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Engineering challenges

Although our mission is still almost four weeks away, we have been eagerly following the reports of the current MDRS crews to learn from their experiences and better prepare for our own mission. So far one thorny problem has been condensation inside the suit helmets. Temperatures this year near the Hab have been colder than usual. Crew 85 has suggested several work-arounds, including wearing a balaclava/ski mask to reduce fogging and bringing a rope on EVAs to help guide vision-impaired crewmembers back to the Hab! Adding helmet heaters is beyond the scope of potential short-term modification, so our Chief Engineer, Darrel, has been brainstorming other solutions.

Another major practical challenge for our mission is the limited water supply (39 gallons per day to support our crew of six). Darrel would like to assess the possibility of more water recycling. Right now, the Hab has a graywater system that allows dishwater and shower water to filter out into the Green Hab and then be recycled as toilet flushing water (which then goes to the septic tank). If the Green Hab were sufficiently good at filtering/cleaning the graywater, it is possible that it could be re-used for showers or other uses as well. Darrell and Crew Biologist Luís are discussing plans to test the bacterial levels in the Green Hab outflow. If this is a possible source of additional water, it would make our lives a lot easier! (The necessary plumbing modifications might be beyond our abilities in this mission, though!)

No doubt there will be additional challenges (and opportunities) that arise during our own mission. We’ll keep an eye on the current crews to learn all we can before hitting the ground on January 23, 2010.


  1. jim says:

    For the helmets, is pre-treatment with a polymer like RainX an option? (It smooths imperfections in glass, possibly letting the water roll off.) Or, perhaps, a desiccant packet that could be recycled later by warming it?

  2. Wendy says:

    Fogging the inside of masks is a constant problem with divers, since the water temp is almost always colder than body temp. To significantly reduce the problem, we wash the inside of our masks with a solution that helps prevent fogging. The most common is baby shampoo, since it’s non-irritating to eyes should the mask fill with water. (not a problem for you, hopefully!) However, it’s also cheap and readily available.

    In a pinch, human spit applied liberally to the inside of the mask is fairly effective. However, I’d suggest you try both of these solutions prior to an EVA, since unlike diving, there’s not enough humidity to keep the solution liquid, so it may dry and impair visibility.

    I like the idea of RainX, as it’s designed to be useful even after drying. However, I don’t know if it’s an eye irritant?

    As for suit heaters, have you considered disposable hand/foot warmers, available at REI? I’m thinking of the chemical ones, where you break a packet inside a plastic container that mixes with another chemical and produces a temporary reaction, enough to produce comfortable heat for several hours. They’re low cost and probably easy to put in various parts in your EVA suits, maybe even close enough to the face to compensate for the steamy breath issue? Santa gave us some in our stockings, so you’re welcome to try some out and see if they’d work.