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.

Journalist Report – November 14th

Thurs 14 Nov Sol 4
by Guy Murphy
This morning I undertook my first extravehicular activity (EVA) of this Crew rotation.
Steve, Larissa and I took a pair of small 4 wheeled electric rovers out along the road
to the south on the campus where we are sampling for micro-meteorites. The simulated
EVA space suits restrict the line of sight, requiring the wearer to orientate their
body to look to the side rather than turn their head. This is most noticeable driving
the rovers, as you cannot easily see behind you from the driver’s seat. The suits
include gloves, which remove the sense of touch that would normally inform contact with
surfaces and objects around you. The enclosed helmets create a void of silence, verbal
contact only possible using radios.
We spent an hour and a half at the sample collection site. Radio dialogue with the
others was supplemented by hand signals. Space suits can get hot when you are working,
despite internal air conditioning and cooling. If your face gets itchy, you cannot
scratch your nose. But its very beautiful being outside in this landscape and an
opportunity for some physical exercise. Working together we completed nearby 1/3rd of
the mission’s planned sampling at this site before returning to the Hab.
On Mars, humans are inherently more efficient than robots when it comes to field
research, and engineering requiring human cognition and dexterity. This is why we need
humans there. EVAs will only be done when strictly necessary, as any venture outside is
inherently dangerous. Exposure to background radiation will discourage individuals from
logging up too much EVA time. People will never go out by themselves, only in pairs or
more. Living indoors for many months on end, any chance to be outside under open skies
will be highly valued.
A restricted Martian pantry need not result in a bland diet. This morning Larissa
served freshly baked croissants, produced with dried butter and flour. We have been
making blocks of hard cheese by filling tins with dried grated cheese, pouring in hot
water, pressing the cheese with forks, then draining and refrigerating. Once taken from
their moulds and aired, the sliced cheese is great to serve on dry biscuits with pickles.

Journalist Report – November 12th

Tues 12 Nov Sol 2
by Guy Murphy
Shane Usher and Steve Whitfield undertook their first EVAs today, on a morning excursion led by our geologist and Mission Commander, Andrew Wheeler. Larissa and Jennifer helped them get ready. The process starts with the donning of flight suits and hiking boots. The astronauts then select and test radios, and put on headsets. They are helped into their single or double piece space suits, which have internal ventilation fans that need to be activated. Once ready, the crew stand in the intermediate airlock space as a 5 minute simulated decompression occurs – a patient wait for those on each side of the airlock door. The explorers then step through the outer airlock door and onto the dusty surface to begin work.
As Greenhab Officer for the mission, I spent spent some of the day working in the outside of the main Hab. The Greenhab is a freestanding greenhouse connected by a simulated pressurised tunnel which is large enough to partially complement the diets of crew with vegetables at peak harvest time. Utah is very cold in winter, but during the day the cloudless skies quickly warm the Greenhab interior. Lights and heaters come on at night.
The operational season for the MDRS has just begun, so we are still at the planting stage. Seeds for kitchen herbs have germinated. Larger plants are in terra cotta pots. Strawberries have begun flowering. Today I planted carrot and radish seed, and soon I will sow tomatoes, capsium and rocket. Given our diet of shelf storable dehydrated food, fresh greens are a luxury on Mars. While labour intensive, it is worth the effort of cultivation. Tending the plants is an enjoyable, relaxing activity. The presence of a Greenhab Officer in each crew should ensure continuity in plant care over the operational season of the campus.
We started lunch with Larissa’s entree of vegetarian pulled pork. (Ingredients included shredded banana skins.) Steve helped prepare a pesto pasta for dinner. Soon crew will be enjoying pasta with pesto made from Greenhab grown Basil.

Journalist Report – Nov 11th

Mon 11 Nov Sol 1
by Guy Murphy

This morning we woke up on Mars. We emerged from our sleeping quarters at 7 am to views of the Sun rising across an alien landscape through the upper-level Hab windows. For the next 12 days, we are in full simulation mode (sim). We do not go outside of the designated pressurised areas of the campus unless wearing space suits and following a depressurisation protocol. We have to make do with the supplies we have, and undertake our research projects and Hab maintenance while not breaking sim.

The crew is following a set daily schedule over the course of the mission, which includes rising at 7 am and lights out at 10 pm. This is to keep everyone working together on the same sleep cycle, and get the most of the available daylight hours.

We are fortunate to have relatively warm, clear and dry days forecast for the next fortnight. Typically in this part of Utah it is much colder at this time of year, with greater odds of precipitation.
The first EVA (Extra-Vehicular Activity) onto the Martian surface was completed this morning, with Larissa and Jennifer taking their first steps on another world.

The 11th of November is Remembrance Day in Australia and New Zealand. As is customary, the crew stopped while out in the field for a minute of silence at 11 am to honour Australian and New Zealand service men and women.

For lunch, we consumed the remaining spaghetti Bolognese from last night. Early afternoon, I showed the new crew how to make butter, cheese, and bread from the various dry ingredients in our stores. The bread machine is proving its worth.

On a long-duration mission with a limited pantry, we both crave novelty and must avoid wasting food products. Larissa is experimenting with creating a vegetarian mock pulled pork dish derived from banana skins. She has candied some orange and mandarine peel to include in a fruit bread she will bake tomorrow.

Journalist Report – Nov 8th

Journalist Report Nov 8

Journalist: Sandy Dance

Crew 214 Sol 12 Journalist Report

by Sandy Dance

We’ve done the EVAs, we’ve done the science, its all over now bar the shouting! Well, actually the cleaning! Yes, we spent the morning vacuuming, mopping, inventoring, and general tidying up! Otherwise its all pretty quiet today.

Last night we had great success! Using the bread maker to make pizza dough, we then used the brand new pizza pan to create a remarkably genuine pizza using the dehydrated tomato, capsicum and cheese, and spam, salmon, and herbs. Probably one of our best evening meals so far!

It has been really interesting exploring how to do field science under the restrictions of wearing space suits, communicating by radio and commuting to the field by electric rover. The other important aspect is how to live in a small group under very constraining circumstances, eating a quite restricted diet of long life foods, and remaining functional. Albeit our 2 or 4 weeks is quite short compared with the 2 or 3 years of an actual mission. In summary I think what we are doing here can genuinly contribute to understanding what will be required on Mars itself!

Its been a great two weeks, we’ve learnt a lot. I’ll never look up and see Mars the same again!

Journalist Report – Nov 6th

Wed 6 Nov Sol 10
by Sandy Dance

Another day, another EVA! But we are not so blasé. T

his morning Guy and I went out to the micrometeorite grid to gather more magnetic particles. We motor along the road in our space suits and buggies, turn a corner and there is a large collection of vehicles. Oh no, our patch has been invaded!

Closer inspection reveals a film crew with all you would expect: catering, equipment, props. We wave as we pass, and get multiply photographed in return. They seemed to take the sight of Martians motoring by in their stride.

The micrometeorite gathering was a success, having done a couple more rows of the grid, dealing with the footprints left by an unknown interloper the other day by noting which squares were contaminated and carrying on.

Then back at the Science Dome Andrew begins analysing yesterday’s gypsum by heating it and seeing the water condensation on a beaker, then finding the weight difference: 0.4g of water from 17g of rock.

Success!

Later that afternoon we spot a couple of strangers walking on the hill near the Outpost. After failing to raise Shannon on the radio, we break sim and investigate. Turns out they were heading to the film crew up the road but got confused by our rather SciFi setup here. The film, they tell us, features futuristic Native Americans in a post-apocalyptic dystopia.

Last night we were successful spotting Saturn with the Celestron telescope: great sightseeing the rings!