Journalist Report – November 25th

Crew 216 Journalist Report 25-Nov-19

Sol: 1

Author’s Name: Evgenia Alexandrova

After months of travels you finally arrive on Mars, your first day has just began, what do you do? I suppose in life every hour of the mission will be planned years ahead. At the MDRS we woke up this morning with an idea what each of us had to do, still we had to figure out the best way to organize our day. There were two EVAs planned, and we kept ourselves busy the rest of the sol. There was some GreenHab work, observatory testing, and film equipment adjustments. This made me think of whether there is a place for inspiration in space exploration. Or is it only pure discipline that reigns everything there? My guess is during the Mars colonization, discipline wouldn’t work without one thing you need to bring to any great idea to life – motivation. Motivation makes you get up at 0600 before sunrise. Motivation makes you carry 16kgs with you on an EVA. Motivation makes the shower-free days less unbearable. And what is motivation? It is when something constantly occupies your mind, gives you goosebumps, and creates an energy flow within your body. Sounds exactly like inspiration.

Here is a recent creation by one crew member to illustrate what kind of inspiration you can get on Mars:

How to describe a day on Mars

It was our first down from the stars

We went in search of rocks of note

And fixed the solar telescope

We have so much to do and test

We’re glad we’re at MDRS

Journalist Report – November 22th

Fri 22 Nov Sol 12
by Guy Murphy
Like Mars drying up after the Hesperian, the dark red wet areas and
puddles around the
Hab are receding and the dry paler new crust is taking over. And so we
finish our last
day of Expedition Boomerang in full simulation mode, and prepare to hand
over the
campus to the new incoming crew and move to the next phase of our
As with a real crew on Mars preparing their base for a new mission, we
have been busy
cleaning the interiors of each of the buildings and making sure
everything is in order.
As Greenhab officer, I planted my final batch of seeds, carefully tidied
and swept the
greenhouse and wrote up some guidence notes for the next crew. An
inventory of the Hab
pantry has been forwarded, as well as final reports on the various
campus systems. The
emphasis on crew reporting here reflects a very real need for accurate
reportage from the Mars surface if shortages and breakdowns on a distant
world are to
be avoided.
For me, it has been deeply rewarding to return to the MDRS after 16
years. I have
enjoyed introducing a motivated and talented team of people to a Mars
simulation. I am very impressed at how the campus has evolved. A great
deal of
sustained experiment and thought has gone into many different aspects of
the campus
infrastructure and its operational protocols. The analogue space suits
are very
sophisticated. The MDRS begun as a speculative concept in the early
2000s, and, that it
continues to operate, reflects both the hard work of many people and the
deep value of
the project.
Expedition Boomerang has been the first Australian led MDRS mission. It
has brought
together individuals from across Australia and New Zealand. We have
completed research
projects across various disciplines, and learnt to live and work
together in harmonious
teams in constrained conditions. The MDRS provides a physical platform
in which to
experience the issues associated with deep space exploration. This is
complemented by
the mindset and mental resources crew bring to it. Crews 214 and 215
brought a wide
range of talents to the expedition, and all involved have benefited
greatly from the
experience. We have appreciated the work of Mission Support and the
Outpost crew. We
are sad to leave.
We look forward to meeting and assisting Crew 216 tomorrow.

Journalist Report – November 21st

The white structures of the campus are overlaid on a primordial landscape of pink, grey, orange and white. The Hab accommodates 6 crew in its upper level, but one of the
reasons it feels psychologically comfortable is the views out of the 5 upper level windows. These help us keep in touch with the daily cycle. We don’t worry about the neighbors looking in.

Above the top stair landing facing south is one of two large circular windows. This
looks directly down across a flat parking area in front of the Hab enclosed by mounds
and hillocks to the south and east, where the rovers and other vehicles park and can be
monitored. The RAM can be seen off to the right. This window is located above the main
entry airlock and stairs, though these are not visible from here. Looming above the
adjacent mounds on the distant horizon is Mount Henry. This is the highest landform
visible from the Hab, and has a blueish tinge, now capped by snow.
The second large window in the upper level living space faces east, and is located over
the couch. It overlooks the Greenhab and Science Dome, and also the approach to the
MDRS from the public road heading northwards into the wider adjacent public lands. This
allows us to monitor our EVA’s departing and returning to the campus, and also any
other traffic that may be in the area. A hill on the far side of the road has a
distinctive square rock at the summit and is known as ‘Zubrin’s Head’. The land in that
direction is generally flat, though accommodates large eroded, rounded mounds of
varying sizes and colors. Through this window we enjoy beautiful sunrises.
Two small square windows are located above the kitchen bench. One facing north-east provides a view of the tunnel to the Science Dome and to the Musk Observatory. The separate forms of the second observatory and solar array are also visible. The flat
plain continues north and west, with large hills on the horizon in the far distance,
and medium sized hills with distinctive colored sedimentary striping and curved
silhouettes in the middle distance to the north. We can see the rovers driving off the
north through this window too, and pick up their radios as they return. It was through
this window we saw the flashes of Andrew’s heliopgraph during our tests the first week of the expedition. The small square window above the sink catches a fuller view of the striped hills to the north, with the adjacent section of plain in the foreground.
My stateroom on the far right of the row of 6 is the only one to have a window. Its
square frame floods the room with natural light and allows views of the adjacent low
rise where the Musk Observatory formerly stood. Looming behind this is the side of the escarpment above, topped by a layer of sandstone that was once a seabed, as attested by the surface layer of fossilized shells.
Windows will be prized on Mars.

Crew 215 Journalist Report 20Nov2019

[title Journalist Report – November 20th]

Wed 20 Nov Sol 10
by Guy Murphy
Water is important out here in the desert, but it is not always in the right place.
Crew maintenace of the MDRS campus includes regulating and monitoring its use, given
all water here needs to be brought in. It is rationed, and used thoughfully, in the Hab
and the Greenhab. Water can be in the wrong place when it rains, and as anticipated,
there was heavy rain last night. In the morning the pot holes, depressions and cracks
in the ground were filled with water, the clays acting as aquicludes, forming an
impermeable barrier preventing it from draining away. The crusty surface had become
slipperly mud, the landscape looking more like the liquid methane-drenched surface of
Titan than dry, dusty Mars.
Water is the focus of the in situ resource utilisation (ISRU) research we have been
undertaking during Crews 214 and 215. ISRU is a key concept for pioneering Mars. It
involves producing key products needed for human survival using resources available on
the Martian surface, rather than bringing them from Earth. These may include water,
oxygen, fuel, energy, building or industrial materials but most importantly water. It
is possible, but extremely costly to launch these things from Earth, and then it needs
to be delivered on site to exactly where it is needed. Why import your water, if you
can obtain it on site?
Andrew Wheeler’s ISRU experiments involve extracting water from the gypsum that we have
been collecting from surrounding localities whilst on EVA. This is a hydated mineral
similar to those found in surface deposits on Mars. Heating the gypsum causes the water
to be released, and today Andrew and Larissa collected over 10 millilitres from the
formerly dry, crystalline rock. This demonstrates a process which could, in principle,
be used to obtain water on Mars. This is important for human consumption, plant
production and for creating secondary products such as oxygen and hydrogen for further
Larger settlements of more than a temporary character will need Martian manufactured
building materials. To this end, its should be possible to make bricks, concrete, glass
and metals using available surface resources. Today we tested a potential Martian
technology. Andrew and Larissa used a dehydrated gypsum (called anhydrite) and sand mix
to create small cement tiles for strength testing.


Journalist Report – Nov 10th

Sun 10 Nov Sol 0
by Guy Murphy

Today marked the completion of the changeover between Crews 214 and 215, with Andrew Wheeler taking over as Crew Commander. The first fortnight of Expedition Boomerang has been different from most crew rotations, in that it comprised 4 people. Early Mars mission plans generally call for crew sizes of between 4-8, so this was not an unrealistic scenario, though MDRS crews usually comprise at least 6. In practice, this meant sharing Hab duties and report writing requirements amongst fewer hands, while also trying to complete our research projects over the fortnight.

The crew bonded and worked together extremely well. We rose to a series of unforeseen challenges along the way, including a shortage of food in the first week. Crew 214 demonstrated that a smaller crew can run a mission successfully if it contains the right mix of skills, motivation, and temperaments.

At around 10 am Dianne and Sandy carried their luggage downstairs and farewelled the MDRS after 15 extraordinary days here. Andrew and I are staying on for Crew 215, so we’re very sad to see them leave, but knew they would be soon enjoying the comforts of Earth life back at Grand Junction. Their departure left the 6 team members of Crew 215 together at the campus.

After lunch, Atila and David came over from the outpost to train the new crew members in the use of radios, space suits, and rovers. Shannon Rupert provided further briefings about other issues.

Relative to the beginning of Crew 214, the Hab pantries are now abundantly stocked with a variety of foods, including some treats the new crew members brought up from Grand Junction. Larissa and Jennifer prepared a magnificent spaghetti bolognese for dinner.

Unfortunately, communications were down in the evening (possibly due to another solar storm?), but we were able to submit mission reports via a secondary channel.

Tomorrow morning we will enter full simulation mode. We will wake up on Mars.

Crew 215 Journalist Report 19Nov2019

[title Journalist Report – November 19th]

Tues 19 Nov Sol 9
by Guy Murphy
Today was planned against the countdown to rain expected this evening, which will turn
the surrounding landscape of absorbant clays into unpassable slush. The usually
dessicating air is become more humid. Any outdoor activities we hoped to do on this
crew rotation needed to be completed by the end of today. Shane, Larissa and I ventured
out on EVA tracing the entry road towards the edge of the public lands to return some
rock samples to their original context. We stopped to take some final photos of each
other wearing simulated space suits along the way. We have completed our sampling of
magnetic particles undertaken as part of the micro-meteorite study, so this was most
likely the final EVA for Crew 215.
When we were nearest Hanksville, my mobile phone suddenly begun beeping with text
messages. I had momentarily picked up a phone signal for the first time in some weeks.
Whether by design or otherwise, the MDRS campus is located in a mobile phone signal
black spot, and I had not received any text messages while there.
On Mars, communication with home will be strained. The internet protocal has been
extended to communicate with other planets and deep space, and between Earth and Mars
this will involve time delays of between approximately 4 and 24 minutes each way
depending on where the planets are located. Bandwidth will be restricted, so the high
speed, data rich existance people on Earth are accustomed to will not be possible.
Reflecting these constraints, the MDRS has a data limits on its internet connection,
which has to be shared between the crew and also used for submitting formal reports.
This is one of the major lifestyle differences of living here in simulation mode, and
takes some getting used to, but its a chance to rediscover the moment and ponder how
much of our ‘connectedness’ in really necessary. Online video is out of the question,
though new recipes for the bread machine are not.
The lack of phone contact and limited internet is supplemented with direct radio with
the nearby onsite support crew. This evening we are hearing crackling on the radio of
distant approaching storms. A lot of static electricity is generated in this dry
environment, and depending on my clothing, there may be a small crack or flash when I
touch the metal ladder balustrade at night.

Journalist Report – Nov 17th

Sun 17 Nov Sol 7
by Guy Murphy

Illustrations of an early Mars landing often show a Habitat, Earth return vehicle, solar plant or a nuclear reactor, supply landers and a small greenhouse ‘for growing the mission’s food’. Usually, the greenhouses shown are way too small to meaningfully grow anything, but a real Mars base is going to need fresh produce to supplement the crew’s diet and to pioneer the growth of large scale crops.

The Greenhab at the MDRS is a good size for demonstrating the range of crops that can be grown in greenhouse conditions, and after a few months should be able to provide something for the crew’s
meal plates at least once a day. I have commenced as Greenhab Officer at the start of the field season. I am therefore planting crops with a time horizon lasting till May 2020. (There are no perennial plants here).

Some crops such as radishes and lettuces will be ready to harvest very quickly. It is best to plant these every month or so in modest quantities, so the crew doesn’t suddenly have more on hand than it can eat or store. Species with long yield times should be planted as soon as possible to allow time to mature. These include tomatoes, capsicums, onions and members of the cucurbit family such as pumpkins, zucchini, cucumbers, and melons. Some of these can be stored as harvested, or dried or frozen.

There are no bees or other insects to pollinate flowers, which means there will need to be hand-pollinated instead. Larger growing plants will need larger pots. Trailing plants are good because they can grow over a much larger area than their soil container, running over the ground or up over frames. The legume family will produce its own nitrogen in its roof system, providing benefits to the soil that can be available to other plants. On Mars, species where all the plants can be eaten (or fed to other edible creatures) will be given preference, as these will help minimize waste.

With these considerations, we now have tomatoes, capsium, cucumbers, snow peas, onions, carrots, radishes, strawberries, spinach and rocket currently growing in the Greenhab, with more to be planted with the next soil delivery. As long as the Greenhab officer in the future crews tends the crops, a bountiful harvest should be possible here.

On Mars, the crew will need larger greenhouses to establish a more reliable food supply and allow for crop failures, including accidental pressurisation. Artificial soils based on the surface regolith will need to be created, with reliable heating, water sources, pressurisation, and lighting. Some argue hydroponic systems might be more efficient.

Future Martian gardeners should not have to worry about insects and rodents at least. We, on the other hand, saw a wild white-tailed antelope squirrel, which had wandered inside from the adjacent plain. Before I leave here I will pot up the bag of narcissus bulbs, like a pot or 2 of these inside the Hab would bring some cheer.

Crew 215 Journalist Report 16Nov2019

[title Journalist Report – November 16th]

[category journalist-report]

Sat 16 Nov
Sol 6
by Guy Murphy
Nobody wakes up planning on having a life-threatening emergency. This is especially
true on Mars. A similar range of medical events that occurs on Earth can strike on
Mars, but with the added complications of limited medical expertise, supplies and
facilities, and only delayed advice from Earth. Evacuation to your home planet is not
an option. If you are stricken on the surface, whether illness or accident, you will
need to be evacuated to the safety of a pressurised space. Outside you are vulnerable
to death by space suit depressurisation and freezing. In deciding on a rescue, you
colleagues will be subjecting themselves to risk. Knowing Mars is a dangerous place,
crew will have rehearsed emergency procedures many times, so as far as possible they
can protect human life without endangering their own. Last night, we put our rescue
procedure to the test with a simulated emergency and rescue.
Our crew engineer Shane Usher suited up and exited the airlock on a routine check of
Hab systems, including the electric rovers. He was in radio contact with Jennifer Lane.
While examining Spirit rover, he pretended to suffer an electric shock, and was
observed lying apparently unconscious next to the rover. His radio fell silent.
The remaining crew inside the Hab sprang to action. Larissa and I were quickly
nominated to go out through the airlock to bring Shane indoors. The time to put on
space suits, check radios and exit the airlock passed painfully slowly. We waited
through the depressurisation countdown, me holding a heavy duty carry sheet stretcher
and Larissa a board for dragging over up the stairs. At the rover we scanned for
danger, then tried to rouse Shane. He was (playing) unconscious. You can’t check a
person’s pulse or breathing directly through a space suit. We laid him sidewards on the
sheet, and dragged him to the hab steps. Deciding not to use the board, we dragged him
up to the platform by the door, which soon became very tiring. We bent the patient’s
legs to get him inside the airlock before commencing depressurisation. The inner door
opened, I stepped through and the other crew took over dragging our pretend casualty
through to a larger area where our medical officer Steve Whitfield could initiate first aid.
Overall, I think we performed reasonably well under the circumstance. We knew it was a
simulation and that it was scheduled, but it was still a tense experience. It was a
reminder that many emergencies can be planned for, and the extent of preparation can
have a significant impact on the outcome.
This afternoon Larissa, Shane and I returned to the micrometeorite site, collecting the
remaining samples and string grid, and returned to the Hab without incident.

Journalist Report Nov 15th

Fri 15 Nov Sol 5

by Guy Murphy

This morning Andrew and Jennifer ventured out on an EVA to continue sampling at the micro-meteorite site I visited yesterday. Unusually, they were buzzed by an unknown drone. I stayed at the Hab for the morning catching up the admin of life, planting further seeds in the Greenhab early afternoon. Late in the day, we undertook a simulated emergency rescue, which I will describe in more detail tomorrow.

The MDRS is located at an elevation of approximately 1300 metres in a semi-arid climatic zone. It is in part of the Colorado plateau that is a cold desert ecology rather than a hot desert. Not all deserts are hot, though it is much warmer here in summer. It is now near the end of autumn (or fall). While there is a sprinking of brown, dead vegetation in a few localities, the area around the campus is completely devoid of green. Outside, there are no natural sounds at all. No birds, only an occasional insect to be found after a long search.

The weird mounded landscape is formed of pale, powdery swellinbg clays known as bentonite at its lower reaches rather than sand. Start walking up the an incline, and the seemingly firm crust gives way, and your foot will fall into a large moving and sliding depression filling with fine powder. It seldom rains here, but when it does the landscape transforms to slushy clay than can barely be driven upon, let alone walked across for any distance. Dry or wet, it it hard not to carry it into the Hab airlocks on your feet or on your clothes, where it then trails into the lower interior level and starts to gradually coat flat surfaces of the upper level as it gets churned up as dust.

The problems with dust management Crew 215 are encountering mirror those early explorers will face on Mars. Martian dust is extremely fine. It has been generated by billions of years of aeolian activity, having being blown around and abraded in a dry environment. It is likely to stick to the external surfaces of space suits and follow them inside through airlocks. It may be activated by static electricty. Andrew and Jennifer did their best to shake off all dust this morning, but a small amount always comes in.

Journalist Report – November 13th

Wed 13 Nov Sol 3
by Guy Murphy
Today was Jennifer Lane’s birthday on Mars. While she was out on EVA during the afternoon with Andrew and Shane, the upper level of the Hab was decorated with balloons and streamers. Larissa baked a sponge cake with cherry cream, with Jennifers name spelt on the top in coloured icing balls. For main course, a large focaccia bread topped with olives was also created to have with soup. Our festive dinner was celebrated with a toast of bubbly (carbonated water).
Celebrating special occasions such as this on long duration missions is a tradition in places such as Antarctica. They offer an opportunity to vary an otherwise repetitive weekly schedule, when harsh weather conditions confine crew indoors. Crew may pack special foods, drink and amusements ahead of time to surprise the other team members on the day, as we did this evening. They can also help bring together international crew, where special events can bring together the whole crew, providing an opportunity to share national cuisines. The only non-Australian in Crew 215 is Larissa Wilson, who is from New Zealand. She had already tried Vegemite.
Tomato, spinach and rocket seedlings were planted in the Greenhab today, hopefully to gift fresh green garden salads to future crew.