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?

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