Author: Max Fagin
Purpose of EVA: Photographic survey and geological samples of the previously unexplored region to the North East of Maxwell Montes, direction radio experiment, Ham radio repeater communications testing
Destination: North East of Maxwell Montes
Participants: Max Fagin, Kshitij Mall, Melanie Grande, Justin Mansell
Narrative: The region to the North East of Maxwell Montes had been indicated to us as a region that no MDRS crew had ever explored. Far be it from us to turn down a chance to go boldly where no one has gone before, we had to perform a photographic survey and bring back some samples to plan for a more detailed investigation later in our mission. And the region did not disappoint. After a 55-minute rover ride followed by a 40-minute hike, we reached the edge of a box canyon which contained a stratified cut covering 50-million years of the Jurassic, so perfectly formed it could be in a textbook (see our photo of the day). The long range of the EVA meant we could only spend 45 minutes on site collecting samples and taking photographs, but we have resolved to return to the region before our mission is over. Next time, we will come armed with two tools we didn’t have this time: 1) Our crew geologist, 2) A mapped out route for getting to the bottom of the canyon to see prehistory up close.
Throughout this EVA, we communicated both through the regular MDRS commercial radios, and through the Hanksville ham radio repeater. Both communication methods had dropouts, but the dropouts rarely overlapped, serving as an effective backup to each other as a way to maintain contact with the hab and the EVA team. This exact solution cannot be implemented on Mars, but a ham radio repeater is a fair analog for the site-to-site communications loop in place through a synchronous communications satellite. A colleague once told me that you can fix any problem with a spacecraft as long as you still have communications and power, and future Mars explorers will likely rely on multiple redundant modes of communication to keep that truism true.
Given our experience from the previous EVA, we elected to make this EVA with the 4 exo-suits, rather than the traditional MDRS suits. They met and exceeded our expectations for remaining comfortable for a long EVA, and the rest of the crew are eager to try them out. Having zero load on our shoulders is a welcome relief, and the limiting factor was really how long you could have your head in the suit without scratching your nose or taking a drink.
On the latter matter (thirst), we tested out a partial solution. It is our crew’s policy to carry a case of water with us in the rover’s trunk on EVAs to treat any case of dehydration. Drinking such water would be breaking sim as we would have to doff the suits to drink it. However, the ability for an EVA suit to provide the occupant with a drink without doffing the suit is already existing technology, we simply haven’t implemented it at MDRS yet. The neck ring design of the old MDRS suits makes the use of a camelback a bit ungainly, but the exosuits are perfectly shaped for it. By feeding the tube of my camelback through the vent in the suit and securing it with a twist tie, I was able to keep the port within easy reach of my mouth for the entire EVA. This solution can’t be permanent, as it would require MDRS participants to share camelbacks, but I have extensively photographed the solution and will be taking it back to the NorCal Mars Society as a proposal to try in future suits (perhaps if MDRS participants wanted to bring their own camelback). I certainly appreciated it.
On the way back, Kshitij and Melanie dropped us off at a point where we had identified on the way out, and proceeded back to the hab. Justin took out his direction radio beacon, and I faded into the background as he began his “lost astronaut” experiment. Using a Yagi antenna to determine his bearing on the hab, he began walking in the general direction while I shadowed him with a gps to check his route. After stopping 3-4 times to recover his bearings and making his way through a narrow canyon where the signal was interrupted, we climbed a hill and spotted the hab directly ahead of us in the distance! This was just a preliminary test, as we both had a fair idea of where the hab was, but on future EVAs, the test will become more challenging, eventually culminating with the test subject starting from a location where they don’t know their bearing on the hab.
Extra commendations to our EVA controller Cesare, for managing three radios while we were out and about, and finding time to suit up and join us for a 1 hour “get ahead” engineering EVA that we began when we found ourselves back at the hab an hour earlier than expected.
Note on our route: We misread the map legend indicating which roads were for PEVs (the rovers) and which were limited to ATVs. We took the rovers north along Cow Dung Rd, East along Galileo Rd and stopped where the foot travel only section began at the intersection of Cactus Rd. and Yellow Zebra Rd., near 522000 E 4253000N, before dismounting to walk the rest of the way to the site. After returning, we realized that Cactus Rd. was marked for ATVs only, and not for PEV travel. Apologies for the mistake, we are clear on the distinction now, and on our next visit, we will only take ATVs to the dismount point.