Journalist Report – February 27th

Journalist report, 02/27/17 – Sol 15: Becoming TV stars.

Today was surely very special: we were going to spend the day with a journalist, living in simulation with us, while his four-men crew was shooting images of us, in situ. After our sport session and breakfast, we waited for the whole crew to arrive. The reporter was the only one to completely follow the simulation rules: he arrived in spacesuit, spent the regular three minutes of pressurisation in the airlock, and was then supposed to follow us till the afternoon.

The first encounter with the team was very reassuring: they were science reporters, knowing why they came here, filming a whole documentary on the subject, being well informed, so that they did not just want to film us as animals in a cage, to gain audience. They were very respectful with the rules of the station, did their best not to disturb us, even if being twelve in the tiny hab was a bit oppressing. After a quick talk, some shots of the hab, Arthur, Louis and Mouâdh left with the reporter in EVA, the journalist crew following them in a big SUV. They first went to the seismometer, checked it, took shots while Mouâdh presented it, and then, headed North, to reproduce yesterday’s experiment of the sextant, on “the Moon”. Like during most of the simulation, the wind preventing us from using the atmospheric balloon.

We spent a long time having lunch, as it was the scene the producer chose to interview all of us at the same time. The reporter was leading the conversation, and while eating we discussed about a lot of various subjects, about space exploration, our motivations, how we imagined a trip to Mars, etc. He was very attentive, and raised interesting points. I clearly found this exchange very productive, I hope this satisfied them too, so that it will be released in an authentic way. The fact that the shot was taken during a meal was clever, and clearly helped us remaining natural, as we had something to keep us focused, instead of looking directly at the video camera or one of the four people surrounding us…

The following was a bit more disappointing, as we spent the beginning of the afternoon shooting videos in the different modules of the station, but it was less about science, as the journalists were also looking for some good images. Most of our experiments are not very pretty, so that only some of it had their moment of fame, and had to act a bit to be convincing.

To conclude, it was a very exciting experience, even if we had to sacrifice about half a day to let it happen. We met very respectful and well informed people, not here to try to create something, but really to learn about what we do and understand our goals. It was surely deeper than almost every interview we had had already, those ones focusing more on what we eat and how many times we have showers…

Louis MANGIN, crew journalist MDRS 175

Journalist Report – February 26th

Journalist report, 02/26/17 – Sol 14: Emergency simulation.

Today was a bit special: Simon as health and safety officer declared it a rest day. We woke up 2 hours and a half later than usual, didn’t do our morning sport session, and had a brunch at 10 a.m. The EVA that was planned for the afternoon was also supposed to be special, as 5 people would take part to it, led by Simon and Xavier, to prepare us for emergency situations.

We all went downstairs for the EVA briefing at 1:30, where Simon and Xavier showed us how to react in case of emergency outside the station. In case of a medical emergency, the first thing to do is to notify the hab, and to put the victim in a safe posture: sitting down or in recovery position. It is not very difficult in everyday life as long as you know what to do, but with a spacesuit on yourself and on the victim, it clearly becomes a lot more complicated. Then, we must transfer the injured marsonaut. It is possible to give him oxygen, coming from another spacesuit, to increase the duration of the EVA, but he cannot stay outside forever. Here comes the second problem: transport the victim by foot to a vehicle, load him, and take him back to the station.

The reason why we only leave the hab being three, is because one has to stay with a potential victim, while the third one may have to leave to look for help or at least move to establish a radio contact. We also need to be minimum two inside the hab, in order to watch each other, such as EVA members that have to go at least by pairs. Mars is dangerous, and this is why we always have to be able to rescue each other.

Going back to our story, Xavier and Simon briefed the whole crew about all this, then, they left with Mouâdh, Louis and Arthur to repeat it on the outside, letting Victoria and I in the hab. Victoria was habcom, writing the report as the scenes were played outside, me working on the mission video.

Tomorrow will also be very special: a whole journalist crew from the BBC will visit us, to film the final part of a documentary on private exploration of Mars. Brian Cox, the reporter, will spend a whole day with us, following the simulation rules, while his team will try not to interfere with it. We are pretty lucky to have this opportunity, and the experience seems like it’s going to be very enjoyable!

Louis MANGIN, crew journalist MDRS 175

Journalist Report – February 25th

Journalist report, 02/25/17 – Sol 13:  Water games.

We started this sol with very bad news: the water pump we use to refill the indoor tank from the outdoor one was not responding, and we only had 4 gallons (15 L) left. Enough to flush twice, to take two showers, to drink for a bit more than one day… But we had to wash dishes, and cook, which also requires a huge amount of water because of the food we have to rehydrate. We didn’t hear any noise coming from the pump so that we believed that it was an electrical issue, or a problem coming from it, but kept in mind that the temperature during the night would have allowed it to freeze easily. We decided to first go on EVA, so that we might see if there was any problem outside.

The EVA was supposed to start with an outdoor water tank refill, but we found out that the portable pump we use for it wasn’t functioning too. It had stayed in the engineering airlock so that it might be frozen too. We aborted the refill and the EVA started by giving another try with the solar balloon. This time it went right: Simon, in charge of the experiment, leading this EVA deployed it along with Arthur, Louis and Mouâdh. They used the spot we determined before, and let it fly there for the whole EVA, while they left for “the Moon” again, this time with Arthur and his sextant, in order to let him measure coordinates in this new location. At the same time, Xavier was trying to find out what was wrong with the pump, and one hour later, it started again as usual. It must have frozen during this night, even if it was in the airlock. We had solved one problem, but the main pump was not working yet, even if we had tried to put hot water on the outside pipe coming out of the tank.

The EVA went fine on the North, with some new beautiful shots from Louis, while the balloon was doing fine, oscillating slowly from the ground to 50 meters high. When they came back, we had prepared every pan and bowl we had in the hab, for an emergency refill. The 4 gallons we had didn’t allow us to cook the meal. The EVA members, back from their mission, spent 15 minutes and lost a lot of water filling up all the stuff we had let in the engineering airlock. About 5 minutes after all this trouble, the main pump decided to restart working… Water must have frozen in the outdoor pipe too. Anyway it ended up well even if we had to move around 10 gallons of water in the stairs (that are closer to a ladder by the way).

Tomorrow, we will begin with our last experiment: simulating emergency situations in EVA. Victoria and I will be the only one to remain in the hab in the morning, while 4 crew members will experiment it being led by Xavier.

Journalist Report – February 24th

Journalist report, 02/24/17 – Sol 12:  Freezing cold.

I took part in today’s EVA, which goal was to test the balloon, the connected glasses, and explore in the Northern part of the desert. I was going out with Xavier, Simon and Louis. After the classical checks, a water refill, we began by trying to deploy the solar balloon at the spot we marked few days ago, just a few meters away from the hab. After having fixed it to the ground, we started to inflate it. But a strong wind was blowing on the ground, making it very hard to control it. We struggled for a few minutes, before we decided to abort the experiment. It was a bit damaged by the wind, and we put it back in the engineering airlock, before leaving on the rovers and ATVs. During this whole time, Louis was trying a local network, generated by his phone, that was broadcasting his glasses’ view in order to let habcom see what he we seeing. We found out that its range was limited to a dozen of meters, so that it is only usable during the engineering check, but worth it.

The second part of the EVA was more about adventure: as we spent less time than expected on the solar balloon, we had a lot of time remaining for exploration. That is why we went far away from the station. We reached a place called “The moon”. The ground went from white, to yellow, to grey, in only few hundreds of meters. I was very disturbing, as we never experienced such a landscape before. It clearly didn’t seem that we were on Earth already… We stopped in front of Sanjerooni Butte, a flat mountain, detaching strictly from the ground, with its vertical sides, with Skyline Rim as a background. This whole view was absolutely stunning, but one thing was disturbing our contemplation: the cold. The temperature was very low this morning, even if the sun was bright and the air dry. It seems that the photos are shot in the middle of summer, but I took half of it without feeling my fingers…

The afternoon was full of science as usual, I spent a lot of time working on my morning shots, as my teammates were working on their own. We recently unboxed the 3D printer of the station. I must have been broken because we had to struggle just to turn it on, and are already calibrating it. Tomorrow we might take another shot with the balloon. Let’s hope that we will be luckier than this morning.


Louis MANGIN, crew journalist MDRS 175

Journalist Report – February 23rd

Journalist report, 02/23/17 – Sol 11:  Mid-rotation.

Today’s EVA was supposed to be quick: they had to bury the seismometer a bit deeper, explore the north of the map, to test the sextant, before going back to do a few tasks around the hab. We started a bit later today, because we planned our EVA for 9:30 instead of 9:00, the objectives being light. It was led by Victoria, followed by Arthur, Mouâdh and Xavier, who shot today’s outdoor photos. They started by going south, to fix the seismometer, which sensor had moved because it was touching its shield. It took less than half an hour to dig a deeper hole in the ground, and then to attach its cable back. At the same time, Arthur was using his sextant in this known location to check the coordinates it gave to him. By the way, we use a sextant, the former marine instrument, because a compass would not work on Mars, where the magnetic field is not stable.

The team then went north, to explore this region we had not visited yet, and to have new results for the sextant, that Arthur checked after, in the hab, with the map. According to the photos they showed us, the weather was nice, and the landscapes were beautiful. They remained there for less than an hour, before coming back. At the same time, Victoria mandated me to take care of the plants in the greenhab. It is the first time I did it, and it was very pleasant to be alone for a while in the little module, surrounded by plants. The desert is very dry, so that even during EVAs, we never see any tree, or any big plant, only a few burnt grass, but nothing green. This is why having the Vegidair in the living room is also pleasant: we regularly check the lettuces growing there, and it is a good feeling to know that we are not the only things alive in the neighbourhood.

The EVA ended up with the crew removing the plastic from the wall we built almost two weeks ago. The strong wind from the past few days damaged it a lot, so that its cover was at the time hanging only due to three surviving clips and a little rope. The metallic structure was very resistant, but the plastic covering it was too weak to support the wind. We may try to repair it during an EVA, but it seems hard, because of the precision it requires. We now will have to close our eyes when we leave the hab to reach other modules not to see the landscape…

Tomorrow, wind is supposed to calm down at least in the morning, so that we may use the balloon during the EVA, even if we might not leave it for 24 hours, Louis will also bring the connected glasses for a second test. I will be part of it, and hope that the weather does not restraint us another time.


Louis MANGIN, crew journalist MDRS 175

Journalist Report – February 22nd

Journalist report, 02/22/17 – Sol 10: Rest day.

Today’s objective was simple: there was none. We have been on the station for 10 days without any real break, and we all needed some time to rest and go on our tasks efficiently. Today’s weather was supposed to be bad, so that we did not plan any EVA. It was absolutely not the case, the weather being great, with a strong wind that almost wrecked our wall, but we stuck to the plan, and stayed at home for the whole day.

The rhythm was cooler, it was time for me to form Mouâdh and Xavier to a popular French card game called “la coinche”. I spent most of my day working on the mid-rotation video, supposed to sum up the first half of our mission. I would like to release it in a few days, and it also interests the French website of the Huffington Post. Xavier spent a long time in the dome, understanding the station power system, -using solar panels along with a thermic generator, to reload batteries- to document it for the next crews. Almost every one of us took a nap in the afternoon, to regenerate after ten days waking up early.

As there is no real fresh news today, I would like to talk about something I only mentioned since we arrived: food. We have to restrain a little to match our supplies. We have almost everything lyophilised, but in different quantities, so that we try to monitor it precisely. We guys are a bit hungry even after the meals, so that we had to find tricks to avoid going mad and rush into the snacks drawer at 4:00 pm or at 11:00 pm. We mostly have sporting habits, so that we eat quite a lot while in France, but here we must limit our dietary intakes because of the little physical activity we have. We found two solutions: we have a quite decent amount of starch, so that the hungry ones can add up a little rice or pasta at the end of a meal. We also are in America, so that there is A LOT of snacks in the kitchen contrary to what we are accustomed to. We spent the first days eating frosting paste, peanuts and different strange meals at various hours, but we quickly realised that if we did not want to gain 15 kg, we will have to find another way to feel satiated. This is where comes our second solution, hiding in the snacks drawer too: popcorn. It is very easy to store because of its size being popped, has almost zero intakes if eaten without anything else, and takes a ridiculously huge amount of volume in your stomach…

To end with, I have to mention our last anecdote, from yesterday night. Xavier was refilling the water tank in the loft, over the rooms, before he left, completely forgetting why he went up. It’s only hearing the water falling out of it that he rushed back to stop it and clean it up. This is only 5 minutes later that we heard Victoria from inside her room saying: “guys it’s raining in there”. Not sure that it helps in team building…


Louis MANGIN, crew journalist MDRS 175

Journalist Report – February 20th

Journalist report, 02/20/17 – Sol 8: First shower.

Today’s EVA was led by Mouadh, followed by Arthur, Louis, and Xavier. They left at 9:00, refilled the water tank, checked the seismometer, and went to White Rock canyon to explore it. The weather was once again foggy, but it was clearing when they left. The seismometer had moved a bit, because of the rain from the past few days, making the ground softer. Having picked up the USB key full of data, they went back to their rovers and went to the canyon. It was very wet in there. Louis took beautiful photos from above, before Xavier’s backpack stopped blowing air (due to a bad reload as we discovered after). He was almost blind, and more important, suffocating if we were on Mars. That is why, to respect the simulation constraints, they applied a common protocol in diving: Arthur shared one of his pipes with him, on the way back, forcing them to move as Siamese twins. The EVA stopped thirty minutes earlier because of this failure, but the good point was the quick reaction of the team.

This afternoon, we did for the first time another sport session I brought from my rower’s training, to keep the crew fit. Then, I had my first shower after eight days. We managed to save water as much as possible and Xavier and I were the last two ones having had none. We were trusting last crew’s recommendation about it, that was: “take a minimum number of showers”. But now that we are monitoring more precisely our water consumption, the conclusion was clear: it was ridiculous, as a (quick) shower uses less water than a flush… So that one represents around 3% of one day consumption, while flushing represents between 35% and 40%.

Anyway, I now am clean, and already motivated for the next 11 sols that remain! We already have great plans for the following ones, and I am not in a hurry to leave. I will lead tomorrow’s EVA for the first time, which goal will be to find a place to deploy the balloon for a whole day.


Louis MANGIN, crew journalist MDRS 175

Journalist Report – February 18th

Journalist report, 02/18/17 – Sol 6: Aborted EVA.

Today’s EVA was supposed to be short. We had to check the seismometer, to make sure that it didn’t move yesterday because of the wind, and then to collect its data. We were not able to use the balloon, because of the wind and the possibility of rain, so that we planned to explore a new area, and to take ‘official’ pictures, with flags and banners. I was going out along with Louis, as EVA leader, Xavier and Mouadh.

For the first time, we used two ATVs, along with a rover. After having reached the seismometer, we quickly saw it hadn’t moved. The panels we put over it must have done a great job yesterday. We picked up the USB key containing our seismic data, and left. This is when the first problem showed up: Xavier’s headband went down to his eye, making him almost blind. Of course, it seems trivial, but back then, we had no solution to help him, and having a headband is nearly essential, to keep our earplug in place. He tried to rub on the sides of his helmet, with no result. It was not too dangerous already, so that we kept going, I just had to take the wheel on the rover.

The weather was more and more cloudy, but there was no rain at the time. We kept going on the main road, to reach the canyon we were supposed to visit. After ten minutes, we stopped, cows were near the point where we had to go. We had to take a decision. Louis took it, briefly, we will head back, and find another place. Once again, the problem wasn’t that simple. Walk next to a few cows acting as if they were not there, with our suits and a half blind man could put us in a tough spot if cows decided to join us… We had nothing essential to do here, that is what we stepped back. Rain was coming slowly, and fog accumulating on our glass because of humidity. We tried to climb a hill on our way back to track potential future EVA locations, but fog was so handicapping for everyone that we just decided to go back to the base.

It was kind of a disappointment, because we remained no more than one hour outside, but it taught us something important. We have to react quickly in those situations, and stick to the leader’s order, in order not to put us in a difficult spot. At the same time, in the hab, the first sprout of lettuce showed up in our indoor vegetable garden Vegidair, two days after having been seeded, while Simon, Arthur and Xavier tried to fix up our broken radios.

Tomorrow, for the first time a junior crew member, Simon will lead us an EVA, in which we will test our radio system, hoping it happen better.


Louis MANGIN, crew journalist MDRS 175

Journalist Report – February 18th

Journalist report, 02/18/17 – Sol 7: Rainbow over fog.

For today’s EVA, we had to go by foot: the ground was wet so that most roads were not practicable. We had two goals: test the radios and the sextant. The weather was cloudy, and rain was close. We had planned a short EVA, and I left with Simon, Victoria, and Arthur.

To begin with, we went as far from the hab as possible before losing the radio signal. Once here, a first pair stopped, and a second kept going. The first pair was holding a homemade radio relay (see pictures), done with walkie-talkies, in order to test the advantage of splitting, to reach the hab easily. At the same time, Arthur was using the sextant to locate us precisely, to help us get more accurate values. Both experiments were disturbed by the weather. Radio communications were very bad, and particularly unstable, and the sextant decalibrated, probably because of temperature changes. Arthur did not manage to calibrate it again with his gloves, so that we had only the first values. He will have to customise it to make it possible. To end with, fog was an issue once again, so that after one hour of tests, with very difficult communications, we decided to go back to the base, having done everything we were able to with both experiments.

In addition to casual work and reports, Xavier and I decided to track more precisely the use of water, counting showers, flushes, greenhab use, and drinking water. Simon gave us a personal feedback on our morning sport program he manages, Victoria will be able to get spinach from the greenhab tomorrow, and Arthur got the results from his test on our drinkable water, using the Aquapad experiment. The more impressive result we had was between boiled water and regular or filtered one. Boiling water kills almost every germ and the experiment shows it clearly.

As a conclusion, the Sun showed us a beautiful rainbow during sunset, ending our first week officially in sim.


Louis MANGIN, crew journalist MDRS 175

Journalist Report – February 17th

Crew 175 Journalist report Sol 5

Journalist report, 02/17/17 – Sol 5: Seismometer, storm and fresh bread.

Today was my first day following an EVA from the hab. Moreover, I was its habcom. After breakfast, I was in charge of checking everyone’s radio, backpack, timing the pressurisation, and giving tasks to the crew members outside during the check-ups at the beginning of the EVA. Then I was following their actions by radio when they were in range.

Today’s EVA included Arthur, as leader, Mouâdh, Victoria, and Simon, who had taken the camera, so that today’s pictures of the outside would not be mine today. Their first objective was to install the seismometer where we planned to two days ago. It went well and was finished quickly. The balloon remained in the hab, because of the wind blowing too hard. That is why, after half of the EVA, the team started to explore the surroundings, went up to hab ridge road, then back, training on how to use the map in situation.

At the same time, in the hab, I was busy working on interviews for French medias, Xavier was working on the energy supply of the station, and Louis was busy with the EMUI. The afternoon started quietly, with almost everybody taking a nap, but after a couple of hours, wind started to blow very strongly. The whole station became very noisy, parts moving everywhere, we had the strange feeling that we could take off at any minute… Our brand-new wall was moving dangerously, but went through it. Xavier and Louis had to go out on an “emergency EVA” to check if nothing was damaged, and to pick up stuff that flew away.

For dinner, Simon had baked fresh bread for us. He now masters the art of using the bread machine well. It might seem simple but it is the only way for us to get fresh food. And for French people, being able to eat fresh bread even if it isn’t baguette is priceless…


Louis MANGIN, crew journalist MDRS 175