Sol Summary – January 3rd

Sol:1

Summary Title: Reaping the Benefits of Productive Anxiety

Author’s name: Sionade Robinson

Mission Status: After two years of anticipation, Crew 238 have been
getting acclimatised to MDRS and has been working hard to complete
training to support our mission.

Sol Activity Summary: Crew 238 completed training with suits, campus
map, Mars Rover care and driving practice, and living in Sim with MDRS
Mission Support.

Look Ahead Plan: Mission Control recommended two rehearsal EVAs
tomorrow to Marble Ritual – we request one at 11am and one at 2pm.

Anomalies in work: None

Weather: Crisp and clear

Crew Physical Status: Nominal

EVA: Practice drives for all crew with Spirit, Opportunity and
Curiosity to Galileo Road.

Reports to be filed: Sol, Operations, HSO and EVA Request (see above)

Support Requested: Support for two practice EVAs.

Sol Summary – December 20th

Crew 236 Sol Summary Report 20-DEC-2021

Sol: 1

Summary Title: Living Martian

Author’s name: Kasey Hilton

Mission Status: Nominal, sim started this morning

Sol Activity Summary: Today was the first day of simulation. After our first Martian breakfast, we headed to the lower deck of the Hab to prepare for the two training EVA to Marble Ritual. While part of the crew was on EVA, ENG had the amazing opportunity to practice emptying the toilet tank! We settled down this evening to discover a little more about each other over dinner (like the fact that everyone else in the crew puts the toilet paper roll facing the wrong way).

Look Ahead Plan: Tomorrow will be spent in the Hab working on research and outreach projects inside. More EVA are planned in the following days.

Anomalies in work: None

Weather: Sunny and clear all day, high in the upper 30s.

Crew Physical Status: Crew Scientist accidentally inhaled a whole Thai pepper during dinner, but besides that everyone is still feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed.

EVA: We had two EVA today to train the crew. Both went to Marble Ritual and the nearby hills. All members of the crew felt confident and comfortable with both EVA attire and protocol after.

Reports to be filed: Operations Report, GreenHab Report, EVA Report, Health and Safety Initial Report, Sol Summary, and Journalist Report (with photos).

Support Requested: None

Journalist Report – December 20th

Journalist Report
Ben Durkee, Crew 236 Journalist

Sol 01

A crew’s first day on Mars is a huge milestone. Not just for them and their list of first date talking points, but for the scientific community as a whole. A day on Mars is an infinite data set of cosmic and psychological information. The latter is the most fascinating, especially with this crew.

And [Sol 01] is the gun that starts the race. A sunrise on a new day on a new crew on a new planet ushers in a sea of new potential discoveries, friendships, and data sets. So how did it begin for Crew 236?

Absolutely frigid.

I mean I was covered head to toe in goosebumps, and I didn’t even know you *could* get goosebumps on your head. The ensemble sound of the "2001: A Space Odyssey" song (you know the one) crescendo’d through everyone’s doors ((and my lack thereof)) and woke all who were not already awake from the human popsicling process.

Luckily, turning the heater off and back on again periodically seems to do the trick. Who would’ve thought that that strategy still works on Mars. We may have to take shifts or MacGyver some sort of switch-flipping apparatus to keep it going through the cold, unforgiving nights. Until then, I suppose we’re getting the full "cryosleep" experience!

After warming ourselves externally with the space heater and internally with dubious Mars hot chocolate, we launched into our day like a well-oiled machine. A gorgeous sunrise, a hearty breakfast, and a thorough Extravehicular Activity (EVA) prep; and before we knew it, it was time to embark on our first excursion outside the confines of the Habitat.

We separated into two groups and tackled an age-old tradition: Marble Ritual. One group goes on EVA and each individual places a rock into a particular basket located in a clearing not too far from the Habitat. Meanwhile, the remaining group can babysit the basket boys from the comfort of the Hab couch. A perfect system for a first EVA, if you ask me.

It’s been a few hours since then – dinner has elapsed as well, and the time for reflection has snuck up on me in the most familiar way. This ain’t my first rodeo aboard the MDRS, I was in a similar position two years ago. And I promised myself this time around I’d be much more proactive about getting the journalist reports done in a timely manner. But, alas, here we are.

The introspection just doesn’t flow the same without the impending threat of time itself, y’know?

Being here again, I don’t feel like I’ve made it. I don’t feel like a pro, or a veteran, or a college graduate, or a skilled engineer. I feel humbled – like I’m back at square one and I have to prove my mettle all over again.

I closed my eyes an ignorant college kid and opened them aboard the world’s most heavily-engineered sardine can, surrounded by people way smarter than me. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But some of them still don’t know which way to put a toilet paper roll? Seriously, what’s up with that???

Journalist Report – December 21st

Journalist Report
Ben Durkee, Crew 236 Journalist

Sol 02

Today was one of those days where the windmills turn just a little bit slower. Contrary to yesterday, we had no EVAs planned. So instead of focusing on breaking out of the Hab, we could focus on breaking it in.

And we learned a lot about the old girl. We learned that if you think you’re drinking enough water, you’re not. The air here is synthesized but it still has the humidity of the arid Martian desert. We learned to be more careful walking up the stairs, lest you smack your knee with the force of a thousand suns. And by "we," I mean "I." I’ve made some blunders.

We also learned that our heater problem was mostly user error, and that the loft – my room – is just perpetually cold. As soon as I’m done writing, I’ll be burrowing into a mega-chrysalis of my own design in the hopes that tomorrow I emerge a beautiful (cozy) Martian butterfly. I’m not sure how the clumsiest member of the crew ended up with the room that requires a ladder to get into, but so be it! Martian boys make do.

In the vacuum left by EVA slots, we found a lot of personal time. Time we could dedicate to personal research (watching Vladimir singlehandedly tape measure the inside of the Habitat) or personal enrichment (power naps). We’re all still figuring out where we work best, but we got a lot done in our first bottle episode of many. I’m currently writing this from the comfort of the GreenHab, my eyes burnt violet from the nighttime growth LEDs.

The plants make great writing buddies! They laugh at my jokes just as much as the crew, and talk a lot less. Plus, they graced us with some gifts today: a carrot and a cucumber! It’s only Sol 02 so the yearning for fresh food hasn’t hit us just yet, but it’s nice to know the GreenHab is a solid safety net.

All in all, it’s been a day of learning experiences, productive downtime, and bountiful harvests.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some important cocooning to attend to.

Journalist Report – December 30th

Journalist Report
Ben Durkee, Crew 236 Journalist

Sol 11

Kasey:

Someone this rotation was quoted saying “if this crew had a sitcom, it would be called Fourth Rock From the Sun”. Let me tell you a little about how this sitcom would go. For starts, the cast half the time would speak in the most obnoxious British accent you can imagine. And no one is even British. We’re from places like Texas, Singapore, and like Middle of a Cornfield, Indiana. The intro for the show would be one of those 90s type intros where the camera focuses on each one of the crew members and they look up from what they’re doing and smile. Think of the intro scene from an At-Capacity-Home in San Fransisco. In the show, Ben would alway be running late. Tyler would be the one sick of everyone else’s antics. Vladimir would be the one that uses WAY too much water in the shower. Cesare would be the only serious one. Dylan would be the quiet one that delivers the killer one liners. Pavi would be the cool skater girl. And Kasey… well I’d be the single mom the show centers around, trying to get all her kids to soccer practice on time and without a fight breaking out in the back of the minivan. Every episode would end how they all do, with everyone gathering around the dinner table, sharing laughs, love, and all that ~wholesome~ stuff.

Tyler:

In many ways, the work of a Crew Scientist is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their research and their selves to our judgment. I neither lead the charge on our toilet troubles like our valiant engineer nor devote tireless hours to curate daily reports like our crafty journalist, yet I remain proud of my contributions, nonetheless. When I am not collating the research of my crewmates or conducting that of my own, I often find myself performing the role of apprentice to a fellow crewmate: a Green Hab Officer Jr. if you will. Immersing myself in our little pocket of nature helps ground me when the barren Martian landscape feels too stark, and the humidity reminds me of the hometown I so dearly miss. Even so, the inherent difficulties of interplanetary travel did not escape me during this mission. The cancellation and shortening of multiple EVAs due to inclement weather and system failures certainly sought to throw a wrench in my thermal imaging research. Our experienced Executive Officer came to the rescue, however, inspiring a creative redesign of my EVA scanning plan. Thus, I was able to accomplish in one EVA to Candor Chasma what took me two to Barainca Butte. In all, I have been humbled by this experience, and I would not have it any other way. Crew Scientist Out.

Pavi:

I’ve had a blast at MDRS. My duties as crew engineer especially rocketed in week 2, when everything that could break seemed to do so, just to put me to the test. On the bright side, I picked up some basic plumbing skills (thank you, Vlad!), learnt how to troubleshoot EVA suits, and how to keep our furnace from intermittently freezing us (amazing what an on/off function can do). I also successfully cooked a few dinners out of dehydrated foods that did NOT kill my fellow crew members — I’d call that a win. It has been really interesting to see our group dynamic go from "hi everyone, how’s it going?" to "somebuhdy come geederrr". I will surely miss playing mechanic on this red planet, but I think I will miss british-accenting long dead meme references with my fellow crew members just as much, if not more.

Vladimir:

MDRS has been a phenomenal experience. Being the greenhab officer has allowed me to take my mind off the normally busy and chaotic world and focus on growing edible food. It has also been a warm escape from the hab and the crew. Being able to do research for my masters thesis has been so much fun. I could not have asked for a better crew. Seriously, these last 2 weeks have been an amazing time and have far exceeded all expectations I had about what MDRS could have been.

Dylan:

I had a great time serving as the Crew Astronomer on this mission! Less astronomy happened than I would have hoped but as is so adequately stated by the finest, and only, journalist on this planet: Martian boys make do. A variety of mechanical problems in the Musk Solar Observatory needed to be solved utilizing nothing but emails with the fantastic astronomy support team. By the time these were solved, high winds and poor weather prevented usage of the solar observatory, so unfortunately no images of the Solar Chromosphere and Prominence were captured. However, nighttime observations saved the day (or night?). The robotic observatories at MDRS are not currently operational, so I was graciously allowed to use the Montana Learning Center’s robotic observatory to capture images of nebulae, open star clusters, and double stars. My favorite images are by far the Orion Nebula and Whirlpool Galaxy. Given the slow local Wi-Fi, I was not able to download all of the huge files necessary to process each image. I have many images left to complete and will be able to continue my work upon departure from the station and output some more beautiful images. Outside of astronomy, this mission was everything I hoped it could be. I truly feel like I got the life on Mars experience and contributed to humanity’s knowledge and preparedness of inhabiting other worlds. Ad Astra

Cesare:

My fourth rotation at MDRS is coming to a close and it is a good moment to think a little bit about it, now that our stomachs are stuffed with homemade pizza. After the mission was delayed by Covid, it has been two years since my last rotation. I came here, as usual, with more challenges to myself (extremely low communications with the world), but I did not know exactly what to expect, being such a seasoned veteran. As usual, MDRS did not betray my expectations: new challenges, unexpected events to deal with, a nice crew with some old friends and some new ones. The rotation felt much shorter than usual, but filled with good work, breathtaking views both from the Hab and on EVA, laughter, team-bonding moments, celebrations. It was particularly good for me to see the reactions of the new members of the crew to all the novelty of life at MDRS. I am glad that I also shared some of that awe when I visited places that I had never been before, including some place that I have been chasing for years. Like always, I am now ready to go back to meet my friends, to being able to communicate with people easily and frequently but also, like always, I will be craving for more time here.

Ben:

I can’t believe I actually got those suckers to do my job for me. It’s too bad I’m gonna miss ’em.

I’m gonna miss a lot about this place. The infinitely stretching Martian landscape. Cesare’s sensational cooking. Sneaking candid photos of the crew from my loft above the table every morning. Singing to the cuccs and the zuccs in the GreenHab to help them grow (and for my own sanity). The soreness in my shoulders the day after a good EVA. Getting my nails done in the Hab common room while yelling at the wind to stop blasting across the holes in the roof.

Two missions I’ve completed here now, and I’ve never been able to decipher why those holes are there. Feng shui, I guess.

But regardless of its quirks – and maybe as a result of them – this place has an uncanny way of bringing people together. I met some of these people just 11 Sols ago, and I feel like I know them better than I know myself. That’s the camaraderie of making do together – the synergy of shared experience on this cold, unforgiving, incredible planet. That’s the magic of Mars. Or maybe it was just us incessantly joking about the "poop stick."

This mission was a bit shorter than my last, but I’ve enjoyed every second of it. Even the part where I died.

But now, I think I’m ready.

I’m ready to have a drink or three with Vladimir and Cesare at the Denver Spaceport. I’m ready to compulsively slip back into my Martian accent and annoy everyone on Earth. I’m ready to go outside without a fishbowl on my head. I’m ready to look out the window and be greeted by colors other than red. I’m ready to sleep in a real bed with my dog curled up at the foot. I’m ready to enter the new year with a new perspective molded by my time offworld. I’m ready to hold my diploma and finally let the gravity of it all hit me. I’m ready to start the next chapter of my life.

It’s been a phenomenal ride, and I think I’m finally ready to go home.

Journalist Report – December 28th

Journalist Report
Ben Durkee, Crew 236 Journalist

Sol 09

There’s a razor’s edge between being too hot or too cold on EVA. Today was expected to be below freezing, cloudy, and the conclusion to our trilogy of windy days. So I donned a commensurate amount of layers. I looked like the Michelin man under my EVA suit.

It was 2 or 3 minutes into the airlock decompression cycle when I realized I had made a severe miscalculation. I was sweating like a Martian at a Flat Earth conference. My fears were confirmed when I was even melting on the rover ride, our short period of maximum airflow. I tried not to think about my perspirant predicament and the long hike ahead, and immersed myself in my journalistic duties.

West of our stomping grounds resides a magnificent Martian mountain. I’m not well-versed enough in my planetary geography to distinguish if it’s Olympus Mons, but it certainly is of Olympic proportion. To call it picturesque would be doing a disservice to its proud peaks and cascading crevasses. As the crew photographer, it certainly makes my job easier.

So you can imagine my dismay when Kasey, Vladimir, and I descended into Candor Chasma and the mountain faded out of view, occluded by the craggy canyon walls. Fortunately, we discovered that Mars’s valleys can contain just as much splendor as its summits.

The walls continued to grow around us as we walked for what seemed like an eternity into the bowels of the chasm. Some stretches were completely devoid of life, some rife with strange Martian flora, but all of them had lack of fauna and were overcome with a stillness only possible on another planet. We slowly realized the absolutely astronomical age of this world as we observed the diverse colors in the towering rocks surrounding us. An unbelievable quantity of layers on top of layers on top of layers. Like an onion. Or an ogre. Or me, head to toe in insulating garments.

Our goal within the belly of the beast was to scout viable locations for a potential second Habitat, a crucial part of Vladimir’s research. To cover the most ground we took a circuitous route, winding our way deeper and deeper into the abyss. Eventually, we had wandered for so long that we had reached the halfway point of our EVA’s scheduled time. It was time to turn around. It was also at this point that it dawned on me: every step we took into the pass we would have to take back out. And now it was uphill.

I learned a lot about the geology of this alien world whilst descending into Candor Chasma. But coming back out, I learned a valuable lesson about myself. I need to do more cardio.

This time, seeing the mountain wasn’t just eye candy – it was salvation. I slumped into the passenger seat of Spirit, our rover, and I’m confident that in that moment you could’ve fried an egg on my skin. I was one toasty Martian.

While we waited for the airlock to repressurize, we took a look at our path into the ravine on the GPS, and we had barely scratched the surface. What to us was a long-winded test of our endurance and stamina turned out to be an infinitesimally small foray in the grand scale of the chasm. I’m gonna need Heelys or something next time.

After recovering from our expedition, we all slipped into our regular cycle of napping, working on research, and just generally hanging out. Some of us got to talking about what we miss about Earth. We love the Hab and couldn’t imagine a better home on the fourth rock from the sun, but sometimes it’s hard not to yearn for some of the amenities only present on number three. Personally, I’d kill for a hot bath and a gin and tonic.

But we’ve got work to do here on Mars, and we’re not leaving until we see it through. In the meantime, I suppose hot chocolate and the company of friends will have to suffice!