Kiri and Brian (Darrel invisible) in the airlock, ready to go out!
Today we embarked on some more ambitious EVAs. First we spent a good chunk of time working out how to get the existing database of 500+ GPS waypoints into our GPS units. We had to convert the waypoints from UTM 12 to lat/lon format. Luckily, Brian already had a spreadsheet set up to do this. We then used gpsvisualizer.com to convert an Excel spreadsheet of the results into a .gpx file, which Garmin RoadTrip was able to import. Transferring to my Garmin eTrex Vista HCx worked great, but we couldn’t get RoadTrip to recognize any of the older eTrexes, which use an older cable setup. At any rate, Brian, Darrel, and I decided to head towards “Schiaparelli Huge Fossil Field”, since it was described as featuring both interesting fossils and sedimentary structures (cross-bedding).
Darrel repairing Opportunity's left front tire
After Darrel performed some quick repair on Opportunity’s left front tire, we set out on our ATVs and headed north. The road was in good condition, mostly dry with just a few puddles. We quickly settled into a rhythm; I was in the lead and used a mirror strapped to my left forearm to check on Brian and Darrel behind me about once a minute. We roared up Lowell Highway, slowing to crest hills, ford muddy parts, and rumble over small cuts in the road. We stopped a couple of times to check our GPS location and take pictures.
Darrel and Kiri consulting the map on EVA 5
We ended up overshooting our desired turnoff, which was just as well since we realized it would have meant a long trek on foot rather than using the ATVs (these details aren’t always obvious, even with the best of maps!). We turned west onto Brahe “Highway”, which was a sharp change from Lowell; rather than a bulldozed road, Brahe was a single-lane set of tracks that climbed up into the rolling hills, which are called Sheep Knolls. We made it to the Salty Beige Hills before noticing that we must have (again!) passed our desired turnoff onto Schiaparelli Highway, and then attempted 3-point turns to head back without tearing into the land surrounding the track. During this process, Brian’s ATV (Viking-1) died, but after some effort he and Darrel were able to re-start it with the manual pull cord. The views from this area were just stunning, with soaring red cliffs evident to the north and west, including a striking isolated butte.
Gryphaea (Devil's Toenails) oyster fossils
We retraced our tracks and found the Schiaparelli turnoff, which was even less visible; it clearly had not been used in quite a while, and snow covered it in patches. But we were game to explore further, and so Darrel led the way. Starting up the far side of the first hill, he nearly lost his balance as the ATV leaped up out of the cleft; but he recovered quickly and Brian and I followed, a bit more slowly. We climbed a few hills this way and, fortuitously, ended up in a fossil field (Oyster Field). We climbed off the ATVs and collected some samples. Then, since we’d been out for an hour and a half, we decided to head back the way we came rather than try to follow Schiaparelli further south.
Kiri on the triumphant return home from EVA 5!
Our trip back, naturally, went faster than the trip out—but oh, it was beautiful, with the wind rushing past our helmets, the sun glancing off every shining surface, and the ATVs leaping and bucking beneath us on the road. I got much better at shifting smoothly and enjoyed racing along behind Darrel and Brian, who took turns leading for the trip back.
Panorama from EVA 5, near the Oyster Field
Luis, Mike, and Carla setting out on EVA 6
As soon as we returned, samples in hand, our remaining crew members (Luis, Mike, and Carla) set out for their own spin on the ATVs. This time, they were headed to Clara’s Cliff, far to the west and up on the ridge above us. They set out north, again on a nearly indistinguishable track, towards Olympus Mons.
Carla astride Opportunity on EVA 6
The sun had gotten lower, so it lit up the hills to the east in orange and gold. They struck Sagan Street just before Olympus Mons and entered a series of switchbacks up to Sunday Pointe. They slowed to take the turns carefully, and kept to the existing ruts to avoid the sides of the switchbacks, maintaining healthy following distances and stopping periodically to check that everyone was following.
Luis watching Mike restart Viking-1 on EVA 6
As they crested the ridge, they glanced back to the north and down to the hills and ridges and were struck by the contrast between the colored hills and blue, blue sky. They continued on, sloping down a little onto Mid-Ridge Planitia. The Planitia spread out before them in a vast expanse dotted with only occasional small shrubs, like pills on a worn sweater. After some time, they realized that they would not be able to travel all the way to Clara’s Cliff and still return to the Hab before the sun went down, so they halted near intersection with Schiaparelli Highway, where Luis collected a sample of snow and another of soil.
Luis collecting soil samples on EVA 6
Here the Spirit ATV gave them some trouble starting, but after some rocking and encouragement, they were able to head back to the Hab.
Dinner was an interesting melange originally intended as a tofu stirfry, but ultimately more of a melange of tofu and reconstituted vegetables, plus a concoction intended to mimic a stirfry sauce (and approximately succeeding!).