Today’s clear skies allowed the warm sun to erase any lingering Martian frost and set the stage for our most ambitious EVA yet. The vast canyon surveyed in EVA 3 was but a tantalizing preview of the wonders that lay below. We had to return.
A team of 4 led by our commander, Max Fagin, suited up and departed the airlock around 10:30 am, reaching the turn-off to the Maxwell Montes around 11:15. But instead of walking north along the canyon’s ridge as we had done previously, the team searched eastward for a safe passage into the canyon itself. They succeeded and soon found themselves immersed in a sprawling labyrinth of rocky channels. Invigorated by the thrill of discovery, the team pressed on, and after some wandering was able to locate the base of the enormous stratified walls identified in EVA 3. The team’s geologist, Cesare Guariniello, studied the crossbeded layers of sandstone and salt with a trained eye, but the wander through the maze of chasms had cost the team time. Before long it was time to head back. The EVA team returned at 3:30 pm, exhausted, but with smiles on their faces.
Nothing exciting is planned for this evening and I’m sure today’s EVA crew will appreciate the downtime. Last night we played our first few trial runs of the self-made cooperative Mars-themed card game which we have named “Mars Quest”. We plan to iterate on the rules slightly, as the game felt a little too easy. But the team still greatly enjoyed the experience.
Today was a cold and gloomy day. Even if this wasn’t our day off, I reckon that the crew would have been less than enthusiastic about any EVAs. But the weather has been a perfect excuse for a slow day around the hab.
Our commander, Max Fagin, allowed the crew to sleep in past the usual wake-up time of 7:30 am. Instead of an early breakfast, he cooked us a brunch of French toast and scrambled eggs. The crew was skeptical of the powdered and freeze-dried eggs at first, but warmed up to the taste after a few bites.
Members of the team have since spent the day tending to odds and ends for our various experiments. A sprinkling of tenuous Martian snow dusted the landscape in the late afternoon and has served to make the metallic bulkheads and thick pressure doors of our habitat feel almost cozy. Tonight our executive officer, Kshitij Mall, will treat the crew to a dinner of noodles and fish. Afterwards the crew will relax over a cooperative Mars-themed card game written by myself during today’s free time.
All in all, though the day has been slow, it is a welcome break before we continue with our second EVA to the distant Maxwell Montes tomorrow.
Temperatures have plummeted and the night left a thin dusting of frost that lingered in the shadows throughout the day. Last night the team planned one of our most complex EVAs yet. One that would require the maximum compliment of 5 crewmembers on EVA at once. The goal: locate elusive hematite “blueberries” (named for their rounded shape and color) that could indicate the presence of liquid surface water in the distant Martian past.
The convoy travelled south to revisit areas explored on EVA #2. This time the team focused our search around a possible ancient stream bed. But alas, the search was unsuccessful. Still, the EVA traversed a variety of terrain and allowed all members of the EVA to gain experience identifying the different geologic formations. Back at the hab, our health and safety officer, Sam Albert, has begun cataloguing microbial samples from around the hab to better understand the microbial environment.
I am also happy to report that last night’s pizza was a hit, if not only due to Cesare’s magic touch that saved the dough. The crew was able to fit in some astronomical observations of the double Martian moonrise before relaxing over a television show. Tomorrow we will continue these leisure activities and have dedicated the day to relaxation to mark the halfway point of our mission.
Justin Mansell, MDRS Crew 186 Journalist
P.S. Photos attached. Photo of the day: 05Jan2018 Building a microbe catalogue.jpg
Today proved relatively restful for most of the team. Cesare Guariniello, our geologist, cooked chocolate pancakes for the crew after an early morning yoga session once again led by Kshitij Mall, the executive officer. Though a hearty EVA to the north in search of salt deposits was planned, it was cut short by unanticipated difficulties with one of the ATVs. The EVA team of 4 returned just after 1 pm and, given the strenuous expeditions of the last few days, was more than happy to spend the remainder of the afternoon catching up on various tasks. We deployed a small robotic rover built by the NorCal Mars Society and took turns operating it remotely in the vicinity of the hab. Mark Gee, the green hab scientist, has also made significant progress on his microgreens research and gave the team a tour of his experiments. The gesture complimented the lecture Cesare gave to us last night on the local geology.
Tonight the team will try our hand at making pizza out of the abundance of powdered and freeze dried ingredients. Afterwards we will continue to relax over card games and television shows. Hopefully it will be enough to ease tensions over the nutella. Today’s EVA crew ascended a ridge named “Mount Nutella” (no joke) but the effort proved futile in replenishing our reserves.
Today’s EVA was as rewarding and productive as it was grueling. A team of four of us departed the airlock just after 10:30 am and embarked on an epic trek far to the east beyond the bounds explored by any previous crew.
Oh what they have been missing!
An hour of driving brought our rovers to the end of drivable path. From there we continued on foot to the northeast of the Maxwell Montes until we once again reached an impasse. This time: a sheer cliff overlooking a spectacular network of canyons stretching as far as the eye could see! But the real treat were the walls of exposed strata. A hundred feet tall, no less! Though our objective was simply a preliminary survey, I reckon that the crew geologist will soon be back to scrutinize the story contained within the jumbled concoction of earthy hues.
The walk back to our rovers was arduous in the sun and stagnant air, but the EVA team summoned its second wind and proceeded directly into the radio navigation experiment. We drove approximately halfway back to the habitat before splitting into pairs and parting ways. The commander, Max Fagin, and myself were one pair. We dismounted the rovers while the crew engineer, Melanie Grande, and executive officer, Kshitij Mall, returned to the habitat to continue maintenance on the main airlock.
As the two rovers rocked and bounced their way up the dirt path, the commander and I steeled ourselves for the long walk back to the hab. But rather than follow the road, we would be taking a more direct route: one guided through unfamiliar terrain by Morse tones broadcast from the hab and received by us on a utilitarian antenna. It worked perfectly. Homing in on the hab’s beacon, we returned with time enough to spare for many photos. When we at last entered the airlock the elapsed time was nearly 4 and half hours. Grueling indeed!
Back at hab, the crew engineer has been working hard to master the quirks of our fickle generator. The dwindling supply of nutella has also begun to bring out the worst in us. But spirits are high, and our geologist, Cesare Guariniello, has baked a delectable cake in celebration of our green hab scientist’s birthday.
Justin Mansell, MDRS Crew 186 Journalist
P.S. Photos attached. Photo of the day: 521750_4255200 03Jan2018 Stunning strata.jpg
The weather is exceptional today. Only faint tendrils of moisture drift lazily across the boundless sky, and we were able to run the habitat for most of the day on solar power alone. The downside to all this, however, could be attested to by the members of the crew who endured the oppressively hot radiance on our second EVA.
Guided by the crew’s geologist, Cesare, the team drove far to the south in search of clay and hematite samples. At one of the sites the crew was able to ascend a nearby butte and was treated to a spectacular panorama of the endless Martian desert. They returned with an overwhelming number of photos and much exhaustion. Our Green hab scientist, Mark Gee, had an especially tiring day, as he spent much of the morning preparing an experiment growing microgreens in conditions of minimal input and testing the effects of the habitat biome on plant growth.
Following a brief rest, the crew returned to preparing experiments and performing maintenance duties on the habitat. These duties included an engineering EVA to move equipment and check the battery status the rovers.
The first sunrise of 2018 broke the horizon at approximately 7:40 am this morning and lit the sky with a fiery glow not unlike the sea of ochre shades below. The crew roused with little hesitation and started the day with a yoga session led by our executive officer, Kshitij Mall. By 9 am the team had donned our EVA suits and capitalized on the morning light to conduct photo shoot. It was also our last chance to enjoy the outdoors while still being able to take our helmets off.
With the crew portraits obtained, the crew returned inside the habitat to indulge in a delicious New Year breakfast of fruit crêpes, cooked for the team by yours truly. At noon, the airlocks were shut from both sides and the simulation began.
But our crew isn’t one to vegetate inside the habitat (as cozy as it can be). Almost as soon as the simulation had begun, our ardent commander, Max Fagin, had 4 of us suiting up for our first EVA. The purpose was to analyze rock samples a short distance south of the hab and the EVA also served as an important test of our spectrometer and radio navigation equipment. Upon our return, the crew engineer, Melanie Grande, used some surplus time to replace the window on the outer door of the southern airlock.
Though the EVA was short, it has given the team much to think about. We have since been discussing various logistical items and how to iron out minor bugs in our EVA equipment.
Justin Mansell, MDRS Crew 186 Journalist
P.S. Daily photos attached. Picture of the day: 01Jan2018 Happy New Year.jpg
Today the crew completed the last of our training. It was a busy day that began with bidding farewell to crew 185 as they departed the habitat and headed for home. We did our best to help them pack and promptly filled the vacant hab with our own cargo.
Prior to lunch we met with the station’s director to receive a full briefing that reviewed much of the procedures taught to us by crew 185 yesterday. We subsequently took a brief break, which we utilized for lunch and to finish moving into our staterooms.
Our final training task was to learn how to don the realistically bulky space suits. Our commander, Max Fagin, led the briefing based on his experience on a prior mission. With the entire team suited up, we explored the local area on a practice EVA that allowed us to become familiar with the limited mobility afforded by the suits.
Tonight we will celebrate the new year to the taste of lentil soup, oven-baked ziti, and fudge brownies – all cooked by our crew’s geologist and signature Italian chef – Cesare Guariniello.
We plan to formally enter the simulation late tomorrow morning.
Everything eventually comes to an end, even the greatest experiences in your life. This time, it is really the end of our Crew. Crew 185 is dead. Long life to Crew 186!
This morning, we woke up on the Earth. What a pleasure to feel the light of the sun or the cold and dry wind of the desert on your skin, without a foggy helmet!
After a quick breakfast, we finished to clean the Hab and to pack all our experiments (including X-1 and its 200 pounds giant box!). You have probably no idea of the quantity of dust that you can have inside the Hab after two weeks of simulation, even if we all had inside and outside shoes. 😉
Then, we welcomed Crew 186 and we presented them the Hab, the Greenhouse, the Science Dome, the Observatory… and we explained them how the base works, how to do a report for mission support or how to optimize their water consumption in the desert. We had a nice dinner together and a very pleasant evening. I am very confident that they will be an amazing crew!
Greetings from our good old blue planet,
Thibault ex-Exo and Spacesuit Engineer for Crew 185
We are now all seated and fastened in our space capsule. Take-off is imminent so I have just a few minutes to tell you about this last day at MDRS.
We woke up at 8 am and we had a pleasant breakfast together. Then, John and Ilaria did a long EVA with two ATVs. They went to a place quite far and northern from the Hab. This area is very interesting because it looks like the Moon (hence its name: Yellow Moon). It was our last EVA of the mission and they achieved all their objectives. Congratulations to them!
Then, after lunch, we played a game and we finished all the social sciences and psychology studies that we carried out during the mission. At the end of the afternoon, we cleaned the whole MDRS base, made an inventory of the food and packed everything that we need to take with us back to the Earth.
I really enjoyed our two amazing weeks here at MDRS. No matter the problems that we faced, we all learned and faced them together as a team. Beyond our scientific achievements, it is the human experience that I will carry back with me to the Earth. What an adventure!
T minus 10, 9, 8…
I would like to thank the Mars Society and its French chapter as long as I can do it.
…7, 6, 5…
For the last time, greetings from the Red Planet,
4, 3, 2, 1…
Boosters ignition and lift off!
Thibault, ExO and spacesuit engineer for the Crew 185