Journalist Report – May 21th

Crew 281 Journalist Report 21 May 2023

Journalist Report

By: Rachel Jones

Sol 7, MDRS is Heaven!

A bit of a personal rant before I start my report today. My husband has never found the same joy as I in rucking. What is rucking? It’s an exercise where you wear a weighted backpack and walk. I’ve participated in a GORUCK Challenge and loved it. It taught me to wear a heavy pack and perform various tasks (usually in gloves). Because of this, I feel more confident wearing the EVA suit and performing complicated tasks with gloves on. Furthermore, from my personal experience in today’s EVA, rucking helps train you for Mars.

So, what did I do to feel so superior in my abilities? I beat a drone. (Yes… I know that it was only the terrain and my amazing ability that allowed me to succeed today, and it likely might not in the future).

Sol 7 started like many days with an EVA. Ana, Ritu, and I exited the Hab to perform three separate missions. First, we re-tested the Pegasus scoop. This round of testing avoided the issues we had with the previous deployment and, ultimately, demonstrated the product.

The second test involved baselining a new Mars medical drone supply delivery concept. Ritu first flew the drone from our start position, raised it to 10 meters, and then flew in a straight path 60 meters to our “downed” astronaut model: Ana. Once the drone reached Ana, it was lowered to allow retrieval of a possible payload and then flew back to the starting point. We did several control flights recording the times and battery the drone took without a payload before we tested the delivery system with a 40-gram payload. For the final test, I raced the drone’s time and took the payload to the downed astronaut. I won… but in a real-case scenario, I would not have been able to don my equipment and exit the Hab in the time the drone could have.

The third part of our EVA mission involved checking on my antenna setup. Every afternoon we have a light shower and high winds. I wanted to ensure my antenna was still dry and stable.

After we returned from a successful EVA, KC cooked lunch. It was a mix of noodles, rehydrated vegetables, black bean burger mix, and Alfredo sauce. Megan also made some cinnamon rolls for an afternoon snack.

This afternoon was a lot of report writing for the crew (in addition to what is becoming our routine chores). We each worked on a section for the Mid-Mission report. Megan checked her chocolate seeds and the GreenHab. Ritu downloaded her drone measurement results. Ana cleaned and stored her robotic scoop. KC checked batteries, tunnels, toilets, and our water level. Our crew checks the water level more than required as we compete and challenge ourselves to use less.

I was on the radio making contacts. I was able to reach GA, WA, and TX. The bands might not be great but they were better than yesterday. Dr. Tamitha Skov in her Space Weather Report, suggested the bands might not be ideal this weekend ( ).

This evening we are making smashed avocado tacos, discussing our various reports, and planning tomorrow’s long EVA.

I’d appreciate it if you could catch me on the air but for now, signing off from Mars.

Journalist Report – May 20th

Crew 281 Journalist Report 20 May 2023

Journalist Report

By: Rachel Jones

Sol 6, We Put Out Sticks.

Okay, not really, but it’s hard to rhyme six and an antenna.

Sol 6 was a busy day, and it started early. Ana, KC, and Ritu went on an EVA to Kissing Camel Ridge to gather more rock data from scan lines, test the geotechnical tools, and capture aerial drone footage. This was a longer EVA to start the day. Then, after a quick lunch, Megan and I performed an EVA to set up the High Frequency (HF) antenna. We set up a Chameleon HF Modular Portable Antenna System 2.0 in the portable vertical configuration. While both of these EVAs sound simple, I assure you the extreme Utah weather, in addition to the cumbersome EVA suits, makes any action outside the Hab an adventure.

With the antenna set up, the afternoon sent us all on our various tasks. Megan took on the GreenHab and checked on her chocolate plants. Ana prepared the robotic scoop Pegasus for tomorrow’s EVA. Ritu designed a dummy medical play load for her drone with KCs assistance. I, of course, was on the airways trying to make QSL contacts. Learning new equipment is always challenging, but I hope to get as many contacts as possible (pending weather/band corporation). The HF Antenna is connected via coax to a Shack-in-a-box configured to an Icom 7300, LDG tuner, and external speaker. Unfortunately, while I heard my friend Dan (N4MI) in Grovetown, GA, and Arkansas’ QSL Party, the bands didn’t support reliable conversation. I’m hoping to try again once to sunsets.

Dinner tonight focused on emptying the fridge of leftovers (one of my least favorite things). On Mars, should a crew eat group meals together? Or should individuals be required to meet specific caloric goals (i.e., you’re required to clean your plate)? I can see the pros and cons of both. Our crew enjoys the meals spent together around the table for now.

Till next time, please find me on the air! (KO4HLC/MDRS)

Journalist Report – May 19th

Crew 281 Journalist Report 19 May 2023

Journalist Report

By: Rachel Jones

Sol 5 and Still Alive!

The morning was mayhem and included a last-minute change in EVA plans to move my antenna set-up to Sol 6. Instead, Ritu and Ana had their hands full doing some exciting field tests using the robotic scoop and more drone aerial surveillance. Ana’s robotic scoop has been named “Pegasus” in honor of this mission (our crew is “Team Pegasus”), and there were some challenges with its initial deployment. During the deployment of the scoop, a pin broke off while connecting the battery. The lesson learned is that a human interface redesign is needed to allow easier field deployment by astronauts or those wearing gloves. Meanwhile, Ritu was able to capture some fantastic footage of the deployed scoop and also captured aerial images of the MDRS Campus while geo-referencing a control point for later EVAs. The last part of
the EVA involved an exterior inspection of the Hab and facilities. The EVA team investigated some of the sources of irregular banging heard during periods of high winds in the afternoon. No immediate threats were found, and the images provided should allow mission support to resolve the banging issue in the future.

Lunch today was stewed lentils and quinoa prepared by Ritu. It was served alongside a fresh salad of harvested lettuce, arugula, and microgreens from the GreenHab. Following lunch, the crew came together to perform afternoon chores and do routine maintenance. I imagine this part of the SIM greatly reflects reality, as there are always things to do. Unfortunately, most do not want to hear the trials and tribulations of checking the toilets and water systems.

After getting the day’s requirements taken care of, most of us went on to our individual projects. Ana helped Megan transplant the chocolate seeds into soil in the Science Dome. Ana, of course, started writing a few papers. Megan focused on future reports for MDRS. KC and I did a trial setup for the MDRS High Frequency (HF) antenna that we hope to deploy on tomorrow’s EVA. MDRS has a remarkably versatile amateur radio setup that was designed by Hope L. (ND2L) from the Spaceward Bound Utah’s first all high school which was out at MDRS before the 2022-2023 season began! KC also checked in on all the GreenHab plants and kept an eye on the power status in the mid-day heat. Ritu downloaded her drone footage and started on daily reports.

For dinner tonight, we have leftover lentils and fresh rice. I received some advice on troubleshooting the sound issues I’ve been having with my Software Defined Radio (SDR) set up and will spend the evening attempting various configurations. I’m looking forward to deploying my equipment tomorrow and hopefully getting on the air. For now, signing off from Mars.

Journalist Report – May 18th

Crew 281 Journalist Report 18 May 2023

Journalist Report

Crew 281

By: Rachel Jones

Sol 4 was a science day. The team had been pushing hard on EVAs for
the past three days; thus, a break day was needed. The crew slept in
late (i.e., past 0700). Then KC prepared a chocolate chip pancake
brunch from dehydrated scratch. I spent the morning building a
Raspberry Pi system to utilize an RTL-Software Defined Radio (SDR). My
efforts were frustrating as typical troubleshooting methods (i.e.,
looking it up online) were unavailable. This frustration sparked crew
discussion of a future Mars mission’s possible network architecture
and the need for a Mars intranet.

The afternoon brought each individual to pursue their individual
projects. KC, our all-in-one Crew Engineer, performed Hab maintenance
and monitored systems. He also investigated options for optimizing
GreenHab conditions. During the day, that module can get to over 105
*F, which, for some reason, the current varieties of “MDRS” plants
don’t prefer.

Megan checked on her chocolate plants that are currently sprouting in
the Grow Tent in the Science Dome. I got to help her water the
seedlings as I spent my afternoon researching and troubleshooting
SDRs. Thinking of all the parts I wish I had, I realize the ability to
print tools and spare electronic parts on Mars will be necessary, but
for now, I have a few obstacles to overcome.

Ritu and Ana planned the rest of the crew EVAs. Ritu researched drone
flying techniques to capture scan lines. For our mission, a scan line
is the recorded measurements of the geological and geomechanical
characteristics over a specific distance (i.e., the yellow taped line
in yesterday’s photos). Ana also made educational outreach videos for
the Space for All Nations initiative.

Dinner tonight was penne noodles with fresh tomato sauce. Again, this
sauce utilized a mix of vegetables and herbs harvested from the
GreenHab and supplemented with dehydrated vegetables and spices. After
dinner, activities featured writing reports and working on our
Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) characters.

After a day of rest, Crew 281 is ready to go 100% in Sol 5.

Journalist Report – May 17th

Crew 281 – Journalist Report, 17 May 2023

Report by: Rachel Jones

Sol 3, Today was our first "longer" EVA mission. The whole team worked to prepare KC and Ana. They were going to Pooh’s Corner and Marble Ritual to perform scan lines while testing new geotechnical equipment. Once the EVA team returned everyone helped them doff their gear.

For lunch Megan made fresh bread. We ate bread dipped/spread/stuffed with a sauteed vegetable medley containing tomatoes harvested from the Green Hab combined with freeze dried vegetables and rice vinegar. It was astonishingly delicious. We’ve voted that the rice vinegar KC brought was a welcome edition to the MDRS kitchen.

The afternoon sent us all to our various projects. Megan checked on her chocolate seeds. Ana analyzed her collected data. Ritu started on our reports and planned for the next EVA. KC handled various Hab maintenance. We had strong winds in the afternoon and KC fortified the tunnel system. I (not having cooked) challenged myself to use less water doing dishes. MDRS recommends a sink of soapy water and a sink of rinse water. Then I did general Hab cleaning on the upper floor, before taking an inventory of MDRS’s amateur radio station. Truly, it’s science, maintenance, and cleaning everyday.

Pre-dinner we did a group yoga session. Dinner tonight is leftovers. I’m hoping to eat some of Sol 2’s quesadillas.

Journalist Report – May 16th

Crew 281 Sol 2 Journalist Report 16 May 2023

Setting the Scene for Science!

By: Rachel Jones

Sol 2: 16 May 2023

Sol 2 on Mars. Today started with a multiple mission EVA. Ritupriya, Ana, and myself conducted a close range EVA around the areas immediately surrounding the habitat. Ritu conducted drone surveillance of the area. Ana looked for a suitable area to deploy her geotechnical robotic device in a later mission. My goal was to look at the area where the amateur radio antenna was previously deployed. Then a final team goal was to pick up debris surrounding the Hab. We collected 38 grams of debris! Overall it was a mission success.

Ritu was in charge of meals and hab support for Sol 2. Afternoon consisted of a wonderful Ramen lunch, followed by multiple report writing. I had cleaning duty and tried to ensure our EVA ready room remained as clean as possible. Utah dirt is not unlike Georgia clay. (Growing up on Flat Creek Ranch has prepared me well.) Megan is growing chocolate in the grow tent. Her research goal focuses on lurxary crops for space food production. (People will definitely want chocolate and Coffee on Mars.) Ana gathered all her materials for a long EVA tomorrow. KC designed and built an experimental air flow diverter for the Green Hab. Previously, Megan had rigged an experimental Terra Cotta watering system in the Green Hab. It’s taking a lot of effort from Megan and KC to keep the plants alive in the extreme Utah desert heat.

The night ended with a chickpea curry and rice dinner. (So good) Lots of discussion on future research and collaborations happened over dinner. We also thought of our team morale Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) campaign which should start soon. Finally, the evening centered on report writing. There are over 6-8 daily reports that have to be submitted, revised, then re-submitted.

Another successful day on Mars!

Journalist Report – May 12th

Crew 261 Journalist Report 12-05-2023

Author: Kris Davidson, Crew Journalist

Earth and Mars pirouette around the sun in a cosmic dance covering mind-boggling distances. Two cosmic dancers, they swing close and then recede. The distance between Earth and Mars varies depending on their positions in their respective orbits around the Sun. At its closest approach, Mars is about 54.6 million kilometers (33.9 million miles) from Earth. At its farthest, the distance can be over 400 million kilometers (249 million miles).

Yet, distance isn’t merely a spatial concept. If we think of time as a flowing river, then each moment is an island in that river, each separated from the others by the relentless current of time. Consider standing at MDRS, your feet grounded in the same soil, separated not by miles but by millennia. Some 145 million years ago to 150 million years ago, dinosaurs roamed this landscape, the remnants of their existence still being unearthed by paleontologists working at the nearby Hanksville-Burpee Dinosaur Quarry. The same latitude and longitude, yet a chasm of a million years stretches between them. The temporal distance between these moments is profound and poignant, a vivid demonstration of how time itself is a kind of distance, no less real than the vast expanse between Earth and Mars.

Finally, there is another kind of distance, one not easily measured — the emotional distance between human beings. Not the unfathomable gulf between celestial bodies, nor the temporal chasm between epochs, but the distances that ebb and flow between souls.

On Sol 12, the crew’s final Sol on Mars, Commander Burk and Executive Officer Aline Decadi executed a rescue drill (carried out on EVA 19), unbeknownst to the rest of the crew. Once they sent the “assistance needed” signal over the garmin device, the crew at the hab went to work to close the distance, not knowing the nature of the call as comms had been lost. It ended up being a physical distance of 2 kilometers between the hab and the EVA crew, a gap that was closed in 22 minutes. The emotional distance during those 22 minutes can only be described as charged. After two weeks, we have all become good friends, and the concern while in the blind was real and raw.

Distance, in the end, is a paradox. It isn’t static. It separates and unites, isolates, and connects. Today marks Sol 12 for Transatlantic Mars Crew 261, the final day of our simulation. At 1800, we will exit our Mars habitat, shedding our spacesuits to reconnect with Earth’s environment. The distance is inconsequential, this traverse from Mars back to Earth occurring in an instant, with words spoken by Commander James Burk. We will leave here with memories and our shared story of time on Mars.

Anthony de Mello famously said that “the shortest distance between a truth and a human being is a story.” Stories serve as bridges, closing the gap between hearts and minds, weaving threads of understanding where misunderstanding once prevailed. Every sim carried out at MDRS can be thought of as a story, with the goal of bridging distances in understanding of what human-to-mars is all about. Throughout our Mars mission, we have fostered friendships destined to endure and contributed to the vast body of knowledge propelling humanity towards a future on Mars. Tomorrow, on an Earth day, we will begin our homeward journeys. The physical distances between us will become tangible once more, but the shared memories of our time on Mars will ensure that reconnection is only a thought away. Our collective story about our time on Mars will continue to bind us, regardless of the miles that separate us.

With immense gratitude, we are Transatlantic Mars Crew 261, signing out:
James Burk (Crew Commander)
Aline Decadi (Executive Officer + Crew Geologist)
Cécile Renaud (Greenhab Officer + Crew Biologist)
Julien Villa-Massone (Crew Engineer)
Erin Kennedy (Crew Robotics Engineer)
Audrey Derobertmasure (Health + Safety Officer)
Kris Davidson (Crew Journalist)

Journalist Report – May 11th

Crew 261 Journalist Report 11-05-2023

Author: Kris Davidson, Crew Journalist

The awe-inspiring images of astronauts soaring through the cosmos will forever capture our imaginations. They are the main characters, the faces we associate with the ongoing saga of space exploration. While we extol these pioneers in the limelight, it is equally important to acknowledge the ones laboring tirelessly behind the scenes — the ones we know as Mission Support.

The successful and safe human exploration of Mars will necessitate a complex network of mission support. This endeavor will encompass extensive pre-mission training, development, and maintenance of comprehensive life support systems, including breathable air, clean water, food, health monitoring, and medical care. The formulation and rehearsal of contingency plans for emergencies will be essential. Robust communication systems need to be established. Lastly, the scientific objectives of each mission will necessitate ongoing, adaptable support capable of accommodating discoveries as they arise.

On Sol 10, during EVA 16, Sergii Iakymov’s voice echoed through the lower hab, warning Commander James Burk of a sudden weather shift and advising an immediate EVA termination. This instance is but one among many where our crew has benefited from the guidance of Mission Support. As crucial on Mars as it is at the MDRS, Mission Support is instrumental to the success of every mission. With crews cycling through, Mission Support remains the constant, the steady sentinels of this place. Their intimate knowledge of the MDRS structures and surrounding landscapes is invaluable. They establish and maintain crucial relationships in Hanksville and beyond, coordinate supplies between missions, and impart vital knowledge and insight to each incoming crew while ensuring the integrity of each simulation. On this penultimate Sol on Mars, the Transatlantic Mars 261 crew extends our heartfelt gratitude to Mission Support — Dr. Shannon Rupert and Sergii Iakymov. We could not have achieved this without you.

As Sol 11 dawned, the Transatlantic Mars Crew 261 is commencing the final stages of their experiments and projects, embarking on their final EVAs. EVA 18 set out for the Sea of Shells region to conduct the final tests on the Atmosphinder robot and to observe the geological features of the region. The participants, including Crew Engineer Julien Villa-Massone (EVA Leader), GreenHab Officer Cecile Renaud, Crew Roboticist Erin Kennedy, and Journalist Kris Davidson expressed a deep sense of gratitude for their mission experience. Back at the hab, Commander Burk and Executive Officer Aline Decadi worked on the final mission report, a critical communication with Mission Support and the larger Mars Society community at the end of a mission.

Space exploration is not solely a tale of astronauts and their heroic exploits. It is equally a story of the people comprising Mission Support who ensure the success and safety of each voyage. Their commitment and tireless efforts enable the astronauts to carry out their missions effectively, while simultaneously ensuring the integrity and continuity of each mission. Without them, the mesmerizing images of astronauts floating in space would remain a distant dream.

Journalist Report – May 10th

Crew 261 Journalist Report 10-05-2023

Author: Kris Davidson, Crew Journalist

The phrase "Ex Astra" means "from the stars," while "Ad Astra" means "to the stars." Together, they represent the concept that all life on Earth comprises the same elements that were created in the cores of stars billions of years ago, implying that we are all connected to the immense expanse of the universe.

This concept has garnered new significance in recent years as our comprehension of the cosmos has deepened. With each passing day, we draw closer to voyaging to Mars and beyond. Scientists now understand that the building blocks of life, such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, were birthed within stars that ultimately exploded as supernovae, dispersing these elements throughout the galaxy. "Ad Astra" is not merely a scientific notion. It also carries profound philosophical and spiritual implications. The idea of unity, our fundamental connection to the universe, can evoke a sense of awe and wonder.

On Sol 10, Transatlantic Mars Crew 261 welcomed a TV journalist from Salt Lake City. During EVA 16, the reporter spent time interviewing the crew and observing Crew Engineer Julien Villa-Massone as he tested the Adapa drone. The journalist also filmed Crew Roboticist Erin Kennedy’s ongoing testing of Atmosphinder.

Kennedy has been diligently progressing toward a test with the Atmosphinder robot involving human-to-robot interaction. Observing Erin’s communication with the robot she created, coupled with the journalist’s reportage, invokes a sense of awe at the multiple layers of sentience and observation at play. As we, the humans at MDRS, stand on Earth simultaneously creating and reporting from the idea of Mars, we are sentient stardust, working alongside the artificial intelligences we have created. We are not only alive and witnessing this universe but also actively interacting with it in complex and creative ways as we progress Ad Astra.

In a separate gesture of observation and celebration of the wonders of the universe, on Sol 10, Commander James Burk, Executive Officer Aline Decadi, Crew Engineer Julien Villa-Massone, and HSO Audrey Derobertmasure embarked on EVA 15 to explore Candor Chasma where they initiated drone flights to produce outreach footage. Back at the MDRS campus, Greenhab Officer/Crew Biologist Cécile Renaud spent the morning prepping tomato leaf samples for further analysis back on Earth.

Elements birthed from stars have coalesced to form planets, including our own, and eventually life as we comprehend it. This signifies that every atom within our bodies, in the tomato leaves that Renaud will analyze, was once part of a star. The concept of Ex Astra and Ad Astra has attained new significance as our understanding of the cosmos continues to deepen, as we strive to return to our cosmic origins. Stardust courses through our veins. We enter this world—into consciousness—through a convergence of storylines and stardusted bloodlines that have already spanned across all of time.

Journalist Report – May 9th

Crew 261 Journalist Report 09-05-2023

Author: Kris Davidson, Crew Journalist

Recently, Commander Burk aptly stated over dinner, "change is the only constant." This time-worn philosophical adage rings true across every facet of existence, from the ceaseless spin of the cosmos to the relentless progression of our own aging bodies. Nowhere does this resonate more than in the realm of science, where change is not just an observer, but the main event itself.

Mars, formed about 4.6 billion years ago, is a testament to the power of change. The planet transitioned from a warm, wet environment with a thick atmosphere and intense volcanic activity to a cold, dry world when it lost its magnetic field about 4 billion years ago. This led to atmospheric erosion by solar wind, and today, Mars’ surface is dotted with impact craters and adorned with polar ice caps composed of water and carbon dioxide. The evolution from an Earth-like planet to its current inhospitable state has scientists intrigued about the possibility of past life on Mars.

The region in Utah surrounding the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS), also bears the imprints of change. Once submerged beneath prehistoric seas, it saw layers of sandstone, siltstone, and limestone being deposited. The formation and subsequent rifting of the supercontinent Pangea led to uplift and erosion, creating desert landscapes and dinosaur fossil-laden rock formations. Some of these fossils were discovered by MDRS Crew #1, which included Dr. Zubrin!

Transatlantic Mars Crew 261’s stay at the station is already transformative. The portraits taken on Sol 9 on EVA 13 reveal a newfound ease with the Martian environment, the spacesuits, and each other. We may leave Mars by the week’s end, but the experience leaves an indelible mark on us.

Changes and progress are evident in our experiments and projects as well. The crew roots for greenhab officer Cécile Renaud’s young tomato plant growing in Martian regolith stimulant. We’re learning and observing through crew roboticist Erin Kennedy’s ongoing Atmosphider tests, HSO Audrey Derobertmasure’s collecting of vascular aging data, and Julien Villa-Massone’s hab metrics project. James Burk and Aline Decadi continue the vital work of education through Mars VR and other outreach efforts.

The grand narrative of science affirms: change is the only constant. Nothing in our universe remains static. Science, in its quest for understanding, chronicles the dynamic rather than cataloging the static. It documents change, bears witness to the flux, and celebrates the ongoing transformation that underpins all existence.

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