MARS DESERT RESEARCH STATION

Journalist Report – January 26th

Another busy day here at MDRS for Crew 173. While Idriss continued to work on his 3D printed bricks, Richard beavered away in the GreenHab as well as baking biscuits, bread and preparing dinner for tonight. Its Australia day and he’s hosting our ultimate Culture night. He already served us ‘Vege-mite’ for breakfast this morning, so who knows whats up for dinner. By the way, for the uninitiated, ‘Vegemite’ is a sandwich spread made from yeast extract. Its a savoury spread and the flavour is hard to describe, except to say that you usually either love it or hate it. Personally I love it, but not so much for Roy! He hadn’t tried it before, and assuming that since the spread was brown it was some sort of sweet-tasting chocolate spread. Hmmm. It took his taste buds a few seconds to catch up & once they did, his face said it all!
I joined Michaela and Roy on a geo-biological EVA to the Butte. It was our longest EVA but certainly worth it. The views of the basin and surrounding environs around MDRS were absolutely stunning. I think I took about 600 pictures! Not enough- I could have taken a thousand more!
And now the sun has gone down and Sol 11 is almost over. Just one more full day here on our own before we are joined by Crew 174.  Its starting to feel like we’re not going to get everything done. I’m sure the next couple of days will be special for us all as we spend our last few hours here together. What a buzz!
by Niamh Shaw
Crew Journalist & Artist.

Journalist Report – January 25th

Sol 10 Journal Report
by Niamh Shaw
Crew Journalist & Artist
We had aliens here today- from France, on Earth. Laurent and Jacques, two journalists from the French television station FR2. We got super self-aware once they arrived, all of us whispering together about what we should do, how to act naturally, what we should say. But of course Jacques and Lau-rent were lovely men, who were probably more out of their comfort zone than we were, driving all the way out to the middle of the desert to meet us. It all seemed to go very well, they filmed us at work in the GreenHAB and Science Dome and then in the communal area. I was editing for most of the morn-ing on my computer so was fortunate to be out of the way for most of their filming. But then they arrived in the communal area, and as Rick was making lunch there I was on my computer, both of us desperately trying not to be aware of a camera sticking in our faces. And trying to remain as natural and nonchalant as possible, realising everything I was saying seems staged, way too energetic and completely out of character.
This is kind of how it went down:
Scene 33a: INT. COMMUNAL AREA OF HAB. DAYTIME
NIAMH is working on her computer and RICK is making lunch. They are both hard at work. A film crew for a news channel are filming them from the top corner of the room. The crew seem bored.
NIAMH and RICK want to look good for the television and are eager to make a good impression.
NIAMH
Mmm, that smells lovely, Rick. What are you making?
RICK
How long does it take to boil rice? This is taking for ever
He tastes the rice and seems displeased
NIAMH
20 minutes for brown rice
RICK
This isn’t even brown rice!
NIAMH
(smiling)
Wow! Really? Thats odd.
They both laugh. Too much (it really wasn’t that funny)
NIAMH
(laughing)
It normally takes 20 minutes for brown rice anyway
Silence.
The crew whisper together.
Enter MICHAELA. She notices the film crew at the top of the stairs and doesn’t know whether she should enter the shot or not.  The crew notice MICHAELA and direct her to enter the shot.  MICHAELA enters the shot.
MICHAELA
(smiling)
That smells lovely. Hows it coming along?
RICK
Five minutes
MICHAELA
(enthusiastic)
Great!
They both smile. NIAMH smiles too. Too much.
Silence.
Scene 33b: INT. COMMUNAL AREA OF HAB. FIVE MINUTES LATER.
NIAMH is working on her computer and RICK is making lunch. They are both hard at word. MICHAELA is in her commander’s room. The crew are checking their phones.
More silence.
RICK
(smiling)
Lunch is ready. Will you let everyone know?
NIAMH
(enthusiastic)
Do you need a hand?
RICK
I’m good thanks.
MICHAELA emerges from her room.
MICHAELA
Lunch is ready?
IDRISS and ROY enter the shot. They notice the film crew at the top of the stairs and don’t know whether they should enter the shot or not.  The crew notice IDRISS and ROY and direct them to enter the shot. IDRISS and ROY want to look good for the television and are eager to make a good impres-sion.
IDRISS and ROY
(smiling)
That smells lovely. Hows it coming along?
RICK
Its ready
IDRISS and ROY
(enthusiastic)
Great!
RICK, MICHAELA, NIAMH, IDRISS and ROY smile at each other. Too much. Again.
Everyone sits down to eat. NIAMH, RICK, MICHAELA, IDRISS and ROY smile at the crew.  Too much.
Silence.
END SCENE.
But thats how it rolls round here. Ah the life of a simulated Astronaut on Mars. And we love it!
by Niamh Shaw
Crew Journalist & Artist.

Journalist Report – January 24th

Sol 9 Journal Report
by Niamh Shaw
Crew Journalist & Artist
 
 
Its great that we all share a common passion to inspire the next generation to dream big and believe that they can achieve anything if they are committed and hard-working. So its especially nice that we have been able to do so much outreach during our time at MDRS. In the past 2 days we have communicated with 2 schools- yesterday we spoke to the ‘Young Israeli Astronaut Academy’ cadets, and today with students who are attending the same school that Idriss went to. Even with his old English teacher, Mrs Magalie. They asked us all about our experience here, from the experiments we are doing to our daily lives at MDRS. At the end of the call, a shy student came on and wanted to tell Idriss that knowing that he was an inspiration for him since he went to his school. And if Idriss could do it then so could here.  It was a special moment and thankfully I had the voice recorder on to capture it.
 
Earlier today Michaela spoke with Slovakia’s biggest radio station, we chimed in a little bit too. Tomorrow a French news channel are coming to make a small documentary about our mission. We are receiving questions from our followers on social media, which we are answering every day and posting.  People have responded very positively and we can see that our mission is going to continue long after our time at MDRS.
 
This is why we do what we do. This is why we are all here at MDRS. If we fail at all our experiments and all my art is never realised, it no longer matters. Success is ours.
 
Warms the cockles of my heart.
 
Peace out, peeps!

Journalist Report – January 22nd

Mars
By Niamh Shaw
Crew Artist & Journalist Crew 173
It’s 1977 and I’m 8 years old.
We have just moved to a small town in Ireland called Carlow.
It’s summertime so we have no school, and I have only my cousin to play with.
She’s nice, but she’s 2 years younger than me and we have very little in common.
I like school and learning, so I’m bored a lot this summer.
Dad is leaving for work and he asks me what my favourite planet is.
I tell him its Saturn.
I’m not sure why.
I think it’s because its the only planet with rings.
He asks me to make a report about Saturn.
I’m thrilled.
I have something finally to do with my day!
I open the Children’s Encyclopaedia and get to work.
I make a big poster, using my new colouring pencils.
It’s filled with facts and drawings.
I can’t wait to show it to Dad when he gets home later.
But now that I’m done, I’m bored again.
I’ve never lived in the countryside before.
I haven’t yet discovered the fields around me that will soon provide me with limitless fun for the next 2 years until we move again to another small Irish town.
So I continue to read the encyclopaedia.
And learn about all the other planets in our solar system.
I go to John’s room and study the poster on his wall.
It’s a poster from National Geographic. Dad gave it to him.
Having read the encyclopaedia, I realise it’s of our solar system and all the other stars in our local interstellar neighbourhood.
I like it.
John comes in and tells me more about the poster.
And Alpha Centauri.
And that his favourite planet is Mars.
He tells me about Mars.
It’s now my favourite planet too.
Roy can’t remember a time when he didn’t know about Mars. His mother would tell him about our solar system all the time. She had a special chart that could predict the position of the stars and planets in the night sky and they would use it to stargaze most nights.
Rick learned about planets in school when he was aged around 8, but for as long as he could remember, he was always interested in nature, rocks, fish and the world around him. His curiosity for space and Mars began in earnest in University while studying geology.
Idriss was 13. Living in Morocco, he spent a lot of time in the Atlas mountains, and with such low light pollution so high above the cities, the area had stunning views of the night sky. He needed to know what he was looking at and so he signed up for an Astronomy weekend. They told him about the French magazine ‘Ciel et Espace’, which he still reads to this day (he brought a copy with him to MDRS to share with us).  And thus, our astronomer crew member was hooked on the stars and planets.
I wish I could tell when our commander first learned about Mars. But Michaela’s cooking dinner at the moment and also has to communicate with CapCOMM shortly. Its Slovakia night here so its all on her. I will have to tell you her story another time.
We have all been inspired in so many different ways. But somehow we all ended up here at MDRS with our shared passion for Mars. I wonder who we will inspire, with our experience here?
Here’s to another great Culture night here at MDRS.  Hura do toho a na zdravie!
CREW 173
by Niamh Shaw
Crew Artist & Journalist

Journalist Report – January 20th

“Smells, snow and potato”
By Niamh Shaw
Crew Artist & Journalist Crew 173
We got a delivery of water on Sol 4 so we treated ourselves to our first shower in 6 days (not Roy, he’s the hardcore outdoorsy type of the crew). It was agreed that the guys shower last night while Michaela and I waited until this morning. Rick was the first one to jump in. Idriss then took his turn and of course being French (all French are born with panache, an innate sense of style and a certain ‘Je ne sais quoi’), beat p’oor Aussie Rick’ out of the park!  And so ‘Independence Day’, our movie choice for the night (Commanders selection), was upstaged intermittently by an intoxicating waft of sandalwood, fresh linen and some sort of pine freshness. Michaela and I enjoyed our showers very much, especially since we both have long tresses to maintain. I felt AMAZING after it too. You would imagine, being ladies, that we would make an even bigger impact fragrance-wise, post-shower. I just asked everyone if they had a similar olfactory overload to last night, if not greater. They didn’t. What? Aren’t the women supposed to be the experts in smelling sweetly? I dunno…. We should do a study at MDRS on this.. go figure..
It was a snowy day this morning with heavy fog. And so we had a long working breakfast planning the day, and preparing emails for our daily communication with Earth later in the evening. Caught some lovely pictures from the Hab as we waited for the day to settle down into the more usual red mud we are accustomed to.
It’s Irish night tonight which means I’m up cooking duty. And entertainment. I’m not nearly as prepared as Idriss or Roy. I spent the afternoon preparing potatoes (well, you couldn’t have an Irish meal without potatoes, could you?). I have my Irish flag, and some phrases to share, but no fancy French chocolate or Israeli ‘Bamba’. However, I do have one thing up my sleeve. A game of chance called ‘Pass the Pigs’. I wont say anymore, because my crew mates might read this before dinner and I’ll spoil the surprise. Wish me luck. Or as we say in Ireland ‘Go nEiri and bothar leat’.
Final word- don’t underestimate how nicely clean people smell (especially men, it seems)!
CREW 173
SIGNING OFF

Journalist’s Report – January 18th

Inspiration everywhere
By Niamh Shaw
Crew Artist & Journalist Crew 173
The day goes very fast here at MDRS.  I have this imagined schedule in my head at the top of the day, thinking that there will be ample time to get it all in, plus time to relax, chill out with the crew and rest  up after dinner. Yeah, that hasn’t happened!  And I’m sure its true for all MDRS crews.  You want to do so much to maximise your experience here, aware that the mission and this opportunity will be over before you know it. I want to do my own work, AND work with all the crew on each of their separate projects, plus capture the stunning landscape while on EVA. Today I followed Rick around, as he planted some new seeds in the GreenHAB but I also wanted to join Michaela and Roy on their geological EVA. Ahh! So much choice but so little time!! I’m falling in to bed at the end of the day, with my head full of new ideas on top of the schedule I had in place before getting here. We’re only a few days in to our mission and I know already that I’m not going to get everything covered.
But its the best feeling ever. A sign that I’m in the perfect creative headspace, inspired by everything and everyone around me. I’m going to be exhausted leaving here. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Lets do this!
Slán go foill
CREW 173
SIGNING OFF
by Niamh Shaw
Crew Artist & Journalist

Journalist Report – January 17th

This report was filed by Niamh Shaw 
We decided on Sol 0, that since we are an international crew, we should take turns hosting a culture night/meal every other night to represent the different nations in our crew, during our time at MDRS. And first up was Roy, our HSO and geologist, who is from a Kibbutz in Israel. We have to thank him for this great idea too,  and all the people from his home country, because they sent him suggestions of food he could prepare for us.
And so last night we had our first Culture night. Donning his national flag proudly in the communal area, Roy took us to Israel for the evening, preparing a delicious meal of mixed beans, potato, and garlic, followed by his national snack of Bamba which we dipped in peanut butter, nutella, honey or maple syrup (yum!). Next up was a cup of the velvety turkish coffee (which has quite a caffeine kick to it) and lastly we all played a card game ‘Memory Game Kibbutz’, a series of cards with handprinted scenes of different aspects of kibbutz living. Each card is duplicated and  turned down and the aim of the game is to find a matching pair. In addition to the fun of struggling to remember the location of a pair, Roy explained the relevance of the image to the his community.
It was a great night and a reminder again of how lucky we are to be here. In addition to simulating the Martian landscape, we also have the privilege of experiencing working with international teams, a key aspect of all human space exploration (and reaping the benefits of learning about new cultures on planet Earth).
I’m up next for Culture night at MDRS. I have an Irish meal in mind (sort of) and am preparing some Irish-themed activities for the evening. But the pressures on. Cos Roy aced it. Yikes!
Slån go foill
CREW 173
SIGNING OFF

Journalist Report – January 16th

My first EVA
By Niamh Shaw
Crew Artist & Journalist Crew 173
The weather today was stunning, deep blue clouds contrasting the red earth of the Martian landscape that surrounds the Hab, our home for the next 2 weeks. And a perfect day for my first ever EVA- to the uninitiated, that means Extra Vehicular Activity, which loosely translates in to an outside expedition. We had received extensive training from both the previous crew on Saturday and Shannon, the MDRS Director.  So we all have the theory part downpat. But you can read about things, watch other people  doing things or be told things, or even learn things, but nothing compares to a real experience though, does it?
The restrictions of your movements while wearing that suit makes you appreciate how many months of training and preparation must go in to each EVA that they complete. I spent the morning preparing my camera equipment and testing various devices that I could attach to my person to capture the mission as best I could.  Trying to troubleshoot for any potential problems that might crop up during EVA. You take so much of your mobility for granted when you can wander aimlessly about nature, touching and photographing anything you want and for as long as you want.  So how can you prepare for something you have absolutely no frame of reference from which to lean on? And as you might have imagined, once I put my suit on, everything became difficult- simple camera things like being able to focus, or even choose a frame size for a photo. Clicking the shutter. Altering the aperture. All pretty much impossible with heavy gloves and a large glass visor between you and the eyepiece of your camera. Thankfully I brought a really good wide angle lens along with me, so once I selected my light settings, I was pretty set. But most of my shots were simply potluck. And thankfully with the beautiful light of the day, I struck gold on a few of them.
But photography aside, the experience was a special one for me. I joined Roy and Michaela on their geological field trip exploring, prospecting and sampling in the vicinity of our Hab. It’s kind of hard to explain what it felt like, except that, in my spacesuit I got a new found respect for astronauts who have completed EVA’s in space. As someone who genuinely wants to don a real spacesuit one day and become a participating member of a legitimate space mission, the EVA brought me once step closer to that reality.  And the understanding of how much you rely on your support team to help you in and out of the suit, but also remaining in constant contact with you, there for you should anything go awry while you’re outside the protection of the Hab.  And as our support crew were helping us with our suits, and we left the airlock to venture outside, I had a little moment. I know now what this feels like. I would be able to make a decent stab at an EVA on Mars if I had to.  And as long as I have an awesome team around me,  I could survive it. Thats nice. Thats good. Go Crew 173!
Oh and it’s my Dad’s birthday today, back home on Earth- Happy 78th Birthday Dad- hope you had a good one. We celebrated here on Mars with pancakes.
Slån go foill
CREW 173
SIGNING OFF

Sol Summary – January 16th

Richard Blake
After the trials of Sol 0, today was a breath of fresh air. Literally. Gone were the clouds and the rain, and in their stead, sunshine and a cool breeze. It was a day that warranted a breakfast treat of pancakes and laughter.
My own work had me spend the morning in the GreenHab, repotting prior crew’s plantings into soil, whilst the temperature quickly rose. At its peak, the GreenHab reached a sweltering 43◦C. As I worked, an exclamation broke the silence “In your face Neil Armstrong!”, quickly followed by a chorus of cheers. Engineering had had a breakthrough! They had finally cracked their printing woes, getting the Hab’s 3D printer to finally start working. Our engineer, Idriss, could then start the long process of printing bricks, which is still going as I write this.
The afternoon saw three members of the crew make the first EVA of the mission. Our commander; Michaela, geologist; Roy, and crew artist; Niamh, donned their EVA suits and boldly walked where only a few thousand have already walked before. However, it was not long before they returned, boasting a number of suit issues borne of an inexperienced first suiting up. They fit the picture of See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil to a T, with Roy unable to see out of his fogged up helmet, Niamh unable to hear as her mic had fallen out of her ear, and Michaela unable to communicate with the others since her radio was not set to VOX.
After Idriss and I smoothed out the kinks with their suits, the trio once again set out to sample a few locations close to the Hab, climbing some hills and getting a whole raft of great footage of the EVA.
This evening brings with it the promise of an Israeli culture night, with a feast courtesy of our crew member Roy. Should be a ripper.
Outside HAB January 16th 2017 Michaela and Roy on EVA.
Outside HAB January 16th 2017 Michaela and Roy on EVA 2.
Outside HAB January 16th 2017 Roy conducting geological field work 2.
Outside HAB January 16th 2017 Niamh with Michaela and Roy in the background at the old site of the Observatory.
Outside HAB January 16th 2017 Michaela and Roy with their geological hammers.
Outside HAB January 16th 2017 Geological field work by Roy.
HAB Airlock January 16th 2017 Michaela Roy and Niamh head out on EVA.
HAB Airlock Jan 16th 2017 Niamh Roy & Michaela preparing for first EVA.
HAB Airlock Jan 16th 2016 Michaela about to head out for EVA.
HAB Airlock January 16th 2017 Idriss assisting Roy preparing for EVA.
HAB Airlock January 16th 2017 Idriss waves off the EVA crew.
Outside HAB January 16th 2017 Michaela standing on top of the old site of the observatory.

Sol Summary – January 15th

BEGIN TRANSMISSION

Greetings from Crew 173! We are a crew of five (for now, our 6th crewmate, Arnau Pons Lorente, a Spanish Aeronautical Engineer will be with us soon, but not for now)- our Commander Michaela Musilova from Slovakia, Executive Officer Idriss Sisaid from France, HSO Roy Naor from Israel, GreenHab Officer Rick Blake from Australia, and then my good self, Niamh (pronounced ‘Neeve’ by the way- its Gaelic, and a girl’s name) Shaw your Irish Crew journalist.

We arrived yesterday afternoon to a lovely warm welcome from Crew 172 and their commander Ilaria. After our group photo outside the Hab, Ilaria and her crew gave us an extensive training session (Crew Engineer, Troy was especially awesome with his 3hrs of ‘Hab Top Tips’, thank you Troy!). Patrick cooked up a lovely meal of curried rice and vegetables and we shared with them a toast of sparkling apple juice in their ceremonial bowls in honour of the completion of their mission. We all bedded down for the night and while it was pretty snug, we had a reasonably good nights sleep on the communal area floor (well, for those of us on the inflatable beds that didn’t deflate anyway!).

At 7.30am on Sol 0, we waved goodbye to Crew 172 and we began our time on Mars in earnest. The last thing Ilaria said to us was that our toilet had become blocked overnight. Little did we know in that moment the impact those words would have on our first day here.

It rained quite heavily overnight, so the terrain outside is very muddy and we were confined to indoor duties for the day. After unpacking food supplies and selecting our state room, we had our first breakfast of oatmeal, Cheerios, and dried apple, washed down with an assortment of tea, coffee and for some, nutritious servings of Tang. We worked on our cooking and cleaning schedule for the mission, which includes Pancake breakfast duties (for special days including my Dad’s birthday tomorrow, Roys mothers birthday on the 24th and Australia Day on the 26th) and preparing special meals of our countries on alternate evenings (we’re calling these Culture dinners).

And we began to tackle our first major objective of the mission- getting the toilet unblocked.

I made a somewhat successful lunch (a hearty serving of gumbo and brown rice) and afterwards Shannon arrived to take us through additional training. She informed us that due to the inclement weather, we will have our ATV and Rover training Tuesday, if all goes well. And then we talked a lot about the plumbing problems and the various permutations and combinations of flushing and plunging and other alternatives.

Roy and Idriss ventured outside and pumped the remaining water in to the main water reservoir, emptying both tanks on the trailer. As I write this, they are recounting enthusiastically their adventures in learning how to use the pump (without electrocuting themselves) and acclimatising to the cold and wet muddy weather. It was a big moment for them, for they claim that their relationship was found in that moment working together on this new daily task.

Our plumbing problems continued throughout the day and Roy (who has worked as a plumber in his native Israel) assessed the septic tank with Shannon and concluded that the issue with the toilet is attributable to a full septic tank rather than an ‘at source’ problem. And so we ceased our incessant flushing and plunging. We agreed for the foreseeable future, to poop in plastic bags and disposing of the biohazards material in a dedicated refuse sack (to be burnt at a later date when the rain stops and the plumbing problem has been resolved). We discussed other methodologies. It was an extensive discussion but believe that we have found the optimum solution, given the circumstances.

Idriss and Roy worked on setting up the 3d printer, but discovered that the filament spools didn’t work. They then tried to heat up the extruder to force the filament to go out, but the filament remains clogged in the printer. They are currently working on solution.

We are still figuring out how to optimise our limited toilet options. Trial and error is the general consensus.

Rick monitored hourly temperatures of the GreenHab, outside, the lower floor of the Hab and the grow tent in the greenHab. He also took an inventory of our spices. He’s also on dinner duty, he’s baking bread. Its looking very promising and may inherit the title ‘The Breadmaker’ if successful. Michaela re-planted her spinach seeds in the bespoke apparatus she has brought, designed by her students in Slovakia.

Our first CAPCOM is imminent and we are looking forward to an evening of settling in to our new home for the next 2 weeks on Mars as our plumbing problems continues.

Crew 173 signing off.
END TRANSMISSION