Monthly Archives: January 2010

Sol 7 – Water on Mars

Since we all had a late night, playing Guesstures and working on some of our research projects (and me not working on homework…), Brian said that we didn’t need to start until 0900 this morning, which I was very thankful for. I reset my alarm, fell asleep, and slept. I did not want to get up in the morning, and when my alarm went off I seriously contemplated just rolling back over in my sleeping bag and not getting out of bed. But, I did get up almost right away, because there was the lure of having bacon with breakfast to get me up and dressed. Carla had cooked an amazing egg, cheese, and bacon casserole, which I happily ate and enjoyed. This was probably my best breakfast on Mars to date, and like basically everything else she’s cooked, I need to make sure I get the recipe before heading back to State.

The crew and I did, however, wake up to an e-mail from Artemis, the mission director for MDRS, discussing some of the choices we have made as a crew over the last few days, specifically our EVAs in snowy conditions and the construction of the sled. She and James Harris said that the sled was a waste of Hab resources, while the EVAs are unsafe and should not be undertaken in white-out conditions. Of course, we still had visibility of at least a kilometer, and the sled can be easily de-constructed (and was made out of a small segment of the copious panelling and tubing near the generator), so I think they were more angry that we didn’t check with them beforehand. Doesn’t matter, because it’s in the past now (and didn’t really affect me, really…).

The first thing I did, however, when I got out of bed, was shut down Audacity and the radio telescope, since it had been collecting data for close to eight hours throughout the night. Unfortunately, the entire recording session simply returned background static, so I didn’t get anything out of it. I’m going to try another set of programs tonight, as well as download the audio analysis programs that I forgot to last night, to see if I can find a better way to collect and access the data. It’s a really finicky system, but even more so because most of the programs (including the go-to, Radio-SkyPipe) are Windows only. I’ve been working on work-arounds, from trying to installing Windows XP as a virtual machine (failed due to the lack of a product key), trying three or four different emulators (all failed to load a few crucial subcomponents), and working off the Hab webcam computer (connection to radio telescope failed). I’m thinking about observing both the Sun and the two jovians, just to try to get some data over the next week. Maybe a higher-class solar flare will pop up…

After fussing with the computer for a while, and listening to the background static for around twenty minutes, I moved into my state room due to the mopping and sweeping that was to occur in our main living quarters. Since the rooms don’t have any seating at all, and if they did my desk was still covered with the entirety of my backpack’s contents, I crawled up into my bed and lied down, still with my headphones in.

I think it’s the repetitive monotone nature of the background static that caused me to fall asleep. I wasn’t even tired, especially considering that I had only woken up no less than two hours prior, but I fell asleep. I didn’t dream, and I didn’t stir at all, maybe also due to the background static. I think some of my crewmates came in to wake me, since they were mopping the floors and needed access to mine, but I may have just imagined that. It’s hard to tell exactly what happened, similar to me telling Greg to “stop showing off” when I was sleeping on the futon last year. Long story, but he was sitting at his desk talking on the phone.

I did eventually wake up when water started pouring on my lower back. My state room is right below our internal water tank, the tank we use to get drinking and bathing water. Every day, we pump water from our external water tank (which sometimes has to be re-filled from our portable water tank, which is really only portable via truck) into our internal tank so that we actually have water. It’s marked off on the side in non-sensical measurements, with six-nine-twelve being the main delineations. There are also two other marks: don’t go below, being below six, and don’t fill above, being above twelve. Usually we fill it up to the twelve line at least once a day, but sometimes twice. Today, due to the cleaning procedures having a monopoly on the rest of the crew’s minds, they didn’t realize that our water pumping had gone past twelve and was approaching the don’t fill above line.

I noticed when water started dripping from the ceiling. I quickly got up, put my computer on my desk and pulled my sleeping bag off, then threw my towel on the mattress pads to start soaking up the water. Thankfully, the rest of the crew noticed at basically the same time, prompting them to open up all of the taps and shut down the water pump to return our tank to normal levels. Once the water situation was in order, we sat down and had lunch. We had clam-less chowder plus some baked bread, both of which tasted great. It will be tough for me to adjust back to my old eating habits and schedules, as I mentioned today at dinner, since I’m being spoiled with great cooking.

Since we didn’t really have anything planned for the day, I tried figuring out how to get a better analysis program for the radio telescope without having to download anything, which I already mentioned. Brian and Luís went out on a biology/geophysics EVA, taking the ATVs up to Radio Ridge Road, while I helped Darrel finish repairs on the Hab’s shower. It was very much a flash-back to my Jewelry class in high school, since we filed, cleaned, fluxed, soldered, and a bunch of other techniques that I had learned. Of course, since this was just copper pipes that no one will look at unless they’re fixing it, we didn’t really include the cosmetics that I was used to. I did get to get away from my computer, which was pretty nice.

View from Radio Ridge Road

After, while waiting for dinner, Kiri walked me through the Python work she was doing for her photograph auto-geolocation project. I didn’t understand half of the things she was trying to do, I think because most of it wasn’t even really Python, but she explained it so that I could understand it. We ended up discussing it over dinner, prompting a pretty long discussion of it and similar ideas by her, Brian, and Darrel, while I listened attentively and Luís and Carla tried not to fall asleep from boredom. The dinner was delicious too, with Darrel cooking corned beef with homemade BBQ sauce. I was completely surprised that the sauce actually tasted like BBQ sauce, especially due to the fact that the Hab has almost no food. Carla cooked yet another cake, this time with almost no sugar along with the no eggs, milk, flour, and every other necessary ingredient for baking.

After, we tried to figure out what to do over the next few days, especially since the snow will probably be here for a while, and Kiri and I took showers at separate times, since obviously my old statement was too ambiguous. When I left for MDRS, I hadn’t planned on taking a real shower for two weeks, since the shower had been broken for three or more weeks prior to the start of our rotation, so I only brought one towel and two sticks of deodorant. We do have to use Oasis soap, which is biodegradable and is the same stuff we use for our dishes, but it works fine enough. I feel clean, plus it’s the only time I can look in a mirror and check out my growing facial hair (Greg would be so proud).

It’s strange to think that, seven days from now, I’ll be asleep in a hotel waiting for my alarm to go off for my flights back to Michigan. I can’t really imagine going back to school, to classes and homework and not living in a Hab and walking outside without standing in the doorway for five minutes and everything else associated with MDRS. This place really grew on me, making me even more thankful that I was selected for this mission.

Sol 6 – Fallen

When I woke up this morning, I did not feel well. I woke up in the middle of the night in a semi-hot sweat, and I couldn’t fall back asleep. I think the lack of a real pillow (my stand-in has lost its towel, so now its just a sweatshirt and t-shirt) is starting to get to me. I’m going to try wrapping my laundry bag up in the sweatshirt to see if that helps out more, which it should since there is quite a bit of clothes in there… This morning was the coldest yet, with our breakfast temperature around 20 degrees F, and everything was covered in a layer of ice when we went outside for engineering rounds.

But the morning went well. I spent much of it figuring out the radio telescope receiver, so I will be able to start observing tonight. My plan is to start the converter (after unplugging the external speaker), and watch for a little bit before setting the computer up for the night and letting it run. I also looked up some audio analysis programs, which I’ll be downloading after midnight tonight, to see if I can get anything out of a full night of running the radio telescope. Hopefully something happens, but if not I can switch over to daytime solar observing.

I ate a delicious breakfast and lunch, followed by a planning session for a rescue EVA. Earlier in the day, Brian and Carla had built an emergency sled, and we wanted to plan a field usage of the sled for a med-evac. I was chosen to go out with Darrel as part of the first EVA team, while Brian, Carla, and Kiri would be the rescue team, and Luís would be HabCom for both teams. While I did want to drive Viking I, which was our designated rescue rover, getting to just simply walk around outside, especially away from the Hab, was nice too. That was my first long pedestrian EVA since Sol 1, and my second long EVA that was not an introductory EVA to learn the suit-up and suit-down processes and get acquainted with the suits (the last one was on Sol 3). Darrel and I walked a little over a half mile to Shannon’s Ridge, a landform just south of Lowell Highway and Olympus Mons.

Once we got there, I made the call in to HabCom that Darrel had broken his leg and was unconscious. I figured that, should our emergency EVA be able to handle this relatively serious situation, than milder ones could also be handed. We sat on top of one of the peaks while playing in the snow and waiting for our med-evac. The rescue team suited up in record time, with Brian driving Viking I and Carla and Kiri walking besides it. They had to attach the sled to the rover before leaving the Hab vicinity, then they were on their way. They simply followed our tracks out (a benefit of the lingering snow cover), although it may have been easier to travel along the roads to our location, but that’s a lesson for a future disaster scenario.

When we got a visual on the rescue team, Darrel and I walked down the slope to a relatively flat, yet rock strewn, area near the base of the ridge, at which point Darrel laid down in a pile of rocks in a suitable fashion for his injuries. The rescue team, unfortunately, couldn’t drive to rover all the way to our position, so we carried Darrel over to the sled and tied him down as best as we could. Brian drove back to the main highway, with myself, Kiri, and Carla walking and jogging alongside the rover and sled. It was nice to somewhat run, especially since I need to get in some training runs before the Commander Durocher’s Challenge, which Brian and myself will be completing near the end of our rotation. I’m pretty excited for that, especially since it will be another EVA under my belt and a way to get some more exercise (especially the kind outside of the Hab). Plus, how many people can say that they’ve run a 5k on Mars?

We got back to the Hab, carried Darrel into the main airlock, and got back inside. Since our simulated emergency at this point was over, Darrel stood up and we all helped each other de-suit. In the EVA Ready Room, we found out that there were a ton of technical difficulties that also plagued our EVA. Darrel’s PLSS battery seemed to give out at some point while on the surface, my radio died, and various headsets and radios seemed to give out at different points of the excursion. Thankfully, they didn’t affect us too much, as we just shouted loudly and used hand signals when the radios failed, and Darrel seemed to cope with the lack of fresh air for as long as he had to. My total time on the surface was a little over two hours, making it my longest EVA to date. I’m hoping that the snow clears up soon, since then I will be able to go out on longer EVAs especially with the ATVs.

After everyone was back in the Hab, I wrote the EVA report for Darrel and I, followed by Luís teaching us capoeira in the upper deck. We cleared out the table and chairs, brought in mats, and learned. It was pretty intense, especially the “cool down” that was in some ways more grueling than the actual workout. I was just thinking about dinner the entire time, especially since I had just came in from a long EVA and get hungry quickly. We sat down for dinner right around 2000, when our mission support window opens, making this probably our latest dinner in the Hab. My stomach really adjusted to the schedule, and by the time food was in front of me, I didn’t even talk in favor of shoving food in my mouth.

The rest of the crew just cracked jokes, especially when I would say, “takes too much time,” with a mouthful of food when they discussed adding spices. Waiting an extra hour to eat was pretty tough, but thankfully a lot of food eventually found its way into my stomach. And boy did I eat a lot. Thankfully, since no one really likes the shelf-stable bread aside from me, I got basically two pieces during dinner and I have a third for a late night snack. That is great, especially since I’ll be pulling another late night with radio astronomy and homework.

But not before game night. The crew played three games of Guesstures, a scharades-type team game where you try to get your teammates to guess each card before it falls. The crew loved the game, and things got intense throughout the games, especially game three, with Brian, Darrel, and I squeaking out a win. My record for the night was 2-1, which isn’t too shabby, and everyone won at least one game. Since it’s already getting pretty late, I’ll be plugging my computer into the radio telescope uplink, then working on Physics homework. Good night from Mars!

Sol 5 – Martian Invasion

Last night, after watching Stranded, a movie about the first manned mission to Mars (which also may be one of the worst movies I’ve seen and would’ve been completely unbearable had it not been for our commentary), I had to stay up to finish up a bit of homework. Not the best way to end the day, but I worked through it. I fell asleep almost immediately after I hit the bed, but having a shower earlier in the evening probably helped with that as well. When I woke up, I felt relatively refreshed, which was a little surprising considering that I only had around six hours of sleep.

The plan for the day was similar to yesterday, with no long EVAs planned due to the weather conditions. I helped out with the engineering rounds, again warming up Viking I. I also rebooted the Observatory computer, since we had shut off power yesterday to work on the generator, in order to reboot the two webcams looking out over the Hab (you can see these views, along with four interior shots, here, where the pictures update every three minutes or so). I also took a nice panorama shot, similar to yesterday’s, but I made it go a full 360 degrees this time. Unfortunately, the pan didn’t exactly turn out like I had planned, but I did get a pretty good partial pan just from the Hab windows…

Kiri and Brian went on on the first EVA of the day, around 1100, to asses the satellite uplink once more and to test out the ATVs in the snow cover that had stuck around since yesterday. They also spent time cleaning much of the mud off of the ATVs, as the mud had caked all over the tires and much of the body. That cleaning mission will definitely come in handy once the snow melts and we can go out on longer EVAs. Hopefully I’ll be able to tag along with the geology/geophysics team, since those are usually longer EVAs with ATVs, two of my favorites!

Once they returned, we Jazzercised. It was actually quite the work-out, especially since we did quite a few of the ‘hard’ level mini work-outs, usually without much break in between. It was more aerobic exercise, however, so I should also supplement it with some of the weights we have here. It is kind of hard to find time, especially when helping out with other people’s projects, working on the Hab, going on EVAs, and trying to work on the homework that I brought with me. That I have barely worked on, unfortunately, so I will have quite a bit of work ahead of me for that. But back to Jazzercise. It was pretty fun, and due to my multiple dance lesson history (and some high school courses), I was able to follow along and replicate the actual work out pretty quickly.

After lunch, which followed the work out, I went on EVA with Carla to finish the work on the radio telescope. I had been assembling the coaxial cables necessary to complete the repairs throughout the day (which I had never done before, so it was pretty interesting), wound them up, and gathered my supplies. Carla and I suited up, practically right on schedule, and walked out the main airlock to the radio telescope installation. We connected all of the wires, which included sealing four connections (and removing one) once we actually had those connections secure, which took longer than I had anticipated.

Once all of the coax cables were attached, we then moved to raise the south antenna. Since there were only two of us, I took three trips up the ladder to raise the two towers up to their full height. We raised the southwest tower up to fifteen feet, then moved on to the southwest tower. This upright, unfortunately, only went up to nineteen feet, plus the bolt holes were not lined up properly. This meant that the drill I had brought previously and never needed to use finally became more than just a dead weight in my belt. It again took pretty long to re-drill the holes since they were only slightly off, causing the drill to seize up multiple times while drilling. I finally got it, shoved the bolt in, and descended the ladder before moving on to the southwest tower to raise it to its final height.

Since there was a lot of snow on the ground, and it was good packing snow, and Carla and I didn’t really want to go in so soon, we built a snowman. More specifically, we built a snow martian. I called in to HabCom to request the extension to our surface stay, and complied with Darrel’s request to make the snow martian have two heads. I think it turned out well, especially since it was the first snow man/martian I had built in quite a few years. Unfortunately, due to the warming temperatures (and some damage incurred during the construction process), the snow martian had collapsed before nightfall. I think it was our automated security defenses that took down the threat, or else I’d like to believe that.

I helped out Brian a little bit with dinner, but in a combination of him cooking tofu (which I’ve never cooked) following his wife’s recipe and helping out Darrel with engineering rounds (and taking a few night photos as well), my aide wasn’t that much. We made a loaf of bread, which tasted great, and ate another great dinner in the Hab. I think that once I return to Earth, my food consumption will be pretty different, plus I have been a little spoiled with food over the past few days, so it may take a while to re-adjust to college food. We’ll see.

Since it’s getting late, and I’m tired, I’ll add in photos tomorrow when I get the chance…

Sol 4 – Snowfall

I woke up this morning earlier than expected due to a repeating alarm coming from the state room next door. In my half-asleep mind, I could barely comprehend what was going on, thinking first Is someone Jazzercising? Makes little sense now, especially since we haven’t even broken out the Jazzercise video, and it was 0730. Thankfully, I was not going crazy, as Kiri was also awoken by the noise, and we later determined it to be Luís’ phone alarm. Crisis adverted, and sanity retained (for now, at least).

We did wake up to a surprise: a winter storm had hit Mars! We checked out our portholes, took a look at the external webcams, and were greeted with a relatively thick blanket of snow on everything. Due to the cold, we all took our part to make sure that the Hab systems were up and running, went in groups to the engineering shed and Green Hab, and took quite a bit of pictures while going through the rounds (I had 97 when I uploaded them at 1000 this morning). I got a mini geology lesson from Kiri, coaxed Viking I into idling, and managed to stay both dry and on my feet. Quite the successful morning, especially considering that today would be spent almost entirely in the Hab.

Once we determined that everything was in order, Luís planned a biological sample return EVA to Candor Chasma, a few kilometers east of the Hab. Together with Carla and Brian, they eagerly left the Hab just after noon, with a pit stop to the radio telescope footprint to check our internet satellite uplink. After determining that our system was in order (although internet access was still lacking in the Hab), the team decided that sunglasses would be a necessity for this EVA, and only Brian had his on. Total surface stay at this point: twenty minutes. We got the team into the airlock, repressurized, and moved them into the EVA ready room. I got Luís and Carla out of their helmets, allowing them to don their sunglasses, strapped a bungie cord to Brian’s helmet to lift it off his head, helped Carla and Luís back into their helmets (and bungie cords) and got them back into the airlock. The turn-around time was only about ten minutes, something that I’m very proud of as the only available EVA technician during the process.

The team returned to the surface, and we sent them on another secondary mission to check on Darrel at engineering, as the Hab had experienced a power outage a few minutes prior. Everything checked out, as both Darrel and the “Hab Ghost” DG were working on our main generator, Kitty, which they thankfully got running again and returned power to the Hab. They then departed to their final destination: Candor Chasma, almost due east of the Hab. Due to intervening hills and valleys, radio cover was spotty at some points, and almost completely cut out once the team arrived at their destination. Luís took a snow sample upon arrival, and also returned an animal femur that had been lying on the snow drift. Unfortunately, Carla was “sim killed” when he helmet became to fogged to use, prompting its removal.

Brian, since he would sooner be completely incapacitated than break sim, chose to retain his helmet for the duration of the EVA, necessitating audio clues from the other two EVA members to guide him back to the Hab. Myself and Kiri kept a watch out for them and a close ear to the radio, just in case more drastic rescue measures were needed (pressurized rover extraction, for example). The team eventually returned safe and sound, and tied EVA #5 (held yesterday by Brian, Kiri, and Darrel) for our longest continuous duration on the surface to date. Counting the twenty-minute EVA immediately prior, Brian, Luís, and Carla spent a total of two hours and forty-three minutes on the surface, covering 5.33 kilometers and making up our only two EVAs for the day.

Acting as HabCom was pretty cool. I simply carried around the radio wherever I went (except the bathroom, when Kiri took over), made periodic radio checks (roughly every thirty minutes), respond to questions, take the occasional note on the clipboard, and made sure things went smoothly at the beginning and end of the EVA. It was a good experience and training exercise to get out of the way near the beginning of the mission, especially on such a long EVA, so that when I am called on to be HabCom in the future, I already know what needs to happen first hand. Similar to my two EVA command experience, I have a better feel of the leadership needs while on an actual mission.

My work for the mission got some more good news today. While DG and Darrel were fussing with Kitty, DG also dropped off the coaxial cables and F-connectors necessary to complete the alterations on the radio telescope. Once we get confirmation on the necessary lengths for the cables, the cables will be cut and modified. One cable will be used to extend the cable from the south antenna to the power combiner, while the other will be used to connect the actual radio telescope (via the power combiner) to the Hab. Since we aren’t removing the cables already in place, two coax connector pieces will also be inserted to combine the entire system together. After these alterations, the telescope has the capability to be raised or lowered to any height between ten and twenty feet in six inch increments, or up to 19.5 feet as we unfortunately learned during the second EVA to the radio telescope.

With the delivery of the coax cables, only one more EVA is necessary to complete these repairs, although this EVA may also be one of our medium length ones, like the first EVA to the radio telescope. For this last one, all of the cables will be connected, their connections sealed against the elements, and the south antenna will be raised. Depending on availability of EVA slots, this may need to be broken up into two EVAs, with the cable connections being a tertiary mission for a biology or geology EVA and the antenna raising consisting of its own. It will just depend on EVA slots, so if I can get on a geology EVA, then the cable extensions can be installed at the beginning.

We’ll see. It’s more up to Brian and the main science teams what the final result will be. Plus the weather. Can’t really enact repairs when the ground is covered by a handful of centimeters of snow, can you?

Sol 3 – Cross Country

Today started off as usual, with a small breakfast followed by a crew meeting. As everyone had been on at least one EVA, we all knew how to work the rovers, and the biology and geology teams were itching to get their hands dirty and pipettes cleansed, we planned two longer EVAs for the day. Darrel and I tossed up which one of us would be on which team, with Darrel getting the first EVA and me tagging along with the second.

I first went with Darrel and Carla on engineering rounds, although primarily I warmed up our three working rovers and revved up their engines. Opportunity gave me the biggest trouble to coax in idling, but eventually I got it to purr nicely. We’ve only been on the surface for three days, but I’ve already started to subconsciously know and respond to the different rovers’ personalities. For instance, while starting Viking I, I stood up on the foot rests and pulled the clutch before trying to start it, and it went perfectly. I’ve said it before, but Viking I is sort of my personal rover on EVA, similar to Pack #5 being almost exclusively reserved for me.

Anyway, Brian, Kiri, and Darrel went on the first EVA that was a joint geology and geophysics trip to scout out locations for ground penetrating radar locations and to collect rock and fossil samples. While all of the goals weren’t completed, the extended use of the unpressurized rovers is an accomplishment in of itself. The two-point-five hour EVA was our longest yet (beating the previous record of 1.3 hours set by EVA #3), as well as bringing back some souvenir fossils for all of us! Coupled with my excellent birthday gifts and our mission patches, I’ll have some great things to take back to Earth with me. The stickers are already on my computer to help cover up the whitespace, but that’s beside the point.

Since it was getting late when the first team arrived, we quickly turned around the suits to squeeze in a second EVA to collect biological samples and Carla’s sanity. We took the triumvirate of rovers out (with me on my trusty Viking I) and headed up a relatively unmarked and completely unnamed trail toward Olympus Mons, where we would turn to the west and over Sunday Pointe along Sagan Street. The initial plan was to head all the way to Clara’s Cliff, but due to the distance involved and the oncoming dusk, Carla called us to stop just before Schiaparelli Highway in the middle of Mid Ridge Planitia. If you don’t know where any of these locations are, don’t worry; I didn’t know where they were until today either. Luís took two biological samples as Carla and I took some pictures.

We remounted our ATVs, and after a few setbacks, we drove back along the trail to the Hab. Once we de-suited and settled back in, I topped off the ATVs’ gas tanks and snuck back inside. We ate a tofu-based meal, which was interesting to say the least, along with another amazing biscuit creation by Carla. I cleaned up the dishes, walked around the Hab checking in on the EVA suits and Luís in the lab, gave Kiri fodder for the journalist report, and tried to keep my composure while writing this and wearing 3D glasses for part of it.

All in all, a pretty productive day on Mars.

Sol 2 – Command and Cake

I woke up better this morning, probably because I slept much better last night and due to the fact that my alarm actually went off this morning! I’ll need to adjust it to ring earlier, however, as I was either second-to-last or dead last to wake up and get out of bed. I ate oatmeal with some maple syrup, which didn’t taste that bad, before starting to plan the day. The agenda was primarily radio telescope maintenance, with one planned EVA to relocate the power combiner to directly underneath the north antenna.

Brian and I went on this EVA, with myself commanding. We disconnected the coaxial cable from the power combiner to the Hab, which required use of a razor to remove the tape. Once we got the tape off, we used the wrench to completely remove the cable, then wrapped the end in a plastic bag and secured it with tape to prevent any damage from dust or the elements. We then set about digging around the mounting post and ground, located on the western side of the array, so that we could relocate it to underneath the north antenna in preparation for raising the towers to the full twenty-foot height.

Removing the ground did not go over as smoothly as I had hoped. I’m not sure how deep the ground was set in, but after digging two feet down, we still couldn’t budge it. Brian and I moved the power combiner, then chose to grab a separate piece of metal to ground it. We did have to detach then re-attach the coax cable to the south antenna in order to unwind it to reach. Since we haven’t yet received the new coax cables, we couldn’t prepare the south antenna to be raised on this EVA.

After a great lunch of noodle soup, provided by our expert chef Carla, I tried to work on some homework (and ended up finishing an entire Quantum problem!) before being assigned to command a second EVA to the radio telescope. This EVA was to raise the north antenna to its full, twenty-foot height (there is enough give in that cable to complete this task). I took Kiri, Darrel, and Luís, complete with two ladders, a drill, two wrenches, a screwdriver, and working radios, out to the north antenna.

Darrel and I took the eastern pole, while Kiri and Luís handled the western one. We untied the guy wires from the mounting spikes (and I unwound the coax from around the post), then Kiri and Darrel clambered up the ladders. We needed to slide the inner PVC pipe up another ten feet, the remount the bolt to hold it in place. I had been warned by Paul McCall, Crew 88’s astronomer, that the holes may not be aligned, hence my inclusion of a drill in our equipment.

The holes actually lined up perfectly; the only problem was that they only went up to nineteen-point-five feet. Kiri thankfully caught this before completely removing the post; Darrel was not as lucky. I asked Darrel to simply not drop the post or fall while I silently urged the western team to quickly remount the holding bolt and aide our fourth member. Once Kiri and Luís moved the ladder over to our pole, Darrel straddled the two as he planted the upper pole securely in the lower one and bolted it in place. The north antenna had been raised!

Kiri, myself, Luís, and Darrel after EVA 4

We had only been out of the Hab for roughly twenty-five minutes, much shorter than our three previous (56 minutes, 64 minutes, and 80 minutes, respectively). We cleaned up our supplies, double-checked all of the guy wires, then posed for a few pictures in front of the radio antenna following a very successful second EVA of the day. We walked back toward the airlock, and then I hailed HabCom.

No response.

We tried all of our radios for a few minutes, knocked on the hatch and exterior wall, all to no response. After about five or six minutes, I made the judgement call as EVA commander to enter the airlock. “HabCom, we are now entering the airlock,” I said. “Copy that,” Brian, now our HabCom responded. That elicited quite a few giggles from us, especially due to the apparent calm in Brian’s voice. We spent the five minutes during cabin repressurization laughing about it, and Brian greeted us in the EVA Prep room to help us de-suit. Each of us went our separate ways to finish engineering rounds and file reports (I completed both EVA reports as the EVA commander).

Dinner was some beef tamales, with Luís forcing me to keep eating more and more, followed by me hiding downstairs while the rest of the crew performed a secret mission. When I returned, I was greeted by twenty-one candles sitting on a chocolate cake, made without eggs and milk (and it still tasted amazing!). Such a surprise! I bent low, after making my wish, and blew out the candles. Of course, that also ended up blowing the powdered sugar all over, much of which combusted due to the still-lit candles…

After, we had a chill night of Trivial Pursuit while discussing a few mission critical activities for tomorrow (primarily in the geology/geophysics and biology departments), plus some troubles with the Hab internet uplink. Oh the perils of trying to transmit between planets… All in all, it was a great birthday, and one I won’t soon forget.

Sol 1 – ATVs and EVAs

For whatever reason, my alarm decided not to go off this morning, but thankfully due to the light coming under my door and my relative lack of sleep during the second half of the night, I was able to rest myself out of bed and stumble into the living area. Once I noticed that everyone else that was up was dressed, and I was still in my pajamas, I dipped back into my stateroom to change into some real clothes.

Breakfast for me was a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios, except with some powdered milk. I added the water, mixed it up, and poured it in, and ate. It didn’t taste like milk, but it didn’t taste like water, so that was fine by me. The crew was pretty spread on breakfast foods, although the granola cereal did have a couple of takers. I was ready for a long day, so I made sure to also drink a lot of water. We had a quick morning meeting as a crew, and then it was off to work.

I went with Darrel and Carla to take care of business in the Green Hab first. This recycles our waste water into what we affectionately know as “grey water,” which we then use mostly for flushing the toilet. It saves a ton of water, but a better system would be needed before we could actually consume that water, for example. We pumped water from the Grey Water Storage tank into the actual Green Hab, which then allows it to be filtered through strainers and various types of bacteria to remove most of the impurities so that we can use it. This normally has to be done once or twice a day in order to have an operational toilet. Exciting stuff, huh?

After that, I got to ride the ATVs! Luís helped orient Carla, Darrel, and myself on their usage and the discrepancies between the three workable rovers (aptly named Viking I, Spirit, and Opportunity). Viking I was by far my favorite, if only for the fact that it’s a little finicky to use and start up. There is also a fourth rover, Viking II, that Darrel and Luís (and to some extent, me) worked on getting up to speed, at least until was served.

I also discussed the repairs necessary to elevate the radio telescope up to twenty feet (the height necessary for optimal observing of Jupiter) with Brian and Darrel. The crew is planning on completing these repairs completely “in sim,” i.e. in spacesuits with airlock egress/ingress, which should be an experience. Crew 88 started the construction and repairs of the radio telescope in sim, but due to the amount of EVAs they would need, they decided to complete what work they could out of sim. For us, we will only need three EVAs max to complete everything, which isn’t that bad.

Our afternoon agenda consisted of introductory EVAs for the entire crew. Brian, Carla, and Luís went out first, with myself, Kiri, and Darrel making up the second team about an hour after they returned. Our team trekked to the base of Olympus Mons, a large, relatively isolated hill about a half-mile north of the Hab. We stopped a couple times on our way out for pictures, so we could have made it further up the hill, but once we got to the base our HabCom called the thirty-minute mark. We snapped a few final shots, then started walking back to the Hab (we got back in about fifteen minutes). Both at the start and the end of the EVA we had to wait in the airlock for five minutes for depressurizing/repressurizing, which was much longer than it seemed, but it was good to cool down. My heart was racing from anticipation, so my Garmin track, thanks to Brian’s watch, showed a high heart rate from the get-go for me.

Team Two returned home to a warm, home-cooked meal of arrabiata á la Mars, cooked by Carla and Luís, coupled with garlic cheese bread and Crystal Light. Since I had just got back from the EVA, as well as watching the interior water tank get topped off while the last of the food cooked, I was very hungry. Of course, the food was very delicious, and I ate quite a bit of it. Kiri and I cleaned up after, which involved heating up water in the cooking pots for washing the rest of the dishes.

We all sat down and started writing our reports (I handled EVA #2, as well as loaned my computer for EVA #1) before and during the Mission Support window. The entire crew was also involved with picking out our Photo Diary (you can view yesterday’s here, where all of those photos were taken by me): we’re using a handful of EVA photos as well as some terrain shots, our family dinner, and ATV training exercising. After this, we just have a movie or game night before hitting the sleeping bags…