Crew 240 Journalist Report
Sol 8: Interview with: Biologist – Why go on an Analog Mission?
Hi everyone welcome back for another episode of « Interview with ». Today we are going to talk with Marion Burnichon. She is the crew’s biologist but also the crew’s botanist as Raphael is sadly not there to take care of the GreenHab.
But before starting this exciting interview let’s talk about what happened during this Sol 8 on Mars!
After the incredible exploration of Candor Chasma last week, our crew was looking for a new zone to explore, a new destination. Julie, the EVA leader of the day, decided to go for an ambitious exploration: Moon Overlook. Ok let’s make this clear, we are still on Mars, but this particular zone is characterised by a gray sand that makes it look just like the Moon. I said ambitious because it is pretty far to the North of the Hab. They went as close as they could to the zone with Curiosity and Spirit (remember those are the names of the rover we drive at MDRS), but they still had to walk pretty far after that to reach the Moon Overlook. But what they found there was worth the efforts. They discovered the 5 famous Martian Moons: the Yellow Moon, the Gray Moon, the Beige Moon, the White Moon and last but not least, The Moon.
The pictures they managed to take before coming back are awesome and the place looks so cool, but unfortunately, with Marion, we stayed at the Hab to be able to rescue them if something happens. It was the second time for me but it is what it is, I had work to do for my drone experiment and I interviewed Marion so it was a good morning too.
Talking about the drone experiment, this afternoon I trained my crewmates to use the Pix4D software so that they will be able to use the 3D maps of North Ridge for tomorrow’s EVA (as promised in a previous report I will tell you more about this experiment in a « Focus on » episode so stay tuned).
This afternoon, after the training, Julie started her project of growing spirulina. Spirulina is a very interesting algae in the context of space food. Today she created the two solutions in which the Spirulina will grow. In both, she put an additional solution of stabilised and treated urine made by Toopi-Organics, a French startup. But in one of them, she put more than in the other. The objective is to analyse the effect of their urine-based solution on the growth of Spirulina. I personally can’t wait to see the results of that cool experiment which will be the subject of a « Focus on » episode!
In the meantime, Francois and Maxime, as usual, spent some time in the RAM to print a new 3D piece. This piece was needed for the experiment Mega-Ares which aims at measuring the magnetic field of Mars. We were supposed to install this experiment with the LOAC and the weather station but we needed a piece to assemble the mast with the base. At the time I am writing this the 3D printer is still at work and we all hope it will be a success so that we can schedule an EVA this week to finally install this cool experiment!
Ok, I think it is now time for me to show you what we talked about during Marion’s interview this morning!
– “Today, we are going to interview Marion Burnichon. Hello Marion, how are you?
– I’m good, how are you?
– Great thanks! So, Marion is our crew biologist, Greenhab officer and executive officer/vice commander and we are going to talk a bit about each role, about the MDRS mission, etc. Are you ready?
-So first, for people who may not know you, could you present yourself?
-Yes, so previously, I did a bachelor of science in Physics at McGill University and performed research in astrophysics. I realized that I would prefer sending telescopes or humans to space rather than study stars directly. So, I decided to get my Master’s degree in aerospace engineering at ISAE-SUPAERO. During this time, I did my research project in mission analysis for a CubeSat mission to the Moon. This allowed me to do an internship at Airbus in trajectory optimisation for resupply missions to the Lunar Gateway space station. Now, I work on the flight dynamics team at OneWeb, on a satellite constellation in low Earth orbit.
– Ok great! So now Marion, I would like for us to talk about your role on the crew. First, you were given the title of biologist. Can you tell us more?
– Yes, so the role of biologist is not a required role by the MDRS but is still an interesting one in this mission. Since it is not mandatory, the type of projects or experiments done under the umbrella of this role is quite large. In my case, I decided to have four experiments, one on sleep, another on water quality, a third on human factors, TELEOP, and the last one is in collaboration with Spacemedex on human physiology. In my case, with the duality of vice-commander, I interpreted this role as Crew scientist in addition to my experiments. This meant that I spent time with each member of the crew to look at their experiments to check that they were pertinent scientifically, useful for the mission and feasible in the MDRS. After that, I would also help, if they needed, to develop the scientific protocols.
– The role of vice-commander, we will talk about it later so first let’s talk about the role of Greenhab officer that you took up for this mission since our official Greenhab officer Raphael could not make it. How is it going?
– Yes, unfortunately, our Greenhab officer could not come with us due to visa issues and as I explained before, my role as crew biologist was not mandatory, so I officially took up the role of Greenhab officer as this one is required. In a sentence, I take care of the greenhouse and its plants. Every morning, after our sport, I go directly to the greenhouse and check the temperature to know if I should allow for cooler air to come in. I then water the plants immediately. The earlier I can do this, the better. It will allow the plants to absorb more water before it evaporates due to the heat. During the day, I will come back when I have time to harvest some vegetables or herbs for cooking. It gives us something fresh to eat. Generally, I also come back at night to water the plants when the temperature has dropped significantly.
– So, on top of these two roles that you took up for this mission, you are also executive officer/vice commander of the crew. What does this role entail?
– This role was important during the preparation of the mission considering we could not rely on our commanding officer as much during this phase. In this role, I organised different aspects of the mission trying to anticipate the tasks that had to be done and delegating or collaborating on different tasks with crew members. With my role of biologist, I was already very present in many of the experiments of the crew. Since I was treasurer of the Club, I was also present in all of the budgeting and sponsoring aspect of the mission. So it ended up being a role that came naturally before I was even nominated for it. I thought it was a hard role to take up because I often ended up taking hard decisions for the crew when our commanding officer wasn’t there to do it. For example, we had to take the decision to cancel the mission for 2021 because of COVID, this decision came from me and was hard to bring up/discuss during the meeting. The border for coming into the USA was still closed to Europeans and France had just put a ban for leaving the French territory. Some crew members still wanted to show up to the airport and see if we would get through but from the logistical side, that would imply putting ¼ of the budget at risk which was not a good idea. And from a human point of view, I believe that the deception of being turned away at the airport would have been huge and we could not have gone back for another year of preparation to come back in 2022 like we did. It was hard to take up this role and the responsibility it came with…
– It’s true that it was a hard decision to take because we had been working on this mission for a year and most of the crew still wanted to believe that we would make it, that the borders would reopen… But it is true that it was a good idea to stop earlier and to take a step back on this situation to be able to start another year of preparation. It was necessary. Marion, a more personal question, why did you want to participate in an MDRS mission?
– In an ideal world, I would like to work for a space agency to manage human spaceflight, work with astronauts on their journey or even calculate trajectories for human spaceflight. I decided to join the Club MARS and more specifically the MDRS mission because it was a unique chance to put myself in the shoes of an astronaut. It would allow me to try to understand what can be difficult and what can be problematic for crewed missions. It is important for me to understand this to be able to face and solve these problems better.
– That makes sense. Do you see yourself on the other side of the mirror as an astronaut?
– I have asked myself that question many times and I don’t know if I have the courage or the nerves to be an astronaut. These people are so calm under stress and I don’t know if I have that quality. But in the end, I have realised that it’s not as much the part of “being in space” that attracts me to being an astronaut. I would want to be an astronaut for the scientific aspect. I had a lot of trouble choosing between Physics, Chemistry and Biology in school and being able to work with researchers at the top of their field on different types of experiments is what blows my mind. The other part that interests me is communication. Just look at Thomas Pesquet, he has so much impact on the younger generation, on their education and on our world… I find it amazing that it comes from someone with a science background.
– Last question, what is your favourite part of the day?
– My favourite moment is the communications window that takes place between 7 and 9pm where we send our reports and our photos to the MDRS staff. Maybe, this is telling that I miss communicating with the outside world but having feedback on your work and reports is nice! Receiving a “I can’t wait to reading your next report”, “you took some really nice pictures today”, or “you are doing great work” is always nice to hear. Every day, we work and send reports to be put online on our website and our social media but without the MDRS staff, we have no feedback on our work. It is nice to have encouragements or congrats after a day of work!
– I agree with you! Alright so this interview is over, thank you so much for your time, it was really nice!
– Thank you for doing this!”
That is the end of this interview, a longer version will be uploaded on YouTube but I will tell you more about that later! In any case I hope you enjoyed this episode of « Interview with ». I personally really enjoyed doing it and I can’t wait for the next one which is coming soon! See you in tomorrow’s report which will be a « Focus on » so stay tuned!