Journalist Report–January 18th

Journalist Report
January 18, 2022
Felipe Torres, Crew Scientist

We have successfully landed on Mars!

Landing was safe, though a little rough. The crew is excited and some are a little nervous; our Commander had a few tears of joy from having arrived to the red planet. We are all proud of each other and of our mission support team on Earth for helping us get here safe.

It’s amazing the resemblance it has with our planet Earth. Some things look familiar, it even feels like home! We are all eager to start populating this planet.

Most things are still new for us, so today we started our training led by Atila; we started getting familiarized with the different systems on our Hab, RAM, Green Hab, and Science Dome. It’s a shame our Crew Astronomist couldn’t come with us we won’t be able to use our Observatories, fortunately, we’ll still be able to get telescopic images remotely from the Earth.

Time for a break! We had our first lunch together as Martians. Never thought that our crew had such talented cooks; definitely cooking won’t be an issue during our Mission.

We all helped each other jump inside our Spacesuits. We had done it before on Earth, but doing it here in Mars is actually way different. The feeling of being far from home starts kicking in. Spacesuits are on, we turn on and make sure all the systems are operating nominally.

Now the moment to explore has arrived. Let’s go outside! Said Atila. Our first exploration of Mars soil has been thrilling. We traveled a few miles in our Rovers (Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity) just enough distance to be safe and sound during our first EVA; we reached the Route 1104, also known as Galileo Road and then headed back to our Hab as the sun was falling down and the temperature was getting lower.

To end the day, we all studied the Mars map and discussed different zones of interest, which according to our Mission plan will be the best places to explore on our next EVA’s.

Good night.

Journalist Report – January 14th

JOURNALIST REPORTS 14 JAN 2022
PEDRO JOSÉ-MARCELLINO, XO/CJ CREW 238

MDRS — Crew 238 — Sol 12 14 Jan 2022

We Are All Made of Stars

The end is nigh. During comms window last night, we suddenly found out that our sim is cut short at 12-noon on Friday. Our plan had been to proceed till Friday evening, but alas that is not to be. So, we go to bed on what will be our last few hours in-sim.

Once again, I stay up very late getting all my admin together, although HSO Turner was a close second, completing his Mars surface puzzle. I eventually close my eyes at 4 AM and wake up at 6:55 AM with knocks on my door and the hideous fire alarm Werner had downloaded for his exercises. “Fire!”, I am told. I get dressed in the dark and run out and downstairs, where I don my EVA suit alongside Turner, as I hear Pokrywka cough through the radio. We get there fairly fast, and she is presumed alive. I think we are getting better at this. Practice makes perfect, and Werner has us on this routine much like Arkady
Bogdanov had the First 100.

People try to talk to me after the drill, but I go back to bed grumpy. I need some more sleep.

After breakfast, a few of us proceed with our Braided Communications sessions, and get down to our many reports due, while others clean the Hab. We have been cleaning as we go for the whole two weeks, and it
looks shinier than we found it.

So, the day has suddenly opened up from a busy research schedule to an off-sim walk to Hab Ridge, where some of us will get the last bit of footage for our documentaries and art projects. Sadly, we will also have to walk to Dr. Sandor’s Mars labyrinth, 100 m north of the hab, and delicately give it back to the red dirt of Mars.
This is rotation life.
It starts, and it ends. We Are All Made of Stars — as Moby once said.

Journalist Report – January 13th

JOURNALIST REPORTS 11-13 JAN 2022

PEDRO JOSÉ-MARCELLINO, XO/CJ CREW 238

MDRS — Crew 238 — Sol 09 11 Jan 2022

The Tasmanian devil, the devil’s toenails, and the solar flares

Yesterday, not for the first time, I was up into the wee hours, trying to catch up on all the admin due at MDRS, and with my reporting duties outside of the station. Planning, logistics, domestic labour, reports, reportages, and collective projects have all taken a toll on my sleep hours. Read: I haven’t had many.

Mind you, as a tv producer, the overloaded schedule is nothing new. But I confess the utter exhaustion caused by the intensity of life at MDRS, the lack of time and space to rest, and even the lack of privacy, which has clear impacts on personal well-being, did catch me off guard. As a crew with a core focus on mental health, we took note of this.

As an XO and Crew Journalist on crew 238, you’d reckon I know everything that is going on. Turns out, that’s not true. The morning of Sol 9 was a perfect example. As I left my stateroom still rubbing my eyes, I grab a coffee and suddenly hear this German accent coming through the radios: “Commander! Commande! We’ve received a notification of a solar flare. ETA is 20 minutes. I repeat: ETA is 20 minutes. Seek shelter!”.

We all look at each other, roll our eyes, and then dutifully march down the stairs, slowly and in a controlled manner. Eng. Werner reminds us of the need to carry supplies, notably water and some easy-opening food. We do. Some of us also grab their spirulina tubes. Not all. As we are sheltering and Werner goes through whatever supplies we collectively selected, we do notice we have twelve radios and one space novella, and five spirulina tubes. Prokywka, the mother of the spirulina, has forgotten her tube at the Hab, to die of intense solar radiation. Sad.

When the exercise is done, we resume our life at the station. Some have admin, others have domestic tasks, others have Braided Communications sessions with our off-site communications and systems engineer, Bhargav Patel, the newspaper we’re reporting to, or our loved ones (part of the mental health study at City – University of London).

In the PM, the crew splits, and for the first time, the boys go out on an EVA together, to Barainca Butte. A long drive, but it’s an incredibly beautiful site with a handful of geological features we can’t get over. On the way back, Eng. Werner happens upon a treasure trove of devil’s toenails, and you suddenly see the decades of amateur geology and paleontology knowledge shine through on his face — “how did these get here!?” The landscape carved by water streams provides useful clues. On the way back we stop at Kissing Camel to admire a few incredible features, upon which the sunset is bestowing a golden glory. We park the rovers just on time.

At the dinner table, the conversation is lighthearted, and given our cultural and geographical diversity, we try to explain the difference between Tasmanian devils, North American wolverines, gophers marmots, prairie
dogs, martens, minks, weasels, and so on. Someone mentions all these critters are cousins of Alice-the-desert-mouse. And suddenly, our commander screams, then I scream, Pokrywka laughs to the point of crying, and Werner thinks it’s all a practical joke. But it’s not. Our commander swears she saw a large beast. Pokrywka believes it’s little Alice again. Every time we mention her, she surfaces.

Over dinner, the commander takes a different seat so she won’t unwittingly see this monster again. It’s dessert time when another scream scares all of us again. This time we know it’s Alice, coming out of Eng. Werner’s stateroom. She was caught there once before. The live traps come back out.

These Martian rodents are too much.

MDRS — Crew 238 — Sol 10 12 Jan 2022
Going to The Moon to find Gypsum as in Mars

Dr. Sandor gifted us with an after-dinner chamomile infusion last night, and we all slept in. It’s 9 AM when we all show up for breakfast, after a relaxing night. The next two days have been planned as slightly more low-key events, with half the crew resting in each of them. It’s been intense to this point.

On my end, I am putting my logistical and journalistic duties aside for a couple of days, and setting up a temporary studio at the RAM, to record one-on-one interviews with our incredible, multi-hyphenate
crew. Our diversity of cultures, geographies, professional backgrounds, experiences, opinions, and philosophies make this the most interesting groups of individuals I’ve ever gone to Mars with.

A group that can both accomplish unique, ground-breaking, challenging research, but also philosophically question and defend interplanetary expansion, structures of power, and the public narratives that surround it. But even this stellar crew needs a day off. So: slow day.

Some of us head over to our last rover-based EVA to The Moon area, which provides a spectacular backdrop to our geological observation and documentary captures. The commander finds the dark gray landscape menacing and observes Pokrywka and me as we venture through the myriad of flood channels. Werner had returned from this location with plenty of surface gypsum, a soft sulfate mineral composed of calcium sulfate dihydrate, which some scientists believe to be a core indicator of historic running water on parts of Mars identified by Opportunity.

On our analog Mars, gypsum glitters at sunset, and I happened upon a little deposit at the top of the hill we climbed back on.

The return to the Hab is rough. It’s a long drive, the path is bumpy, and all our six radios fail, leaving us to communicate by sign language when we are utterly exhausted. Not fun. But this evening we get to kick back. It’s my turn cooking, and it’s do-it-yourself burrito night. We also bring out a geological map of Mars puzzle
(hard), and the Oculus Quest 2 of our partners Stardust Technologies, a Canadian startup working on improving the mental health of astronauts. Dr. Sandor and our commander explore meditation and go to bed as if they had chamomile tea. Eng. Werner explores the award-winning ISS walk and is animated. I feel dizzy after 2 minutes.

MDRS — Crew 238 — Sol 11 13 Jan 2022

The Spirulina Harvest and Alice’s (Re)Capture

I have been visiting Dr. Sandor at the GreenHab over the last few days, early in the morning. The smell of the GreenHab (and frankly, Dr. Sandor herself) reminds me of my grandmother, and the love she has for the plants in there shows through. The GreenHab is looking gorgeous after two weeks in her hands, playing them music — folk music one day, Albinioni the next, jazz the next one. As I’m there, I noticed Pokrywka’s spirulina bubbling on the shelf. We call her on the radio and ask for instructions. We hear giggling on the other side, and she says, seriously enough: “please evacuate the GreenHab immediately! It’s an invasion!” We keep our humour.

Today was a second quiet day, with half the crew staying in on R&R. I filmed the last of my three interviews in my impromptu RAM studio, and as I was wrapping my self-interview, I see the last rover EVA leave to Candor Chasma. They return with spectacular footage and photos. But while they are away, Commander Robinson informs me that we are having one more emergency drill organized by Eng. Werner. This time, a tunnel depressurization was caused by debris impacts. He expects one breach.

I see an opportunity to get him back and apply 7 impact sites with blue paper tape. When they are back, Werner and Turner are rushed to the tunnels to fix the breaches. They are spread all over, and the alerts keep coming. One is bigger than he thought and threatens the collapse of this section of the station. Werner fixes it in the nick of time and looks happy. “Cool”, he says. Werner is happy, I’m happy.

Before dinner, Pokrywka decides is time to harvest the spirulina tubes. Some are healthier than others, laying bare the different parenting methods. The commander readily wins with her spirulina called The Borg. She has been referring to herself and the spirulina as “we” for days now. A few died undignified deaths. We ate the rest.
We admit that our giving names to these test tubes and a desert mouse indicate that isolation has affected us.

Speaking of Alice: she was recaptured in the live-trap, and we will let her go on Sol 12.

Journalist Report – January 10th

2022.01.10

PEDRO JOSÉ-MARCELLINO
XO/CJ, MDRS CREW #238

The life of a Mars First Responder

Mars Desert Research Station, Utah (USA) — Typically, Crew #238’s breakfasts are relaxed affairs. We start our day sitting under the golden streaks of light popping in through the round windows, and with space-themed music from my own playlist — today it was Aimee Mann’s "It’s Not", and Beach House’s "Space Song".

This morning, there were twelve (or more) of us at the table: our six crew members, four test tubes with spirulina, and two test tubes that commander Robinson and I are treating like collective entities (pronouns: they/them). We are all extremely mindful of the task given to us by Aga Pokrywka, our artist in residence and scientist-extraordinaire: take care of your own tube of spirulina, and in 72 hours we’ll see how it’s doing and if we can consume them. Plenty of protein in spirulina, she tells us.

Except, if we are to care for this spirulina as bacterial pets, can I actually eat it? I think not. (Although, if Alice-the-desert-mouse were to return, I might be distracted by her cuteness.)

Some of us are carrying our tamagochis, er, spirulinas, around our necks, the perfect combo of subtle movement, warmth, and light. Others have placed them on the Hab windows, sunbathing for a few hours, and they seem to be happy there, and doing well. Engineer Werner found a kindergarten for his tube – a surrogate if you will.

This morning, however, breakfast was not all sun, music, and spirulina. Yesterday was the halfway point in our mission, an important landmark. It was Sunday, we had a friendly visitor, and it was all great. But it’s also true that some of the anxieties of returning home, on planet Earth, are starting to seep through.

Now, perhaps that’s also related to the realization that, with only 4 more days of our rotation to go, Eng. Werner and HSO Turner had only done one emergency drill of the half a dozen they promised us. The fact that for a few days we’ve been sitting with both for emergency protocol briefings has hinted that something was incoming.

From fighting fires to EVA rescues (like yesterday’s) to a possible tunnel puncture/breach, to solar radiation, it is essential that protocols are tested in analog situations, to simulate and automate response mechanisms, to systematize and optimize protocols, and to identify human, logistical, communication, and equipment failures.

Our debriefing sessions have been precious, and we are lucky to have a veteran firefighter and an experienced paramedic among our crew. These are skills that have come in handy, and that will be crucial training for the first astronauts going there. In Cuba, every life you’ve saved as an emergency worker tops up your pension; at MDRS 238, we pay them in dehydrated mango crumble. It’s a good deal for everybody!

Anyway: back to breakfast. With a week gone and no emergency procedures to speak of, the rest of us were starting to get suspicious. So much so that, after a successful EVA rescue during The Guardian journalist’s visit, we were positive the day was not over for Werner, Turner… and certainly not for the rest of us.

On that first rescue, for the matter, artist-in-residence Pokrywka felt “ill” and passed out dramatically while walking back from the stunning labyrinth we’ve drawn in the red dirt just north of the Hab – the first labyrinth on Mars, we believe.

Upon commander Robinson’s radio prompt, a rescue party was quickly sent out and retrieved Pokrywka safe and sound. And by quickly, I do mean as quickly as you can feasibly get suited-up, open an airlock, wait five minutes, and get out into the Mars terrain. We were back to the Hab in no time, although a surprise EVA suit malfunction meant that I nearly didn’t make it “alive” (fret not: I survived. Just.). We debriefed and brainstormed solutions to the issues we spotted, particularly the possible need for more sizeable airlocks on Mars habs, and certainly the size of a rescue party. With only four of us allowed out, the exertion of three people carrying a human while wearing EVA suits is simply too much. Lesson learned.

Late at night, the commander spotted HSO Turner and Eng. Werner suddenly closed in one of the staterooms and whispering. We suspected another incoming emergency and fretted the dreaded nighttime drill we’d heard about, and the horrid fire alarm we had been briefed on.

We now have Werner down as a very credible Mars Trilogy’s Arkady Bogdanov (in Red Mars, Arkady throws these drills at the first 100 all the time, annoying 99 of them). But the reality is, whether no drill was planned at all, or whether it was aborted following our protests, it never happened. Until this morning, that is.

We had just finished breakfast. I was on my daily Braided session, part of our latency communication study, and had just typed about these annoying emergency drills, which could come anytime when the HSO announced on the walkie: "Outpost, come in. Outpost, come in. This is Hab. Please be advised the following is a Crew 238 scheduled emergency drill. I repeat: be advised that the following is Crew 238 scheduled emergency drill. Please acknowledge" [pause] "Hab, Hab!!!" [breaks] "Hab, this is HSO Turner!" [breaks, cough] "Hab, Come in!" [pause, then silence].

Kay Sandor had just gone into the restroom. Turner was in distress, or so it seemed. Werner was MIA. Upstairs, sockless Pokrywka, the commander, and I (still in my pajamas) looked at each other, rolled our eyes, and it’s possible – not confirming, nor denying – that a couple of curse words might have been uttered by one or two of us.

But we all rushed to our posts, gathering between the two airlocks. The commander kept communicating with Turner and asking Werner to come in (there was no answer). Pokrywka and I were quickly donning our exterior suits and firefighting equipment and were ordered in the tunnels – she was sockless and I, with a fire extinguisher in hand, was limping after pulling a muscle while reaching up for my suit. Turns out those hooks in the EVA room are not apt for 5’7 analog astronauts. We put the fire out with ease, though… or so I thought.

But Werner, hiding in a corner, was ready to tell us we had panicked and put out the smoke, not the fire itself. “Look for the fire”, he said. We found the artificial lamp inside the RAM, whence HSO Turner called it in: “Outpost, be advised Crew 238’s fire drill is now complete. Over.” Less than ideal, but no casualties, luckily. We’ll refresh and repeat. But gladly my pulled muscle bought the entire crew a 24-hour respite from Arkady Bogdanov over here.

Journalist Report – January 9th

2022.01.07 (Sol 5)
2022.01.08 (Sol 6)
2022.01.09 (Sol 7)

PEDRO JOSÉ-MARCELLINO
XO/CJ, MDRS CREW #238

Three days with Crew 238: of the Mars Trilogy, labyrinths, and journalists at the door

MDRS, Sol 5 (7 C)

Mars Desert Research Station, Hanksville, Utah (EUA) — We were forewarned that at some point — usually just about now — one or more of us would start to feel the stress of time passed in rotation, the pressure of the little time left, and the urgency of the many tasks yet to be fulfilled. Like clockwork.

We have been lucky to have spent a sunny week here on Mars, without any extraordinary power preservation measures. But last night Outpost called in and asked us to go into “minimum power use”. So, onward it was to “disconnect every non-essential item, including radios, suits, laptops, phones” and “unplug as much as [we] can”.

We all gathered in the dining room, i.e. our only room, and had some mood light going while I cooked my Cape Verdean katxupa dish using dehydrated ingredients. While I wasn’t quite pleased with the flavour profile (it was missing one hour stewing in red wine) the crew seemed to appreciate it nonetheless, and I appreciated them for this.

The blackout was a good occasion to discuss schedules. Our crew engineer needed to fit some fire drills in the following day’s schedule, others preferred the following day, and suddenly there was a round table on everyone’s individual projects, what each of us had achieved, and what we are still looking for.

We all acknowledged the real pressure of time gone by, admitted there was room for improvement in our strategy, and resolved internally to tackle these changes in the morning, over our typically very hearty breakfast. Insofar as a working crew goes, we function well, judging by what we know from grumpier ensembles (including that of Mars 500). And, as the day broke, we came out of the staterooms rejuvenated and ready to actively find solutions.

But personal dynamics are not the only maker of an analog. The technical and scientific characteristics of the individuals are important too, of course. In our case, we have a project portfolio touching upon diverse areas of natural and social sciences, and an equally impressive array of creative production, some of which crosses into the liminal and hybrid spaces between art and science. Matching all these collaborating (and sometimes overlapping) goals is part of my job as the XO, and it’s an ongoing challenge. But we’ve been doing alright.

Then, there is the physical element of it all. This Hollywood idea of the weightless astronaut is, of course, not what we will find on Mars. On top of that, those first missions will be tough, hands-on jobs for engineers and technicians braving the Martian cold and dust as they assemble the first habs and life support systems for everyone else. Perhaps not the sexiest work, but it reminds me of those brave folks who once built earthly infrastructure in places where there was none and where the laws of physics defy our presence.

I was reminded of all of this today because of our EVA to the magnificent Candor Chasma — a canyon so often mentioned in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy, that I feel like I’ve been there before. With the bumpy rover ride, the desert hiking, and a heavy suit on a warm day, plus an expected fall over an incredibly obnoxious rock, suffice to say I felt utterly exhausted. On the rover ride back, all I could think about was “it’s shower day.”

Two minutes of organic Marseille soap and hot water made me feel like a movie star.

One of those weightless astronaut movie stars.

MDRS, Sol 6 (8 C)

Mars Desert Research Station, Hanksville, Utah (EUA) — Of all the factors left to resolve before we can send crewed missions to Mars (or any other distant body, for that matter), the most complex are humans. And, if the effects of lower gravity or excessive radiation on the body have been studied, on the emotional and mental elements there is still much to be done.

On Crew 238 we chose this human aspect, in particular, the mental health and personal wellbeing of astronauts, as our common project. We have a calendar packed with activities that follow these pursuits, and we also have Dr. Kay Sandor at hand to ground us with her joy and thoughtfulness.

On the one hand, our two, sometimes three delicious group meals cooked out of unpromising supplies are amazing moments of sharing. Four among us are good, creative cooks with different styles, which is helpful when cooking for different people and accommodating different diets and tastes. We have no shortage of variety. Our commander also experiments with some baking, and Pokrywka bakes us incredible sourdough bread from some ancient Finnish starter. We are truly spoiled.

But this is what people have done for thousands of years: they break bread together, they talk, they linger. Then, we have the morning music sharing, and the evening reflections, in a format that feels so wholesome, and so profound, that it’s almost like we’re doing therapy. Finally, we have activities planned by Dr. Sandor, who is our GHO but also a certified psychotherapist. Her sessions on aromatic and medicinal plants have been a balsam. More than that, they’ve been preludes for the big one: the labyrinth.

At a youthful 74, Dr. Sandor, a member of the Labyrinth Society, is no spring chicken. So, we were determined to find her a rover-accessible spot for the first labyrinth on Mars. Sadly, when the EVA requests went out we realized our original plan would not work, and we decided to try within the campus grounds. It was not ideal. It was not as majestic as we had anticipated, but we could make it work. After an indoor meditative instruction, EVA team one, which included Dr. Sandor herself, attempted to draw a labyrinth near the Hab’s front door. This was not successful.

So, EVA team two went out on a mission, determined to make this work for the crew’s grandmother. North of the Hab, the softer red sand had some give. Engineer Werner, the commander, and I took turns drawing this ancient symbol of wisdom that Dr. Sandro, Kay, had been dreaming of for two years. We each walked it afterward, feeling our heartrates slow as we did, and enjoying the gusts of wind that we could feel
through our EVA suits.

The red dirt, the warm sunset colours, the Mars-like landscape, and MDRS right behind us ended up creating the perfect setting for our iconic photo of Mars’ Labyrinth. When the airlock opened again, Kay was waiting for us with the biggest smile, both grateful and elated, and we got all the love and hugs we needed. And then some rest.

Learning about, drawing, and walking the labyrinth has helped us get a handle on our mental state, through the same knowledge passed between human communities for thousands of years. This design — or variations thereof — has been around for time immemorial (we saw one in Hanksville the day we first arrived) in communities all over the world. We have no doubt, thus, that this will one day be drawn in the red dirt of (real) Mars.

MDRS, Sol 7 (-1 C)

Mars Desert Research Station, Hanksville, Utah (EUA) — Around the world, there are only a handful of permanent Mars and space analogs and a few temporary projects. Each has its own goals. For example, Mars 500, a multinational study in Russia, over a decade ago, tested psychological and behavioural reactions within the crew and their interactions with the outside world. In a study tackling similar themes, by Suedfeld and Steel, the authors indicate the need to create ties of affection, connection, and empathy through the maintenance of contact with loved ones insofar as possible, and perhaps even through the inclusion of other living beings (small mammals, plants, fungi, even bacteria) in these interplanetary long-hauls.

In the case of our multidisciplinary artist-in-residence and scientist Aga Prokywka, these are her bacteria and cyanobacteria, which the whole crew has been mystified about since we all got here. We call them Aga’s pets.

This need for affection and connection (even with other species) is perhaps the reason, she ventures, why some of us (myself included) have grown so fond of Alice-the-desert-mouse, the cute rodent that keeps on coming, and why we are all so curious about her sourdough, and her sprouts, and her oats, and her kombucha, and so on. We’ll get there.

We were clearly starved of contact with anyone. So, the visit of The Guardian USA journalist J. Oliver Conroy was welcomed with curiosity. Strangely, Oliver arrived on foot, alone. He knocked on the door, but anyone who’s been to MDRS will know that this is not an efficient method to announce yourself. Luckily, crew engineer Werner is perennially back and forth between the Hab and the RAM, and radio’s us to get things going.

We got our HSO kitted up to perform Oliver’s final COVID-19 antigen test and welcomed him to the airlock. We even gave him a chance while he spent his 15 minutes there. Full red-carpet treatment. It would be an hour before Outpost reached out to inform us, they couldn’t reach the journalist. We ensured them we had him and were feeding him well — Aga’s sourdough, dehydrated butter, fresh coffee, and six interesting analog astronauts.

We must have spoken for two hours, which revealed how much we missed talking to others, but also perhaps how much there was to say. When we finally got up, Commander Robinson gave him a tour of the Hab (a short one, obviously) and I sat with him to discuss our research schedule, before taking him to Kay’s domain, the GreenHab. I hadn’t been there in many days. It’s looking lovely and so well taken care of, with happy plants whom she plays music to every morning. Kay is a Texas Master Gardener, and it shows. She reminds me of my own grandma, and how grandma taught me to love plants the way Kay loves plants. I think Oliver saw that too, before I sent him off to the Science Dome with the commander and with Aga, and then to the RAM with our engineer.

Meanwhile, I was back upstairs preparing a banquet of our best-rehydrated fare, sourdough, and even water (old desert tradition: give water to your guests, even when you have little). I know I’m biased, but the lunch was delicious, and the guy let out a compliment: “I could not imagine I would eat this well.” This is when we may have made a joke about trying to ensure our source of soylent green is properly fed. He ran with it, and we all had a seriously boisterous laugh as we told him he looked definitely yummier than the last journalist they sent us.

We had just about enough time for a fresh cup of coffee, some personal banter, and a quick try of our Oculus Quest 2, part of our collaboration with Canadian aerospace startup Stardust Technologies — a first for him. It never gets old to see someone using VR for the first time. Space agencies are looking into this very technology as a possible solution to allow astronauts a sense of escape.

Then, onward with our schedule, which this afternoon included the first of the emergency drills Eng. Werner and HSO Turner have been working on for a year or more. In this case, an EVA extraction. Thankfully Aga (the smallest of us) was not the hardest to carry, but with three bodies instead of four in the rescue team, I was panting by the time we closed that airlock. Those EVA fans were just not enough for a rescue operation. But I survived. The victim also lived, and we looked good in front of our guests. We were sad to see him go.

It was late by the time we decided to try our hand at Sunday pizza. Aga’s ancient sourdough, dehydrated tomatoes, and a few greens, and we had a Martian Pizza. Was it great? No. Was it good? Maybe. Did we eat it? Yes. And, speaking of ancient bacteria, this brought about the ideal pretext for Aga to present us all with our own tubes of highly nutritious edible bacteria (spirulina) to raise for the next 3 days, before “we eat it”, she says.

We all named our spirulina tubes. Mine is a collective that goes by ‘they’, has no gender, and responds to any SciFi authors’ names: Aldos, Robinson, Asimov, Steinmüller, Shelley, Orwell. They are one. and I’m not sure I can eat them.

Journalist Report – January 5th

Crew 238 Journalist Report 05Jan2022

Submitted by Sionade Robinson, Commander, Crew 238.

A serene day of planning, research, and gardening in the Greenhab draws to an end with the shared preparation of our evening meal. I’m looking forward to it. We have had a small harvest.

It seems curious to me that many anticipations of life on Mars
emphasise its potential for strangeness, danger, and deprivation. I suppose this is because for more than a hundred years, explorers have peppered their ripping yarns with accounts of peril, cold, hunger, and if they really wanted to hit the top of the bestseller charts, an imminent and grisly death.

But there’s another perspective, that’s surely much more relevant to the potential of humanity to become, one day, an interplanetary species. It focuses on the positive aspects of life in an extreme and unusual environment, because for many a visit to such a place is a cherished and important part of their life, an impetus to growth, for deepening personal resources and relationships, and always to be remembered with pride and enjoyment.

Decades of research show the return rate of those who have had such experiences to polar regions, to space, and, for that matter, to the MDRS, is high. The disappointment among those who are frustrated in their desire to go back can be profound.

Entering a novel and engrossing situation, such as an analogue Martian habitat calls to something deep inside many people. Human beings are ‘‘active organisms that seek challenges and engage in activities for their own sake’’ and people who choose to go into such experiences are those who like challenges, learning, and, frankly, proximity to other human beings in confined spaces.

Our XO (and Crew Journo) PJ Marcellino embodies these valuable qualities. His energy effervesces, his project management skills abound, and the headache of scheduling our ambitious and overlapping research plans has yet to make a dent in his good humor. We hope! (Seriously, how much patience can one person have?).

But far beyond the capacity for organization, the outcome of our work on the wellbeing of future space-farers will depend on our shared and individual storytelling, and in this area, PJ is a master. We are each underway, in our own way. He will shape our impact.

One further positive outcome of experiences in extreme environments is that members of crews often come back with a less superficial set of values, more tolerance and affection toward other people, and higher self-confidence (Suedfeld 1998). I have a feeling that’ll be something, thanks to PJ’s success in both his roles, each of us will also be able to claim too.

Journalist Report – January 4th

Sol 02 Journalist Report

Beat: Space Oddity, David Bowie

Pedro José-Marcellino
Crew 238 Journalist/XO

ALICE IN CHAINS

It’s been the longest two days here at MDRS.

Scratch that: it’s been the longest two years waiting to be here at MDRS.

Actually: it’s been the longest two years for everyone out there on planet Earth, and we are so darn lucky.

Now that we are finally on Mars, the process is slowly sinking in, and we are gently sliding into busy Martian routines.

For an international team like the Magnificent 7 (don’t ask) it’s been touch-and-go for a while. We were selected in 2019 and originally slotted to be here a year ago. Through all that, we lost an engineer, then a commander, then gained an astronomer, only to lose her again; our XO became the commander, I became the XO, and the Mag 7 became the Mag 6, but we stuck together and kept the earlier name as a memento, much as Zsa Zsa Gabor kept the rings from her seven weddings as decorative items. In case you didn’t notice that joke was deliberately Hungarian.

Over the rest of the week, I will be picking a crew member every day to inspire me and assist in telling our story at MDRS. Thus, the Hungarian joke. See, a little-known fact about my crew member of the day today, our pretty rad GreenHab Officer Kay Sandor, is that she is herself Hungarian-American. And a Master Texas Gardener — yes, that’s a thing! — who also happens to hold a PhD in nursing and be a licensed therapist. She volunteered in tall ships, and cooks a mean paprikash, as we found out over dinner today.

Although the whole thing nearly devolved into World War Math when she asked an international crew of Americans, English, Continentals, and Canadians to weigh in on the trick question: “what is 1/6 of half of a cup?”. What were you thinking, Kay?

At age 74, today Kay became possibly the oldest analog astronaut to ever walk an EVA here on analog Mars. She was beaming and so were we, even if we did not go too far. Mission Support suggested nearby Marble Ritual, which we can see from our window, as one does Russia.

Walking with our artist-in-residence Aga Pokrywka and myself, it was certainly not lost on us that one of Kay’s objectives here on Mars is to design and have us walk a meandering meditative labyrinth, as seen on our mission patch. All very mysterious.

All very Hiroko, the green thumb character from The Mars Trilogy. We expect good things. Even Alice, the little desert mouse, seems to think so, so she’s back today to hang out

And perhaps this is where I’ll leave it today. Stay tuned.

Journalist Report – January 4th

Sol 02 Journalist Report

Beat: Space Oddity, David Bowie

Pedro José-Marcellino

Crew 238 Journalist/XO

ALICE IN CHAINS

It’s been the longest two days here at MDRS.

Scratch that: it’s been the longest two years waiting to be here at MDRS.

Actually: it’s been the longest two years for everyone out there on planet Earth, and we are so darn lucky.

Now that we are finally in Mars, the process is slowly sinking in, and we are gently sliding into busy Martian routines.

For an international team like the Magnificent 7 (don’t ask) it’s been touch-and-go for a while. We were selected in 2019 and originally slotted to be here a year ago. Through all that, we lost an engineer, then a commander, then gained an astronomer, only to lose her again; our XO became the commander, I became the XO, and the Mag 7 became the Mag 6, but we stuck together and kept the earlier name as a memento, much as Zsa Zsa Gabor kept the rings from her seven weddings as decorative items. In case you didn’t notice that joke was deliberately Hungarian.

Over the rest of the week, I will be picking a crew member every day to inspire me and assist in telling our story at MDRS. Thus, the Hungarian joke. See, a little-known fact about my crew member of the day today, our pretty rad GreenHab Officer Kay Sandor, is that she is herself Hungarian-American. And a Master Texas Gardener — yes, that’s a thing! — who also happens to hold a PhD in nursing and be a licensed therapist. She volunteered in tall ships, and cooks a mean paprikash, as we found out over dinner today. Although the whole thing nearly devolved into World War Math when she asked an international crew of Americans, English, Continentals, and Canadians to weigh in on the trick question: “what is 1/6of half of a cup?”. What were you thinking, Kay?

At age 74, today Kay became possibly the oldest analog astronaut to ever walk an EVA here on analog Mars. She was beaming and so were we, even if we did not go too far. Mission Support suggested nearby Marble Ritual, which we can see from our window, as one does Russia. Walking with our artist-in-residence Aga Pokrywka and myself, it was certainly not lost on us that one of Kay’s objectives here on Mars is to design and have us walk a meandering meditative labyrinth, as seen on our mission patch. All very mysterious.

All very Hiroko, the green thumb character from The Mars Trilogy. We expect good things. Even Alice, the little desert mouse, seems to think so, so she’s back today to hang out

And perhaps this is where I’ll leave it today. Stay tuned.

[end]

Journalist Report – December 20th

Journalist Report
Ben Durkee, Crew 236 Journalist

Sol 01

A crew’s first day on Mars is a huge milestone. Not just for them and their list of first date talking points, but for the scientific community as a whole. A day on Mars is an infinite data set of cosmic and psychological information. The latter is the most fascinating, especially with this crew.

And [Sol 01] is the gun that starts the race. A sunrise on a new day on a new crew on a new planet ushers in a sea of new potential discoveries, friendships, and data sets. So how did it begin for Crew 236?

Absolutely frigid.

I mean I was covered head to toe in goosebumps, and I didn’t even know you *could* get goosebumps on your head. The ensemble sound of the "2001: A Space Odyssey" song (you know the one) crescendo’d through everyone’s doors ((and my lack thereof)) and woke all who were not already awake from the human popsicling process.

Luckily, turning the heater off and back on again periodically seems to do the trick. Who would’ve thought that that strategy still works on Mars. We may have to take shifts or MacGyver some sort of switch-flipping apparatus to keep it going through the cold, unforgiving nights. Until then, I suppose we’re getting the full "cryosleep" experience!

After warming ourselves externally with the space heater and internally with dubious Mars hot chocolate, we launched into our day like a well-oiled machine. A gorgeous sunrise, a hearty breakfast, and a thorough Extravehicular Activity (EVA) prep; and before we knew it, it was time to embark on our first excursion outside the confines of the Habitat.

We separated into two groups and tackled an age-old tradition: Marble Ritual. One group goes on EVA and each individual places a rock into a particular basket located in a clearing not too far from the Habitat. Meanwhile, the remaining group can babysit the basket boys from the comfort of the Hab couch. A perfect system for a first EVA, if you ask me.

It’s been a few hours since then – dinner has elapsed as well, and the time for reflection has snuck up on me in the most familiar way. This ain’t my first rodeo aboard the MDRS, I was in a similar position two years ago. And I promised myself this time around I’d be much more proactive about getting the journalist reports done in a timely manner. But, alas, here we are.

The introspection just doesn’t flow the same without the impending threat of time itself, y’know?

Being here again, I don’t feel like I’ve made it. I don’t feel like a pro, or a veteran, or a college graduate, or a skilled engineer. I feel humbled – like I’m back at square one and I have to prove my mettle all over again.

I closed my eyes an ignorant college kid and opened them aboard the world’s most heavily-engineered sardine can, surrounded by people way smarter than me. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But some of them still don’t know which way to put a toilet paper roll? Seriously, what’s up with that???

Journalist Report – December 21st

Journalist Report
Ben Durkee, Crew 236 Journalist

Sol 02

Today was one of those days where the windmills turn just a little bit slower. Contrary to yesterday, we had no EVAs planned. So instead of focusing on breaking out of the Hab, we could focus on breaking it in.

And we learned a lot about the old girl. We learned that if you think you’re drinking enough water, you’re not. The air here is synthesized but it still has the humidity of the arid Martian desert. We learned to be more careful walking up the stairs, lest you smack your knee with the force of a thousand suns. And by "we," I mean "I." I’ve made some blunders.

We also learned that our heater problem was mostly user error, and that the loft – my room – is just perpetually cold. As soon as I’m done writing, I’ll be burrowing into a mega-chrysalis of my own design in the hopes that tomorrow I emerge a beautiful (cozy) Martian butterfly. I’m not sure how the clumsiest member of the crew ended up with the room that requires a ladder to get into, but so be it! Martian boys make do.

In the vacuum left by EVA slots, we found a lot of personal time. Time we could dedicate to personal research (watching Vladimir singlehandedly tape measure the inside of the Habitat) or personal enrichment (power naps). We’re all still figuring out where we work best, but we got a lot done in our first bottle episode of many. I’m currently writing this from the comfort of the GreenHab, my eyes burnt violet from the nighttime growth LEDs.

The plants make great writing buddies! They laugh at my jokes just as much as the crew, and talk a lot less. Plus, they graced us with some gifts today: a carrot and a cucumber! It’s only Sol 02 so the yearning for fresh food hasn’t hit us just yet, but it’s nice to know the GreenHab is a solid safety net.

All in all, it’s been a day of learning experiences, productive downtime, and bountiful harvests.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some important cocooning to attend to.

Copyright © The Mars Society. All rights reserved. | Main Site