MDRS Crew 89 Rotating Header Image

Sol 8: To the summit of Olympus Mons!

Edit: You can now watch a video of EVA 14 to Olympus Mons!

Kiri, Darrel, and Mike at the foot of Olympus Mons

Kiri, Darrel, and Mike at the foot of Olympus Mons

After breakfast, we suited up for an expedition to Olympus Mons. Darrel, Mike, and I had previously journeyed to the base of this striking natural feature, but we had had to turn back due to the limited time of our EVA. This time, we planned to ascend to the summit. We left the Hab at 12:41 p.m. and struck off north, squishing through soft snow into the dirt beneath. Olympus Mons rose before us in all its banded, colored glory. We reached the base and began our ascent. Reaching the first level stage up, we paused to take pictures (we could see the Hab clearly) and then began climbing up the steeper slope, digging our feet into the moist dirt to keep our balance. We determined that footing was best on the snowy patches. However, Carla’s knee starting giving her trouble, and she decided to remain behind on that level. We agreed to keep her in visual or radio contact for our ascent. In a real mission setting, I suspect that this would violate protocol, and we would instead leave someone with her so that no one was ever alone (buddy system!).

Darrel and Mike climbing towards the summit

Darrel and Mike climbing towards the summit

Darrel crosses the ridge

Darrel crosses the ridge

Darrel, Mike, and I continued upward, climbing over small rocks up a narrow gully. Already the geology was getting more interesting. We transitioned from the red, muddy Morrison layers into the stronger, paler Dakota capping layer. The Morrison formation, while visually arresting in its vivid watercolor paints, provides little in the way of interesting solid rock geology. But the Dakota is another story entirely! It is filled with a wide variety of different consolidated layers, some strongly differentiated in grain size and composition. I spied rock after rock with complex structures that practically shouted for me to sit down and study—view after view into the local history of flowing streams, pebble transport, and shifting watercourses. The final capping layer of Dakota sandstone was eroded in intriguing ways, a series of curves in and out shaped around the embedded pebbles.

Kiri, Mike, and Darrel on the summit!

Kiri, Mike, and Darrel on the summit!

It was almost with reluctance that I finally climbed to the top of the ridge, reaching the summit but abandoning the really interesting stuff! But I was rewarded with an incredible view, both to the east across the lower hills and plains, and to the west, all the way to the soaring cliffs of Skyline Ridge. And as we tracked north along the summit of Olympus Mons, a new vista opened at our feet: more hills, cliffs, and all sorts of complexity spreading as far as the eye could see. (Can we claim The Olympus Mountaineering Award now?)

Cross-bedding in Dakota sandstone

Cross-bedding in Dakota sandstone

With the summit of Olympus Mons under our belts, we were eager for more. We identified a saddle ridge that connected our current location to next segment of Olympus Mons to the east, and then carefully clambered down to it. We picked our way across the narrow ridge, mindful of the red mud slope to the right and the snowy slide to the left. And on the other side, as we came back up to the Dakota layer again, was a geological bonanza! We were treated to a huge outcrop of conglomerate layers mixed with fine-grained sandstone and, as I peered closer, snapping photo after photo, I found a gorgeous example of cross-bedding! I’d been hoping to find such exposures since my arrival, and here they were in spades! Beautiful!

Darrel and Mike heading east

Darrel and Mike heading east

Darrel and Mike dragged me away back up onto the next ridge portion of Olympus Mons, and we followed it eastward. We walked out onto a couple of southward-jutting promontories before encountering a literally breathtaking sight: the hills to the northeast of Olympus Mons (Pavonis and Arsia Mons) were just stunning, banded in even more vivid reds and purples in their long, inclined slopes. Crowned with snow and splashed with white all down their sides, the contrast only made the colors more of a feast for the visual appetite. I stared out over the expanse of rich desert beauty, panting from exertion and only wishing I could throw off my suit and climb around in the dirt close up.

Mike on the promontory

Mike on the promontory

We traversed the ridge all the way to the east and snapped pictures of each other atop the final rocky promontory. By that point, we’d been out for an hour and decided to head back down, rejoin Carla, and return to the Hab. In addition to the dazzling array of rocks and vistas, we’d also seen quite a variety of different lichens: yellow, orange, blue-gray, and palest green. I radioed back to the Hab to ask if Luis, our Biologist, wanted us to try to collect some samples (despite not having any sample bags), but he suggested we skip it. This turned out to be a good idea later, when we needed all four limbs for our descent.

Darrel in the gully

Darrel in the gully

We headed back west along Olympus Mons, seeking a gully to follow down that would not be too steep (or too muddy) for our use. These were all south-facing slopes, so they were lacking in snow and becoming progressively softer and muddier. We climbed down one level, then followed a twisting drainage gully whose sides steepened as we descended. We had to abandon walking on the patchy snow on the sides of the gully and get down into the wet course itself. We stepped carefully, bracing ourselves on the gully sides, continuing until we reached a dropoff. Here the water must some days pour in a waterfall over a 6 to 8-foot drop. There wasn’t enough flow today for such a sight, but it did present an obstacle to us. Darrel suggested rolling some rocks into the drop to build up enough of a pile to climb down onto—but having grown up in the Canyonlands area, I have a healthy aversion to getting “rimmed out” (descending to a point where you cannot go any further down, then realizing that you can’t get back up either!).

Darrel and Mike climbing out of the gully

Darrel and Mike climbing out of the gully

“We shouldn’t go down anything we can’t get back up,” I suggested. Darrel instead found us a way up and over the hill forming the west side of the gully, which was tricky but doable; the final scramble up melting mud posed a brief delay and required some repeated attempts to overcome, but in the end we were victorious! By that point Carla could see us, and we could see her, and we took pictures back and forth as the three of us headed down the final slopes and rejoined her. We continued down to the plain and made the trek back to the Hab, staring into the silvery afternoon sun and pointing at the patches of blue sky that were appearing. The afternoon light grew and grew, lighting up the colors more and more, and I almost couldn’t bear going back into the Hab and leaving them behind; the desert only becomes more beautiful as the day lengthens and dies.

Back to the Hab

Back to the Hab

We trooped back in at 2:39 p.m., depressurized in the airlock, and then were pulling off our suits, laughing at our exhaustion and elation. We gathered upstairs to review the (somewhat ridiculous!) volumes of pictures and video we’d collected on the expedition. (You can view the full EVA information, including a map.) Culling through those photos to select the best ones for sharing was quite time-consuming! Also, while listening to the radio data that was recorded while we were out, Mike discovered that he could hear our EVA radio chatter when we passed the radio telescope! Cool, even if it doesn’t amount to a scientific discovery. :)

We wrapped up the day with a Jazzercise session, an AlpineAir combo (Sierra Chicken and Pasta with Shrimp and Alfredo Sauce), and now there’s talk of a movie. I feel full to bursting not only with food, but with everything we’ve seen and everywhere we’ve been today. Goodnight!

Sol 7: Mopping on Mars and exploring Radio Ridge

Carla and Kiri cleaning the Hab floor

Carla and Kiri cleaning the Hab floor

Today we had a real weekend day on Mars! We breakfasted on a delicious, fresh-baked casserole made of reconstituted egg whites, Velveeta cheese, and pre-cooked bacon, based on a recipe Carla found. Then we spent a couple of hours cleaning house—wiping, sweeping, vacuuming, and mopping.
Luis cleaning the stovetop

Luis cleaning the stovetop

It was warm enough, and the work strenuous enough, that I ended stripping down to a tank top. Pretty crazy when the temperatures outside are below freezing! But hurrah, the Hab floor is once again a cheery blue color. Luis, brave soul, tackled cleaning the stove and under the burners. The new stove surface, which is actually black, was entirely unrecognizable. He then covered it with aluminum foil, further obscuring its identity in clean radiance. Brian baked some more bread. (Boy, do we love our “cooking” days!)

Mike, who had been up until the wee hours collecting data with the newly operational radio telescope, retired to his stateroom ensconced in his headphones to listen to the buzz of the night sky, based on recordings collected while the crew slept. Apparently this was sufficiently sleep-inducing that he succumbed to a nap. Actually, we’d all had something of a late night because we decided to stay up until midnight so as to transfer some large files (e.g., download printer drivers and upload movies to YouTube!). Our bandwidth from 5 a.m. to midnight is severely restricted, so the only practical way to do these tasks is to wait for that midnight to 5 a.m. window. To pass the time until midnight, we played several games of Guesstures, which is a variant on charades that we found to be quite entertaining! Carla emerged as a real champion of portraying a variety of characters and concepts with lightning speed. Mike is feeling inadequate and is intent on a rematch. Luis complained that the stress was killing him, so we strapped Brian’s heartrate monitor on him and found that sure enough, his heartrate would go from about 90 (when guessing) up to about 160 (when portraying concepts and trying to get his teammates to guess!).

It was a slow day in Internet-land today. An unattended download after our late-night session did not complete by 5 a.m. (and yes, we know better!). Therefore, around 6 a.m., we’d apparently consumed our entire bandwidth for the day and our access was throttled back (to a total allocation of about 3 kbps—aie!). This was excruciating for all involved. I found it particularly painful because I’d so hoped to use this slow, indoor day to make real progress on my actual research project: automatically associating geotags with images that don’t otherwise have GPS coordinates associated with them. I spent most of the day simply identifying which pieces of software I lacked and, because of the bandwidth restriction, could not download. Prior to the mission, I’d planned to do my analysis in Matlab, and had downloaded several packages that I would use to analyze the images with. But even on good net days here at the Hab, I can’t maintain a good enough connection to the Matlab license server to make that work at all. So I decided to switch over to Python, which I can run independently on my computer, without net access. Except that I then also needed to install new packages for the same analysis goals, in Python rather than Matlab. I’ve made some progress, but not nearly what I’d hoped for!

Brian near Radio Ridge Road

Brian near Radio Ridge Road

The day was not, however, a total loss. After lunch, Brian and Luis suited up for EVA 13. Their goal was to traverse Radio Ridge Road to check out a potential site for a seismic survey, recommended by Carol Stoker, the Commander of MDRS Crew 83. That crew had surveyed an inverted channel feature with ground-penetrating radar. Luis wanted to collect some more rock, soil, and snow samples—the more diverse, the better. They set out with Luis in the lead, since he thought he remembered the way from EVA 6 (both EVAs headed up Sagan Street at the beginning). They made it to the base of Olympus Mons but at that point encountered a few dead ends, because the terrain looked quite different with snow blanketing it. The road was steep, and once Brian had to get out and push Luis’s ATV to help keep it moving. As the follower, lucky Brian was able to avoid the sticky spots that Luis discovered.

The Hab as seen from Radio Ridge

The Hab as seen from Radio Ridge

They struck Radio Ridge Road without difficulty. From up on the ridge, they could see cliffs all around, with snow collected in patches on the red layers. They could also see the Hab from above, as well as Musk Observatory. They observed a lot of animal tracks along the way. They made their way south along the Ridge, seeking the GPS coordinates specified by Carol. As they went south, they encountered another ridge that intersected Radio Ridge perpendicularly—and this was the spot they sought. They walked the profile, and learned that it may not be smooth enough for the seismic survey, since the instruments need to be towed along the ground.

The Turtle Hills covered in snow

The Turtle Hills covered in snow

As we had on EVA 5, they found a plethora of oyster fossils. In general, the whole environment was far more interesting than they had anticipated. Although it is largely a flat plain, it contains several small gullies that harbor microenvironments, ideal for Luis’s sampling goals. They found several sandstone samples containing more resilient layers inside which, when broken into, had streaks of what may likely be endoliths.

Luis investigating the Devil's Toenails (fossil oysters)

Luis investigating the Devil's Toenails (fossil oysters)

Brian and Luis report that driving in the snow was really fun, and they felt they had good control, especially when shifting their weight to help the ATV maintain its balance and grip on the surface. The views, of course, were just incredible. Near the end of their return home (arriving as dusk was falling), they turned on their headlights and followed their own snow-bright pools of light back to the Hab.

Originally, we had planned to hold a third exercise session today, but after the hours of indoor cleaning, and outdoor EVA activity, we just didn’t have the energy (and likely had gotten a lot of exertion already).

Darrel and Carla cooked tonight, and it is our first experiment with the tinned corned beef, which I think most of us were apprehensive about. However, with a special BBQ sauce Darrel concocted, the pan-fried beef was actually quite tasty! Our meal was rounded out with potatoes au gratin and some peas and cauliflower—and for dessert, Carla had magically pulled together a pumpkin-spice cake with raisins. We’re still not sure how she is managing these feats of wonder, baking amazing desserts with no flour, no eggs, no milk, and barely any sugar. Yet everything is absolutely, mouth-wateringly delicious! Wow, Carla!

As I sign off, Luis is engaged in the unenviable chore of cleaning out that critical breadmaker pan. We are all exceedingly grateful.

Dirt

I just returned from my second shower here at MDRS. That’s right, we have showers! The Hab’s shower was not functional when we arrived. However, our brilliant engineer Darrel was able to track down the problem and rig a fix, which he firmed up today with a propane torch and some solder. (At this point, he has fixed or improved so many things that we’d be happy to excuse him from all other duties for the rest of the mission!) Starting on January 25th, the second day of our mission, we were able to shower two people per day. I ended up going in the last set, and boy, that shower on the 27th was so, so welcome!

Yet it’s not quite like a shower at home. Because all of our used water goes into the graywater system, for filtering and re-use in toilet flushing, we cannot use regular detergents and soaps. Instead, we have Oasis, a “biocompatible cleaning product”. We use it to wash our hands, wash our dishes, wash our bodies, and wash our hair. It seems to do the trick, but I can’t say that I feel *quite* as clean as I do at home after a shower. I especially notice its effect on my hair; while clean after washing with Oasis, my hair does not feel quite… right. I’m not sure whether it’s the lack of a conditioner following the Oasis application, or some important difference between Oasis and regular shampoo (I seem to recall that shampoo uses milder surfactants than soap does), but my hair comes out as a vast rat’s-nest that I have to carefully comb through—not typical at all for me!

But hey, at least I’m clean!

It comes as no surprise that there is dirt everywhere. We are, after all, smack in the middle of a massive expanse of dirt. The Hab is nowhere near air-tight, and even if it were, so much dirt and mud is tracked in that we’d be plagued with it regardless. All week, the layer of dirt even in our upstairs living quarters has been growing, with grit scratching ever more loudly beneath our sandals and slippers. Dirt has accumulated on our work desks, on our shoes, in our clothes, and probably in our sleeping bags and everywhere else. I think I’ve actually observed that my mood is affected by the dirt. I feel more irritable and stressed when there’s dirt everywhere, especially on me. And I grew up in the desert!

By today, we’d had it, and declared a day of cleaning. Carla and I vacuumed, swept, and mopped the floor, which emerged eventually as its original blue hue! Luis tackled the rather horrifically grungy range top, and it is now covered in aluminum foil as protection against future cooking explorations. Mike swept the main airlock, EVA prep room, and lab area downstairs. Our Hab is wonderfully clean, *and* so am I!

At least for a few hours. Tomorrow we’re planning another exercise session!

Live action MDRS Crew 89!

We have posted two videos, one of our early EVAs and one of our first Jazzercise session. You can view them, and more videos as they become available, at the MDRS Crew 89 Videos page. Enjoy!

Sol 6: Man down!

While out on an EVA today, Darrel broke his leg. He had someone with him, of course—in this case, Mike—who was able to radio back to the Hab about the accident and request emergency assistance. Brian, Carla, and Kiri quickly suited up, and Luis remained behind to serve as HabCom and monitor our progress via radio. Twenty-one minutes later, we were exiting the airlock and on our way to rescue our downed crew member.

Brian and Carla building the rescue sled

Brian and Carla building the rescue sled

Lest the reader be overly anxious at this point, I should explain that Darrel didn’t really break his leg. We had decided to test our ability to respond to an emergency in which one crew member was unable to move. Carla and Brian spent the morning constructing a sled that could be used to drag someone back to the Hab behind an ATV. When the emergency call came in at 3:04 p.m., we all leapt into action. I plugged the coordinates that Mike reported into my GPS unit (fumbling a bit as I hadn’t ever tried to enter coordinates manually before—lesson learned!). We suited up in record time (13 minutes). Outside, Brian attached the sled to the Viking-1 ATV and kicked it into gear. Carla and I trailed along in his wake, on foot.

We had stepped out into a snowy, misty world, where visibility was limited to about a quarter-mile. The sun lit up the fog, shedding silvery light all around us, and the hills were white mounds with patches of red peeking through on the south-facing slopes. Crunching along on the snowy road, we could see that we needed to head northeast to reach Mike and Darrel. The road would be more convenient for the sled, but their footprints led off to the north and we wanted to be sure we could reach them. So we headed off over the lumpy snow. (Our out-of-sim concerns about avoiding off-road ATV use were allayed by the thick layer of snow.) Viking-1 performed heroically, and the sled slid along behind in fine form.

Darrel on the sled

Darrel on the sled

Brian, Mike, and Carla carrying Darrel towards the rescue sled

Brian, Mike, and Carla carrying Darrel towards the rescue sled

We walked and walked, hoping with each rise that we’d suddenly see Mike and Darrel. But each time we were only rewarded with new views of their twin footprints, leading us onward. Finally, at 3:45 p.m. and about half a mile from the Hab, we crested a larger hill and discovered our fallen comrade, attended by Mike. We couldn’t get the ATV up to the foot of the rocky cliff where he’d “fallen”, so we lifted and carried him down to the ATV and sled. At that point we discovered that we were only about 40 yards from Lowell Highway, so after strapping Darrel to the sled, we continued on to the highway. Turning onto the snow-covered, graded road, we were able to make better time. We were back to the Hab by 4:35 p.m., at which point Darrel was again carried up into the airlock and, after depressurization, Luis was able to attend to his injuries.

rescue-trip-backrescue-brian-kiri
rescue-trip-back-2rescue-trip-back-3

A video of the rescue operation is in the works!

Another notable achievement for the day: Darrel and Luis put Viking-2’s carburetor back together and installed it, but so far no luck in starting the ATV. We’ll keep trying.

In the evening, we assembled for our second group exercise session. This time, Luis was our instructor and taught us basic capoeira moves—and wowed us with his advanced spinning and kicking! We all got a good workout (and no doubt entertained any webcam watchers). Now we’re busily filing reports and anticipating a tasty AlpineAir meal: Leonardo da Fettuccine.

Carla breaking the ice in our water tank

Carla breaking the ice in our water tank

How far would you go to stay “in sim”?

The goal of this exercise is to live and work in a simulated Mars environment. But obviously we aren’t actually on Mars, and it is physically possible to go outside and breathe the atmosphere here (although it has been so cold that actually surviving the night outside the Hab would be challenging!). So during the mission, we distinguish between things done “in sim” (imposing constraints as if the outside environment were Mars) and “out of sim” (reverting to actual Earth constraints).

As you’d expect, we strive to do everything possible in sim. The day a new crew arrives is an exception, since there are 12 people (but only 6 suits) and a lot of information has to be conveyed in a short time, walking around to see and learn all of the systems. But after that, we are confined to our Hab, or going out in suits, aside from our “pressurized tunnels” that connects the Hab to the GreenHab (water recycling), “pressurized garage” where the ATVs live, the Musk Observatory, and the Engineering Station where the generators and fuel supplies are. These aren’t enclosed, but we pretend they are, since in a real landed mission the crew would likely have erected just such connections so that they could access those critical systems not actually in the Hab. The tunnels are delineated with rock-lined paths, so we are careful not to step outside of them.

But of course, staying in sim has its tedious downsides (that’s part of what you learn from this experience), like when you’re in your spacesuit and you get halfway through the 5-minute wait to “depressurize” the airlock, then remember that you forgot to grab the ATV keys. You could “break sim” to reach back inside and get the keys, or stay in sim and wait to repressurize the airlock, go inside, get the keys, return to the airlock, and wait to depressurize again. In this case, we opted to have another crew member run the keys outside (through the pressurized tunnel, to the pressurized ATV garage) and put them in the ATVs—since on Mars, we wouldn’t bother to bring the keys in and out with us. (It is incredibly remote here, but in theory it is possible for other people to wander down the road to the Hab and therefore the ATVs could be stolen, if we left the keys in them all the time.) But each such snag has to be worked through logically, to determine what would or would not be possible in a Martian environment, so that we can keep the simulation fidelity as high as possible.

So far we have opted in every such case, but one, to stay in sim, including two days ago when an EVA crew had to come back in and go through the pressurization/depressurization cycle to retrieve sunglasses (the snow was too bright!). As a result, EVA 7 became EVAs 7 and 8, and of course, this took up more time than planned.

The one exception to staying in sim was on EVA 8, when Carla’s helmet fogged up so much that she could not see where she was walking! After trying a variety of methods to deal with the condensation, she finally gave up and took off her helmet. In a real mission, she would probably have put her arm on another crew member’s shoulder and followed them, blind, back to the Hab. We had a good time joking about “dead” Carla, and considered holding a memorial session for her that night, but she declined. :) Meanwhile, Brian’s helmet was just as fogged, but he was too darn stubborn to take it off!

This experience also got us thinking about other good exercises to conduct on EVA. What if a crew member were physically incapacitated and could not get back to the Hab under their own power, even being led? Previous crews have experimented with a fireman’s carry. We’ve decided to try a strategy based on our current weather conditions (3 inches of snow on the ground). I can hear some of the crew outside sawing and assembling a sled. We plan to have one EVA crew go out, get far enough to be out of line of sight, and then have a simulated accident in which one crew member cannot move. At that point they’ll radio back their GPS coordinates, and we’ll send a second crew out on the ATVs, with the sled, to rescue them. We’ll report back on this ambitious plan and what we learn from the attempt!

Whither do we wander?

We’ve added a new EVA page to this site that lists all of our out-of-Hab activity, with Google Earth visualizations of the track, EveryTrail slideshows of the pictures we took along the way, and Garmin Connect plots of our elevation and heartrate data. Big thanks go to Brian for bringing the GPS logger and heartrate monitor and for having the tech savvy (and devoting the time) to putting all of this information together!

Sol 5: Operations out in the snow

It’s been another snowy day here, although the temperature got up to 50 F and the snow is rapidly melting. We foresee mud in our futures!

Brian measuring the snow accumulation

Brian measuring the snow accumulation

This morning, our Internet service went out again. Brian and I suited up to go out and again knock snow off the satellite receiver. Rather than going through all the trouble of an EVA (getting our suits on, depressurizing the airlock, going out, coming back, re-pressurizing the airlock, and getting the suits off) just for that, we added some additional useful tasks to make the most of our time. We also planned to measure the length of coax cable that Mike needed for connecting the new, taller radio telescope; measure the depth of snow accumulation; clean the mud off the ATV tires and test their operation in the snow; and experiment with the “VOX” (voice-operated) radio setting (which does not require push-to-talk). While we were getting ready, the snow must have melted or fallen off on its own, because Internet access was restored; but we decided to proceed with our plans and accomplish our other goals regardless.

Kiri cleaning mud off the ATV tire

Kiri cleaning mud off the ATV tire

Outside, the whiteness was nearly blinding, even with sunglasses on. We discovered that we’d gotten 3 inches of snow from the storm yesterday! We cleaned off the ATV tires, inflated a few low tires, and then took the ATVs out for a spin in the Hab “parking lot” area. The snow was indeed a little slippery, but we found they felt okay if we went slow. More challenging was the fact that everything was unvaryingly white, making it very hard to tell where the ground sloped up or down or where rocks were; the diffuse light meant no shadows and no relief! We think we may be able to drive on nearby Lowell “Highway”, but probably not any of the side trails, where getting stuck would be quite likely and quite inconvenient.

Crew Jazzercise

Crew Jazzercise

We came back in and then everyone assembled for a pre-lunch Jazzercise session. This was a total blast! We folded up our dining table and laid five mats (normally used for padding under our sleeping bags) on the floor. Five mats because Luis has been feeling under the weather and instead alternated between operating the video camera and cheering us on. I put in the first Jazzercise DVD and we ran through several routines, stretching and jumping and kicking and breathless with laughter at how ridiculous we must look. (We’re wondering whether anyone was watching the webcams at that time!) We then sat down for some tortilla soup. Brian made tortilla chips by slicing tortillas and microwaving them — I didn’t know you could do that! They were nice and crunchy with the soup. Carla made a divine pear spice cake that was so good we can’t wait to have it after dinner as well.

Mike working on the radio telescope

Mike working on the radio telescope

After lunch, Mike and Carla went outside for another EVA to raise the south poles of the radio telescope (to 20 feet tall). They also installed the coax cables and checked the tension on the support lines. The frozen ground made adjusting some of the support lines impossible, so this will have to be done during a future EVA. As a reward for their hard work, they then constructed a custom Martian snowman with two heads. We could see them from the Hab porthole windows!

Carla and Mike built a Martian snowman!

Carla and Mike built a Martian snowman!

Meanwhile, The Viking-2 ATV has been inoperable for some time, so Darrel thought he would see about fixing it. Darrel removed Viking-2’s carburetor and he and Luis disassembled it for cleaning. They then boiled it on the stove in soapy water, scrubbed the pieces with a toothbrush, and boiled it in clean water. It is now drying and will be reassembled and tested later. Soon we may have four ATVs instead of three!

Carburetors aren’t the only things cooking in our kitchen tonight. Darrel previously cleaned out the breadmaker tray (which was, let us say, simply disgusting), and we currently have whole wheat bread with garlic and oregano baking. Brian is making fried tofu and couscous that jointly smell absolutely divine. Darrel, Mike, and Luis are outside doing engineering rounds. Apparently the clouds have rolled away and the moon and stars are putting on quite a show, so they also took a camera and tripod to capture some night shots.

With luck, we’ll all get our reports in early enough to watch another movie tonight. Anything would beat last night’s movie (“Stranded”). Really, *anything*!

Visions of Mars, or lack thereof

Although today’s snow unfortunately canceled all ATV related EVAs, Luis happily suggested a biology related pedestrian EVA. Brian, Luis and I set out in the early afternoon with nominal EVA gear, headlamps to see each other better in the snow conditions, and Luis’ biology sampling kit. Our destination was Candor Chasma, which is approximately 2.5 km east of the Hab module.

We all eagerly suited up and set out on our journey, but upon opening the airlock door and stepping into the white tundra, we soon realized that sunglasses were a must on this EVA due to the glare off the snow, and unfortunately not all of us were wearing them. Perhaps the shortest EVA in history, our only accomplishment was to knock snow off the satellite receiver and restore Internet access for the Hab. We then sadly returned to the Hab, going through the ingress procedures, and obtained our shades from HabCom. Lesson learned for snow EVAs is to prepare for the glare!

Luis finds a femur

Luis finds a femur

Once again, we were out the hatch in no time bounding through the snow towards the east. Walking in the snow was a bit more challenging in the suits since you cannot determine the depth of the terrain below. It was also slippery and a few of us fell, careful to save the backpack and helmet, sacrificing our lower bodies. Along the journey were several majestic steppes and striated slopes sprinkled in snow. Luis was quick to find two large femur bones (possibly from a cow) during our walk, and also took samples of the fresh snow for biological testing.

Luis and Brian looking out over Candor Chasma

Luis and Brian looking out over Candor Chasma

We walked at an intense pace and after an hour arrived at Candor Chasma, a mini Grand Canyon filled with multi-colors and striations in the sheer cliff. The view was amazing, however, both Brian’s and my visors were starting to fog, and it began to get exponentially worse. We had all used defogger for the visors, but today’s temperatures were lower than on previous days. We made the decision to turn around and head for the Hab, and the situation became alarmingly worse. I had about 10% visibility out of the lower right part of the helmet, and had to walk with my head to the side to see anything in front. I felt like I was blindfolded and walking to a piƱata on the bed of a moving truck. Neither Brian nor I could wipe the fog with our caps since we were both wearing the headlamps for safety. After several efforts to stay in sim, including trying to warm the outside of the helmet with our gloves to get the inside fog to evaporate, we had to opt for safety. After having stumbled half the way back to the Hab, it was necessary for me to break sim and take the helmet off.
Visor fogging begins

Visor fogging begins

Once I had vision, I watched out for Brian, who miraculously remained in sim with 0% visibility by the time we were home. We relayed terrain information and directions to him over the radios. In the future, I’d like to do an emergency EVA where this situation would result in us roping ourselves together, walking with one arm on the others’ shoulder, or calling for help from the Hab crew. With two out of the three of us visually impaired, we certainly would have called for help from our fellow crewmembers back at the Hab.

The 2.5 hours of intense exercise was a welcome challenge for the three of us, having been cooped up a bit inside, but the best reward was the hot cocoa awaiting us upon our return.

Sol 4: Snow day!

Snow surrounding the Hab

Snow surrounding the Hab

We woke up to about 2 inches of snow on the ground, shrouding the red hills in a crisp blanket of white. Everyone wanted to pitch in for engineering rounds, to have an excuse to get outside! (We can check on the Green Hab, ATVs, and Musk Observatory “in sim” via marked rock paths that serve as “pressurized tunnels” so that we can reach those areas without donning a spacesuit.) But when we stepped out of the Engineering airlock, we discovered that the snow was still coming down and, entranced, we all scrambled up to the top of the Observatory ridge to see the view. White hills stretched out in all directions, and a soft, heavy silence hung over us—not oppressive, but hushed, as an indrawn breath before an exclamation of delight.

Concretions

Concretions

Carla, Brian, and Darrel pumped water into our water tank while Mike and I checked and started the ATVs (to keep them in good order). Then I went back up towards the Observatory, following a tip I’d seen that there were good examples of concretions in some of the rocks lining the path;
More concretions

More concretions

and sure enough, they were evident despite the snow, protruding from the bottom of overhangs and sprinkled everywhere! These are similar to the infamous “blueberries” that the Opportunity rover on Mars discovered, having formed by precipitation into dissolved-out pockets within porous sandstone.

We reluctantly went back inside and turned to our various individual tasks. Our EVA plans for the day were affected by the weather; just when we’d gained confidence on our ATVs, the snow now meant that for safety reasons we’d focus on pedestrian EVAs instead. Another side effect of the snow was that our internet connection (via satellite dish) went out at some point in the morning. However, this presented an opportunity as well: we decided to wait until an EVA crew could get outside and brush the snow off our receiver to (hopefully) restore connectivity without breaking sim to fix it.

In general, though, our whole pace slowed down a little, which was to many of us, I think, a welcome reprieve from the rush-rush-rush of the past three days. Luis, Carla, and Brian set out on an EVA to Candor Chasma, located to the east. More about that adventure in the next post, from Carla!