Journalist Report – May 3rd

Crew 235 Journalist Report 03May2021
Author: Jennifer Grimes, Crew Journalist
Sol 1: Questioning My Life Choices
As I pulled up to the red cattle guard at 10:15 pm last night, I questioned where am I at? What have I gotten myself into? It took about 30 minutes in the dark to locate the MDRS. Once I arrived at the MDRS and was secure inside I felt more comfortable with my decision to come here. I was so tired from my 19.5 hour drive I crashed and slept all now. After getting up I enjoyed a great pancake for breakfast. Crew started the day with a tour of MDRS and proper training on how to operate and maneuver the rovers. After that we were excited to get our flight suits and gear up to do our practice EVA. We were instructed on the optimal safety protocols to survive on Mars while completing our real EVAs. We collected rock samples while out on our practice EVA. After our lunch break we went to the lab, created agar, that we set up in a ziplock bag to see what bacteria will grow from the samples we collected. After experiencing the practice EVA I am so ready to begin our SIM. We will wake up on Mars tomorrow.

Crew 235 Journalist Report 03May2021
Author: Allison Weber, Crew Journalist
Sol 1: Mission Log

With a meeting set for 9am, the cohort woke up in various states of coherence between the hours of 6 and 8:30. Some were early risers, taking their tea and the morning to themselves. Others, like me, tried to sleep as long as they could on a Monday morning. The one thing you have to understand about our cohort is that it’s the educator mission. Part of NASA’s "Spaceward Bound" program, MDRS brought 7 teachers to the desert of Hanksville, Utah for a week-long professional development/Mars analog simulation/STEM education opportunity. No students to manage? No papers to grade? And all sorts of science to learn? This was a learning vacation, and I was determined to make the most of it by catching up on my sleep.

Breakfast was as characteristic of teachers as was considering waking up at 7 "sleeping in": coffee and whatever else you could quickly find. The cohort struggled productively against the drip coffee maker. Upon seeing our sorry breakfasts, the commander decided to make us a REAL breakfast of blueberry and chocolate chip pancakes. The leftovers were stowed away for later. I ate all of them for lunch.

Shannon (Director of MDRS) and Atila (Assistant Director) came up to the main living habitat to enjoy the morning with us. Shannon was the one who had written the handbook. She was the one behind such ominous phrases as "If you don’t bring [Object from the recommended supply list], you might as well leave". With that and infrequent emails being my only exposure to Shannon prior to arriving at MDRS, I was intimidated by the mere idea of her. Shannon moseyed into the living space wearing leggings reminiscent of the works of Piet Mondrian and a graphic tee of a triceratops skeleton and the phrase "COPROLITE HAPPENS". She still intimidates me, but in a good way.

Hearing the discussion between Shannon, Atila, and Jen (our commander, who had been here before) enlightened me on the different philosophies there could be towards "sims". Simulation learning was one of those methods of instruction I’d heard about in college, but was never given the opportunity or the resources to study in-depth. It’s too resource- and preparation-intensive to do often in the classroom. In the unique environment provided by MDRS, simulation learning can be explored and enacted at a scale inequivalent, but comparable, to that in the classroom.

The group discussed concerns as small as practicing mise en place and as big as instilling life skills in the next generation. As Shannon recounted, groups would leave the rover without plugging it in to charge. The natural consequence of this was not being allowed to use it the following day, resulting in very frustrated researchers. Atila phrased it as the researchers forgetting; Shannon phrased it as lack of action. "People don’t understand how to be proactive," she said. The difference in mindsets between the two top members of our group was fascinating to see. What was even better was the constructive way people disagreed! Respectful problem-solving and communication skills are going to be invaluable on Mars.

A little before noon, we took our first steps on "Mars". (We still weren’t "in sim", the phrase for actively treating the world around us as Mars.) Suiting up beforehand was an experience. First, we had to change out of civilian clothes; then, into undershirts and leggings to wick away sweat; then socks; then flight suits; then shoes; THEN suits. Depending on the model of spacesuit you chose, it could’ve been between 10 and 20lbs. Both models had an abysmal range of motion for your head, and vision that all but eliminated your peripheral view. Helmets clunk together in the airlock. We got all nice and cozy, shoulder-to-shoulder, before heading out.

Our very first trip on Mars was a sacred experience. All we did was take the rover up to Pooh’s Corner, look at rocks, and spot an extraterrestrial lizard, but it was just… even if I HAD brought a thesaurus, I would not be able to find the words to describe it. Meditative, amazing, joyful, engaging, enlightening, all at once. We felt the weight of the helmets and packs long after we returned to the Hab and suited down.

After our trip, we found canned tuna, and tried to make mayo to bind it together into a tuna fish cracker spread. A pair of our crewmembers said it wasn’t bad, but as I stared on at the pumpkin puree-colored mass lumped between the prongs of a whisk, I had the complete opposite of a spiritual experience and felt less "enlightened monk" and more "Gordon Ramsey".

The rest of the day was good. Some of us took naps, some of us talked. We learned how to make agar (the gel-like substance found in petri dishes) in a classroom setting and went on a hunt around the Hab for surfaces to swab. Within the next few days, we’ll try to guess who swabbed what based on the pattern of bacterial growth. A crew member threw out the joke that we would be safe to put the samples in the incubator, so long as we didn’t wake up encased in goo. That may contribute to some John Carpenter nightmares later tonight.

As I write this, the crew, including Atila and Shannon, are seated in the upper floor of the Hab. We are about to have Spam and rice for dinner. I’ve eaten enough candy bars (only Mars brand, of course) and dehydrated strawberries that my stomach grumbles, so it looks like this trip will have two end results for me: a wealth of knowledge on the whole process of simulation learning, and the loss of at least 5 pounds.