers the rest of us something to occupy our hands and
minds.

The sun has decided it’s had enough of tag-teaming our retinas with the snow and has
begun to hibernate behind the Martian hills. We are winding down with our reports as the
aroma of dinner being assembled fills the air. I think we can rest easy tonight knowing
we have been the most productive we possibly can in spite of the red planet’s attempts
to keep us constricted. You can stop us from stretching our legs, but you can’t stop
science! If nothing else, we have survived another day on this alien world, once thought
unfit for human life.

Journalist Report Dec 25th

Journalist Report

Ben Durkee, Crew 218 Journalist

Sol 03

White Christmars

The dulcet tones of a yuletide choir slipped under my door and roused me from my sleep at exactly 8:30 AM Mars Standard Time. White sunlight radiating off the powdered terrain outside permeated through the fog outside and met my eyes. The smell of cinnamon and

peppermint swirled ’round the Hab and lifted sleepy spirits. I can’t think of a better way to wake up on Christmars day.

We assembled our own breakfasts and dove back into the puzzle to get our cognitive gears

in motion again. During our half-focused small talk, we learned that our fearless leader, Cesare, was a member of the very choir that woke us up. We learn something incredible about one another every sol. Once we had finished eating and had puzzled the sleep from our eyes, we began our holiday festivities. Cesare, our operatic Martian Santa Claus, had gotten all of us Xmas candy and individual gifts that revealed themselves to be adorable snowman fridge magnets.

As if that wasn’t charming enough, he went into his quarters and came back out with a handful of Christmas cards for us that he had stealthily collected back on Earth. There were so many lovely greetings from writers all around the world, including a card from the entire Class 9EW of the Queen’s School in Chester, UK. It seemed that for a moment the mist from outside had somehow gotten in my eyes.

Once our first round of festivities concluded, it was time for some Habitat maintenance. It appeared that the snow had found a few leaks in the tunnels between our buildings and collected on the floor. Myself, Cesare, and Pat held our breaths and set off to sweep the tunnels clean and locate the leaks. We had the tunnels spick and span (and safe to traverse) in no time.

Or so we thought. In reality, by the time we were done it was time to begin preparing Christmars lunch! While we were working in the tunnels, Jonathan, Shefali, and LuzMa

were collecting a very plentiful harvest in the GreenHab. While they took the mass of the greens, we prepared some spaghetti, mashed potatoes, and assorted feast necessities. The GreenHabbers returned with their bounty and turned it into a delicious fresh salad that tasted like summer. A nice culinary reminder of home!

We invited some friendly Martian visitors (the Assistant Program Directors) for our Christmars banquet. If there’s anyone who deserves to join in our festivities, it’s the folks who make all of this possible! It was an incredible meal that had all of us on the border of going comatose; for the first time, the worries of the hostile Martian landscape melted away.

We saw our guests out the airlock, and returned to the puzzle whilst tagging each other in and out for Hab chores. By sunset, we were all gathered around the table as Jonathan theatrically placed the final piece. We were awash with relief as we had finally vanquished our collective nemesis… until we realized we had to delicately flip the whole thing over to sign our crew number on the back. We bounced a lot of (frankly ridiculous) ideas off of one another until Pat took charge and finessed the entire cardboard mass over without unseating a single piece. I may be on Mars experiencing a one-in-a-million interplanetary adventure, but that takes the cake for the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.

Signing our crew as the 5th of 218 crews to complete the puzzle felt like a monumental accomplishment. Watching Cesare draw the Purdue “Block P” was akin to how I imagine it felt to watch Julius Caesar lead his army across the Rubicon River. Satisfied and exhausted from our arduous accomplishment, we began drafting our reports to CAPCOM.

So here I sit now, buoyant from a perfect White Christmars on the red planet, documenting this day so I may never forget it. Thank you to everyone who wrote us a card and Happy Holidays to all reading this from Earth!

Journalist Report – December 24th

Journalist Report

Ben Durkee, Crew 218 Journalist

Sol 02

The meteorological crystal ball predicted some nasty weather for today, so we were unauthorized to have any EVA’s to avoid being caught in it. On the bright side, this meant we were able to sleep in a bit today.

We metamorphosed from our sleeping bag cocoons toasty and well-rested this morning. Since we were to be cooped up in the Hab all day, we began our morning with some yoga and breathing exercises to stay in shape. After following our rigid Excel spreadsheet of lethargic calisthenics, we tackled our day in a meditative state.

This zen didn’t last long, though, as the heavens promptly opened and proved the forecast right. Apparently, when it rains on Mars, it pours (in a solid-state). Albeit destructive to our scientific progress, we couldn’t help but marvel at the beauty of a Martian snowfall.

Since we had already warmed up our bodies, it was time to sharpen our minds. We whipped out a puzzle to pass the time and may have bitten off more than we could chew. This Mars-themed jigsaw has proven very difficult, what with it being 60% non-descript black space. After a while we all started getting lost in the void of ebony puzzle pieces.

We only have two personal research projects that can be performed without EVA, so LuzMa and Shefali peeled off to work on those as we decided we needed a break from the puzzle. I’m genuinely unsure and impressed at how they had the mental fortitude to be productive after all that – at that point the puzzle had sapped me of all my (admittedly scarce) brain power. Unfortunately Shefali’s research met an untimely roadblock due to computer issues, but I gather that LuzMa’s work is going well!

As I write this, we are finishing dinner and preparing to dive back into the mind-bending cardboard abyss. The snow is slowing, but it has accumulated more than enough to keep us in here for another Sol at a minimum. Though we are confined to the Hab tomorrow, we can only embrace the variables out of our control and enjoy a lovely White Christmars on the red planet.

I’m sure the audience on Earth are waiting with bated breath to hear how the puzzle saga continues, so I will be sure to keep you posted. Consider it a Christmars gift from me to you.

Happy holidays!

Journalist Report – December 23rd

  

Journalist Report
Ben Durkee, Crew 218 Journalist

Sol 01

Martians like dehydrated sweet potato!

We awoke this morning to find our trap had worked spectacularly and we had captured the

strawberry bandit. I expected to find something resembling the R.O.U.S.’s (Rodents of

Unusual Size) from the Princess Bride, but the creature was more closely reminiscent of

an Earth field mouse. We attempted to communicate, but the language barrier was too

high to surmount. Alas, maybe we will have more luck in the future with a better

understanding of these creatures (or more sweet potatoes).

Our EVA’s (Extra-Vehicular Activities) today were a hybrid of training and tradition.

We split into a team of three for the first expedition (myself, Cesare and Shefali) and

then Pat and LuzMa paired up for the second. Our task: take the rovers about half a mile

out to Marble Ritual for each crew member to place a pebble in the customary pebble

baskets, as 200 crews have done before us.

5 minutes feels like an eternity in the airlock. Given our lack of internet

connectivity, we can’t really discuss current events. And rock-paper-scissors only

gets you so far. Once we had fully depressurized, we emerged from the Hab and retrieved

our rovers. Shefali and Cesare led the way in Curiosity, and I brought up the rear with

Spirit.

After completing the ceremonial goal of our EVA, we began exploring the surrounding

terrain to build familiarity with the EVA suits. We climbed 60 feet up a nearby hill,

and the view upon cresting it was breathtaking. I only mean that figuratively, thank

goodness. The suits may be a bulky, back-breaking burden, but they do a great job of

maintaining our life support (so I have no place to complain).

I led the charge back to the Hab, after which began the 5 minutes of fun. Once we had

re-pressurized and shed our airtight skin, Pat and LuzMa suited up and set off to follow

in our footsteps. I monitored their journey from the Hab via radio, and we all found

consolation in listening to them struggle with the same things we struggled with.

The dynamic duo returned and we all remained confined to the Hab for the remainder of

the day. After separating to do our individual tasks, some daylight still endured. While

most of the crew relaxed and napped, Pat and I set up Super Smash Brothers for some

future team bonding. Nothing provides more catharsis than digitally beating the stuffing

out of each other.

There seems to be an inclement Martian front on the way that will prohibit us from EVA,

so we are very glad we got to stretch our legs today. We may be exclusively breathing

Hab air for the next few days…

Journalist Report – December 22nd

  
 
Journalist Report

Ben Durkee, Crew 218 Journalist

Waking up on Mars for the first time is a starkly humbling experience. You emerge from

your personal oven labeled "Crew Quarters" for some fresh (synthesized) air. After

taking a few breaths you realize that that very air is a privilege afforded to you by

the tin can that surrounds you. The tin can that is now your home for the foreseeable

future.

Once we had all shaken the sleep from our eyes, we began haphazardly assembling

breakfast for ourselves. Jonathan demonstrated his prowess in the kitchen right off

the bat. His potion was an assembly of dehydrated eggs - the most foul abomination

I have ever seen and smelled - and dehydrated milk and butter - tied for second

place. Yet against all odds, he whipped up some mighty fine scrambled eggs in a

process I can only describe as culinary sorcery. I look forward to seeing (and

tasting) more of such magic in the coming weeks!

After breakfast, Shefali and I got drafted to dispose of some heavy stones outside of

the Hab (which I'm still convinced was a form of clandestine physical training). After

our rugged rock repositioning, we were given a full tour of the Hab. It was on this tour

that we discovered the presence of an uninvited GreenHab guest. We suspect there is

some kind of Martian rodent that has been chomping on our precious strawberry sprouts!

We've laid a trap in the GreenHab, and will hopefully meet the extraterrestrial

culprit very soon...

In the shadow of the trapping excitement, we began our actual training. This featured a

rotation of Rover and ATV training, followed by training on the EVA suits. There's a

unique comedic value to the notion that it took equally long to teach us how to put a

suit on as it did to teach us how to operate two separate motor vehicles. We are

professionals, we swear.

As the sun retires behind the Martian landscape, we too begin to wind down our

activities. A big day tomorrow calls for some good rest tonight. Generously, the

rotation of Mars offers us an extra 37 minutes to work with every day. I

believe tonight that implies 37 more minutes of well-deserved sleep. Tomorrow, we face

our first true Martian day equipped with the know-how and acuity to kick this planet's

butt!

Journalist Report – December 22nd

  

 Journalist Report

Ben Durkee, Crew 218 Journalist

Waking up on Mars for the first time is a starkly humbling experience. You emerge from

your personal oven labeled "Crew Quarters" for some fresh (synthesized) air. After

taking a few breaths you realize that that very air is a privilege afforded to you by

the tin can that surrounds you. The tin can that is now your home for the foreseeable

future.

Once we had all shaken the sleep from our eyes, we began haphazardly assembling

breakfast for ourselves. Jonathan demonstrated his prowess in the kitchen right off

the bat. His potion was an assembly of dehydrated eggs - the most foul abomination

I have ever seen and smelled - and dehydrated milk and butter - tied for second

place. Yet against all odds, he whipped up some mighty fine scrambled eggs in a

process I can only describe as culinary sorcery. I look forward to seeing (and

tasting) more of such magic in the coming weeks!

After breakfast, Shefali and I got drafted to dispose of some heavy stones outside of

the Hab (which I'm still convinced was a form of clandestine physical training). After

our rugged rock repositioning, we were given a full tour of the Hab. It was on this tour

that we discovered the presence of an uninvited GreenHab guest. We suspect there is

some kind of Martian rodent that has been chomping on our precious strawberry sprouts!

We've laid a trap in the GreenHab, and will hopefully meet the extraterrestrial

culprit very soon...

In the shadow of the trapping excitement, we began our actual training. This featured a

rotation of Rover and ATV training, followed by training on the EVA suits. There's a

unique comedic value to the notion that it took equally long to teach us how to put a

suit on as it did to teach us how to operate two separate motor vehicles. We are

professionals, we swear.

The post-training briefing was punctuated by some energetic (and welcome) pounces from

the crew trainer's puppy. Maybe it's the isolation speaking, but I think dogs are even

cuter on Mars. After all the hard work and excitement, we finally got a moment to

stop and breathe, and then we splintered off to fulfill our personal duties.

As the sun retires behind the Martian landscape, we too begin to wind down our

activities. A big day tomorrow calls for some good rest tonight. Generously, the

rotation of Mars offers us an extra 37 minutes to work with every day. I

believe tonight that implies 37 more minutes of well-deserved sleep. Tomorrow, we face

our first true Martian day equipped with the know-how and acuity to kick this planet's

butt!