07 December 2017 - Exploring Mars
I am sitting in my bed in the habitat and writing this report. And I am glad to get a little rest because today has been physically challenging and we all are looking forward to our first Martian weekend.
We are getting our groove on with the longer days on Mars and yesterday treated ourselves by watching the infamous comedy puppet flick of “Team America”. Being far away from the home planet makes all these international conflicts seem even more ridiculous. Our crew on Mars is multi-national and we celebrate our differences. On top of that, we established fitting nicknames for all crewmembers:
Our space doc John Szepaniak is called Bones. Crew Engineer Josh Hunt is Big Foot because he is not only the tallest man on Mars but also has the biggest shoes. And Commander Thomas Horn is the major.
Our Brit and Science Officer Akash Trivedi the royal on Mars. First Officer Trisha Randazzo is Wash, which came upon when the crew assembled the first Martian workout bicycle and needed a lot of washers to make it work.
I am Smurf and I will not comment on how that happened.
But now to more important issues. Our water supply is doing great, but the generator still has some hick-ups. To save the battery set-up we decided with mission control, to turn it off during the night. As a consequence not all life-supporting backpacks for the EVA were completely charged. But we got just about enough, to match our four crewmembers, who went out on the third leg of Science Officer Trivedis matryoshka project.
For section three we went to an area called URC North, just west of Galileo Road. It was a completely new sector for us and after we had passed some mountains we entered a giant terrain of mountain chains and valleys all covered by red stone. We had a few problems to find the exact location that was indicated by the scientists on earth via satellite imagery but eventually found our destination.
Although I still have to carry a lot of equipment in two heavy bags I was happy with today’s behavior of the crew, because they remained longer in the respective exploration sites. That gave me enough time to get my pictures and I didn’t have to run around as much as in the previous days. Still, carrying the heavy backpack and holding the camera is always an incredibly intense workout.
The adjustments we made yesterday to my new space helmet worked pretty well. Only at the end of the EVA it got a bit foggy, but also the other "normal" helmets fogged up a little. I guess, with increased exhaustion, our breathing got heavier and the sun was pretty strong, too. I will observe this in the days to come and we might apply some changes on the fly to make the helmet even better.
Talking about helmets. On our way back to the habitat we were facing the direct low sun and it was quite a challenge to navigate. It was quite funny to look at our Space Doctor Sczepaniak to drive at a snails pace. As he is also the Security Officer he is a shining example of safety on Mars.
But we thought about a cool feature for the next generation of Martian helmets. Wouldn’t it be cool to have some sort of shades, a visor or a cap on the helmet top to use, when the crew is facing the full solar power? We will think about it a bit more and maybe come up with a new design.
First Officer Randazzo discovered the baking machine yesterday and it became a tradition, at least in the last two days, to have freshly baked warm bread with Nutella right after the EVA. The perfect treat after an intensive ride on Martian turf.
But now I have to seize my reporting because I am back on the cooking command. We are soon running out of the last fresh food supplies we brought from earth. Today I will be using our last tomatoes, together with celery and tuna to mix one of my favorite dishes: Pasta with tomato sauce flavored with a cup of extra love.
Personal Logbook: Today I was very content with our EVA from the perspective of a filmmaker. I could run three interviews, which is high in the past week. I also gave all crew members a camera to record personal Vlogs, without anybody watching. The crew feels more and more comfortably with their role.
Maybe they will do the Vlogs automatically in the next days. That would take a load off me. Today I took less analogue pictures, but I checked regularly the settings and the camera didn’t fell down. So I am confident, that everything went smoothly today. If I will keep this rate I will have a nice collection additionally to the digital exposures I have made.
Ad Astra. Herr Willie, Journalist, Crew 184
11 December 2017 - Back on Track
It was our first real weekend on Mars, but there wasn’t much time to lay back and take a rest, because the problems of the past week still had their grip on us. On Friday the generator let us down once again, we shut it down and we prepared for the worst.
As we expected another freezing night we started to seal the complete habitat to contain the warmth we have inside. If that still wouldn’t have been enough we considered moving to the science dome, as it is the structure of our Mars mission that is the best insulated. We covered and secured sensitive electrical equipment and send a few thoughts to our loved ones.
We succeeded and had a decent night. I think, the insights we gathered from this emergency event could be useful for the men and women, who will follow us to Mars. But for the time being, we stayed alert, because the problems weren’t resolved.
Together with mission control, we made the decision to evacuate for the night of Saturday to an emergency pod a few miles north of the Habitat. Equipped with the most relevant life-sustaining technologies, perfectly insulated but stripped of the extended possibilities of the habitat this pod served us perfectly for the night before we could tackle the problem of the generator once the next morning provided us with the energy of the sun.
When we returned Sunday morning things had calmed down and we realized, that one source of the problems could have been contaminated oil in the generator. We decided to flood the oil tank, to clean the device and refill it with a new mix. Mission control works tirelessly to find additional solutions to the hick-ups in the communication between the battery and the generator and I am sure Earth's best scientists are writing already a perfect plan to make our energy infrastructure work not only for us but for the future crews to inhabit this strange new planet.
A quick flashback to Friday, which was a grand Martian day. We continued our geological Matryoshka project on an EVA consisting of Science Officer Trivedi, Doctor Sczepaniak, and me. We went North-East from the habitat and once again the landscape and nature proved to be surprising and new. The location was hidden, but in a mix of satellite imagery, GPS, and common sense we finally found Candor Chasma. What a mystical name and a very rich location for our scientists.
The surroundings looked very similar to the Sahara Desert on Earth. Deep sandy dunes and mysterious desert plants, complemented by giant stones, that look like they have been dropped from the sky by a higher force. Cunningly some of these rocks have a very large body, but they are only connected to the ground by a small fraction of their bottom parts. Martian rocks seem to defy the logic of physics and there is much to be explored about the origin of these formations.
The crew climbed up to a higher plateau, even when the sun was high and the temperatures in the suits were rising constantly. Trivedi and Sczepaniak really worked as a team and secured a lot of uncontaminated probes. We saved a lot of time compared to former EVA’s and had even time for a filmed interview at the location in space suits.
After our return to the hab, we used the extra time for the maintenance of our suits.
We repaired a few space suits that were out of shape and First Officer Randazzo really dug deep into the soil of the green hab.
She had been afraid that the generator failure, would have affected the temperatures immensely, threatening the livelihood of the young seedlings, she had planted before. But the structure proved its value and all the plants are alive.
On this Sunday she continued to thin out tomato plants and seed new herbs today to complement the diet plan of the crew. As we were all stuck in the habitat today it becomes apparent, that it is good for the crew members to find refuge in one or another building on the premises to have a little time for themselves. First Officer Randazzo really enjoys the time in the green hab, it is almost like a form of meditation to plant new life into little pots.
Personal Logbook: After a tumultuous few days it was good to come back to the daily routine. There were a few doubts, how everything will continue on Mars for us, but now we can value our time here even more. After the biggest problems seem to be contained I am looking very forward to go out on the next EVA tomorrow. While the crew repaired the generator I used the time to shoot some pictures around the habitat. The design of the observatory is a real piece of art and I fell in love with it.
On another note: We had a great ten days of meals and we are running out of fresh supplies. We have to get creative now for cooking, but I am confident, that we will create something delicious for the crew, because good food keeps the spirits high, as you realize how often I write about food.
Ad Astra. Herr Willie, Journalist, Crew 184
12 December 2017 - Going Further, than Ever Before
As we are adapting to the Martian day and transitioning from Earth time we are currently staying longer awake and are getting up a little later. I was quite energetic and woke even up before my alarm clock. That gave me the chance to film everyone coming out of their sleeping chambers, which are aligned in a little row next to one another.
Because we sleep longer now we went right on an EVA to matryoshka site number five after breakfast.
Science Officer Trivedi took the lead, while Doctor Sczepaniak was still very sleepy. As he is anyway quite stoic and monosyllabic we were wondering if he is sleepwalking. I personally thought we have to reanimate him right there in the pre-breathing chamber. But we better leave that to the Doc. Wait a minute…
Today I actually wanted to take the ATV to drive by myself, but as we didn’t put this in the EVA request we had to follow protocol and postpone my personal Martian road trip desire to another day. Already in the past days, it is one of the hardest challenges to pinpoint the exact spot of our matryoshka sites as we have to compare the overview of satellite pictures to the reality beneath our feet. To complicate things, even more, two crewmembers of this Mars mission are European and use the metric system instead of the imperial one.
So you not only have to be a good geologist and pathfinder to master these tasks, but also a mathematician.
As so we took quite an interesting detour, which took us further north on Mars, than ever before. Around the site of the yellow moon, we took our rover on a little rollercoaster. Facing a mountain comb we went up and down heavy slopes. The ATV could manage without problems but we were really careful with our rover. When we reached a very high elevation we faced an insane downfall.
We decided to check our geo position again, to make sure, that it was the right site. The ride down and the following climb would be too intense, considering it might not even be the spot we were supposed to be at. And after a short reassessment, we realized, that we were a bit too far west from our exploration site. We turned and reached our final destination, the meaningful beige moon, shortly after.
While the Doc was seemingly still sleeping Science Officer Trivedi got very much excited looking at three elevations following shortly after one another. Let’s call them the three hills of the beige moon. Trivedi climbed on the peak of each of them and really dug deep for chemically pure probes of rocks. He got completed dusted and had to remove his pilot suit, after his return to the hab.
While on-site he collected strange orange rocks and was fascinated by white shimmering stones further down north. When we went there we discovered that these rocks looked somewhat similar to quartz-stones and reflected the sunlight to us. We collected the samples and will go to analyze them in the hab lab.
I used this remote spot to make an interview with the Doc, who was still sleepy but in a very pleasant Zen mode. As he is a man of faith we talked about the question, if the god the humans believe in, is also looking over us Martians? He surely believed so and is poised, that his heroic efforts on the red planet will possibly lead others to come to Mars and to find god here as well.
Maybe a higher force was already looking over us when we returned to the base. We quickly felt, that the rover was a bit slower than usual and that there was a sensation if someone was slightly pushing the break. We observed the vehicle superficially, but couldn’t find anything. We blamed it on the dirt and hoped it will fall off. As we continued I noticed that our trustful rover was losing battery level by the minute, which we never noticed before. Within a short period, it dropped from 60% to 40%, which made me really worry.
Fortunately, the habitat was already on the horizon and we literally slowly turned into the final lane. By then the battery was down to thirty percent and was more or less only crouching to its final parking spot. I was getting out of the rover to release it from the weight, but I swear the chocolate cake of First Officer Randazzo yesterday night couldn’t have been the problem. We made it home and will assess the battery problem of the rover tomorrow at sunlight. As we have a massive arsenal of vehicles we will definitely be fine and I am sure our handy crew engineer will take care of the faulty one.
Personal Logbook: Dangers are imminent. Due to the daylight and the battery life of our ATV we are limited to EVA's of only 2-3h. If we can't make it in this time we have to call the hab, if they are in range. The darkness and cold of Mars could be life-threatening if we can't make it in time. It's a bit scary and makes you feel vulnerable despite all the training we have had.
It was also inspiring to see new horizons and landscapes once again and to have a purpose. When I am stuck in the habitat I sometimes feel a bit if I would lose time.
I think my experiments with the new helmet are completed and it works very well. Nonetheless, I will step back to the original helmet, to feel the experience of the other crewmembers had in the past days.
Ad Astra. Herr Willie, Journalist, Crew 184
The journey continues in Logbook Three...