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.
Today is our last day in Simulation. Tomorrow we will wake up in Southern Utah, and NOT on Mars. What a weird and surreal feeling…Just as our crew has hit our stride of living and working on Mars – we are leaving in less than 48 hours.
Our last day of SIM was one of the busiest since we arrived 13 sols ago. We woke up at the normal time of 7:30am and immediately got to work after breakfast. I am not going to miss dehydrated milk and cereal with weak coffee every day, but this morning we were treated to a delicacy on Mars that we have been saving the entire length of our mission – BACON & Eggs!!! Troy happily fried the strips and prepared the eggs. The HAB was overwhelmed by the delicious aroma of a quintessential American breakfast. Eating just two pieces immediately put most of the crew (Anushree is vegetarian, so she got extra oats and honey to compensate. She was content and had her usual smile.) into a tranced state as they savored each bite. Our operations plan for the rest of the morning consisted of finishing crew projects/reports, taking photos and videos for outreach, and another round of virtual reality for all the crewmembers.
The morning flew by and before we knew it lunch was being served. Anushree treated us to a delicious Indian dish of naan bread with vegetables mixed with Thai curry paste. This was quite possibly the best and also most “traditional” meal of our analog mission. The crew went to our space nap happy and full. This would be our last space nap, as tomorrow morning the sleep study will be concluded. The whole crew, myself included, hasn’t napped this regularly since Kindergarten. We all wish this was part of our daily schedule when we return back to Earth. I doubt the corporate ladder will agree, but that is a discussion for another day.
After our nap, the crew prepared for our last EVA. We were scheduled to do a short walk around of the close by Martian hills. As Pierrick, Ilaria, Anushree, and I donned our space suits we got the call from on-site Mission Support that our EVA would need to be cut short to only include our regular engineering check due to muddy conditions and impending weather. The crew wasn’t exactly ecstatic about this news as this was our last possible EVA, but in the end we followed mission support’s commands. A quick check of all the HAB life support systems along with a short walk around the MDRS campus was concluded in under an hour. Each crew member drank in the views and experience, as the next time we step out of the airlock will be without our oxygenator packs and bubble helmets. The realization of soon being out of SIM had started to sink in.
Once back inside the airlock with re-pressurization complete, the real work of the day started up again. The crew cleaned the entire HAB from top to bottom and sideways. A place, especially a confined place such as the HAB, can become quite dirty with 7 adults living in it non-stop for almost two full weeks. We knew we only had to do it this final time, so everyone bit the bullet and we were done in under two hours. With the freshly cleaned HAB, the crew settled in for dinner. Our last bag of tortilla chips, any kind of chips for that matter, and melted Velveeta cheese was our appetizer. (It is the simple pleasures on Mars that usually give the most reward.) Our last dinner as a singular crew was beans and mashed potatoes topped with corn. We ran out of actual dinner options many sols ago (other than lunch today which was saved as more of a “going away” meal), and we have been scrounging whatever we could find (typically topped with chips, cheese, hot sauce, and salt to make up for lack of variety). Again, the word – adaptation – just never ceases to be true here on Mars.
Our crew is a resilient one that has weathered many storms inside and outside of the HAB, personal or group, stressful situations and times of joyous laughter, but we are all stronger from this unique experience. One that we will all cherish for years to come. We hope you have enjoyed following our story. We have certainly enjoyed living through it – TOGETHER! Crew 172 signing off for good.
Our Crew Engineer, Troy Cole wrote today’s Sol Summary. Here is his take of our crew activities from an Engineer’s point of view:
Hello from Mars! We are in the home stretch of our mission here, and I honestly feel odd about our eventual deviation from our Martian daily routine. Today we awoke for our brief breakfast and overview of the day’s activities. The weather took a turn for the worse , so we delayed our planned EVA (Extra-Vehicular Activity) until the afternoon giving each crew member time to go about their personal tasks and projects beforehand.
My tasks today as Crew Engineer mostly involved tidying up my little domain, the Engineering Bay, in preparation for handoff to the next crew’s engineer. After a couple hours of task/project work, it was time for lunch which I happened to be assigned cooking duty. I treated my (meat-eating) crewmates to the first taste of bacon we’ve had since our mission began – which they greatly enjoyed. After our space nap, our French colleagues accompanied by our crew journalist, ventured forth onto the Martian surface to continue testing their geo-location recorder. The excursion proved successful and the crew settled in for dinner, report filing, and some well-deserved R&R.
From an engineering perspective this mission has been most enlightening and really helped broaden my perspective on how engineers in the future will work extra-terrestrially. For example, little innocuous irritations can have outsized and grave consequences on places “off planet.” One such irritation is when you are out on a warm sunny day and once you enter an air conditioned room your glasses tend to fog up. Now this is no big deal, you merely remove them from your face, wipe them off, and go about your business. However, if instead of glasses it was your EVA helmet fogging up while walking around on severely rocky conditions with no way to wipe it off, then that minor annoyance becomes a major one really quickly. This particular irritant has been a constant during our mission and we all have had to learn ways to mitigate it as best we can and when that is not enough adjusting our operating procedures to maximize crew safety.
Another feature of working in a remote location is the lack of access to information. On Mars we have a severely limited internet access, with only 500 MBs of total data available to a crew of seven. That means I can’t quickly Google search for the operating manual to a random AC power supply in the tool chest to verify if the voltage is compatible with charging batteries for a science experiment. All you have is your own knowledge and experience to work with, so you must be comfortable with the “trial and error” approach to making repairs with anything available on hand and the inherent risks that some with that. The vast majority of repairs I’ve had to make during this mission were things I have never fixed before but knowing that mine and my crews continued survival depended on me doing a good job steeled my nerves against self-doubt and focused on working the problem. While tending to things in the Hab, I’ll regularly steal a glance at the Order of the Engineer ring I wear everyday and recall what it symbolizes, “Do your best work possible, for the lives of the public depend on it.”
These past two weeks have pushed my engineering skills to their limits and I’m glad to know that I have the capacity to handle most any problem that comes my way and keep people alive. Crew 172 signing off.
Greetings Earthlings! Guest writer Pierrick Loyers wrote today’s Sol Summary. Let’s see what he has to say about Crew 172’s activities…
We woke up this morning at 07:30 am in great shape for the most of us. Martian crepes were added to the breakfast menu this morning. Honestly, Martian crepes made with powder eggs and powder milk are not as good as Terrestrial crepes but no time to complain! The EVA this morning started 30 minutes earlier than normal in order to clean the ATVs and Deimos (Rover) of mud.
After everything was checked and batteries for the scientific equipment fully charged, Gwendal, Ilaria, Nick, Patrick, and I opened the main hatch at 09:30 am sharp. After 40 minutes of cleaning our vehicles, Patrick (who accepted to help us for this task) returned back to his work within the HAB while the rest of the EVA team heading to the South. We parked near “Zubrin’s Head” (A rock face named after Robert Zubrin – the founder of The Mars Society), in front of a stunning Martian landscape.
We decided to start hiking one of the hills, avoiding to take rocky paths which could be dangerous in our suits. The trail was quick but “physically challenging.” We reached the top of our objective, out of breath, but so satisfying because of the rewarding view of this infinite and chaotic desert. Beyond this poetic hike with epic scenery, Gwendal and I still had a scientific objective. The objective of the 3D cartography system that we have designed is to follow and record the profile of the field encountered while the astronaut is walking through it. After going back down the hill, we investigated the area which seemed to be appropriate for a geophysical analysis with the GPR (Ground Penetrating Radar) and then returned to the HAB for lunch.
The lunch of today, prepared by Patrick, was composed of scrambled eggs (protein!), several vegetables (healthy!) and the inevitable dehydrated cheddar cheese – which has become an addiction for many of the crew members. After a good meal and the physical activities of this morning, our daily space nap (with the sleep mask on obviously) was necessary and we slept well.
Half an hour after the space nap began the crew woke up feeling refreshed. Troy, Nick, Gwendal, and I prepared for the crew’s second EVA of the day. We decided to head back to the area of this morning for GPR investigations and continuing altimetry measurements of it. During this EVA, we split into two group: Gwendal and I were doing soil probing with the GPR, while Nick and Troy (bravely) accepted to climb another hill. (This ridge being higher than the one of this morning and having to lug the 3D cartography system all the way up there was not for the feint of heart.)
50 minutes later, the mission had to be aborted because of the weather conditions. As everyone knows, electronics and rain are not really good friends and we preferred not to try to prove the opposite. Troy and Nick went back down their hill, slowly but safely. It was not an easy hike apparently but as Troy said: “It was an honor for me to help to expand the sum total of the scientific knowledge of Humanity.”
We came back to the HAB where our biologist, Anushree , prepared Masala tea – Spicy but so so good! Physically tired from the day, crew members easily melted into the couches to read space books with some good tunes in the background. We are on a Moby, Artic Monkeys, and Coldplay kick the past few days. Tonight, Patrick is making dinner (again!). Our chef is going to cook mashed potatoes with crumble sausages, and I know it will be delicious. Crew 172 signing off.
It looks like we are on Mars again! The snow that kept us around the MDRS campus for the last four days finally melted. Instead of a winter wonderland, the landscape is now reddish/brown for as far as the eye can see. (Except for the top of Olympus Mons aka Mt. Hunter in UT which is perpetually snowed in)
Today we woke up as a crew and had our normal breakfast of cereal (as well as: dehydrated fruit – Apples, Strawberries, and Blueberries mixed in powdered milk mix) and oatmeal. Along with coffee and Tang to wash it all down. Due to the weather over the last few days we scheduled our EVA in the afternoon, so the crew worked on projects, read, and fixed things around the HAB.
The Frenchmen’s research unit has had many electronic failures due to the cold, harsh environment, so we all got to play “Macgyver” in trying to fix the issues with the limited resources available here on Mars. Their HUD micro-controller blew, but was brought back to life after some soldering and TLC – good thing they brought extras for this exact reason. The batteries that power the unit have been losing their charge quicker than expected due to the cold, so some bubble wrap and aluminum foil were used to insulate. And finally, their battery charger stopped working due to the harsh climate, and it had to be replaced. Great lessons in always being ready to adapt in a foreign environment and using whatever you have you around to get the job done. The Frenchies finally prevailed!
After lunch and our daily space nap, Gwendal led Pierrick and Patrick to test their improvements in the muddy landscape using Deimos (Rover) and one of the ATVs. Success! Their equipment worked great, and communicated all the necessary data back to the HAB without issue. Hopefully tomorrow the terrain will have dried enough for them to take their full scientific suite including GPR(Ground Penetrating Radar), terminal, and controller. They have been itching to get out there and utilize their equipment, as we now only have three days left for scheduled EVAs (Wed, Thurs, Fri). I think we may do a chant to the weather gods tonight to increase their chances.
After the EVA was completed, the crew filled out our daily reports and scheduled tomorrow’s day. Hard to believe that tomorrow it will be ten sols since arriving on Mars. As the absolutely cliché saying goes – Time flies when you are having fun…Maybe too much fun? Never. We are killing it as a crew, and could for sure stay here for a little while longer if we needed/wanted to.
Dinner and CAPCOM are coming up and Pierrick is trying to translate his electronic Macgyvering skills into the kitchen by cooking a French specialty – CREPES! Let’s just say the crew is pumped to try. Now just what to put into these crepes: Nutella? Definitely. Honey? Absolutely. Peanut Butter? Yes, Yes, Yes. Or for me: all of the above! I can almost taste the fluffiness. I hope you can too back on Earth. Crew 172 signing off.
Hello again Earth! Today’s guest writer for the Sol 8 Summary is Patrick Gray, our crew’s Green Hab Officer. Take it away Patrick!
We woke up as a team today and it truly feels like we’re settling into the Martian routine. We had a quick breakfast and debriefing about today’s research and engineering objectives before everyone jumped into their work. Our EVA was scheduled for 10AM and just before suiting up mission support notified us that they would require a third crew member to join the EVA team for safety given the icy conditions. Having slightly fewer obligations today I volunteered and had one of my most epic ventures yet into the Martian hinterland.
Our objective was to the test the Frenchmen’s heads up display (HUD) – an augmented reality instrument that allows you to read GPS, elevation, and other important information just above your line of sight – like a scientific version of Google Glass. Today’s test was to establish the HUD’s accuracy in determining elevation – which meant some mountain climbing. We set out and shortly after mounting our first hill we lost sight of the Hab and radio contact with our crew – this was my first expedition that felt like true exploration. Visibility is incredible out here in the desert; from the mesa we summited you could see for dozens of miles in every direction and it was all barren, without a sign of life – human or otherwise. Two hours later we returned with the test data in hand and photos to document our route. After the EVA we melted back into what has become our daily routine, a shift to cook lunch, dive into our space nap (part of Commander Ilaria’s sleep study), and then spend the afternoon working on our individual research.
This afternoon’s various scientific investigations were interrupted by a welcome sight. After four days of water shortage, which has significantly impacted life in the HAB, our resupply probe is back with 1100 gallons of potable H2O. This resupply will last beyond our mission and well into the next crew. When in short supply it really makes one recognize how often we run through careless amounts of water for daily tasks, as simple as flushing the toilet and as seemingly innocuous as watering the garden. Our crew has proved surprisingly resilient to limited water rations but the inconvenience is constant, and running out completely has been a dark cloud over our heads for half of the mission. Another typically limitless resource that is severely constricted here is Internet. While “overuse” of Internet in the modern world doesn’t have the same environmental implications as the rash waste of water, 500 megabytes between seven crewmembers still does a good job of reminding us of the infrastructure and convenience we rely on daily for communication, productivity, and entertainment.
Thanks to Anushree, Troy, and Ilaria’s efforts and exertions (in the rain and cold) we are now fully resupplied on water and look forward to flushing the toilet and our, now luxurious sounding, three-minute showers. The team is well into the groove of Martian life, we’ve overcome a number of obstacles thrown at us by the close quarters, language barriers, andconstrained resources, and our work is progressing as planned. Mars is no joke, but we’re all looking forward to the remainder of our time exploring this unique environment.
Crew 172 – GreenHab Officer
Today we are officially halfway through our two week analog mission, and Houston we have a BIG problem. Of course this happens on our one “off day” during the mission. On Mars you never have a real day off, but we did take advantage of staying up late last night to watch the classic Apollo 13 and sleeping in late the morning.
When we woke up we were greeted with the sign: “Do Not Flush. Use Plastic Bag.” The nightmare I hinted at yesterday came to fruition. I will spare you the details, but Number 1 in the toilet and Number 2 in a bag.
The piping from outside the HAB to inside froze again, and we were subjected to strict water conservation levels. Troy led the Commander and Patrick on the daily engineering check of all of our systems, and everything was reported as nominal. That is, other than the water situation. We were able to unfreeze the pipe connections outside and fill the loft tank up to capacity, but we have to assume that this is all the water we have for the foreseeable future. We have been waiting for a water replenishment the last few days, but in these harsh conditions our resupply probe has stayed in orbit waiting for the weather to clear. Fingers crossed for a delivery tomorrow, as it is supposed to be up to 45-50 degrees.
Another problem that was solved later in the day was, at first, looking like an unsolvable problem (at least until after we completed our SIM). The sleep study computer which has all of our sleep data on it bit the dust in the morning. This is less than ideal for Commander Ilaria, as that data is THE key in her sleep study and we have collected it every day since we arrived seven sols ago. After a few hours of working on it, along with some choice words of encouragement, the computer was brought back to life. The immediate next step was to back everything up just in case it died again. A sigh of relief for the Commander and crew.
Everyone took advantage of the extra off time today to catch up/get ahead on their projects, read, and lounge around. CAPCOM and chowtime are on the horizon and the crew is eager to relax later in the evening. I believe that after tonight the crew will have finally got back to equilibrium after a hectic/stressful schedule the last four days. But then again, tomorrow is a brand new week and the craziness will start right back up again at 7am. (Who am I kidding…Has it ever stopped since our arrival? NOPE ha) Here is to wishful thinking! Crew 172, over and out!
The word of the day is: Teamwork. As you may of guessed from back on Earth, everything doesn’t exactly go as planned on Mars, and you have to be able to adapt to any circumstances. I shouldn’t have to reiterate that we are currently living in a hostile, and most of the time dangerous, environment, but I will let that though marinate for a second before I continue…
We started the day bright and early after the crew woke up from our best (I say that loosely, we all crashed hard when yesterday’s CAPCOM window closed – two days of alien TV crew will do that to you) night’s sleep in a few sols. We were warm and toasty inside the Hab, but outside was not the same. It got down to a bitter low of 12 degrees last night. Long story short, the pipes between our static water tank (outside) and our loft tank (inside and the primary h2o reservoir used for toilet flushes, cleaning dishes in sink, and any other use other than drinking). We were running desperately low in our loft tank around mid-day, and when we tried pumping water from outside to in like normal – no dice.
Troy, Partick, and Anushree suited up for our daily engineering check with identifying and fixing the water problem as the primary objective of the EVA. Propane, Diesel, and Rover checks were reported nominal. The water issue was saved for last, as it eventually took the scheduled 15 minute EVA to the 90 minute mark. Warm water with salt & baking soda, with a the help of a screw driver, were the first option. This helped minimally, so hotter water was the request to the HAB. We boiled another pot of water inside, and the second option was to pour the water over the frozen pipes in hopes that hitting the problem from both inside and outside would give us a better chance for success. That did the trick and we were back in business! After our loft tank was full again, the crew were able to exhale.
Water conservation is one of the central tenets of analog mission simulations, as it mimics what actual human spaceflight missions will face when traveling through the solar system. Every drop will be recycled and reused multiple times over, just like on the International Space Station right now as it travels overhead…I will spare you what would of needed to happen if we didn’t fix the pump, but lets just say it involved bags. YAAAACK ha. Good thing we had our trusty engineer, Troy, with the rest of the crew ready to WORK THE PROBLEM.
Hot tea and grub were waiting for the EVA team when they were finally back inside. (That has become our one-two punch to get anyone back to equilibrium after being in the cold with only a few layers on.) The crew worked on their own projects and daily duties for the next couple hours – still on a high from the earlier accomplishment. A relaxing evening will be our reward. CAPCOM and dinner are coming with the knowledge that tomorrow (Sunday) will be our first “day off” since we have arrived on Mars. That means sleeping in and not “having to” work on our projects. We will be taking full advantage of that off time, and we will be busting the VR headsets out to “get away” from the Red Planet. (Thanks to Experience 360 in LA!)
Today was tough, but we got through it as a crew. This is a perfect example that shows the importance of working together. If we fail, we fail together, and damnit if we succeed – we succeed TOGETHER. In the words of THE Martian – Mark Watney: “Fuck You Mars.” Crew 172 out.
It started snowing yesterday at 4pm, and didn’t stop until after we were asleep. We woke up this morning to an all white Martian landscape with no “Red Planet” in sight.
Back on Earth this would be primetime for a snow day, but sadly that was not the case here on Mars. We have numerous life support systems that need checking, every day, regardless of weather. However, Commander Ilaria did let us sleep in for an extra hour, so the crew was happy and rested to begin our day of operations.
We waited until 2pm, the hottest time of the day, to go out on our daily engineering EVA. Troy led Gwendal and I to check the propane, diesel generator, water tank levels, clean the solar panels of snow, and fill the oil & gas in the ATVs. This took about 15 minutes, and we were eager to get back to the warmth of the Hab. At that same time, our friends from the Solar System News Network – RYOT – reappeared. They wanted to ask us more questions about our mission, and to better understand the motives of subjecting ourselves to this analog simulation. Our scheduled quarter hour EVA turned into a frigid 2 hours. The highlight was hiking up to the nearest hill that overlooks the MDRS campus for panorama shots. The scenery was literally breathtaking, and the crew drank in the view before deciding that we might freeze if we stay out much longer. Back to the safe confines of the Hab came the order.
The Hab’s heating furnace never felt so good when we finally got back to it’s warmth. My toes felt like ice cubes and took some time to defrost. Our lazy day had unexpectedly turned into a full day of running around, but that is par for the “Mars” course. Be ready for anything!
Dinner and CAPCOM are coming up, and it seems like the crew cant wait to get in their bunks for the night. A good night’s rest is needed after the last couple of days. Crew 172 signing off.