MDRS Crew 89 Rotating Header Image

Sol 3: Over hill, over dale

Kiri and Brian (Darrel invisible) in the airlock, ready to go out!

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

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

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

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!

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

Panorama from EVA 5, near the Oyster Field

Luis, Mike, and Carla setting out on EVA 6

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

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 Spirit on EVA 6

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

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!).

Living on Mars

Possibly the biggest challenge to living within a cylindrical habitat with five other people is adjusting to the fact that outside is considered hostile. There are no leisurely walks, no strolls through the park, and no lying in grass watching clouds drift by. To speak of it, there’s no grass to speak of! Aside from EVAs, which are more work-oriented than anything else, and engineering rounds (same thing), there isn’t any opportunity to get out of the Hab for any extended period of time.

So, we’ve gotten used to these surroundings in the few days that we’ve been here, especially the upper deck of the Hab. This is where most of the work gets done: filing reports at the end of each day, planning EVAs, cooking, eating, relaxing, and bonding as a team. The space is very multi-purpose, with the main central table serving as both a kitchen table and a workstation (or game table), the kitchen sitting right next to the main workbench, and it allows access to every other part of the Hab.

Our day, however, begins in the state rooms, each of which is composed of nothing more than a bunk and a small desk (and a few have installed shelving). For most of us, these state rooms are just for sleeping and storing anything we can’t leave out in the main room, although Brian and Carla do complete quite a bit of work in their larger rooms as benefit to being our Commander and XO, respectively. While my state room, pictured to the right, is quite messy, it’s more to allow access to anything I may need immediately, hence the spread of supplies on my desk.

After waking up and getting dressed, breakfast and a morning meeting are held around the central table. Breakfast usually consists of oatmeal or cereal, along with whatever dried fruits or nuts we decide to include. Today I had Honey Nut Cheerios with powdered milk, plus some raisins on the side, for those of you that were wondering…

Since we are in sim, the only time we can leave the Hab (aside from engineering rounds, which I’ll get too later) is while on EVA, or Extra-Vehicular Activity; those trips start in the EVA Prep Room, pictured to the right. Here is where we store everything that is needed for an EVA, at least everything that can be carried that isn’t specifically engineering related. During the suit-up procedure, the Marsonauts first put on their flight suits (hanging in the background). When we first arrived at MDRS, we tried on the suits until we found one that would fit, then Velcro-ed our mission patch and name tags onto our selected flight suits. They then don their boots and waders, along with their radios and headsets. At this point, their is usually also a com check between the Marsonauts and HabCom (the person who stays behind to communicate with those on the surface) before the suit-up procedure progresses. Once everything checks out, they then strap into their PLSS (Portable Life Support System), usually with the help of someone in the ready room. This backpack allows the EVA personnel to survive outside of the Hab as it filters and transfers breathable air to the helmet, which is put on next. A final check is made before the Marsonauts enter the airlock, where they must wait for five minutes for depressurization, before leaving the Hab and stepping out onto the surface. Once they return, this process is repeated in reverse, usually followed by a hot meal for the returning explorers.

During the day, a lot of the work is completed in the lower deck, which includes the EVA Prep Room, main airlock, Biology and Geology labs, engineering bay and airlock, as well as the bathroom and shower. Since our completed EVAs (four in total) haven’t been centered on either Biology and Geology, the main lab area (pictured) has mostly just been inventoried and cleaned by Luís, our Biologist. There is an EVA out currently that focuses on geology and geophysics, plus there is a planned EVA later today centered on biology, so this area will mostly likely being in use more for the rest of the mission. Darrel, our Engineer, is also using the area as an interior engineering bay and repair station for basically the entire Hab.

Speaking of engineering, the Hab also requires a power supply separate from the Hab and its vicinity. In a future Martian habitat, this power station will be much more than a diesel engine, so it needs to be separated from the Hab for the safety of the astronauts. During engineering rounds, Darrel and usually one other member of the crew (recently it has been either Kiri or Carla) check the power supply, batteries, ATVs, general Hab upkeep, Green Hab (which is both a greenhouse and a water recycling facility), and the various systems that are required in order to keep everything running smoothly. During a typical day, rounds are made in the morning (following the meeting) and at night before our mission support window opens at 2000 Local Time. This gives the engineer enough time to make the measurements and other checks, fix anything that needs fixing, and file a report so that (for any major problems), Mission Support can help troubleshoot things.

Once everyone is inside, the ATVs are shut down, the final rounds are made, and reports are filed, the rest of the day/night is for us. Usually that consists of preliminary planning sessions for the next day, eating the rest of the prepared dinner, and completing anything that couldn’t be completed during the day. Combusting cakes usually aren’t on the agenda, or if they were I wouldn’t know about them prior to, right?

All in all, just another day on Mars.

Sol 2: Patisserie Pyrotechnics

Mike working on the radio telescope power combiner

Mike working on the radio telescope power combiner

We were fortunate with the weather once again today: dazzling sun bouncing off the red hills and white snow. We stayed closer to the Hab, with both of our EVAs devoted to the final steps needed to get the radio telescope operational. During the first expedition outside, Mike and Brian dug up the mounting post for the power combiner and moved it underneath the north antenna. Our second EVA was notable in that we had four crew members participating: Mike, Darrel, Kiri, and Luis. Working in pairs, we raised the two poles associated with the north antenna from 10 feet to 19.5 feet high. Or rather, we were instructed to raise it to 20 feet, but the nested tube only went up to 19.5 before popping out.
Shadows of Mike and Brian on EVA5

Shadows of Mike and Brian on EVA3

I caught mine before it came out, but Darrel’s did escape, and he was stuck trying to hold two 10-foot PVC tubes in vertical alignment while balancing at the top of a ladder in a spacesuit and helmet. I was grateful to Luis, who was a rock-solid support in steadying the ladder beneath me. I bolted my tubes together and moved my ladder over under Darrel so that he could straddle the two and he quickly re-set his tubes. We finished up, took some pictures, and headed back to the Hab.

“HabCom,” Mike radioed, “We’re ready to enter the airlock.”

There was no response.

Darrel and Mike raise the north radio telescope antenna

Darrel and Mike raise the north radio telescope antenna

Mike tried again. The rest of us tried. We waved our arms at the tiny portholes on the second floor. But there was no response from Carla and Brian, who were (we hoped) still in the Hab. Now, we weren’t actually locked out. And we couldn’t actually run out of air. But this was only EVA #4, and in every previous case, there was immediate response from HabCom to any radio hail, and we always had someone in the EVA prep room to receive us. After five minutes or so, we decided to go in anyway. The sun was setting and the cold was setting in. Mike announced, “HabCom, we are entering the airlock,” and then we heard Brian’s most welcome voice: “EVA crew, copy that.”
The intrepid EVA4 crew (Kiri, Mike, Luis, and Darrel) after raising the north antenna

The intrepid EVA4 crew (Kiri, Mike, Luis, and Darrel) after raising the north antenna

It turned out that the radio had been set with the volume too low for Carla and Brian to hear us, and they hadn’t expected us back so soon. We were soon in, de-suited, and de-briefed.

On our return, Luis tackled the least appetizing task of the day: cleaning the toilet and shower enclosure. Yes, the shower! Although it has been inoperable for weeks, Darrel used his ingenuity to find the burst section of pipe and correct the problem. We’re looking forward to our very first showers this evening, which will go to Luis and Darrel! We’re all thrilled.

But the biggest thrill of the day came right after dinner. Our Crew Astronomer, Mike, turns 21 today. He had a very eventful day, including leading both our EVAs today as EVA Commander, getting the radio telescope closer to completion, and (as a surprise) a chocolate birthday cake made entirely from scratch! (Not trivial when you have no milk nor eggs!) Carla sprinkled it with powdered sugar, and we lit 21 candles on top while Mike was downstairs. When he came back up, we turned off the lights, sang “Happy Birthday”, and then Mike leaned over to blow them out. And a blowtorch erupted from the cake. I’ve never seen anything like it! Apparently his breath lofted most of the powdered sugar high enough to combust in the candle flame and what had been 21 shimmering lights turned into a cloud of flame. Phenomenal! And… don’t try this at home! But no worries: no one was singed. We laughed uproariously, turned the lights back on, wiped powdered sugar off the table, and Mike opened a card and chocolates (from Russia, via Carla!).

Mike blows out his birthday candles

Mike blows out his birthday candles

Happy Birthday, Mike! Thanks for spending your 21st with us!

The Painted Desert

I really cannot exaggerate the beauty of the surroundings we find ourselves in at the Mars Desert Research Station. I grew up in southeastern Utah, so I might have expected to be inured to it—but really, it is just phenomenal. During yesterday’s EVAs, we got to see a lot of the stunning sights, and local geology, first-hand.

The Hab, in the Morrison Formation

The Hab, in the Morrison Formation

The Hab sits in the Brushy Basin member of the Morrison Formation, from the Jurassic period. These rocks were formed from freshwater lake sediments, with occasional volcanic ash deposits. The colors in the resulting claystone, mudstone, and siltstone are just phenomenal—bands of rich red, cream, brown, yellow, and purple. Atop these bands lies pieces of the Dakota sandstone that you can just make out in the background hills in this picture (click to see larger version).

Morrison Formation

Morrison Formation

Yes, that’s snow! We’ve been enjoying simply beautiful weather since we arrived: sunny, clear skies and temperatures in the upper 30’s to low 40’s during the day. The snow fell during the previous crew’s final days and remains on the north-facing slopes. More snow is forecast for tomorrow; I’m hoping it skips us, so that the rocks and formations remain in clear, brilliant view.

Recent fluvial structures through Morrison Formation

Recent fluvial structures through Morrison Formation

Yesterday during EVA #2, we walked north from the Hab across very slippery red mud and clay. Daytime temperatures do get high enough to melt snow on the south-facing slopes, and it runs off the hills, both soaks into the soil and depositing the fine-grained mud layers we were walking on. We left giant bootprints in several areas, and skid marks where it was slipperier than it appeared. We also crossed some cracked mud areas where water had evaporated, and the “popcorn” surface created by smectite (a clay) when it dries out. At left is one of the meandering channels flowing from the foot of the hills out over the muddy plain.

Morrison Formation near the foot of Olympus Mons

Morrison Formation near the foot of Olympus Mons

As the sun dropped in the sky, the shadows from every rock and pebble were highlighted, giving dramatic relief to the surface and emphasizing the angularity of the rocks. These rocks mostly come from the overlying Dakota sandstone, which is coarser-grained and more resistant to weathering than the soft mudstone and claystone of the Morrison Formation.

Dakota sandstone near Phobos Peak

Dakota sandstone near Phobos Peak

The Dakota sandstone is the remnant of an inland ocean, so it arises from a very different water environment than the Morrison Formation does. We are told that this layer contains regions with coal, petrified wood, and bivalve fossils. We haven’t found these yet, but we hope to explore the Dakota more extensively in a future EVA! To the left is a picture of an outcrop of Dakota from EVA #1 (which explored the region around Phobos Peak). Its greater resistance to weathering is evident in how this large block rests on an undercut layer of Morrison supporting it. And finally, we used the rock hammer to collect a sample of a layered piece of Dakota that may possibly have some endoliths growing on it.

Dakota sandstone at the foot of Olympus Mons

Dakota sandstone at the foot of Olympus Mons

We also reached a large chunk of Dakota sandstone at the base of Olympus Mons during EVA #2 (see right). Although at an entirely different location, it shows the same differential erosion. That’s Crew Astronomer Mike posing in front of the rock in his EVA suit, with our crew 89 patch on his arm. Thanks go to all of our crew for their great EVA work yesterday and the photos and stories they brought back! We’ll have another geology-oriented EVA coming up soon.

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

Sol 0: Arrival

The desert here is even more beautiful than I imagined. We were awestruck, driving in from the highway on a dirt road that passed by hills and cliffs laminated not only in structure but also vivid colors: red, cream, gold, white. Puddles in the road cupped dazzling pieces of the sky, reflecting white-blue radiance to light our way to the Hab. We passed a series of smooth reddish hills topped by thick yellow blocks of a more durable sandstone. Each corner we turned revealed new, gorgeous views that had us itching to get out and explore!

Crew 89 at the Hab

Crew 89 at the Hab

We arrived at the Hab about 1 p.m. Crew 88 was waiting for us and gave us a very warm welcome. They walked us through all of the critical Hab systems and the proper use of the EVA suits and ATVs. They’ve put together a stack of laminated guides to every aspect of Hab life. Lucky us! We stood around, all smiles, for some crew photos in front of the Hab—and then Crew 88 drove off in gleeful anticipation of showers and real food, and we retired to the Hab—now “ours”—to settle in.

Our first challenge struck almost immediately. Darrel discovered that his coat was missing—presumably taken away inadvertently by Crew 88. Brian and Darrel hopped into the “pressurized rover” (a Ford Explorer) and took off after them. Carla, Luís, Mike, and I remained in the Hab to begin cleaning the area and storing our belongings and the pile of food we’d picked up at the Bull Mountain Market. We inventoried the existing pantry items and found that we’d picked up duplicates of several things. But really, can you ever have too much tinned corned beef?

We had just finished when Darrel and Brian returned, having successfully caught up with Crew 88 and retrieved Darrel’s coat. In the meantime, the four of us Hab-bound had prepared a late lunch by reconstituting freeze-dried Alfredo Shrimp Pasta. Quite a tasty meal, combined with some “shelf-stable” bread, when it’s 4 p.m. and you haven’t eaten since breakfast! We then organized ourselves and went out with flashlights to compile information for the Engineering report: reading water levels, battery charges, propane levels, and so on. The half-moon was high in the sky, so incredibly bright that we turned off our flashlights to walk out to the generator station. A great sweep of stars was spilled across the sky, feathered and broken by clouds that were white with distilled moonlight. We spotted Orion, Cassiopoeia, and (of course!) Mars glowing a steady, brilliant red low in the eastern sky.

It was a lovely end to an exciting day. Tomorrow we’ll be up early, with a long list of things to do—among them, starting up the ATVs (not an easy or simple task, it seems!) and learning how to ride them before donning suits for our first EVAs.

Commander’s Welcome

Brian on EVA at FMARS on Devon Island, CanadaWelcome to the MDRS Crew 89 website! I hope you enjoy following our mission and learn something about what it takes to live on Mars. My name is Brian Shiro, and I am the Commander for the 89th crew of the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS). My crew and I will inhabit the simulated Mars habitat (the “Hab”) from 23 January through 6 February 2010. Previously, I served as Geophysicist on the 2009 FMARS-12 expedition, and I am very excited to be commanding my first mission on analog Mars.

In the three months since The Mars Society first selected all of us for this amazing opportunity, our crew has gotten to know each other over many emails and phone calls. We have planned an exciting lineup of research projects encompassing astronomy, biology, engineering, and geology. The common goal underlying all of our efforts is the advancement of human Mars exploration.  I don’t want to spoil the surprise for you, so you’ll have to tune in to this blog or check out our daily reports and photos for more.

On to Mars!
Brian

Musk Observatory

As the designated crew astronomer, my addition to the MDRS 89 team was to make full use of the Musk Observatory, complete with donated Celestron telescope and two CCDs (Charged Coupled Device, for digitizing images). Recent events, however have changed my two-week plans, and unfortunately the telescope will not be operational during my mission. It was been disassembled by Crew 87, one of the NASA Spaceward Bound crews, and will either be shipped out before the end of their mission or when Crew 88 takes over the Hab this Saturday. Thus, my plan has been thrown out the airlock.

There is, however, some good news. MDRS is also equipped with a radio telescope through NASA’s Radio JOVE project. This telescope is primarily used to observe both solar and jovian radio signals, although the possibility exists to observe other radio sources. Currently, the radio telescope at MDRS is half-assembled, although Crew 88 will thankfully be completing this assembly during their stay at the Hab.

With only two weeks between now and the start of our crew rotation, this information does necessitate a huge change in my own plans, but I’m taking it as a blessing in disguise. The possibility of solar observing also allows me to do some sort of research during the day (past my aide in the rest of the crew’s work), and I can also do work on radio interference during EVAs as a possible side project. I also won’t be a zombie in the morning after a night of working with the Musk Observatory!

I do also only have two weeks to research potential radio sources, past the planets and Sun, as well as figure out how to actually do research with a radio telescope, as all of my previous astronomy experience rests within the visual range of the EM spectrum. I’ll be keeping an eye on the daily crew reports from Crew 88 to see what their astronomer will be using the radio telescope for, since a collaborative project may be more lucrative that two individual ones, especially with the short timespans involved.

You always have to try to take things in stride, which I’m sure we’ll be doing frequently as a crew during our two weeks on Mars!

Exercise at the Hab

exerciseOne important aspect of any human mission to Mars will be exercise. The trip to Mars will likely take a toll in terms of bone mass loss (spaceflight osteopenia) and muscle atrophy, despite our best efforts to counter these adverse effects. (In microgravity, neither nutritional supplements nor exercise nor hormones nor anything else has yet been proven to solve this problem.) On reaching Mars, the human crew will be weaker and more prone to broken bones than they were when they left Earth. In some respects, the reduced gravity on Mars (1/3 that of Earth’s) will make the adaptation back to a gravity environment easier. However, the reduced gravity is likely to allow for continued bone loss and muscle atrophy, unless the crew is diligent with an exercise regimen. (Exercise tends to be more effective in a stronger gravity field, since walking, jumping, and running result in stronger impacts to the body, stimulating bone and muscle growth.) While EVAs (Extra-Vehicular Activities) provide some opportunity for physical exercise, and certainly can be strenuous in very specific ways, they are unlikely to provide a full-body cardiovascular workout.

So our crew got thinking: what can we do in the way of exercise inside the Hab? We sought to satisfy multiple goals: daily exercise, without impacting our already busy schedule, in a space too small for all six to participate at once, and with enough variety to keep us engaged and motivated. We’ll aim for two exercise sessions per day, accommodating three of us at a time. Luís has volunteered to teach us kickboxing and capoeira. My Jazzercise instructor has offered to loan us an instructional video. In general, I expect that we’ll have a lot of fun with our exercise, and learn new things at the same time!

If you have any suggestions about other exercise ideas, please share in the comments (link at top of post).

Paying the bills

Part of the preparations for our MDRS mission include financial ones. We are each responsible for a $1000 participation fee, our travel costs for reaching Grand Junction, CO (the closest airport to the Hab site), and any particular materials and supplies that our mission requires. We are assembling most of these items from our own belongings: for example, Brian is bringing a geotagging camera, Darrel will have his GPS logger, and I have packed my Garmin eTrex navigator (thanks to Jim). We will also require some new purchases, such as a network-accessible drive to store our data, pictures, videos, etc.

If you’re interested in supporting our mission financially, please feel free to click the ChipIn button at right to donate. We will be happy to recognize your support on our Sponsors page. Thank you!