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…