MARS DESERT RESEARCH STATION

Sol Summary – January 3rd

Dear Earth,

The feeling of walking around on another planet is surreal and intoxicating. It is also somewhat overwhelming. Today I took part in my first EVA, and it was an incredibly memorable experience.

I joined Pierrick and Gwendal on their scheduled EVA to look for underground Martian water sources. But before you take even one step on Mars(One small step for Man, One giant leap for mankind, and all that) an exhaustive procedure of safety checks must to be completed. Every crew member wears a flight suit, boots, and gloves – along with a healthy amount of duct tape to seal the extremity gaps. Then each crew members dons a rectangular, roughly torso sized, Oxygenator backpack that is the primary life support system used while on EVA. The final piece of the equipment puzzle is a 2ft diameter plexiglass “bubble” helmet that allows each Marsnaut a 180 degree field of vision. Oxygen flows to the helmet by flexible tubes that are attached to the Oxygenator packs. You are now ready to explore another planet!

After the necessary three minute depressurization and the normal engineering checks around the Hab, we were off. The Frenchmen took Deimos (our larger rover, duly named for one of Mars’s moon) while I took one of the ATVs. After a 15 minute ride through the Martian landscape we arrived at what looked like an optimal location – a flat plain with signs of ancient water flows. G & P’s research is to use ground penetrating radar (on what looks like an ottoman sized sled you drag on the ground) that emits radio waves, at 200 mhz, into the soil. As the wave moves through the soil, it is reflected differently when it reaches each layer of soil. Water has high dielectric properties (good conductor), so when the wave passes through the ground and encounters water among the soil, this finding is sent as a unique reading to the control screen that is carried by one of the Marsnauts.

We got some partial readings that are promising, but further examination will be needed to confirm if the waves hit water or something else. You know the saying: Time flies when you’re having fun? Well that statement is just as true on Mars as it is back on Earth. Three hours after stepping out of the Hab, we were back inside the airlock waiting for the necessary three minutes of re-pressurization. Hot soup and tea were waiting for us which quickly warmed us up after being in the windy environment for 180 consecutive minutes.

After chow, the crew took our mandatory afternoon nap (as part of Commander Ilaria’s sleep study, more on that tomorrow). The rest of the afternoon was spent doing reports and planning tomorrow’s EVA. CAPCOM window is opening soon, and I can smell more food cooking. Until tomorrow, Crew 172 signing off.

END TRANSMISSION

Written by Nicholas McCay, Crew Journalist

Journalist Report – January 2nd

Greetings from the Red Planet!

This morning we woke up in full “SIM.” Meaning our 14 day simulation is officially underway. Limited communication with Earth, having to wear a space suit when going out on the Martian (Utah) landscape, and eating mostly dehydrated food are the biggest changes. Remember we are on Mars!

The entire crew is allowed 500/mb TOTAL of daily internet access, which is predominantly used to talk to CAPCOM back on Earth about our mission progress.  The Hab has two airlocks which are used to De-Pressurize/Re-pressurize the environment between the light atmosphere on Mars, and the denser atmosphere humans comfortably live in. If you, or any human for that matter, were to go out in the Martian atmosphere without the help of a pressurized and oxygenated spacesuit – you would die in a matter of moments.  The main reasons for eating almost all dehydrated food are: it lasts much longer and has significantly less mass (making it easier to launch to Mars) due to all the water being taken out.

Our day began around 8am with a team breakfast and briefing. Cereal with dehydrated milk.. Not the best tasting and a bit watery, but it did the job. After breakfast, the entire crew got ready for our first Extra Vehicular Activity or “EVA.” Myself and Anushree, the crew biologist, stayed back to be on HABCOM. Anushree is the longest tenured analog mission member among us, she has spent over 80 days in simulation to date, so naturally she was called upon to be in charge of communicating with the EVA team to start. Doing anything the first time takes longer than the next, and we were no different. Getting everyone geared up, dealing with radio issues, and completing every necessary check of the EVA protocol delayed us a half hour after our scheduled start time (but due to that thoroughness no one ended up falling victim to the Martian environment).

Pierrick Loyers), the crew Scientist, was today’s EVA leader. He was joined by his project’s co-investigator Gwendal Henaff (Health and Safety Officer), Patrick Gray (Green Hab Officer), Troy Cole (Engineer), and Ilaria Cinelli (Crew Commander). The main objectives of the EVA were to get everyone used to the suits, go through the regular engineering checks (water levels, ATV/vehicle power checks, diesel for the generator, and propane for the Habitat furnace), and to test the instrument that will be used to scan the Martian subsurface (Pierrick and Gwendal’s main project while on SIM). After two hours, the EVA was complete and all crew members depressurized inside the airlock for the needed three minutes before coming back into the Hab.

The EVA crew was tired upon return, but exclaimed how exhilarating the experience of walking around on another planet had been. They were greeted with hot potato soup for lunch (Cooked…ok prepared… by yours truly) – which they gobbled up quickly. After chow, the crew took 30 minute power naps. We will be participating in a sleep study while on sim, so everyone will be taking mandatory naps in the middle of each day – today was our “training.” (I can get used to this!)

After some Zzzs, the crew wrote reports, fixed and calibrated equipment, and discussed the coming days schedules/crew duties. All in all, a great first day on Mars. CAPCOM window is coming up quick, as well as dinner. Patrick is on cooking duty, so we will see if he can match my creamy potato soup . (highly doubtful, but he is resourceful so he may give me a run for my money. Ha!)

END TRANSMISSION

Journalist Report – December 28th

Sol 10 Journalist Report
Authored by Anselm Wiercioch

We’re out of water. So there’s that.

We transferred the final dregs from the resupply drone (250L?) into our
primary tank and the drone left. That was a few days ago though and we
haven’t seen anything back. It shouldn’t take more than two days to
boop up to orbit, hit the big transport ships, and boop back down to
us. It’s fully automated and there aren’t many other places for it to
go. We should definitely get those microwaves and condensers up and
running ASAP though. They were supposed to be running when we got
here, but like a lot of things about this mission, got sidelined last
minute. We’re intended to run on tanks carried here instead, which
will never be a long term solution. Good thing our primary mission is
ending soon. None of us we’re expecting to return to Earth for sure,
but I can’t say the prospect is disappointing. We’ll see what happens.
We still have a few sources we could pull from for water and last long
enough for the resupply drone. Day by day.

On the bright side, Mars is gorgeous. The follow-up crew hit Candor
Chasma today and it was breathtaking. Grand Canyon got nothing on
Mars. Something about the rich colors and years of erosion by dust
storms mixed with the desolate, frozen geology is awe inspiring. Like
the ruins of a long dead but once great civilization. It’s kind of
creepy too, because you can tell it was the kind of civilization that
fixed all our technological issues and got past all the social divides
we’re stuck on and somehow still got wiped out. Desolate doesn’t begin
to describe it. As nice as going back would be. There’s so much to do
here and so much to see and millions of people may never see any of
this. Just seems like a bit of a waste.

We also tested out Commander Gibson’s research project and helped
gather some data for an augmented reality obstacle avoidance system.
Would be really nice to have sometimes. These helmets are absolutely
horrible to hike in. Once the soil gets muddy or soft, you’re done
for. Add it to the list of improvements. That’s why we’re here though,
right? To take a great chance and figure out how to make things easier
for the next crews and generations.

Hab life is good. Things are becoming routine now. People are
generally not going insane or injuring themselves too severely, so
that’s good. We’ve got an overall mission report coming up soon so I
won’t go into things too much here. We are starting to feel the
isolation though. I suppose it’s a good thing that it took this long,
but it’s a curious feeling. These five people are our family now –
very possible the folks we’ll grow old and die with. Our Martian
Elysium is insanely beautiful, but also very empty. A planet
inhabited, other than us, entirely by robots. Other crews will come in
time, but not within easy visiting range, and after the first few,
they’ll stop sticking around. No guarantees when that will be though
or whether one of those shuttles will have room for us. We might never
see anyone again solely because the wrong politician gets into office
and the program drops funding. Humans are weird like that.

#ImThirsty

Journalist Report – December 26th

Sol 08
Journalist report to be posted
Authored by Anselm Wiercioch

Hey gang!
Long time no see. Or, read.. or whatever.
Hope everyone planetside had happy holidays!

This was one of the quietest and strangest Christmases I’ve had (first
tin can holiday, woo), but was still very warm and wholesome. The crew
feels almost like family at this point. We had some fresh croissants
and played charades and trimmed the tiny Charlie Brown tree someone
brought. It was cute. We exchanged white elephant gifts – some books,
some legos, lots of fun stuff (I got a sweet Brown jersey). It was
fun.

Festivities aside, we also had our first martian dust storm! Right in
the middle of the night after things had settled down, the hab started
shaking violently. I know this is a thoroughly engineered structure,
but it’s also heavily mass optimized and no matter what the math says,
a thin sheet metal wall does not feel very strong when it’s standing
between your warm comfy Christmas night and a brutal frozen iron oxide
space storm. That’s a unique Mars experience for sure. After about 3
hours of struggling to fall asleep in a vibrating bunk, things got
really exciting. The hab includes a small hemispherical skylight dome
right in the center of the roof, and our tiny haboob blew it straight
off. We were all awake at that point luckily, but we’re sitting around
drinking tea and reading books, not planning what to do when your
house suddenly and loudly depressurizes and you get flash frozen.
Despite popular opinion, it kind of sucks.

Our training kicked in anyways and we were able to pull on our
emergency pressure suits before anyone was severely injured. We all
complained our fair share over the decade or so of building muscle
memory for things like this, but you’re sure happy when it comes to
task. A quick trip to the engineering bay yielded a solid replacement
(in my humble opinion, much more solid than what we started with) and
we were able to seal the hole without much trouble. It took about 10
minutes for the emergency system to repressurize, but the kitchen and
loft area were coated in a fluffy layer of red sand.

Somehow we all slept pretty well after that. Go figure. About 9 hours
later we woke and assessed the damage. (Yeah yeah, we missed morning
briefing. Priorities. Meh.) The hab as a whole seemed to survive
alright, as did the slightly buried but generally unbroken rovers. The
landing site is situated in between two small dunes against a hillside
to avoid things like this, and I think we avoided the brunt of the
storm. The interior was fluffy and red, but it gave us some nice
meditative cleaning work this morning.

After everything was basically back on track, if slightly behind
schedule, the day’s EVA crew suited up and headed out for Candor
Chasma. Some kind of massive geological rift NE of the hab. I stayed
home and started inventorying the engineering bay, but apparently it
was pretty spectacular. I’ll find out tomorrow on the follow-up crew.

Over all it was a pretty slow day. Lot of mindless work and gradual
mental debriefing. We’ve got a lot of work to do this week as our
primary mission winds down. Gonna get to sleep pretty early tonight.
And hey, my shower rotation is back up tomorrow. Little victories.

#RedChristmas

Journalist Report – December 23rd

Sol 05
Journalist Report
Authored by Anselm Wiercioch

The main event of the day (other than fresh scones) was the second
major EVA to the area we’ve named the “dinosaur quarry.” There are a
lot of interesting geological formations there that resemble dinosaur
bones. The area seems like it may have been a small reservoir at some
point, but is obviously long since dried up. It’s about 15 minutes
away on our individual electric rovers. A cold, bumpy ride but not too
bad. Some insulation lessons were learned from the first expedition on
Sol 03. After a long exploration of the quarry area, the crew
regrouped in the hab. A few showers and some greenhab work rounded out
the majority of the day.

The weather was pretty typical today – bland skies and lots of cold. A
small amount of precipitation, but not much stuck. Still too little
data to draw conclusions about that. We shouldn’t see much snow at
these latitiudes. I mean we’re hardly equatorial, but we’re a ways
from the pole.. Maybe the wind currents are strong enough to scape
some ice off and carry it all the way down? *shrug* Jury’s still out
on that.

Speaking of the cold, our greenhab progress is.. slow. We suspect some
small leaks in the insulation that are causing the heating system to
overload and shut down until things are near freezing, then snap back
on full blast. Back and forth. We attempted to seal some of the gaps
we found, but one of our mission commanders back home told us to
postpone repairs. Not sure yet how that will affect our research.
Hopefully some lettuce can last a few light frosts.. On the other
hand, all germination attempts are going well. We’ve got red and green
oak lettuce, raddish, and some mysterious unlabelled seeds that we
found stowed away in the hab.. I’ll let the biologists talk about that
more though. I’ll just complain about the weather instead.

I guess I shouldn’t be complaining about snow, really. Some of the
crew came from dry desert areas on earth and have never had snow for
the holidays. Chrismas is coming up soon (we haven’t been here long
enough for the time difference to throw us off yet – the first Martian
Christmas will still be on Earth’s Dec 25.) We all brought small gifts
for a white elephant exchange and are trying to decide on a fancy meal
to celebrate. I’m sure we’ll think of something interesting. We’ve got
a creative group.

Despite minimal coffee intake (gotta save water, ya know?), a lot of
freeze dried food, rare showers, intermittent wifi, etc., crew morale
is holding strong. Personality is obviously a major concern in the
astronaut selection process – technical skills are a dime a dozen, but
teams that work well under stress are more difficult to find. I have
high hopes for the coming week. We all bring very different attributes
to the table, but ones that fit together and are greater than the sum
of their parts.

Of course, even with the crew getting along well, I’m still more than
happy to complain. A massage and a shower would really hit the spot.
It’s only been a few days, but those helmets are heavy and hard on the
shoulders and We’re building up some considerable stank. We don’t have
those ISS goon’s luxurious air filtering system or low gravity to keep
things cleanly. Maybe we should just take turns snapping the airlock
open for half a second each and freeze drying all the bacteria off of
us.. Super dangerous. Not doing that.. At least for another 3 days..
Ha.

#KeepMarsWeird

Journalist Report – December 22nd

Sol 04
Journalist report to be posted
Authored by Anselm Wiercioch

It snowed for a few hours today. That’s not supposed to happen.

Going to have to put some serious effort into revamping our
understanding of Mars’ climate. Coldest day since we landed. The EVA
crew decided to postpone until tomorrow due to potentially inclement
weather. I’m not on tomorrow’s crew, but we might need to reprioritize
some climate data while they’re out.. Will keep investigating.

Otherwise, today was a slow day. Some progress was made in the
greenhouse, and the network connectivity issues persist despite many
hours of messing with it. Felt like a snow day in elementary school
where you’re off class and can feel christmas around the corner.

Our crew engineer engineered some cinnamon raisin swirl bread and it’s
magical. The freeze dried food stores will probably start to wear on
us eventually, but for the time being we’re living it up. As long as
coffee and tea holds out, crew morale is going to be coasting just
fine.

Connor and I’s sleep schedule is holding out strong. We aren’t being
too strinct about the schedule and we aren’t going too extreme – still
a solid six hours or so per night, spaced into ~3 naps. We’ve been
ever so slightly tired but that’s to be expected on the first day or
two. Generally feel pretty energized though.

The most annoying thing at the moment for me is just being cooped up
in a tin can. Really struggling to understand how all those super
smart engineers on the ground decided a treadmill wasn’t necessary.
Yoga and pushups only get you so far. The hab’s air system isn’t
exactly refreshing either. Meh. It’s all good though. I’m sure we’ll
get used to it. Or at least, we’ll be gone before it really starts to
get to us.

We did find a massive binder of awesome (mostly old and/or super
goofy) movies, so that’s helping the nights pass faster after work is
done each day.

Nothing too crazy. The days are moving by faster as a whole.

#Snowday

Journalist’s Report – December 20th

Authored by Anselm Wiercioch

We put together a schedule yesterday, but it may take some time to get
on that sleep schedule. We all woke up about an hour late today.
Fortunately, we didn’t have anything super time sensitive on the
agenda so we just shifted everything back an hour. Good to go.

Everyone handled their own breakfast and we had a morning briefing
around 11am. We decided to prioritize an EVA as soon as possible after
landing and ensuring basic resources were available in order to assess
the situation. The hab lands automatically and there haven’t been any
mishaps since the early moon colonization days, but it never hurts to
check. Most of our systems showed nominal by last night, so our
briefing this morning mostly revolved around prepping for that
adventure.

Around 11:45, the first EVA crew was suited up and ready to roll out.
The suits took some adjustment to get everyone fitted, but even at
their best they were heavy and awkward. The suits are thickly
insulated and restrictive (not that I’m complaining, freezing isn’t
fun), and the helmets cut your field of view to about 60 degrees
vertical and 90 horizontal. Functional, but it takes some getting used
to. Our commander has some vibrating-boot-augmented-reality system
that’s supposed to identify obstacles so that you can keep your head
up. After wandering around in these suits a bit, I think a system like
that could be pretty handy. Guess we’ll find out later this week. At
noon the three of us (Commander Gibson, Geoffrey, and myself.) entered
the main airlock. The hab crew walked through the depressurization
proceedures while the three of us walked through our own mental
depressurizations. A few seconds later the outer door opened and we
stepped onto the surface of an entirely new planet.

You’re supposed to have some deep, meaningful message to drop at this
point. Something short but poignant. “One small step for man” and all
that jazz.

We were more focused on not dying. The suits (uncomfortable as they
are) are designed to keep us warm and alive and oxygenated, but it’s
one thing to read the spec sheet and another to put your life on the
line testing them in an environment you’ve never seen before. An
environment nobody has ever seen before with their naked eyes. It’s
beautiful. The landscape isn’t much crazier than the Utah desert, but
there’s something immensely humbling about seeing it. It’s hard to
describe. We’re further away from earth than anyone has ever been. And
we’re going for a hike.

We’re not nearly poetic enough for this. What we are though, is alive.
We looked over our own and each other’s suits and we ran all typical
system checks and everything looks good. We sent a plan to CAPCOM that
we’d be circling the hab at a half mile radius, and there’s a hill to
the north that offers a good vantage point, so we head that direction.
Once we reach the top of the hill, the land plateaus for a solid mile
or two before hitting some steeper hills. Looking back, the hab
appears well settled. Nothing unexpected. The landing algortihms did
their job perfectly and everything was in place before we woke up.
Solid.

The landscape is mostly soft dusty hills with clay and rock
interspersed. Rolling hills suround the hab (the site was carefully
selected to avoid dust storms and provide the best landing
opportunities) but off in the distance there are many plateaus and
further away, snow capped mountains. The thin atmosphere makes the
limited color spectrum pop vividly. Rich reds and browns dominate, but
there are streaks of purple and grey and blue interspersed and they
break things up nicely. The sky is gray and dull, but not cloudy.
Just.. flat. It sounds sad, but it’s not. It’s a warm, comforting
gray, and it makes the surface feel even richer.

We take some recon photos to compare to our maps later, and we head
off to the north, following the ridgeline. After another half mile or
so, we run into a dry stream bed that runs back down to the desert
floor. We follow the stream as far as it goes and reach the ground.
Another five or ten minutes wandering yielded a broken chunk of solar
panel and an old, worn battery. Must’ve been from one of the ancient
rovers we sent, back in the day. Comforting to see another thing made
by our species, even if it’s been torn to shreds. Nothing useful
though. We’ve been out for about an hour now, so we head back toward
the hab and open coms for the other crew to prep the airlock for our
arrival.

When we get back, we go through the motions, careful not to track dust
too far from the airlock. We strip our suits and help the second crew
get their packs on. We have water now, and even though mars is chilly,
our suits are warm and our packs are heavy. A shower is definitely on
the agenda. After we get the second group out the door and ensure
their systems are functional, we take turns manning the radio,
showering, and eating lunch. Canned spinach and salmon. Nice.

A nap and some basic reports later, the second crew returns. They
followed much the same path as us, and noted a lot of similar
observations. Double EVA was a success. Ok guys, our work here is
done. Good job. Let’s go home.

Ha.

Not quite. Another day down and 13 to go. Let’s rock and roll.

#FirstContact

Journalist’s Report – December 19th

Journalist’s Log – Sol 01

Waking up from cryo is strange, but after cycling a few hundred times in training, we’re all used to the feeling. Waking up from cryo and seeing the surface of another planet is not something you get used to.

We woke up slowly. All around the same time, but one by one. Not on much of a schedule yet. We’ll put that together after breakfast. Our emails are full of automated messages from CAPCOM. They know we’re “out cold” and aren’t expecting any response. Still, the crew works through their inboxes and we pass along a notification that we’ve successfully arrived and comms are functional.

We spent some time slogging through the ship’s stores (sorry, it’s the “hab” now, isn’t it..) and eventually decided on pancakes. We were supposed to save the mix for a special occasion, but collectively decided that hitting the surface aptly qualifies. Freeze dried blueberries are oddly comforting after almost 300 days of being freeze dried yourself.

At around 11am MST (Mars Standard Time, obviously) a local supply drone arrived with fresh water. Right on time – the ship/hab’s small in-flight tank was close to 6L. Not more than a day or two max with all of us active. The crew got the water system rerouted to pull from the station’s existing tank instead of the hab’s small in-flight tank and we successfully transfered a fresh supply over from the drone. As we would find out later in the day (only after a few showers and meals of course..) the drone malfunctioned and poked a hole in our supply line. Nothing was actively leaking, but next time we transfered water we’d have some issues. A short engineering exploration was conducted and we were able to retrofit the line to bypass the leak. We’re waiting for some adhesive to dry and will be testing the system tomorrow. Fingers crossed. Dehydrating within 3 days would not be a great start for the first people on the red planet.

We were also able to get the hot water heater and the greenhab heater started. After lunch, the hab is already starting to feel like home. I guess that’s a good sign. Going crazy would also not be a great start. The crew is getting along well. Obviously we’ve known each other and trained together for some time. Waking up from hibernation in a strange place that’s inherently running low on standard survival resources will put a strain on any relationship though. Christmas, New Year’s, and a Birthday should help to waylay any concerns there, at least for the meantime.

Anyways, our bandwidth is limted and there’s plenty of work to do still and some non-frozen sleep would be nice. More updates tomorrow. As it stands, we’re alive and warm and nothing is too broken.

#ImNotDeadYet