Read Kiri’s, my EVA Commander, version of today here on our crew blog.
Due to my relative lack of long distance EVAs, especially those that require the use of one of our three rovers, I haven’t had much chance to use them during the mission. Sure, I try to warm them up every morning during engineering rounds, but actually riding one for an EVA doesn’t happen that often. I rode Viking I during EVA 6, out onto the Mid-Ridge Planitia with Luís and Carla, and I took Opportunity during EVA 15 out to the northern canyon region with Luís. Both were relatively long EVAs, with number fifteen being our crew’s longest, but the fact still remains that I haven’t gotten too much experience taking the ATVs out while in sim, and never as EVA Commander.
That’s why I especially enjoyed the drive back to the Hab as part of yesterday’s EVA, since, due to radio troubles, Luís could not reliably lead us back to the Hab (plus I didn’t want to simply follow our tracks back, since there was a much shorter route) and I took the lead. Blazing across the landscape with Opportunity in fifth gear, mud spraying up as we transitioned from snow to uncovered road, and the wind rushing around the helmet, all combined into one of my favorite experiences so far this mission. I just felt free, like I could drive anywhere and never stop. The only problem was that I was not riding Viking I, which still had the emergency sled latched to the back of it. While Spirit and Opportunity are, in many ways, better rovers than Viking I, there is just something about it that I connected with right away.
During my partial engineering rounds helping our Darrel, Carla, and Kiri, I’ve likened Viking I to myself in many regards: he has trouble waking up in the morning, even more so over the weekend, he’s slightly bigger and more rugged than the other two rovers, he requires a lot of thought and concentration to use properly, and he doesn’t slow down in nasty weather conditions. Sort of like me on a good day, right? Viking I is also somewhat of a misfit as well, as most of the rest of the crew like the two twins a little better than the more finicky Viking, sort of the way I am with quite a few people.
So when Kiri needed people to go on an ATV EVA today, I wanted to go. I knew that Kiri would be using one of the MERs, and since the rest of the crew (aside from Carla) had their own projects to work on, I knew that I would be driving Viking I. I got ready, checked out the maps, changed into my EVA undergear (really just an UnderArmour turtleneck), and prepared for the trip out the airlock. I suited up in my “reserved” #5 pack, grabbed a camera, rock hammer, and T-square, and held the key to Viking I in my hand. I knew that this EVA would be longer than the last time I rode Viking I, so I was already feeling excited.
We drove out with our EVA Commander Kiri leading, me in second, and Carla bringing up the rear. We powered up our rovers, turned them around, and headed out for Lowell Highway. The same rush of adrenaline that swept over my on the ride back yesterday hit me again, and I felt like I belonged on that EVA, on that rover, and in that suit. It actually reminded me of one of my first cross country races in high school with spikes. The captains at the time (Mike Posner, Dan Osher, and Vickram Mohan) had designed a Nike spike that we could personalize with our names. I ordered them, and when I took off from the starting line at Marshbank for the first race of the season, I fully felt like I belonged at that place, at that time, and with those shoes.
And riding on Viking I brought all of that back again. I leaned into turns, I absorbed bumps and dips in the road with my legs, I drove through puddles just to hear the rush of water past the body of the rover. I know that it’s a little cliché, but I truly felt like the machine was simply an extension of my body, albeit one made of metal and rubber and fueled by gasoline instead of peanut butter and pizza. The three of us drove down Lowell until stopping and backtracking, as we had missed our turn-off to head toward Candor Chasm. Kiri, with her trusty GPS, led us back toward the Hab and down a small turn-off, where the road to the chasm should have been. As she walked around off of Spirit, trying to locate where exactly we were supposed to drive, I took Viking I over rocks and around tight turns, rejoicing in how easily the rover reacted to what I wanted it to do.
Before coming to MDRS, I had little if any ATV experience. Yes, I’ve driven go-karts my times than I can count, and I know how to ride a jetski, but an actual 4-wheel drive ATV? I learned on Sol 1 before the crew entered sim mode. I loved driving the ATVs, since each of us took our turns on each of the three working machines, but I loved being behind the steering column of Viking I the best.
Kiri, however, couldn’t find the actual path, so instead of turning back for the Hab in failure, we decided to press on down Lowell until we found a suitable rock outcropping that she could analyze for her geological work. We eventually found one a little north of Mount Nutella (yes, that is a real place), named, suitably, the “Lowell North Sedimentary Outcrop,” according to the waypoint we identified once we returned to the Hab. We parked the rovers in a line off to the west side of the road, and walked to the outcropping. This pedestrian portion of the EVA was really enjoyable, since I got to finally see how and what a geologist would do in real life, past taking photos of an area to look at later. I helped measure out the differing layers of the compacted sediments, eventually climbing all the way to the top to help measure the uppermost layers. I even picked up a few rocks while I was at it!
Once the layer mapping (stratigraphy) was complete, we toured around the entire outcrop and ventured toward a small canyon, taking pictures all the while. We eventually stumbled upon a cave, but due to the erosion present near the canyon walls, and the length of time that we had already been out, we decided not to try to go down and take a look. So, after another quick picture or three, we walked back to our waiting rovers.
Kiri, knowing how much I enjoy EVAs, ATVs, and Viking I in particular, said that I could lead the team back to the Hab. I might have shouted for joy (joy! joy!) when she said that, so I walked over to her so that she could strap the wrist mirror onto my left arm. I then moved back over to Viking I, secured the T-square on the front cargo rack, and moved back onto the road, checking to make sure that Kiri and Carla were following my lead. Once they were all on the road, with engines idling in first gear, I took off.
Being the lead rover in a mission is much different than not being it. You are the one that watches for turns, bumps, ditches, potholes, waypoints, etc., with those following you reliant on your observations to arrive at the destination. Since we were only going back to the Hab, and would basically only be on Lowell Highway the entire way, I wasn’t worried about losing the trail or getting lost. Plus, we had just driven out that way, and could still see our tracks at various points (not like we really needed it). I drove, the same as I had on the way out, but since I was setting the pace, Viking I was in fifth gear almost the entire way. I opened up, and Kiri and Carla followed. Every now and then I would check the mirror to make sure they were still close, or simply look under my arm to check (a technique I developed back on EVA 6, since the suits and backpacks make it hard to look behind you in any other way, short of actually turning around.
We made it back to the Hab, my lower body caked in a wet layer of mud, and I was overjoyed at how much fun it was. I’ve always tried to do things because they are fun, and if it stops being fun, then I stop doing it. That’s why I stopped playing basketball after freshman year, lacrosse during junior year, and club ultimate my frieshman year at State. Yes, I still play these sports, but I don’t play them as part of a team, which is what stopped making them fun for me. This time at MDRS has shown me that a career as an astronaut, even if I’m only getting a small experience of it, is fun, and that I’ll enjoy it should NASA select me when I start applying (that is, if NASA is still the go-to for manned spaceflight in the United States).
Speaking of fun, tonight the crew and I played our MDRS-specific version of Clue, completely drawn by Darrel. The game was amazing, and we ended up playing two games since I messed up the first one… I just failed to look at my hand when people started guessing, so I completely forgot that I had “ATV Garage” sitting right in front of me. The second game was pretty enjoyable as well, with Darrel eventually winning after the rest of us, aside from Brian, gave out faulty guesses. I’m looking forward to playing a few more games of that while here, and maybe even remaking it once I get back to Earth to play with my friends and family.
Speaking of getting back to Earth, I have a ton of homework waiting for me, so today might have been my last EVA. I’ll be working on Quantum Mechanics for a while, plus Analysis, plus a research paper due this Thursday, plus Thermal/Statistical Physics. To make matters worse, my first week back is horrendous. My quantum exam was moved to Monday, so I’ll have that followed by two labs on Tuesday, followed by an Analysis exam on Wednesday. I also have HPS work due, a ton of reading, grading quizzes and teaching, an interview for The State News, and probably much more that I am forgetting about. On that note, I’m going to go spend a few hours working on homework before hopefully not collapsing on the table.
Wish me luck! Just remember that I won’t get it until five minutes later due to the time delay…