Journalist Report – Nov 6th

Wed 6 Nov Sol 10
by Sandy Dance

Another day, another EVA! But we are not so blasé. T

his morning Guy and I went out to the micrometeorite grid to gather more magnetic particles. We motor along the road in our space suits and buggies, turn a corner and there is a large collection of vehicles. Oh no, our patch has been invaded!

Closer inspection reveals a film crew with all you would expect: catering, equipment, props. We wave as we pass, and get multiply photographed in return. They seemed to take the sight of Martians motoring by in their stride.

The micrometeorite gathering was a success, having done a couple more rows of the grid, dealing with the footprints left by an unknown interloper the other day by noting which squares were contaminated and carrying on.

Then back at the Science Dome Andrew begins analysing yesterday’s gypsum by heating it and seeing the water condensation on a beaker, then finding the weight difference: 0.4g of water from 17g of rock.


Later that afternoon we spot a couple of strangers walking on the hill near the Outpost. After failing to raise Shannon on the radio, we break sim and investigate. Turns out they were heading to the film crew up the road but got confused by our rather SciFi setup here. The film, they tell us, features futuristic Native Americans in a post-apocalyptic dystopia.

Last night we were successful spotting Saturn with the Celestron telescope: great sightseeing the rings!

Journalist Report – November 05th

Tuesday 5 Nov Sol 9
by Sandy Dance
Its Sol 9 and we are starting to think: Wow! the end of our time here is coming up (at least for Dianne and me, Guy and Andrew are continuing into the next rotation). Consequently Dianne is checking through the supplies to see if there are any food containers that are nearly empty and should be replaced.
Guy spent some time in the GreenHab helping Shannon, David and Atila water the recent plantings, and sowing herbs. It will be great to have the greenhouse going, a terrific resource for those weary of ultra low humidity and temperature, and those hankering after the colour green!
Today we started a new experiment: Dianne and Andrew beetled off in the two rovers to ‘White Moon’ (there are some really wacky place names round here) further north from our micrometeorite grid to collect gypsum and associated soil. This is so Andrew can see how much water can be baked out of the soil, which is of potential interest on Mars, where there is known to be quantities of gypsum. This would be another resource for ‘in-situ resource utilization’ there. They returned with four kilos of soil and 9 gypsum samples (which look crystaline to the untrained eye), and will trial the baking tomorrow. Exciting stuff!
This afternoon I took out the Celestron astronomical telescope from the Science Dome to see what’s involved in using it at night. This is not to be confused with the Musk solar telescope, or the remote access telescope situated somewhat off campus. The Celestron is an equatorial mount, so it needs the mount axis pointing to the North star, not something I can do in the day, but I was able to calibrate the finderscope against the local hills. Very nice piece of equipment, looking forward to using it later.

Journalist Report – November 4th

Mon 4 Nov Sol 8
by Sandy Dance

The two science experiments proceed apace. Dianne’s work happens at each meal, busy weighing and analyzing the food data. Meanwhile, this morning Andrew and I went on an EVA back to the micrometeorite grid, and collected 28 squares worth of particles. We got through more squares today because we had more time, and just went to the site and did one thing without diversions. We may also just be getting more skillful at the complex process of waving the magnet, carefully bagging the collected particles, and attaching the next bag onto the magnet. Very satisfying, but nevertheless, after our return I was quite exhausted.

Tonight the Melbourne Cup runs at 9pm, so we have been preparing special food: jambalaya, sauteed vegetables, and mashed potatoes. To be followed with freshly cooked brownies and a bottle of sparkling, not wine, but Perrier mineral water. Oooh, fancy! Whether have the stamina to stay up for the actual horse race is as yet unknown.

Journalist Report Nov 3rd

Journalist Report Nov 3

Journalist: Sandy Dance

Crew 214 Sol 7 Journalist Report

by Sandy Dance

Today is our well earned day off, so I was determined to have a good sleep in. However, I slept until the window became light, check the time, and lo, its still before 7am, our usual wakeup time. I had forgotten about last night being the end of daylight saving time, so I got my extra hours sleep, and stayed on time!

So really, not much to say about today. We took things easy, lazed around, washed ourselves, our clothes, the floor (sound a bit workaholic here!). But its interesting how therapeutic an unstructured day is, running at a different pace. Moreover, the hab is a benign space, easy to let time slip by within, especially with the staterooms providing personal space.

Tomorrow we are back into the fray, with a long EVA scheduled for the micrometeorite experiment. And now we have only 5 full days left, so we will have to schedule our activities carefully to use them well.

Journalist Report – November 2nd

Crew 214 Sol 6 2 Nov 2019
by Sandy Dance
Following our water scare the other day, we decided to delay the pumping of water from the low tank to the high tank for as long as possible. Consequently, despite the CapCom advising that we pump the water up last night we decided to wait until this morning. Mistake? Yes and no. When we came to pump this morning, nothing happened. So we contact the engineering team. The problem is likely that the pipes froze overnight, hence the caution in the MDRS Handbook on page 24 advising that the pumping happen in the evening. So we wait until noon. Still no water. This time the engineering team find that the actual(?) problem was that the hot water system was plugged into the same circuit, overloading it. Now we have water! And the lesson: this hab is complex, and needs to be treated with respect.
Today the EVA expedition went out to continue the micrometeorite experiment, scanning the square metre plots for micrometeorites. They were able to complete another 10 plots, finding more fine magnetic dust in each.
This morning we inspected yesterday’s findings with a 40X optical microscope, but we are still unable to determine the origin of the particles. We may need to use an electron microscope back in Australia for this.

Journalist Report – November 1st

1 Nov 2019 Sol 5 Journalist Report
by Sandy Dance
Last night was a very warm night, largely due to the filter in the heater having been changed yesterday, allowing it run far more efficiently. Today is a very normal day, we have settlled into a routine, the various science projects now proceeding apace.
For instance: at breakfast, lunch and dinner, Dianne our nutrition scientist is beavering away studying the total nutrient loss from food waste. Consequently she carefully weighs our dirty dishes and cooking pots, and again after they are clean and finds the difference. Its a remarkably painstaking task, and also requires a lot of data entry. Its really interesting how much food is wasted, in preparation, plate waste and spoilage. So far total waste is 31 gm per person per day. Total calories wasted all up is 400 calories per day for the group! This would be a significant loss on Mars.
The other major science project, the micrometeorite study, had a big step forward this afternoon. Andrew and Dianne went on EVA and finished the 10 metre grid installation, and began the magnetic sweep. They managed the first two squares (2 m^2) and got a lot of magnetic particles. We are cock a hoop with this development, although since the particles are so tiny, its hard to tell whether they are volcanic magnetite or micrometeorites. It requires a microscope to make the distinction: the meteorites should be spherical, the magnetite shards. We await the chance to have a look.
So after a relaxing meal of chicken, kidney beans, rice and vegetables, we settle back for the evening.

Journalist Report – Oct 31st

Crew 214 Journalist Report
Thursday 31st Oct Sol 4
by Sandy Dance

A bit of a focus shift this morning when we realised we were using more water than we should be. So we sat around the table discussing how to reduce our water consumption: washing hands with sanitizer, washing dishes less often, keeping the vegetable rehydration water for future uses, washing ourselves even less often (we’re all in this together, so hopefully won’t notice!).

Andrew and I went out on an EVA this morning to install the string grid for the micrometeorite experiment in the location selected yesterday. This was a lot of fun, sticking satay sticks in the soft ground at the 4 corners of the grid, running 4 pieces of 10 metre string around the square, then the sticks at each 1 metre step around it. Fun until one skein of string decided to ravel into a hopeless knot, which took ages to unravel, in gloves. A lesson for Mars, find a way of controlling balls of string.

Anyway, it was a great success, we completed a good percentage of the grid as we expected, and were able to move onto the next exercise: running a magnet over a local anthill to see if the local rocks were magnetic. They weren’t, which should help the integrity of the micrometeorite experiment. We then moved to another location which had a line of sight back to the Hab and successfully sent a heliograph signal: a mirror flash.

Handy if all other forms of comms fail, if a little impractical.

The afternoon was spent in kick-back mode after our exertions, albeit including a bout of tying down more eyelets in the tarpaulins covering the tunnels.

Today David returned to the trailer outside the hub (or blasted off in the returning shuttle); it is a shame to lose my fellow vegetarian and his benign presence.

Journalist Report – October 30th

Wed 30 oct Sol 3
After a particularly cold night we wake to a clear sunny day. This is in some ways our first ‘normal’ day, we have finished bedding in and training up, now for normal life, on Mars.
We have recieved CapCom permission to have an EVA in the afternoon, so we will spend the morning preparing for that. In the meantime, good news, food arrived from Hanksville, however not including the milk and pasta we were hanging out for.
So the morning was spent tying loops on bits of string for use out in the field, as a grid reference system for the micrometeroite experiment. This consists of a 10 metre by 10 metre grid in 1 metre steps. A magnet is used to attract meteorites, if any, from the ground, and the total from each square metre is bagged for offline study. Sounds simple, but executing all these steps in suits can be quite tricky.
In the morning others were busy tying down the tarpaulins sheltering the ‘tunnels’ that connect the various parts of the MDRS campus. This is necessary due to the occasional high winds in these parts. Maybe not such a problem on Mars since the atmosphere is about 1% the density of ours, the gale in ‘The Martian’ movie notwithstanding.
In the afternoon an expedition of 3 Martians and 2 rovers headed north up the track to suss out which of four potential meteorite sites were best for setting up the grid. Out in the backblocks they came across a cougar print, not exactly to be expected on Mars, but a fascinating finding anyway!

Journalist Report – October 29th

Tuesday 29 Oct Sol 2
Journalist: Sandy Dance

After a relatively warm night, we awake to light cloud, the rising sun striking pinks and whites off the surrounding hills.
This was the day we were expecting our first EVA, but due to forecast high winds, it was unfortunately cancelled.
Nevertheless, the morning was productively spent trying on the spacesuits for the first time. There are two types, the one-piece exploration suits, and the two-piece suits. We all stand around while David shows how they work, the protocols around the charging of them, unplugging, radios and how to wear them, etc. We try them on, lots of pushing and shoving, adjusting of straps, and finally, feeling comfortable: ready to step out on to the Martian surface!
Later, around lunchtime, we hear the good news that we are cleared for EVA, so expect to try out the suits around the hab and in the rovers this afternoon.

So indeed, later we had our first foray outside in the suits. How exciting as the minutes counted down in the airlock, before finally emerging onto the ‘surface’! Even better, we get to travel in the ATVs, cute electric cars that lurch over the landscape at what feels like high speed.

We finally get to a turnoff and get out, with some difficulty, in our suits. Out here the feeling of isolation is intense, barren hills marching off into the distance. We stumble over the rough ground intersected by shallow watercourses and scrub, and anomalously find the odd cowpat, or something pat. Nevertheless the illusion of actually being on Mars is almost complete, its quite a deep
experience: this is what it would feel like!

Journalist Report – October 28th

Monday 28th October Sol 1

After a freezing night (literally) we awake to a cold but clear day. The mountain to the south (Henry Mountains) is wreathed in cloud, and shows a glazing of snow. Today is our first day ‘on Mars’! This takes a bit of psychological adjustment.

We congratulate each other on a successful ‘journey’, and get on with the day. This is mainly about bedding in systems: getting the radios working, making equipment for the micrometeorite experiment, setting up the fire blanket for the kitchen.

The radios were a bit of a mess, with a number not working in different ways, but we were able to get a working minimum set functioning eventually.

Today we are expecting our 5th team member, David, to arrive, or ‘descend in the latest shuttle’. David is very experienced in the MDRS, so will be able to train us up in the use of the suits, etc.

The afternoon shift was spent working on equipment for the micrometeorite expedition, tying and marking string in 1 metre lengths for the grid to be set up later in the field.
After another delicious re-constituted meal, we move onto the CapCom reports and wind up the day.