MARS DESERT RESEARCH STATION

Journalist Report – April 20th

Journalist report Sol 10 – 170420

Mathieu « Mitch » Vander Donckt

Crew Journalist and Scientist

Crew 178 – UCL to Mars

 

Today comes with great news! Especially for me because it is directly liked to my researches, but also for those who want to know more about the geology of Mars. When humans first explored Mars, decades before sending astronauts, using probes, flybys, and rovers, their main goal was to find liquid water or prove that liquid water flowed on the planet in the past. That is the first step in the search for life, because life as we know it cannot appear nor thrive without the presence of this liquid so common on Earth but hard to find here. One of those rovers is of particular interest to me: Curiosity. Sent in 2011 to Gale Crater – not so far from here –, and staying operational during several years instead of one, it achieved by far more than what was expected. Its mission: study the habitability of Mars. One of its tools: an X-Ray diffractometer, able to analyse the structure of minerals at nanoscale level. A powerful device that validated the theory of presence of water in past Mars.

This morning I was flushed with excitement after the landing of the new package sent by Orbital Convoy. A Bruker diffractometer, small sized but powerful, will help us make new discoveries. Unlike Curiosity, we can cover great distances and make several analyses a day. Last week we explored our environment, taking samples of rock, soil or dust. Now with this instrument we will be able to assess the habitability of Mars with more efficiency than a rover, answer questions about the formation of this planet, and look for vital resources with a view to colonize the planet.

With our journey coming to an end, every member of the crew is aware that we need to terminate our fieldwork. Boss improved our communications outside the Hab, which will probably serve to next crews. Hoover marked the dangerous places around the station to improve our security, only Tarzan didn’t get the concept and tried to fall off a cliff, without major damage. After many tests, Dips is finally ready to detect muons, a cosmic radiation. From what I heard, Tarzan proved that we will need a good processing of our waste water in order to grow our food –it’s no good to pee in a bowl of rice. Patch finished her measurements and found contrasting geological layers in the underground that will help us understand how much ancient Mars was different. And finally, Coach still enjoys making us sweat.

Being on our found reserve, we came back to a what I call a student diet: pasta and (homemade) pizza – not so bad, Tarzan is Italian.

In a couple of days, we will welcome the next crew and share our experience with them. Bad and good habits, the maintenance of the station and all they need to know to survive in the Martian wilderness.

Journalist Report – April 17th

Journalist report Sol 7 – 170417

Mathieu « Mitch » Vander Donckt

Crew Journalist and Scientist

Crew 178 – UCL to Mars

 

A new day arises on Mars. The moral of the team is high, everybody being busy with their experiment or discovering new places and landscapes during Extra Vehicular Activity. We landed a week ago, and in a way a routine set in. Same schedule for the meals, at midday we mostly eat the bread that I bake – bread or brick, it depends on the courtesy of my crewmates – and in the evening with all our powder and dehydrated food we can let our creativity loose. Sometimes you even need more imagination to figure out what is in your plate, but it usually is tasty. We make one expedition every day, in general with a different team, location, or objective. We need to be coordinated: the team going outside the hab cannot split up for security reasons and our time is limited, so every second on the field matters. Living together, we get to know each other better. Boss is undoubtedly good at making unfunny jokes, Quentin aka “Dips”, our crew astronomer, is incline to fall asleep when we don’t give him an electrical shock, and we are all impressed by how good Tarzan is at crashing is drone.

But of course, every day has its part of discoveries and advances – this is why we are here. Now I’m working in the Science Dome with Tarzan on hydroponic culture of rice. We were respectively chemist and biologist before being astronaut, and our different ways of thinking about the same experiment is a good illustration of how the diversity of background is beneficial when composing an astronaut crew. The goal of this experiment is to assess the impact of urea on our plantations, and evaluate the impact of using our waste water to grow our food. One more step towards the food autonomy of Mars!

Interestingly, we watched “The Martian” a few days ago on our humble homemade cinema room and found some similarities between the movie and us. Let’s hope that we will not forget one of our crew members when we go home next week…

Journalist Report – April 15th

Crew 178 Journalist report Sol 5  15April2017
Prepared by: Mathieu « Mitch » Vander Donckt, Crew 178 Journalist and Scientist
Crew 178 – UCL to Mars
It is astonishing how the situation can deteriorate in a few hours. Being isolated, we cannot depend on external assistance. We need to rely on our own skills and training and have a blind trust in the abilities of our crewmates. That was proved during last day’s incidents, that we afterward named “the cowboy crisis”.
Sol 3 ended with the disappearance of two crew members. The dust storm that raged that night made any expedition to lead an emergency rescue, impossible. Besides, protocol forbids to go outside of the base at night, whatever happens. It is of course for our own safety, the lives of all the crew cannot be put at risk for an operation with such uncertain outcomes. However, it was thwarting to stay inside in such a time. We defined an area of search near the sector they were surveying the last time we had contact with them and decided to send one of Tarzan’s probes with an infrared camera. Due to the storm, it crashed into the Northern Rim, a mountain range north of the station. It was a risk to take, and worth it! On the last images send by the probe, we could see our two fellows sheltered at the base of the Rim.
A few hours and some minor incidents later, they were in the hands of “Coach”, which is not only our persecutor – I often hear cries of pain from the first floor when she “wants to make us more fit and healthy than when we were on Earth” with her workout – but is also our Health and Safety Officer. Tonight, we will use our only rations of fresh food to celebrate their return and the halfway through our stay on Mars. Tarzan and Patch told us how, after a weary night without sleep, they encountered cowboys. As you know, that’s impossible on Mars. I guess it was tiredness, the low visibility, and queer-shaped rocks. Or maybe they have gone crazy… We will see that in the following days.

Journalist Report – April 13th

Crew 178 Journalist report 13 APR 2017

Journalist report Sol 3 – 170413
Mathieu « Mitch » Vander Donckt
Crew Journalist and Scientist
Crew 178 – UCL to Mars

A new day begins on Mars. I can see the sun rise from the Science Dome, where the windows are the largest of the station. We have more of them in the Habitation Module, looking like boat portholes, giving a nice view of the vicinity of the base but incomparable to the Dome’s 180° panorama. The sunrise in the morning is a predictable event, witnessed hundreds of times by the majority of human beings. Nevertheless, I never came across someone who couldn’t find beauty in it.

It is a bit different on Mars. Same Sun, same phenomenon, but a different impression. We orbit further away from the centre of our solar system than our neighbour the Earth, which makes the Sun look smaller. The composition of the atmosphere is different, and it is disturbing to see how the colour of the sky can change. At the horizon, we can see a violet radiance on top of a red stony landscape. Even with those unusual details, the slow rise of the Sun still somehow feels like a familiar vision, that makes me peaceful.

After the first expedition of yesterday, it is good to have a day in the station. It was an uncommon experience that we will repeat later during our stay on Mars, but we have to prepare more the next time. We were surprised that the spacesuits brought so much restrictions, it wasn’t the same version with which we trained on Earth. Furthermore, the experiment was a failure: the radar malfunctioned when we got to the area of interest. Patch tried to identify and solve the problem when we were in the field to avoid wasting the precious time that was allowed to our expedition, without any success. In the end, we had to get back to the station exhausted and without any results. After working on it for several hours, Patch found a solution and wishes to go out again.

At midday, it was decided that she would go, with Calogero, aka “Tarzan”, Second in Command and Crew Biologist. He wants to make 3D maps of different zones of interest, using very precise probes. Beneficial to everyone, those probes will be more accurate than satellites, and we know for sure that it is hazardous to go outside without a good knowledge of our environment.

They have departed for several hours now. The wind blows harder and harder, we can feel the walls of the base shivering. No new of “Tarzan” and “Patch”. The anxiety rises in the station, as one of the major natural danger during our missions outside are the dust storms. Winds of high speed and no visibility are real life-threatening hazards. Our medium-range communication system is deficient and we lost contact with them. It will be the job of “Boss” to improve our communications by the use of relays, but he still needs to put together the devices and place them.

Still no news. We can just wait and hope for the best.
Moon rising

 

Dehydrated cake

 

Night at MDRS

 

A good physical shape is mandatory

 

Astronaute photo shooting

 

Miner of liberty

Journalist Report – April 12th

Journalist report Sol 2 – 170412
Mathieu « Mitch » Vander Donckt
Crew Journalist and Scientist
Crew 178 – UCL to Mars

Second day on Mars. This time I wasn’t surprised at wake up – but of course still excited thinking about the day to come. I guess I got accustomed to my room. A bit cramped but we all knew that we would have to sacrifice comfort for effectiveness. Nevertheless, my personal effects on my shelf give a little warmth to the place and make it mine. The sleeping rooms of all the crew members open up on a half circular shared living room /kitchen /workroom. In a place with so much use, there is always someone. Today I found “Coach” and Elke, that we all call “Patch” now, cooking pancakes – what a delightful way to start a day on Mars! We quickly adapted to local food, composed mostly of dried meat, dried fruits, all sorts of unidentified powders, wheat flour and cereals. So, with water to rehydrate and a bit of imagination we can almost compete with the “Plat du Chef” from French restaurants, as our pineapple chicken from yesterday evening can testify.
Pancakes in the stomach, it was time to examine the package that got here yesterday by orbital convoy. It should have arrived days ago, before our arrival to prevent any delay in our tight schedule, but poor management at the Delivering Heavy Loads company deferred the shipment. The use of private companies in scientific space programs is now unavoidable, space being a place of high competition since the opening of the market a few years ago. It has its advantages, like the variety of solutions proposed for space travel and lower prices than when governmental space agencies had to take care of research and development all by themselves, but also bring its lot of difficulties. Due to the cheaper and faster trend, the reliability of those companies diminishes with time, and without news we were afraid that our package missed the connector in Mars orbit and got lost in the darkness of space – this happens more than you would know. After that it would have been a nightmare to get refunded and send another convoy – space law is complicated. But finally, we were glad to receive the last part of our equipment which was too heavy to bring in our shuttle.
With the approval of Mission Control and the arrival of the last pieces of equipment, Patch, the Crew Geologist, and myself could proceed to the first Extra Vehicular Activity. So we slipped our spacesuit on with the help of our crewmates, and felt a growing awareness of being in a very unique place at a very special time. Our first foot on Mars, prepared for years and dreamed for decades… The impatience rose even more when we got into the airlock.
Five minutes of depressurisation.
Our apparatus is ready: Patch, skillful geologist, is bringing a radar to survey the underground for a geophysical study, hoping to map the subterranean composition of Mars. As the airlock opens, we forget about everything else, like we’re in a dream. We walk to the area that we identified on our satellite map, accompanied by the encouragements of our team coming from our radio. However, the disillusion strikes hard! The spacesuits designed to protect us from the cold (-60°C outside) and solar radiations, weight hard, even in the weak gravitational field of Mars. All the systems conceived to protect us eventually seem to turn against us. We feel like in an oven, a box of lead, inescapable under sentence of death. A thought germs in my head. This is a settlement where humans are not welcome. This is a beautiful nature, full of hostility. This place is a trial of strength for our bodies and our minds.

 

Movie at MDRS
pancakes at MDRS
radar survey
taking soil sample
an evening at MDRS
EVA in urgency to contact

Journalist Report – March 31st

Journalist Report by Victoria LaBarre
March 31st, 2017
The crew gathered around for breakfast, then half set out on an EVA to Candor Chasm. The crew out on EVA spent a long time in Candor, traveling along the bottom of the Chasm and up the cliff-side. The EVA Crew found a cave in the cliff-side and took note of large/long strata of gypsum along the bottom of Candor.
The second half of the crew spent most of the day cleaning and cooking. Our greenhouse officer’s project experienced a setback after he mistakenly connected the negative wire to the positive terminal and vice versa. This ended up melting his battery, and making it unusable.
The good news is that our health and safety officer’s clock still works and the half of the crew that went out on EVA used it to time their depressurization in the front door’s airlock.
The two crew members who built the robot went ahead and prepared the robot for travel and packed it back into the suitcase since the arm’s gear is broken completely.
After lunch, the second half of the crew, set out on a microbiologist EVA in which they collected soil samples from the Gypsum Fields, the area surrounding the Hab, the Cow Patty fields, Ancient Sand Dunes, and the Creek Bed. These samples will later be taken to a lab at McLennan Community College and stained to find bacterial colonies in hopes of finding the area of inhibition, and thereby discovering bacteria that may prove useful for developing antibiotics.
After dinner, the entire crew split up and cleaned the Hab. The crew vacuumed, mopped, windexed the windows, cleaned the shower and packed up all our projects and rooms. Dished were washed, the kitchen and stove were wiped down and our cook took inventory of the pantry.  All the trash was thrown out and the refrigerator was cleaned out.

Journalist Report – March 30th

Journalist Report by Victoria LaBarre
March 30th/2017
This morning our crew was ecstatic to discover that Shannon had gone ahead and brought a Port-a-Potty for us to use the pipes underneath the Hab had been completely disconnected by a previous crew, rendering our sewage system completely useless. (We have worked out a system of discarding waste in bags and dumping them outside in the trash cans by the engineering airlock before Shannon brought us the Port-a-Potty. Exaggeration or not, there has never been a group of people so excited to receive a Port-a-Potty in the history of all mankind.
Soon after the crew broke in the Port-a-Potty, the first half of the crew went out for our first EVA. This EVA is the second half of the Geology EVA that had been cut short due to the NPR journalist’s presence and will also give our geologist a second chance to measure the height of the Little Canyon.
The two crew members working on the robot took the gearboxes off the wheels and adjusted the robot to prepare for our afternoon EVA where our crew will test the strength and dexterity of the robotic arm by picking up different sized rocks out near Cow Patty field. The robot was only able to pick up one rock due to damage from riding in the back or the rover and will need to be fixed before testing it again. The rock picked up by the robotic arm was taken back to the Hab to be weighed in the lab afterward.
The half of the crew out on EVA was excited to return to a working clock in the airlock. Our geologist/health and safety officer’s, Caleb Li, project to make a fully functioning clock was successful, and he installed the clock on the side of the front door airlock for the EVA crew members to use.
While one-half of the crew was out on EVA, our microbiologist began and finished the gram stain process for the bacterial samples taken previously and attempted to use the microscope.
After returning to the Hab, the crew gathered around our greenhouse officer’s bike generator project and watched as one of our crew members rode it so fast that he reached the 50 calories burned mark in 3 minutes.
After dinner, the crew spent a few hours helping coming up with a marketing plan to promote MDRS at our community college, McLennan Community College.

Journalist Report – March 29th

Crew 177 Journalist Report 29Mar2017
Victoria LaBarre, XO/Chemist
This morning the crew woke up a little later than expected because we all stayed up late looking at the stars. The view was spectacular, and the crew was thrilled to see different constellations so clearly, such as the little dipper, Ursa Major, Leo and Lynx. Tonight, our astronomers plan to re-calibrate the telescope so that we can see Jupiter.
Today we only sent out four crew members on a single EVA to Little Canyon to study geological features and collect dirt samples to test in the lab later.  Measuring the canyon proved difficult with the measuring tape since it was too short, so our geologist plans to return to the canyon on a later EVA with a rope that he can mark out on EVA and measure back at the Hab.
After lunch, our crew regrouped and assessed our projects and how to fix the ones that were not working. After this meeting, crew members went downstairs and worked on their projects, reaping positive results. Our microbiologist went around the lab swabbing random objects to grow bacteria on an auger, our greenhouse keeper got his bike generator working again and was able to run two tests, and the two crew members working on the robot soldered together a USB to USB cord made from two cut up charger cords and were able to send gain a connection between the robot’s brain and controller. The robot now can move its axels and arm, although it cannot move the heavy wheels.
The two crew members hypothesize that the 9 volt batteries do not feed enough power to the gearboxes to move the gears, chain, sprockets and wheel altogether. On a positive note, the arm of the robot is fully functional and these two crewmates plan to go on an EVA later to test the strength and dexterity of the robot’s arm.
Dinner was also very eventful as it was the OX/Journalist’s twenty-first birthday. The crew made a birthday cake with candles on top and all signed a birthday card with well wishes. Later, the crew broke out the glow sticks and looked at the stars again.
Unfortunately, the astronomers could not get the telescope to focus, so the distinguishing marks of Jupiter couldn’t be seen. However, glow sticks, a cup of hot cocoa and lots of laughs as we all looks up at the stars more than made up for the telescope.

Journalist Report – March 27th

Victoria LaBarre, XO and Chemist for Crew 177, on March 27.2017

 

Today four crew members went out on EVA to Candor Chasm and collected five rock samples to conduct chemistry experiments on, later this week in the lab. The most significant geological feature noted on this EVA was the large strata of Gypsum at the bottom of Candor.

While four members were out on EVA, the rest of the crew spent their time delegating tasks. Caleb swept the floor and cleaned the kitchen to provide more useable counter space. Estaban set up his manual bike generator in preparation for testing and hung up the McLennan Community College flag.

After receiving a radio message from the four crew members out on EVA that they were on their way back to the Hab, the rest of the crew began cooking lunch together. Hot bread, beef stew and a strawberry-jam crumble were served still-steaming as soon at the four crew members were helped out of their space suits.

After lunch, the five rock samples were taken to the lab and prepared for testing later this week by breaking them down into 2 gram samples. Estaban then had Pitchayapa test out his generator by having her petal on the bike to produce enough voltage to recharge a battery, which was measured with a multimeter. Elijah and I then took some time to reassemble our robot and solder together wires. I later gave other members of the crew who were interested a tutorial on how to properly use a soldering iron.

Joseph our cook, decided to delegate cooking duties in a rotation in to promote fairness when assigning who cleans the dishes and kitchen afterwards. Today, Pitchayapa and Caleb cooked a potato casserole and chicken fried rice. This was a new experience for Caleb, who has trouble reading in English (his second language) and cooking American food, instead of Chinese. Overall, Caleb mentioned that he genuinely enjoyed cooking American style food and that he was very proud that everyone enjoyed his cooking.

During cooking, a storm started with 20 mile and hour winds. The roof cap blew off and Elijah, our engineer, was kept busy pulling it back down into place, securing it and then going outside to adjust the satellite when we all noticed that the lights on the wi-fi had gone out.

After dinner, the crew sat down to brainstorm solutions for fixing the toilet and how to remove waste in the meantime after some crew members discovered that it was near to overflowing and would not go down. A report on the situation has been sent to CapCom, but due to the internet cutting in and out, we are still waiting for directions.

Note: pictures are by our photographer and microbiologist, Pitchayapa Jingjit.

Discussing how to get to Candor Chasma.

 

We made it to Candor Chasma.

 

Trying figured out the best way to Candor Chasma.

 

Posting at the Candor Chasma.

 

On the way to Candor Chasma.

 

Filling up with gas for the next EVA.

Journalist Report – March 24th

Crew 176 Press Officer // 24 March 2017
Krzysztof Jedrzejak
24 March 2017 – Sol 13

Dear Mission Support,

I am sending you my journalist report. This time it concerns the last three days at MDRS which focused on the following activities:

•    Video interviews conducted with 2 out of the 5 crew members, namely Crew Commander Natalia Zalewska and Green Hab/Human-Robot Interaction Officer Karolina Zawieska. These recordings were one of the most important parts of a documentary movie we are working on. In the interviews, crew members shared their subjective experience related to the two weeks spent at MDRS.

•    Preparation of the documentary photography and video session while conducting field tests of the rover Ares.

•    Preparation of the Social Media content.

These are the last days of our simulation. Right now, we are focus on taking last video shots of our crew and spectacular landscapes. Moreover, we are preparing MDRS for the upcoming rotation and a new Crew.

Best regards,
Krzysztof Jedrzejak

Press Officer, MDRS Crew 176