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Sol 1: Into the great outdoors

Carla and Mike taking the ATVs out for a spin

Carla and Mike taking the ATVs out for a spin

Today was an ultra-productive day, composed of learning how things work, putting other things in order, and our first two in-simulation excursions outside the Hab (EVAs)! The sun came up dazzlingly bright and fixed a spotlight (through the large Hab porthole) on our post-breakfast crew planning meeting. We then split into two groups: one to do engineering rounds and one to fire up the ATVs for the first time. We used our “pressurized tunnel and garage” to access the ATVs without donning spacesuits. All was well with both the GreenHab and the ATVs. All three of the operational ATVs started with no trouble, and Brian, Luis, and I drove them around the yard in front of the Hab with gleeful bursts of energy, delighted to be outdoors. Afterward, Carla, Darrel, and Mike went out to try out the ATVs as well, and Brian and I spent some time in the EVA prep room sorting the mountain of gloves, hats, and boots into an ordered collection. Darrel then began tackling the task of bringing the fourth ATV, Viking-2, back to life (it has been inoperable for some time). Eventually Carla had the great idea to put together lunch, and soon we all sat down for some broccoli and cheddar soup with reconstituted corn and broccoli to bulk it up, and tortillas to dip in it. We even tried spreading some of the ghee we’d found in the Hab on the tortillas. Interesting. Not quite butter.

Carla (left) and Luis (right) climbing near Phobos Peak

Carla (left) and Luis (right) climbing near Phobos Peak

After lunch, Brian, Carla, and Luis set out on our crew’s first EVA. We spent a very long time (about 50 minutes) getting them ready, since we were all figuring out the suits for the first time. Once again, Crew 88’s excellent tips came in handy. The main lingering problem was that the helmets sit too far forward, and therefore rest on the crewmember’s head when worn. I’d brought two small bungee cords which we were able to use to rig the helmets up closer to the backpack frames, thereby lifting them off the crew’s heads—or at least Carla’s and Luis’s heads; Brian was left bungee-less. When finally suited up, they stepped into the airlock and waited five minutes for depressurization to complete.
Brian at the height of EVA 1

Brian at the height of EVA 1

Then they opened the outer Hab door, and stepped outside. The three of us left inside were with them in spirit, and just itching to be able to see what they saw! I served as HabCom, tracking their progress and letting them know when half of the planned 1-hour duration had elapsed, so they could start to make their way back. They hiked out toward Phobos Peak. In what seemed like no time, they returned to the Hab, and after cycling through the lock, I helped them de-suit and debrief.

Brian put together a Google Earth map of the EVA, including elevation and heartrate data:

2010-01-24_eva1

While Brian, Carla, and Luis were out on EVA #1, Darrel fixed a leak in the downstairs sink plumbing. He is extremely handy with every sort of tool and has been busy on multiple fronts, fixing anything that comes up.

Darrel (#3) and shadows of Kiri and Mike at sunset in front of Olympus Mons

Darrel and the shadows of Kiri and Mike, near Olympus Mons

Next, Darrel, Mike, and I suited up for EVA #2. This time getting into the suits went much quicker, although we still had to fiddle with the bungee cords. I stuck a rock hammer in my belt and borrowed Brian’s GPS-tagging camera to chronicle our expedition. We headed off north to Olympus Mons, trekking through soft, squishy red dirt and slipping in the muddy spots. No falls, though! We crossed a variety of alluvial areas, including drainage plains littered with angular rocks. It was an eerie sort of hike, entirely silent except for the rush of the air being pumped into the helmet, my own breathing, and the occasional squawk of the radios we carried.
Kiri and Mike heading home from Olympus Mons

Kiri (#4) and Mike (#5) heading home from Olympus Mons

We paused partway to climb up onto an outcrop of stronger, pale yellow conglomerate, where Darrel used the rock hammer to split open a rock and collect a sample. The rich red mud rolled up and down, and we toiled along with it, hopping over several small channels. The colors, especially since we were near sunset, were just indescribable—beauty in all directions. At the foot of Olympus Mons, we took pictures next to a huge boulder. HabCom then notified us that we’d been out for 30 minutes and should head back home. It was starting to get really hard to see, as my helmet was fogging up, but I found that if I turned my head to the side and looked slantwise where I was going, I could see around the foggy area. Darrel suggested a “short cut” (no mushrooms, sadly) and we hiked up a steep hill on the snowy north face. The snowy regions turned out to be much easier to walk on, because not only did the crusty snow give our boots purchase, but the ground underneath was frozen rather than being soft slippery mud as on the south faces. We crested the hill and found we weren’t quite where we expected… so dropped back down to the plain and, a few minutes later, spied the white cylinder of our home away from home.

And here’s a map of EVA 2:

2010-01-24_eva2

On our return, Brian helped us get out of our suits, and then we were delighted to climb upstairs and be met with some absolutely delicious smells from the kitchen! But before eating, engineering rounds had to be done; so we pumped water from the external tank into our internal tank, checked the GreenHab, and refueled and covered the ATVs. How delighted we were to sit down to spicy arrabiata pasta with sausage, cheddar-garlic biscuits, and punch to drink. And really, I mean absolutely delicious! And a wonderful way to celebrate a fantastic, action-filled day at MDRS. I couldn’t ask for more awesome, fun, reliable, skilled, and just generally impressive crewmates!

Totally awesome dinner

Totally awesome dinner

3 Comments

  1. Myra says:

    These photos are fantastic!

  2. Tim Stough says:

    Great documentarianship! ;-) I’ll enjoy playing along from home. I also like the Google Earth mapped summaries. You should include the geo-tag locations for the photos. You could probably even link the photos in and put up a KMZ package for download.

    Cheers,
    Tim.

  3. Margit Sander says:

    I’m going to read your diary every day until I leave for Australia. Thanks for letting us share your experience and all the cool photos. Just love the helmets, guys :) That alone must have felt like you’re on Mars.

    All the best from Hamburg, Germany.
    Margit