And here we’ve set up camp. We’re a quarter of the way through our stay at MDRS and we have a routine. Fortunately, we didn’t have to build our shelter; it was waiting for us, as it would be in some mission plans, where rockets would send a habitat to Mars before the astronauts got there.
So what’s it like? A bit like living in a dorm if MIT had a campus near Gale Crater. A bit like a yurt with one poet and five engineers. It’s like living in a well-stocked grain elevator with windows. Or a trailer with IKEA cabinets and graffiti. A lab with bunks while music plays on a CD/tape deck that was used during the John Wesley Powell expedition.
You get the idea.
Mornings tend to be slow. Most of the crew are night owls—some folks stayed up till 1 a.m.—so I’m using my noise-cancelling headphones at bedtime. Last night was Bach’s Cello Suites and some Ambien. What will it take to live on Mars? Bach’s Cello Suites and Ambien. Actually, I’ve felt pretty relaxed. We get along well, and yesterday Kavya led a yoga session. Today I’m going to
lead a guided body-scan meditation. I think such psychological and emotional self-care is in some respects more important than a space-suit.
So, mornings. Instant coffee, tea, some cereal, Peter in his robe, Josh heading downstairs to check on his plant growth experiments. Jorge was up not long after me and headed to his room to work on his computer. Kavya is working on her laptop too. Humberto is waiting for water to boil so he can have a hot shower-bath. (The water heater is out.) We tend to just get going, chat some and suddenly--
It’s lunch time and we’re planning the EVA and what will happen and what needs to be done ahead of time. Some of the equipment is in need of repair. Perhaps a foam ring under this helmet or some glue here and there. Lunch might be soup, leftover hashbrowns and dehy veg. The EVAs are the big afternoon focus. We all launch into a flurry of activity: getting jumpsuits on, testing rover signals, drinking water. Two people stay back at the Hab and are responsible for helping folks suit up. It takes several minutes and the backpacks (which cycle outside air into the helmets) while not super-heavy have taken a toll on folks’ backs. I think I said it before but it gives you a real appreciation of what pressurized suits must require from an astronaut. It’s hard work.
During the EVAs, we are in touch via walkie-talkies and try to maintain certain radio protocol to simulate actual terrain-to-habitat communications. Humberto and I were on Cap Comm yesterday, a bilingual affair—English and Spanish. No, tri-lingual, because the other language was hand signals
to communicate if radios go out. Kavya and Jorge practiced with each other. The rover camera allowed Humberto and me to see them when they communicated in safety mime to us. When Josh and Peter returned from “Topher Outcrop” (thanks for naming it after me!) and “Picard Butte” to take
spectrograph readings with a mobile instrument, they practiced hand signals with the other EVA group.
It was a challenge to keep up with the various chatter, especially when we had some choppy audio and visual signals. Kavya had to replace the rover camera battery at one point, getting a feel for how hard that kind of work is even though our gloves are thin compared to real spacesuit gloves. I screwed up the EVA group numbers a couple of times and resorted to calling them Picard Butte Group and Hand Signal Group. That was easier.
After an EVA, folks “depressurize” in the airlock, come in and take the helmets, backs and jumpsuits off. There’s a lot of conversation about how things went, and we formally debrief in the kitchen/common area (the bunks are upstairs too; we each have a narrow room). Downstairs is the small lab and engineering area, some storage and the shower and commode.
In the later afternoon, folks get busy writing reports on such things as the state of the Hab’s life-support and how the EVA went. We sit at a crescent-shaped desk against a wall or at a folding table; the chairs are thin padded affairs. Apparently, after we’re gone there will be some sprucing up. Some fresh paint, a pressurized water tank, that sort of thing. To do? There is a Greenhab report, a commander’s report, a health and safety report, not to mention just writing up one’s own work for future papers and presentations. As crew journalist, I can file earlier since my work is not necessarily tied to a specific activity. So that’s a luxury I have!
Then we veer into dinner time. Things come up. A fume smell. A cut finger. I made dehy eggs, “hash browns” (mush) and dehy sausage for dinner last night with Josh’s help. There’s dinner clean up. Water pumping and boiling. There’s the creak of the stairs as folks go down, come up. We joke about the dust. We putter, e-mail, plan, file reports. We scrounge in the cupboards for a snack, some dried fruit. We talk about friends and dreams and look at the portholes.
It gets dark. Peter and I can’t stay up for the movie. We need to get dinner earlier today so we can all be awake for a movie and for observatory time, which I’m more excited about. I can watch “Red Planet” and “Conquest of Space” anytime (though I want to watch both while here!)—the sky is tremendous. Last night I got up to pee and peered out a window and saw the summer Milky Way rising in the East, looking like a trail of rocket smoke.
Tonight I want to see some stars. And Mars, of course, big and orange and there.
--Christopher Cokins, Crew Journalist