Commander Report – April 20th

“Any feelings of claustrophobia when dealing with tight living quarters/space suits/small habitat?”

Not for me! We have several buildings we have access to. The main one, the Hab, is a two-floor, ~30-foot diameter cylinder. The bottom floor includes the bathroom, washroom, airlocks, spacesuit room, and a common space. The top floor is half our bunks (“staterooms” that are long thing rooms with a bunk bed), and the kitchen. I think the staterooms are the most confined space. You have a narrow hall to go down, and then either have a top or bottom bunk setup (the room interlock so neighboring rooms have either top or bottom). The top bunk is fairly close to the ceiling. I think it would feel constraining if I were claustrophobic but I fit nicely and my only concern is hitting my head if I sit up too fast in the morning!

The other three buildings are the Science Dome, RAM, and GreenHab. The GreenHab is beautiful and warm, and feels incredibly comfortable. It’s a tight space however, and we try not to stay in it if not for a reason. Plus, it gets sweaty.

The RAM is the smallest building and is for engineering and mechanical work and storage. Definitely don’t stay in there long.

Finally, I absolutely adore the ScienceDome. The view of the planet around us is incredible, as there’s a wide window, and it’s spacious and hemispherical, so it feels a bit like a planetarium – which I love!

In reality, 90% of my day not on EVA is spent at the kitchen table, which is the common space we work, eat, and hang out at. However, despite that, I don’t feel too claustrophobic about any of it.

Your mileage may vary though – this is a short-duration Mars trip, the reality may be more challenging.

“How do the space suits you’re using compare to what might actually be used on Mars?”

Although the spacesuits we are using wouldn’t protect us from the radiation or the atmosphere of Mars, they do contain an air filter system and a simulated "oxygen tank" which ups the fidelity for how they feel on EVA. They also include communications between us, so that we are fully on radio comms from the minute we put them on.

“Oddest habit you’ve picked up while on the mission?”

ACK! On the evening before we drove out to the station, we were reading the handbook and preparing for a training quiz. On the section preparing me for my daily reports and emails with CapComm, it noted that you need to “ACK” each email you get, including one immediately at 1900 MT when the Capcomm comes online. That… clearly is indicating you need to “acknowledge” the emails. However, our crew is more creative than that.

We now acknowledge all verbal and written communications with a loud ACK sound, preceded typically by a “Roger Roger.”

An example dialogue:

“Shayna, can you grab the dehydrated potatoes from the cabinet.”

“XO to Crew Botanist, Roger Roger, ACK.”

“Do days feel too planned out sometimes?”

You know, not particularly! I think it’s because although we start the day with a lot of planning and a whole google calendar, by noon, it’s all in constant flux. Whatever problems come up that day dictate how much the schedule changes, and so although we know what we are supposed to do, throughout the day we must adapt and figure out how to prioritize what we need to get done to make the day a success while also handling any spontaneous challenges.

“Do you wear diapers when doing EVAs?”

Nope! Apparently, some crews have brought them to use, though, to preserve the fidelity of the sim. We were informed that after their first time using them on EVA, they immediately stopped and chose to break sim instead for bathroom breaks.

“Is there a Roomba?”

No, clearly we would have one on real Mars, though.

“What are some of the issues you and the team are running into?”

Time and weather! It’s normal for crews to only finish 50% or so of the work they intended to while at the station. Our first week (this is being written on 4/18/21) we encountered significant winds for a few days, making a few EVA’s end early. Because of this, we didn’t have the samples to begin science right away. None of this is abnormal, however it is an indication of the kinds of problems we might face on Mars.

Those Martian dust storms, eh?

“Where does your waste go?”

We have a septic tank which contains liquid and solid waste until they are consumed by bacteria. It’s modeled after the plumbing system of a recreational vehicle (RV), where the waste is stored and then released to a larger septic system.

“Have you seen a monolith out there yet?”

Not yet, but I’m always on the lookout. Never know where those aliens will land, after all.

“Where does your water come from? Is it reusable?”

In this simulation, our water was not reused, however we hope on Mars that it would be! We are given a finite amount of water at the beginning of the simulation from the nearest locality and measure out what daily quantities we feel comfortable using while still retaining a safety buffer. We have found that this is a good practice for learning resource management and conservation and hope to transition to reuse in future analog missions. We take a shower about once a week each!

“What types of tasks fill up the majority of your work time?” and “What does a typical day look like?”

The majority of my time is filled with writing reports! As the Executive Officer, I’ve taken on the tasks of writing our daily Sol Summaries, Commanders’ Reports, and Photo uploads for the Mars Society. Documentation, documentation, documentation! The other tasks that take up my day are going on EVA, acting as Habcomm for other EVA crews, and working on soil sample analysis for my astrobiology study here.

However, the other roles have a variety of other tasks!

The Crew Botanist and Scientist spend a majority of their time monitoring their research in the GreenHab and in the Science Dome. In addition, our Crew Botanist has a talent for cooking, and tends to take lead on mealtimes, with the rest of us acting as sous chefs!

The Commander, in addition to working on larger-scale projects and leadership of the crew, also has a knack for filmography and has run the majority of our media efforts, including the mockumentary we will be putting out.

The Health and Safety Officer, in addition to her role tasks of taking care of crew members, running pre-EVA checks, and writing health reports as necessary, also is doing several experiments in botany and interviews her crew mates about their experiences as analog astronauts.

Last but far from least, the Crew Engineer has potentially the most variable job. He is the handyman extraordinaire of the crew, and not only runs his own experiments in dexterity while wearing spacesuit gloves, but handles the water, power, and septic systems, completing a daily operations report on the functioning of the whole station. His role is absolutely vital, and in my opinion, makes or breaks the success of a crew.

“How immersive have you found the experience to be?”

This experience is exactly as immersive as you make it. On Earth, there are ways to “break sim” whenever you want. You can take off your spacesuit and not, well, die. You can leave a window open. You can bring tons of food with you into sim that in reality you wouldn’t have on Mars. The sim is exactly what you put into it, and MDRS will support you in making it as real of an experience as you can have on Earth.

However, there is significant benefit to not breaking sim. To making sure no skin is exposed to the outside air while on EVA. To not loitering between buildings. To working with dehydrated food and not turning on your phone to google recipes.

Because, while the outside looks like Mars and the inside has the technology first crews on Mars might find themselves with, those are the daily struggles that really drive it home that this isn’t make-believe or pretending.

I am in the process of writing another essay about the immersivity of the analog astronaut experience, I would urge you to check back to read it. I have been personally surprised by how immersive I have found the simulation, even without the gravity change and with the occasional sighting of a bug or critter, and think that the more fidelity you give your own experience, the more you are likely to learn.

Shayna Hume, XO
Red Planet People – MDRS Crew 245 "Team Patamars"To Mars and Beyond – For All!

Commander's Report – April 18th

Being an astronaut is a full-time job. In fact, that is probably one of the most stressful parts of the gig. No matter how you try to create a work-life balance, the truth of the matter is that you live in your office, and that means you’re always on call.

Being an analog astronaut is no different. We live in the Hab at MDRS, which is a two-floor, ~30-foot diameter structure. There are three offshoot buildings we can access, the RAM, the GreenHab, and the Science Dome. The bottom floor of the Hab includes the wash room, toilet, airlock, and spacesuit room, which leaves…. The top floor of the Hab. Half of that is “staterooms” – long tube bedrooms you can slide into at night – and the other half is the kitchen and common space table.

Most of life in the Hab takes place at that table.

Because of that, you’re permanently on stand-by, even on your time “off.”

This is a peek into how tightly our days are packed, and how vital it then becomes to make the most of alone and “off” time.

A Sol in the Life:

0730: Wake up, do any morning routines to get ready.

0800: Breakfast and a Crew Briefing for the Day. Multitasking to get a little extra sleep in!

0830: Move to the bottom floor of the Hab and begin procedures to leave for EVA. Procedures include, for the EVA Crew, sterilizing equipment, going over equipment checklists, vitals with the Health and Safety Officer, getting into flight suits, and checking comms – before of course, moving into the spacesuit “clean room” and being fitted into your spacesuit (a backpack/oxygen tank combination, in our case, turning on air systems, and completing final comms checks. The Hab crew assists in all of the above. Just prior to the EVA time, the EVA crew will head into and seal the airlock. One of the crew members, appointed “Habcomm,” will run a 5-minute timer for the compression of the airlock before giving the EVA crew permission to leave.

0900: The airlock is opened and the EVA crew can leave. They turn on the rover (named Perseverance!) and choose one of the two ATV’s. Over the next ten minutes, as they leave the Hab grounds and the immediate vicinity of the Hab grounds, Habcomm begins to lose comms with them. For the next half an hour, the EVA crew travels by vehicle to their location, and the Habcomm checks in every minute or so until they are out of comms rage.

0930: (1) The EVA crew arrives at their target location, and confirms using the map of the local area and GPS coordinates. Typically, they prioritize the EVA into the following categories.

1. Find and evaluate a primary emergency shelter.

2. Find an ideal spot for science given the targeted geology of the day. Take 3-4 soil samples using determined procedure.

3. Take photos of the area surrounding soil samples.

4. Find a second emergency shelter.

5. Take additional footage and photos for STEM outreach, PR, and other reasons.

(2) During this time, the Hab crew goes about other morning tasks. Personal items tend to include brief military showers, face-washing and teeth-brushing, and short exercises. Group items tend to include doing the dishes from breakfast, cleaning up the common spaces, and report-writing for our daily reports back to CapComm. Work items include checking on science research, monitoring Hab operations and power/water usage, and staying near the comms in case the EVA crew needs them. These activities tend to take up the entire time until the EVA crew gets back in Comms.

1115: The EVA crew begins to head back to the Hab, allowing for an extra time buffer.

1130: Around this time, the EVA crew gets back into comms range with Habcomm, and confirms an estimated time of arrival back to the Hab grounds. The entire Hab crew begins to prepare for arrival of the EVA crew and conclude their activities.

1145: The EVA crew requests permission to enter the Hab grounds, parks, turns on, and puts the Rover on a charger, and sends back information regarding charge and hours used. They then receive permission to enter the Hab airlock.

1150: EVA crew enters Hab airlock, Hab crew remains in spacesuit antechamber. The EVA is complete with ~10 minutes to spare.

1155: The EVA crew exits the airlock back into the Hab. One Hab crew member takes the science samples and puts them into the Space Dome freezer, while the other two help the EVA crew to take off their spacesuits and store the suits and helmets safely. Typically, one crew member has also begun lunch, and returns to the kitchen to continue working on it.

1205: The EVA crew takes time to change out of their flight suits and store electronics and other personal items taken on EVA. EVA crew members also check on their scientific research if needed.

1245: Lunch is served!

1345: Lunch concludes, including a debrief of the morning EVA. The crew splits up. Members who need to check on scientific research go to do so, while those who are less obligated at the moment take point on cleaning the dishes and the kitchen. Crew members who are working on studies that require check-ins with the rest of the crew call on individuals to come together for those moments (i.e., our dexterity study where each of us needs to take dexterity tests daily wearing different spacesuit gloves). Once the kitchen, dishes, and common spaces are cleaned, those crew members often begin writing summary reports on their day or doing other jobs related to their crew role. Often, the crew will call on each other to assist with tasks throughout the afternoon.

1645: Typically, tasks for the afternoon begin to wrap up and crew members return to the Hab.

1700: Crew Chef begins to brainstorm and prep dehydrated foods for dinner, other crew members sit down together to work on reports and requests for support from Capcomm for the next Sol. This is a more social time on the top floor of the Hab, and discussions take place to help strategize the use of the following Sols. Crew members who don’t have work assist the Crew Chef in cooking.

1830: Dinner is served!

1900: Capcomm window opens up, and crew members log online in turn in order to upload reports and photos. Those who don’t have reports due take point on cleaning dishes and kitchen.

2030: All reports are due, crew scrambles to finish last items. Crew members return to GreenHab and Science Dome as needed to do final experiment checks.

2100: The window with Capcomm closes, all reports have been responded to and commented on. Changes are made as necessary by this time. The crew shares responsibilities communally and works to fill in for each other. Crew members will sometimes take showers, write emails home, or take personal time if there’s nothing else to do.

2145: Final work items for the day are finished.

2200: Around this time, the crew comes back together into the hab. Sometimes, there will be a late-night snack. The crew will spend time talking and reviewing any daily traditions. “Most Valuable Martian” is given out in order to show appreciation for the crew! If the crew has energy, we might spend some time talking about non-work items and play a game. Between 2230-0100, the crew members will go to sleep.

See much time for relaxing in there? We don’t, either. We all manage to sneak 10-30 minute periods throughout the day whenever no one needs help, but the reality is that if someone needs help, we all care about each other and will volunteer to pitch in, so most of the time, free time is a misnomer. It’s always on call, even if your jobs are done, because as a crew we leave no one behind.

Learning how to make those few minutes quality time, and learning how to speak up for yourself, your energy levels, and your social battery is important. We’re one week into living on Mars, and this reality is an ongoing discussion, and likely will be for not just this mission, but the many missions we hope to undertake as a crew in future.

We don’t expect to find a solution, but we do hope to continue to improve our self-care, work-life balance, and care for each other while we live on Mars.

Commander's Report – April 15th

Nominal is a word from aerospace vernacular that has been slowly but surely permeating my vocabulary.

“All as expected.”

“It’s what we anticipated.”

“This is the intention.”

“This is what is supposed to happen.”

“None of this is a surprise, it’s what we were looking for.”

All just more verbose ways of saying the same thing: nominal. The thing that is planned for.

Nominal is fantastic, because it means that the scenario is perfectly within the confines of what we want. Nominal means that we’re running on time, it means the code is working as intended, it means that the rocket is going to the moon and that the muffins came out of the oven fully cooked.

Today in sim, Mars was anything but nominal.

The first sign that we got anything was wrong was during the collection of regolith (read: dirt) from sample site #2. The clouds that had given us the perfect overcast lighting for a few photos while walking to the science location were now turning darker and more ominous. We kept an eye on them during sample #3, but, if anything, they only got darker. We decided to leave the EVA early and, keeping comms open to make sure no one was falling behind, hiked quickly back to the rovers we had left on the main road through the landscape. As we did, the wind grew.

And grew. Before we knew it, it was hard to even hear each other over the comms. When we were talking, it was becoming harder to hear each other over the howling of the wind. As we scrambled up out of the gorge we had climbed into for samples, we felt the air pushing back on us, creating enough resistance to push us off of our feet.

I’m sure everyone remembers the scene from the beginning of the movie, “The Martian.” I would bet money that the growing storm had jogged in each of us the memory of Mars’ dangerous and planet-wide windstorms, and made us wonder just how much time we had left.

Back in the vehicles, we hightailed it back to the Hab. The entire way back, I was flooring it in Perseverance, only stopping to check several times that the Crew Engineer was still following on the ATV.

When the comms crackled back to life, Habcomm was hailing us. An emergency status had been declared, but they’d trusted us to already be coming back – or else they would have broken sim and come to get us.

But they trusted us, and we made the right call, reading the signs of the environment around us. We got back safely. We got back in time.

For a few minutes, we were truly in a choppy situation. But, none of this was a big deal. In the real world, things are rarely nominal. On Mars, things are never nominal.

It’s important to understand that a key part of any research, any adventure, any field science, and any expedition, that if you expect things to be nominal, you’ll be in for a world of surprise. Things rarely go according to plan, and in fact, the plan is more of a guideline that helps us to understand what to expect.

Part of preparing for any challenge is discussing the off-nominal ahead of time, for knowing what to do in case of an emergency, and for being in a headspace to handle the unexpected. Without an alignment of priorities in a mission, handling the off-nominal becomes a lot harder, because a rapid decision on low information is asked for – and well, humans aren’t known at being the best at that.

But, in our case, we had our priorities. Safety, sim, science. Within EVA’s, 1st emergency shelter, soil sampling, second emergency shelter, any extra samples, photos. We managed to get through the first two of those items, and with the essentials to make this a successful EVA, still made a calm decision to return to the Hab immediately at the first rumor of danger.

Plan for the nominal, expect the off-nominal. Lessons for EVA’s and for life.

Commander Report Apr 14th

Sol 4

As much as we like to focus on the astronauts’ out on their daring feats of glory, it’s important to remember – there would be no mission without Houston, waiting to solve any problems.

In the last two days, we’ve learnt the value of “Habcomm” – our name for the crew member in charge of Hab communications to the three-person crew that is on EVA. Having a point person is valuable for many reasons, not in the least that it frees up the responsibility to listen from 1-2 other crew members who can now use that time to conduct science or operations work (or, more shockingly, take a shower).

On our first two practice EVA’s on Sol 3, myself (Executive Officer Hume) and Commander Dickstein acted as Habcomm’s for each other’s EVA’s. When practice EVA Crew #1 forgot our map, rather than scrubbing the mission, Habcomm directed up to the location of the practice science using the map in the Hab and the GPS we had taken with us, as well as a variety of landmarks along the way. When on practice EVA 2, both Hariharan and Dickstein lost their comms due to a drained radio battery, I, as Habcomm, was able to confirm Hernandez’ decision to return to the Hab for safety purposes and kept it touch with practice EVA Crew #2 to ensure their uneventful return.

And that was all done in one morning.

Without Habcomm, there is no authority coming from the Hab itself, no one to check the regulations that the full crew operates by and no way to help the crew out on EVA should alterations need to be made in the planned expedition. They’re a source of both information and decisiveness, helping a crew balance their desire to do science with the prerequisite safety of the sim.

And as we all have drilled into our heads. Safety first, then sim, then science.

Today was the EVA #3, the first science EVA. The crews took on their permanent configurations. Crew #1 is now Dickstein, Ettlin, and Coultrup. Crew #2 is Hume, Hernandez, and Hariharan. The intent was to begin the EVA at 14:00, however due to a prediction for high winds, we gathered together around 22:00 last night and created a new EVA Plan that would begin at 09:00, instead.

The intent of the EVA is twofold. Firstly, it would be the first science mission to our site #1. We chose a region near Lith Canyon, north on Cow Dung Road and a short walking distance along a ridge. In that area, there is a dried up riverbed, with specific geologic importance. The type of regolith we would find there would be useful to both Ettlin’s geological survey and my own astrobiology study, looking at the microorganism distribution we could find. In brief, the protocol is to sample from four different sites, and do the sampling by taking and combining four additional localized mini-samples at each chosen point. In addition to that science, an operations study was going to look for the best possible locations at this scientific site for emergency sheltering during an extreme weather event, such as a Martian dust storm. Identifying and evaluating these sites based on a pre-determined criteria is built into every mission, in order to make sure the crew members are safe, even when out in the field. I’m sure you all remember the beginning of “The Martian.” No Mark Watney’s at MDRS, please!

With these night-before changes made, we woke up on Sol 4 excited to begin our first true expedition. After a hearty oatmeal and rehydrated fruit breakfast, we moved onto the EVA protocol our team designed for our simulation. Although several items are mandatory, such as a five-minute minimum in the airlock prior to exiting the hab, there are significant amounts of personal preference in how above and beyond that the crew will go. Our protocol, as we designed it, is below:

The Protocol

Note: This is our protocol as of the beginning of Sol 4, and is in progress. A final operational protocol for EVA’s will be included in our “Participants’ Handbook” that we are making available online after our mission.

1. Sunscreen up! Mars is bright.

2. Gather all equipment and sterilize as needed. More equipment into airport in container for transport to rover.

a. Map

b. GPS (x2)

c. EVA bag (including emergency medical)

d. 3 radios per participant, 3 extra redundant radios per participant

e. Science Equipment as needed

i. Protocol for Emergency Shelter Identification

ii. Baggies for soil samples as needed

iii. Spade for soil samples

iv. Grid for taking soil samples at each location

f. TP, just in case

g. Water

3. Get into flight suits, use the bathroom, and find your callsign baggie (callsign baggie’s include earpiece, cloth to clean your helmet, and gloves)

4. Medical check with HSO

a. Blood pressure

b. Pulse/Oxygen

c. Temperature

d. Heart Rate

e. Mental Health Check

5. Put on microphone and bandana. Recommendation: put bandana over microphone to ensure snugness and that it won’t fall out on EVA

6. Check comms between both Habcomm/Hab and EVA participants. Radios should be fully charged! Switch out if not.

7. Put on Boots.

8. Planetary Protection Protocol with XO

a. First week is on “minimum requirements” PPP

b. Have you sterilized any equipment used to take soil samples?

c. Use alcohol wipe/sanitizer on bare hands

d. Enter the “clean room” – the room outside of the airlock

e. Shut clean room door

9. Clean EVA helmet as needed using provided spray and your own microfiber cloth.

10. Put on your assigned spacesuit, adjust if needed. Recommendation: make sure bulk of the weight is sitting around your hips, use shoulder straps only to balance.

a. If you are wearing a two-piece, place the collar and lower the helmet, then attach pieces.

11. Turn on spacesuit. Attach airflow tubes to helmet and turn on air flow. Adjust airflow as needed. Reseal Velcro flap.

12. Check comms once again to ensure that they are audible inside the suit with airflow. If needed, turn down the fan and reseal Velcro to ensure audio is clear.

13. Later on, a higher level of planetary protection protocols will be entered here.

14. Buddy check: EVA participants should check everyone’s comms, airflow, Velcro flap being closed, and that no skin is exposed.

15. One member of the Hab crew will let the EVA crew into the airlock and seal it behind them.

16. EVA Protocols

a. Habcomm measures 5 minutes of airlock time

i. Notifications are given at 1 minute, 30 seconds, and 0.

ii. At 1 minute, all non-mission chatter ceases.

iii. A clear indication is given at 0 to exit the airlock.

b. No more non-mission chatter is permitted while Hab is in sight.

c. Record and communicate to the HAB

i. ATV serial number

ii. Rover charge and hours before and after EVA

iii. GPS coordinates at destination

d. Upon return

i. Request permission to enter Hab grounds

ii. Request permission to enter Hab airlock

e. Wait 5 minutes on Habcomm’s clock to open airlock to Hab

f. Clean helmet before putting away

g. Plug in spacesuits to charge

EVA 3

Seems like we thought everything out, doesn’t it?

Five minutes into sim.

“Habcomm, we have a problem.”

After about five minutes, we started losing communications entirely with the EVA crew. There was interference during each attempted communication, but no clear language received. There was no clear way to even know if they were talking to each other or to me.

I attempted basic communication as Habcomm, asking them to repeat vital messages, shorten to keywords, and testing different hand radios for better reception. However, it soon became clear that we had little way to help them. After about ten minutes, the radios suddenly crackled into clarity.

EVA Crew #1 had returned to the local area around the Hab, at a junction named Pooh’s Corner. There, we finally could speak to each other again. They requested help deciding whether to come back or to choose a new location, since it seemed to break the cardinal rule of safety to go out of radio distance.

Our Crew Engineer, Hariharan, who is largely in charge of EVA operations, immediately began looking on the map to identify alternate sites. Since the original site was a riverbed, he wanted to find an equivalent as similar as possible. However… each of the coordinate numbers is about eight digits long, so I quickly returned to the main Hab (from the Science Dome, where I was… dum dum dum… writing this) in order to help him. I noticed a small streambed labeled as a walking EVA only zone, just north of Pooh’s corner to the East. Parking the rover and the ATV on the main road and then walking to the streambed would be not only feasible, but faster, and likely entirely in radio range.

I advised the crew to park at the GPS coordinates for the crossing of the streambed and road, and while they were en route, confirmed with the outpost that switching locations was allowed. Not only was it allowed, but we were able to get confirmation that going out of radio communications due to distance on science EVA’s is not only acceptable, but fairly nominal.

With that in mind, the Commander and I interfaced via radio one last time and decided that EVA Crew #1 should head to the original GPS location near Lith Canyon and the dried riverbed. We also confirmed that they had cell phones on their person (for the ‘gram) in case a true emergency were to come up.

One tenant of life in the sim is that if we have a solution for a problem on Mars, then we can negotiate the rules of the sim. I.e., on Mars, going to the bathroom wouldn’t be an issue… so we are allowed to break sim for that, vs. hazarding a medical infection.

In this case, radios on Mars would clearly be able to go any distance within the bounds of acceptable travel locations, and so, going beyond radio range is a way to negotiate the sim against reality. Should an out-of-sim emergency happen, they have a method with which to contact for help.

Safety first. Check.

Shortly after that, EVA Crew #1 left radio reception once again. Comms were silent for nearly two hours, during which time other report-writing, botanical, and operations activities took place. We also agreed to choose back-up locations for future EVA locations, should any other problems come up, and mapped out using dry erase all of our locations of interest onto the map we keep in the Hab communal area. For a while, all we could do was wait.

Then, at 11:30, the radios crackled back on. We heard chatter first between the EVA crew members, then a call out to Habcomm.

“Commander to Habcomm, permission to enter the Hab grounds?”

The rest, thankfully, was nominal. After confirming visuals on the returning EVA crew, Hariharan, Hume, and Hernandez waited in the clean room of the Hab, and after five minutes, were able to greet the crew and help them spacesuit-down. Soil samples were immediately placed in freezer’s in the Science Dome to maintain their integrity of microbiomes present, and the entire crew was able to gather for both lunch and a debriefing on the EVA.

There is a significant amount of media focus on the astronauts, with Habcomm, or rather, Houston, remaining a more tertiary figure. A mechanical sounding voice over a speaker. Although everyone at NASA and other space agencies knows different, it is easy for a casual viewer to misunderstand the dire need for an effective and efficient Habcomm. Performing an EVA is a risk, no matter whether you do it on real Mars or simulated Mars, and it’s essential for the crew taking on that risk to have the support of the rest of their crew.

During today’s missions, we not only learnt best practices for how to continue being the best Habcomm we can be for our EVA crews as we rotate through the role, but how vital the role is, and how the voices we often only hear over the comms systems in movies are necessary teammates, not only for the desired science and engineering to be accomplished, but also for the safe return of our Martian astronauts.

Fun fact of the day! Our rover’s name is Perseverance!

Commander Report – April 13th

Entering Mars’ Atmosphere

Today, we woke up on Mars. We decided as a crew to enter sim overnight, and it was with an eerie knowledge that today would be very different from yesterday that I let my eyelids close. When I woke up – to the effervescent and ever-present chorus of Kanye’s “Good Morning” – it was with the jolting realization that as of today, I am joining the ranks of analog Martian astronauts.

We did not waste any time acclimating. This analog mission is only two weeks long, including every technology delay and equipment failure, which means that to accomplish the science we set out to do, we would need to fast-forward and immediately begin setting up shop.

A successful mission means that in simulation, science has been safely done. In order to do science, Martian astronauts need to do EVA’s, or extravehicular activities. It’s vital that EVA’s only be done when needed, as the science return has to justify the risk in venturing out onto the surface of another planet, but – as you can guess – we were all thrilled to have a reason to don our spacesuits.

The EVA

Five minutes. We stood in the airlock for five minutes, waiting for the go-ahead from the Hab. Once they gave us the say-so, it meant that the room we were huddled in had depressurized, and that we could open the sealed outer door and leave the Hab for the first time since the simulation began.

The first EVA comprised of our Executive Officer, Hume, HSO Officer, Coultrup, and Crew Scientist, Ettlin. We had only changed up our intended 3-person teams in order to make sure that the appropriate trainings were given during our practice EVA’s today. But – none of us minded the fact that it was our three female crewmembers who were the first to take that step. Our first words out on the surface were: “We go to Mars – together.” We care about diversity in the future of space, and it felt appropriate.

The EVA went wonderfully. There were a few small issues – bumping helmets together, having to squeeze into the rover with a bulky helmet and spacesuit on, and media taken being washed out by the harsh sunlight, but we returned with high spirits.

The second EVA – comprised of Commander Dickstein, Engineer Hariharan, and Botanist Hernandez started off enthusiastic and well. They received more challenges than the former team. Soon after leaving, Dickstein and Hariharan lost communications and Hernandez had to call back to the Hab. However, he quickly organized a plan for returning to the Hab using visual communications and hand signals. The team returned safely and calmly a few minutes later, handling the problem with ease and grace.

We all noted that because of the reality of the analog level, it truly felt as though we were on an expedition where our life support systems mattered and where we were preparing to do real science. We intend to begin our science EVA’s tomorrow, and in taking these trips today, were able to come up with not only EVA checklists, but also our best practices for traveling outside of the hab.

EVA Best Practices

· Charge your comms!

· Decide a nominal system of hand signals for events of communications outages

· Confirm all vehicles’ movement prior to leaving the Hab

· In the event of communications outages, do not lose visual on non-communicative members. The member with comms ought to follow up the rear in order to be able to call the Hab for safety reasons.

· Medium level is preferred for the air coolant system, as higher can result in comms being distorted.

· Maintaining space is important, as it’s easier to bump helmets than desired.

· Put a container of all needed supplies for EVA into the airlock prior to donning spacesuits – it’s easy to forget items after helmets are on.

· Customize a “preflight checklist” based on your crew’s needs.

· Name a “Hab controller” who will take point on all radio communications.

· Call out “Hab” when communications are asked from the Hab instead of the EVA members.

· Have an order of business and priorities for an EVA ahead of time in case of early return.

· More to come!

Shayna Hume, XO
Red Planet People – MDRS Crew 245 “Team Patamars”
To Mars and Beyond – For All!

Commander's Report – April 12th

Commander’s Report: "Packing for Mars" (Thoughts on Why and How We Prepare for Analogs for Those on the Outside)

If living on Mars was easy, we would already be doing it, right?

Well we’re not, and that’s because it’s not. This week, I am beginning my first ever analog astronaut simulation, one in which I live and work in isolation and confinement on Mars. Analog astronaut missions, as you can read about here, are useful because they allow us to not only perform experiments in bounded conditions, but also learn through trial and error the intricacies of living in extreme environments.

Our extreme environment of choice? The Red Planet, of course.

Why Go to Mars

This question deserves a novel, not a paragraph. But, you’re in luck, because such a book already exists. There are a myriad of reasons to expand humanity to the red planet, not all of which were coined by Elon. Yes, being a multiplanetary species. Important, and potentially the turning point of human history. In addition, we can also gain an incredible scientific bounty, learning about the geology and seismology of planets composed differently from ours, understanding more about planetary formation in solar systems, and learning how to live off an entirely different set of resources than we are accustomed to. And, of course, we cannot discount the possibility of life in the universe being found on our peachy neighbor.

But, there’s more than just scientific benefits. There are also extreme financial and political gains. Robert Jacobson said it well, space is open for business, and the venture capitalist economy is looking for where value will be found within the start-up industry that is burgeoning around low-Earth orbit. However, once the technology catches up, that economy will swell and quickly overtake Mars operations, too. Governments are racing to keep up with the private sector, and new actors are blooming all over the world. There’s a concern that whoever gets to space first gets to set the rules, and while those in the industry are sprinting to figure out a framework for the future… the former isn’t entirely wrong.

Science and money. Those are good and valid reasons. The latter is especially helpful to prop up the space industry as a self-sustaining economy of its own, without the requirement of government and taxpayer support… which brings us to you.

The taxpayer.

Why is space worth it to you? Moreover, why is Mars worth it? It’s cold (freezingly so), barren (even compared to deserts on Earth), and uninhabited (so far as we know).

One common argument for why space exploration is “worth it” in general, is that the application of money that is already being spent by the government anyways to science has a trickle-down effect. Many technologies developed in the Apollo era have become mainstay fixtures (Tang, Velcro, Microtechnology), and it’s likely that those in labs right now will have the same ascension.

Moreover, by pumping money into space, we also trickle down all sorts of grant and scholarship money to students who are inspired by finding out more about the universe. I myself have been the recipient of many of these, and without the financial support I’ve received through this industry, it’s unlikely I’d have the life I do today.

Finally, spaceflight and humanity’s expansion has a unique side effect, one which has begun to bring people together. Satellite internet, a product of space, has connected the whole world, so that a business tycoon in China could hire a contractor in South America in minutes. More recently, the newspace industry has begun to diversify, with the advent of fellowships, programs, and internal committees that seek to elevate more voices into the space industry. Space is for everyone, we’ve been saying, and it doesn’t seem to be in vain.

None of these are concrete, though, and after a year like 2020, it’s more obvious than ever that there are issues that need immediate and desperate attention back here on Earth. There are valid arguments against the attention paid to “ivory tower” causes like these.

I don’t have an answer for them. I wish I did. But this industry turns lives around, and Perseverance just landed on Mars.

There’s hope in exploration. Hope that we can learn to treat other planets better than we have treated our own. Hope that more of us can go to space together, and that diversity and inclusion is more than a tagline. Hope that this is just the beginning of humanity’s story, and not a dead end.

For these and more, Mars is worth it, to me.

What Makes Mars Hard

People like the idea of going to space, but space hates people. Nothing about living beyond our beautiful Earthly oasis is easy because we are not designed for it. Our bodies like certain temperatures, breath certain kinds of air, and suffer under a thousand million different variations of chemicals.

With all that said, we have decided that we want to go. Humans have always been extreme adventurers, taking to long distance traveling, voyaging the seas, and finally soaring through the skies. We travel to Antarctica for fun.

But, if we’re going to take on Mars, we have to understand what we’re up against.

Mars’ atmosphere is not breathable like ours is. We would have to terraform the planet (a questionable practice worth considering the ethics of) to even consider walking on its surface. Moreover, Mars doesn’t have as thick of an atmosphere as Earth, which makes its surface and any potential human visitors much more exposed to radiation.

In addition, there isn’t any accessible water on Mars, making one of Earth’s most valuable resources a struggle to even find and use. Most of it’s trapped in ice anyways – because Mars is further from the sun and freezing cold compared to the Earth.

Oh, and did I mention the regolith (soil) has perchlorates in it that are toxic?

Being on Mars is a level of complicated akin to scuba diving in the Arctic. So, if we’re going to do it, we need to know what to bring.

What To Pack

Finally! The point of this post. The good news is that with time, what we must bring to Mars is going to get less and less. A hot topic of research in the aerospace industry is in-situ resource utilization, which can be translated to “living off of the land.” Making what you need when you get there, instead of bringing it. That makes sense. Every gram of weight we bring from Earth costs money, including the very propellant to push the rocket beyond our atmosphere. Being able to use the resources of Mars will save us time and money.

But, for an analog mission, we needed a packing list a little different than a traditional one.

– Regarding food, instead of what diets normally consist of, we need to bring and eat dehydrated alternatives for almost everything, allowing for maximum shelf lives.
– Clothing needs to be limited, and washable and reusable, since it takes up a large amount of space. Layering is vital, starting from thin layers for under flight and spacesuits, up to the warmest possible options for at night.
– Ideally, hygiene items such as shampoo and conditioner need to be biodegradable, in order to live more sustainably. It’s necessary to only bring what you could use for an entire mission length, so most daily product routines aren’t feasible.
– Camping gear, such as low-temperature thermals and sleeping bags are ideal, since on both Mars and analog missions temperatures sink incredibly low at night.
– A few trusty books, some low-mass games, or downloaded Netflix episodes for down time in order to maintain work-life balance in such an environment.
– And of course, you need a trusty Earthie to remind you of where you came from.

Dylan Dickstein, Commander & Shayna Hume, Executive Officer
Red Planet People – MDRS Crew 245 "Team Patamars"
To Mars and Beyond – For All!

Commander Report – February 15th

Crew 221 Commander Report 15FEB2020

Author: Maria Grulich, Commander

Title:Returning to Mars

I can almost not believe it that my second rotation at MDRS is over. The first time I was part of the international emerging space leaders crew and I returned as the crew commander of an international crew from five different countries (Costa Rica, Australia, Canada, Germany, Kuwait) where not everyone knew each other. Arriving back at the station it was as I never left, I immediately felt familiar and back at home as if my friends from crew 205 are still around, especially since crew 205 left us some surprise cookies in the freezer! The first week of MDRS we were very productive going on a lot of EVAs and I was surprised that the weather stayed stable for the two weeks we were here!

The second week passed by very quickly as we realised that two weeks is not so much time when you still have to finish so many projects while keeping a Mars Station up and running. The projects included growing black corn and sprouting mung beans, investigating microbes in Martian soil, testing salinity of the soil and building a robot to assist during EVAs, while filling in surveys for human factor studies and following the international voice protocol used on the International Space Station in the hab as well as on EVAs.

Being the commander of an international crew is very enriching, in particular, as we organised cultural night every other day where we learned how to speak Australian, danced to “Nutbush City Limits”, dressws as Kuwaities, got a history lesson about India and Canada, ate nice food from Costa Rica, and danced to German Octoberfest songs and learned how to make the longest words in the World in German. We managed to entertain ourselves with games, sport and meditation sessions and a lot of good conversations, which always raised the question is it “cultural” or “religion”.

It was an honor to be the crew commander of Crew 221 Earth2Mars!

I want to thank all the crew members, Hemani Kalucha Crew Journalist alias “Juno”, Louis D. Monge Crew Engineer alias “Frankie”, Jessica Todd Crew Greenhab Officer alias “Goblin”, Rawan Alshammari Health and Safety Officer alias “Luna”, and Ghanim Alotaibi Crew Astronomer alias “Astro” for all their effort and being so great in achieving almost all our objectives! We came as strangers and we leave as friends! The team is already planning their reunion in Costa Rica in a year we really hope that this will happen in the meantime almost all our crew members are part of SGAC (Space Generation Advisory Council) and will meet on their events and space conferences for sure sharing now this amazing experiences of being two weeks on Mars together!

Until the next time… Ad Astra!

Crew Commander Grulich alias “Ewok” from Crew 221 Earth2Mars signing off….

MDRS Station

Commander Report – February 08th

Maria Grulich

Commander

Crew 221, MDRS Sol 6

Crew 221 Commander Report 08FEB-2020

Author: Maria Grulich, Commander

Title: First problems to solve

Yesterday, during dinner, the crew 221 Earth2Mars realized that when the oven is on, there is a clear smell of propane more than usual. It was immediately reported to mission support during the comms window. At all times the crew was safe, as it was clear that when the oven is off, no propane gas could be smelled. This morning, after half the team went out for EVA, crew commander M.Grulich together with mission support started to investigate the source of the propane issue. It took a bit of time to read through the manual and check the oven, but after one hour the hypothesis was made that probably the oven was not configured to be used for propane gas. Per default the oven comes from the manufacturer to be used with natural gas instead of propane. In order to change this several grooves and an orifice spud on the stove and oven had to be replaced.

Mission support was very helpful, in supporting the theory and immediately organized support, such that in the afternoon, the oven was fixed with the help of the team. It was identified that the hypothesis was correct and after exchanging the parts, the gas issue seems to be solved. No propane smell can be detected now and also the gas detector was clear and the crew’s air quality detector improved significantly.

Besides this real issue, the team managed to do some science in the science dome, Greenhab and RAM.

The EVA team had some mishaps finding stream bed connector and they reported that the walk took more than 20 min as the soil was harder to walk on than expected. That resulted in a tired team that did not manage to explore the chasma as deep as they were planning on.

The team is in good shape and the cultural nights really add to the mission. We are making good progress on the projects; we are just not patient enough to see the results of the microbiology and ISRU plant experiments.

Commander Grulich

MDRS Station

Commander Report – February 7th

Commander

Crew 221, MDRS

Crew 221 Commander Report 7FEB2020

Author: Maria Grulich, Commander

Title: First days

The crew 221 Earth2Mars settled in and started they science projects. The crew did not realize how much also the daily duties of cooking, cleaning and checking on the habitat takes time. Going on EVA starting to become a routine: checking the bags, the radios, comms-check, suiting up the crew members, depressurization and post-EVA and pre-EVA checklists.

Also, the crew cultural nights, sport sessions and meditation sessions coming along, even though we do not manage to do it every evening as it was planned beforehand. We make good progress on our science projects, which works better than expected and the crew’s cooking skills improve every day. The crew is very conservative with water usage, which results that the crew can take a 3min showers every 2-3 days which everyone is excited about. We are all caught up on the several surveys we have to fill and try to keep track of our samples and EVAs even though not all the time the GPS tracker works as expected. The Martian weather is very much in our favour and we hope that it will stay like this.

The first week the focus was put on microbiology and ISRU projects as they need time to develop. The following week will have a focus on the Human Robotic projects and technology demonstrations. Looking forward to more days on Mars.

Commander Grulich

MDRS Station

Commander Report – February 1st

Crew 220 (MAU) Commander’s Report 1Feb2020

Author: Shawna Pandya, Commander

Title: Sol long…and thanks for all the fish!

Sol 13. Out of simulation, back on “Earth.” Practically, this meant that we awoke with the monumental twin tasks of MAU and MDRS teardown and checkout, particuarly mindful of the ever-present mud threatening to slow us down at MAU Station. With the right crew however…anything is possible.

Fortunately for us, fate smiled upon us on MAU teardown day as we were met with warmth and sunshine, allowing for respite from the never-ending barrage of mud that had dogged us and MAU station throughout the mission, and allowing us to dry our gear in the sun prior to stowage.

As one coordinated unit, we completed teardown by early afternoon, and retired to MDRS to complete checkout, write reports and make some final memories. We also greeted our successors, Crew 221, and were delighted to see that they are just as diverse as we in terms of disciplines and nationalities. We spent time briefing them on our lessons learned, and seeing how keen they are, know that the station is in good hands.

A crewmate yesterday quipped that to go to outerspace, you must prepare your innerspace, that has been particularly true here on Mars. We were able to achieve as much as we have this mission because we stepped up, each and every one of us, every single Sol. We constantly looked for ways to make our mission and ourselves better. We looked for things to do and gaps to fill in. We never said “that’s not my job” and put our mission first. I can honestly say that the bonds forged here are but seeds sown for future missions and adventure – on Mars and elsewhere.

Mars – you asked us to give whatever it takes, and this Crew has, with everything we have. To my crew – thank you for teaching me and growing with me. It was the honor of a lifetime to have led you all.

Final transmission,

Commander Pandya
Callsign: Nightowl
MAU Station, Crew 220
Over and out