14 December 2017 - The Edge of Mars
Today for the first time, since our arrival, we could see a real dense set of clouds covering the Martian sky, which was really nice for a change. We jumped right into our space suits after breakfast and were poised to explore matryoshka site seven for more geological probes. Yesterday our rover Deimos, named after our Martian Moon, was pretty worn out at the end of our EVA. So we decided to give him a little rest today and took its brothers Spirit and Opportunity out for a ride.
Both rovers are still very young and therefore un-experienced. We have to take them out from time to time for their batteries to grow stronger. Our exploration site today was the notorious Lith Canyon, which is very far north, basically at the edge of the Martian landscape that is still accessible for us considering our technical capacity. If we would go even further, we might not have the power to come back in time to survive.
So it was a considerate risk to take the new rovers, but you have to stretch the range of the possible to progress. Space travel is not about always playing the safe card, it’s about to expand the borders of what mankind can achieve. And talking about the current limitations makes me refer to yesterday's evening.
We reached Lith Canyon pretty directly with no real detour. There are somewhat natural roads on Mars, shaped by wind and erosion. From experience, we do not test our rovers to the extreme and keep them mainly on flat surfaces. That means, that we have to walk quite long distances through rough terrain. These long walks, on the other hand, create other problems, but I will come to that in a little while. The clouds over Lith canyon welcomed today’s EVA crew, consisting of First Officer Randazzo, Crew Engineer Hunt, and me, in dramatic, cloudy fashion and we found our designated sample sites very easily. The rocks, that were lined up on the walls of the Mountains looked like thin brittle plates, that were sprinkled over a desert. Almost like slate slabs made from very dense and compressed sand, very impressive.
But you have to remain very alert. When we walked closer to the edge of the area we could look very deep into the maw of the canyon. You really have to watch your feet so you don’t accidentally step on a sandy slab, which cracks and makes you slide. We always kept enough distance to the edge and backed one another up.
For Randazzo and Hunt, it was actually the last EVA for a long time. They will be needed for other duties in the weeks to come. So there was a certain melancholy lingering in the air, complemented by the cover of clouds.
So we finished our daily mission and headed back to the rovers. I was always a little bit behind, because the sun breaking through the net of clouds captivated me for additional shots. My sight was a bit blurred from my heavy breath, caused by the intensity of hiking up and down the canyon. I was lost for a brief moment - that felt for an eternity really.
I just couldn't see them anymore.
I found the crew through radio communication, but we were disoriented and didn’t recall the position of our vehicles. Because of the rather long walk and the time we had spent in the canyon we couldn’t remember where we came from. So we chose the tallest crewmember around to go to a lookout to help us, who was obviously Crew Engineer Hunt. Did I mention, that we nicknamed him Big Foot? Now you know why! Big Foot proved his value once again and got visual of our rovers.
The sun was standing already low and we really had to hit the pedal to get to the hab before nightfall. Our young rovers contained their energy at a surprisingly high level. So it was quite a steep learning curve for the team and our vehicles, and the risk to take them out was proven justified.
Personal Logbook: It was a great day on Mars with new visual impressions and experiences. The days now become shorter for us and the nights longer. As I am dependant on the light I can not work as much as I want. The group definitely grows closer together and knows one another inside out. I wonder how the dynamic of the entity that is crew 184 will develop in the future. Right now we are happy for the time, that we can spend together.
Ad Astra. Herr Willie, Journalist, Crew 184
15 December 2017 - Singing the Mars Blues
We arrived almost two weeks ago on the red planet and things really start to align. The procedures in the habitat are very natural to us and our days consist of tasks and rituals and keep us busy. Our preparations for the EVA have become faster and more efficient every day. We now detect malfunctions of the equipment way before they become crucial and are prepared for any kind of circumstance.
Therefore it is a pity that today was our and my last EVA for a long time. There are other tasks, that are waiting for us and the weather on Mars is supposed to become more severe and will keep us from further explorations. Surely the EVAs were the highlights thus far for us on this new planet, but I am confident, that we will soon have the chance to explore the world outside of our habitat even more intense.
But there was no time for regrets, we got our Marsonaut Mojo on and were poised to enjoy our trip to the Martian surface today. Commander Horn and Science Officer Trivedi were leading the way to the Blue Hills today and we relied once again on our trustful rover Deimos. The sky was clear of clouds and the temperatures were really welcoming to us humans, as we like it rather a bit warmer.
Most of our roads today were very flat and had little elevation. We passed white salt-plains and always had the Blue Hills in our sight. Although it took a little bit longer to reach our destination, we were always on top of our schedule. The Blue Hills marked the seventh and last location for Officer Trivedis Matryoshka project and brought a temporary halt to his scientific explorations on Mars.
When we reached our destination he quickly selected four designated excavation sites for geological probes and we proceeded to collect samples. As a picture creator, I can already read my fellow crew members well and have a feeling of how they move and what their next step might be. Still, it is difficult to catch up with them, because they have their scientific agenda they have to meet and there is little time for extra shots.
I find it really impressive that we managed to stretch to almost every corner of the Martian terrain that is accessible for us at the moment. I think in the next weeks and months we can work out an extensive plan on how to go beyond the borders that determine our existence on the red planet.
On our way back Deimos proved to be a real hero. As our parking position at the Blue Hills was a bit wobbly I was pulling the hand brake to secure the vehicle. When we started our way back home Trivedi and I forgot about this security action and drove on with the brake in use. In a short span of maybe about five minutes, our battery was drained from 80% to approximately 45%. Fortunately, we discovered the decline early enough and put the brake down.
From that point onwards it was a race with time. We were almost at the furthest point away from our habitat than ever before and with the lowest account of energy. There was no other strategy than to try to get as far as possible and then to access the situation anew. With every mile, the battery dropped lower and lower.
Even though we reached the main Cow Dung Road soon enough elevation became bigger and bigger challenges. I exited the rover and tried to push it over the little hills in the road. We were determined to get home, even if it would have meant, that we have to push Deimos home. All other rescue plans would have been too time-consuming and would include too much communication with mission control.
By now we were really slow and hoped every turn around a hill would give view to our habitat. It took an eternity but then we saw it and boy, coming home was never sweeter than today. Effectively we were only five minutes behind our planned return to the base and finally, we plugged in Deimos and gave our little hero his well-deserved rest. But that was a close call. If we would have been stranded somewhere in the field we would have called the habitat to send a rescue mission for us.
Personal Logbook: I had the privilege to be on every single EVA in the past two weeks and it was a hell of a ride. Even though the intensity of wearing the suit and chasing after my protagonists were draining my energy at times the adrenaline kept me going. I was always busy with the next picture opportunity ahead, preparations for the various cameras, and stowing the equipment away.
It was always a race with time and the caution not to leave anything behind. It was a constant battle between the things I wanted and the things that were possible, real-time evaluation of the respective situations at any given moment. It was one of the most challenging working environments of my life and one of the most meaningful.
Ad Astra. Herr Willie, Journalist, Crew 184
16 December 2017 - Stars over Mars
It is the simple things, the ones we forget because they are happening all the time, that make life extraordinary. On Earth-like on Mars, we sometimes ignore the everyday wonders, because we are too busy to live. Yesterday was such a revelation for me when I looked at the Martian night sky.
As our habitat is the only settlement on the planet (as we know it), there is little to no light and so the stars are even mightier than on Earth. I gazed for a few hours at their constellations and was able to shoot a few pictures.
We have almost completed our first two weeks on our new planet and so it was time for the first round of habitat cleaning. For the past days, we developed a fair cleaning regime that brought almost everyone to clean the dishes or swept the floor.
As I was cooking most of the meals I was fortunately spared from getting my hands wet in the sink, but of course, I also contributed to our cleaning workforce.
But today we went through all the buildings of our Martian habitat and dusted and washed every surface. You have to understand, that we are basically living in a desert. We bring in the sand with our space boots and EVA suits when we explore the world that surrounds us. I had to clean my cameras and lenses with a brush and a wet cloth almost every time I returned from the outside.
So even if we have the airlock and keep our suits in separate chambers it’s inevitable that Mars follows us back into our living room. Now we are clean again, which is good, because you want to be ready, when unexpected visitors arrive, even on Mars.
As I have mentioned before, our EVA’s will halt now for an indefinite time. It’s time to focus on new fields of exploration and to analyze the materials we have gathered over the past weeks. As a very small exclusion, we had a minuscule EVA today around the hab, because I needed some additional pictures around the habitat. I was glad that the crew concurred because I think these transitional shots will important for my film, to have logical connections from one scene to another. As I said in the beginning, sometimes these small things are very meaningful and make the great picture shine evermore.
I will close the chapter of the first two Martian weeks of our crew now. The events of the past weeks have bound the members of the mission closely together. Despite their very different personal and professional backgrounds, they have formed a unit, which overcame grave obstacles. Whatever the future holds for these individuals, there will be new adventures of crew 184. And I hope to be the one, who will be telling these tales.
Ad Astra Per Adura. Herr Willie
Personal Logbook: My work as the journalist of the MDRS crew #184 ends with this report. It was one of the most intense and beautiful experiences of my professional life. It captivated me for the past half a year and I was constantly excited thinking of my journey to Mars. Maybe my work will bring the red planet a little closer to the blue one, even if it only establishes a visual and emotional connection to an audience it would be a mission accomplished.
written by wil6ka on 2020-05-28