Ben Durkee, Crew 218 Journalist
Today I was informed that the GreenHab isn't soundproof. The past few sols I've been going in there and belting out some Billy Joel while photographing and hanging out with the plants. I'm not quite homesick yet, but I would say I'm becoming a bit pianosick, if that makes any sense. Keeping my pipes warm helps keep me from going space crazy, I think - maybe it helps the plants grow too. Only now do I find out that the rest of the crew heard everything. I've been betrayed by the only other people on the planet. I'll show them. Once I become the first Martian Disney princess, they'll see. They'll all see.
In other, somewhat bittersweet news, today was our last EVA! EVA 12 on Sol 12; it was very exciting, featuring both ends of the expeditionary spectrum. We gathered great data and explored a beautiful part of the landscape, but we also encountered considerably more technical difficulties than on any of the other EVAs. LuzMa, Shefali, and I set off after sunrise and took the rovers North. We continued our trajectory until one of the rovers was just above the "return home" threshold and we had found the spot for our surveys. We each gathered the last data we would get for our Mars research projects and returned to the rovers. In the midst of our data collection, we hit a few road bumps.
The EMU suits are perfect for keeping us alive and (somewhat) mobile on the Martian surface. However, they have one Achilles' heel: the fog problem. Because of the humidity of our breath, the transparent surface of the helmet begins to fog up progressively, even with air continually flowing into the helmet. This problem can be mostly circumvented by wearing a bandana or scarf which will divert your breath away from the view-bubble, but even then some condensation escapes. Additionally, this strategy is not foolproof. If your face mask falls down during any point in the EVA, it's game over. You can't reach into the helmet to adjust or re-secure it, and all my attempts to recover it by mouth have been unsuccessful (and presumably very entertaining).
We found that something about the weather conditions today made the helmets particularly ripe for fogging. Compound that with the rocky drive which shook off all of our masks, and you've got a recipe for three blind astronauts. While we walked around gathering our data, the exertion of trudging through snow in the EMUs had our helmets looking like mystical crystal balls before long.
When we regrouped at the rovers, we found that we still had quite a bit of time remaining in our EVA window. We rested for a few minutes and regulated our breathing in an attempt to mitigate the fogging as much as possible. It worked, temporarily. It was at this point where we simulated a radio malfunction for Shefali's human factors research. We ran through communication loss protocol, in the midst of which we discovered a real equipment fault - a wardrobe malfunction.
I don't know if you've ever tried to tie someone's shoes with gloves on, but it's impossible. Now try with only 50% of your normal vision and 30% of your standard range of motion. Through the magic of Mars, one of the first things we learn as children becomes the hardest task imaginable. After trying profusely to tie a traditional bow, I gave up and just tied three overhand knots (the normal one that is the basis of a bow knot). Yes, I used some of our very limited bandwidth to google what that knot is called. Maybe I should've become a Boy Scout, after all.
We got everything sorted out and decided to use our remaining EVA time to explore the surrounding area. We marched through the harsh marsh of Martian snow and discovered a beautiful grotto hidden away in the rocks. It had a frozen stream flowing into it which terminated under an enchanting overhang of red rock. Beautiful orange icicles cascaded down from the overhang, appearing to be a set of alien vines. Below those gathered some lovely frozen foliage and picturesque rocks, all seeking shelter from the sun. I can only imagine what that nook what look like on warmer days.
I suggested that we dub it Bean Grotto, in honor of the bean detritus and bean puns that have been plaguing our crew as of late. The comms chatter blew up with groans and firm "No!"s. I didn't hear anyone suggest a different name, though...
In our excursion to the desert cove, our helmets continued fogging up with haze that just would not disappear, no matter how hard we tried. We eventually had to return to the rovers to try and solve the issue, or worst case allow us enough time to drive home in spite of the fog problem. We attempted to regulate our breathing and to wipe the glass with our faces, but to no avail. As our last resort, we had to break simulation to clear our visors of obstruction. It was unfortunate, but safety comes first and you don't mess around with vehicles in the unforgiving Martian desert.
After a cautious, rugged drive home and a few pauses for the fog to clear once more, we all made it back to the Hab safely. We regaled the crew with the tale of our heroics and spent a short while to catch our breath. Then came time to begin Habitat clean-up.
It's wistful, having to gather up our belongings from the giant terrarium that we've just grown accustomed to living in. This place had just become our home, and now we have to return it to its original state so we can pass the torch to our successors. In spite of the melancholy, I'm super stoked to meet the astronauts who will soon inherit the station. Their pod lands tomorrow afternoon, and we are ready to welcome them with open arms. It will be nice to see some fresh faces after two weeks! And then bombard them with inside jokes and the quirks of Martian living that we've discovered.
After some more spring cleaning and then a dinner assembled of the remaining food scraps, we will retire for our last night alone in the Hab. It's been one hell of a ride, that's for sure. These two weeks have been unbelievably dense with learning, bonding, and growing as individuals. The Ben that arrived on Mars and the Ben that will blast off on Sunday are two drastically different people. This has been an incredibly valuable experience, and I don't think I'll know what to do with myself once I'm back on Earth. I guess we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Now, it's time for me to grab the broom and head back to the GreenHab for a little more quality time with my plant pals. At least they appreciate my singing.