Yesterday: We practiced loss of comm from Cap Comm to EVA so MACHO moved in ways that meant, “Yes,” “No,” “Stop,” “Go.” Kavya and I followed the instructions well. Alas, the spider bot did not work. We scouted the hill near the Hab and Jorge found a surface deposit of fossil oyster shells, and I stared at the massive heft of Factory Butte in the distance, thinking of John Wesley
Powell’s expedition to the area in the last century. It was wonderful to be out and up and see the vistas. Jorge and I filled pockets with fossils and turned back toward the Hab. Kavya was sitting on the edge of the hill, meditating. Humberto stood stock still, staring toward our white metal temporary home. Our Martian soda can.
I thought about how, 10 years ago, I was in Antarctica, at the tail end of a month-long expedition to collect meteorites, living on the polar plateau in a tent. It did not end well. Insomnia and depression did me in. Here, the work days are far more varied, the conditions much more comfortable. We sleep inside instead in Scott tents at temps well below zero, often in high winds. Having access to internet helps a lot. In Antarctica, we only had satellite phones.
Once the EVA was done, we again tended to housekeeping. As in Antarctica, here: probably 60 to 70 percent of our time is filing reports, cooking, cleaning up, doing other domestic tasks. There are water levels to record, trash to remove. There are plants to water, measurements to be taken, and I still need to have Josh and Humberto give me a good overview of all the plant-growth
experiments. Also, there are conversations. At lunch, a debate over the merits of going to an asteroid next, returning to the Moon or going right to Mars. We discuss ways to make the helmets more comfortable. Josh interviews Kavya for a Boeing website. We decide we’ll do video interviews of all of us. We have a photo yet to take in our crew polos before Kavya leaves Friday evening; she has an important test to supervise back at Boeing.
In evening, we had mac-and-cheese. Earlier, Peter and Kavya compared notes they took of a plant as though they had discussed life on Mars. Josh and I listened to them discuss the plant details, and we decided that they passed: They noticed excellent details, from the texture of the leaves to the
Then, last night, we went to the observatory. For this, we don’t wear jumpsuits, helmets or oxygen supplies; we wear gloves, hat, coats. The stars were exquisite, though the telescope didn’t align easily or take good photos. Still, Kavya saw her first galaxy, the Sombrero. I spent a long time outside the dome, just looking up with my eyes and binoculars, feeling the planet and its sky,
whichever one it was. Up there, Mars hung like a drop of gold.
Today: Slow, slow morning. We’re in our routine though feeling tired, sore, a bit off. Humberto set up a water-flow measurement experiment to see how much water we are using (I’m glad he did so after my sponge/shower bath yesterday—which was perhaps my personal highlight of the past 36 hours
or so). After lunch, I was on an EVA with Humberto, Josh and Kavya to scout out locations for next week’s rescue operations, using Jorge’s stretcher/handcart. I had a lousy pack so I was grateful for the fact that the helmets are not air-tight. I gulped in fresh air whenever I could. We drove
the ATV/Martian Rovers up the road and found an area that we thought might be a mine shaft—not that we would go into one—but it turned out to be an eroding slope that had been fenced off. But around that area was the perfect spot for rescue EVA practice: a wide flat, some gentle slopes, steeper terrain, various soil and rock compositions.
We talked about improvements to the Hab and equipment. We do this a lot. I suggested foam padding—which could be rigged from spare foam mats here—for under the helmets. Josh and Kavya discussed a different kind of backpack, one with pockets, and Josh wonder if a circular platform of
plants could be hung from the ceiling such that portions could be lowered as needed and fresh food harvested or, simply, flowers put in front our ready-for-green-life faces.
I suppose I should also mention that we found water on Mars today. Yes, Earthlings, there is a mudhole on Mars! Tucked in under a low ledge and cliff, the dead end of a wash, it’s a miniature version of the Great Salt Lake—water flows in but doesn’t flow out, moving again only as it evaporates. The pond was a scummy dun and could be the only watering hole around for quite awhile. Of course there creeks and rivers in this country too. The watering hole might explain the presence of a mountain lion that Josh believes he saw yesterday—a quick profile, a long tail.
He showed me the tracks today. They were cougar. So Mars also has charismatic megafauna…some kind of fierce predator out of Edgar Rice Burroughs?
On our way out, Josh signaled for us to stop. He scooped up a soil sample—full of green algae.
“Two strips of algae, that’s all you need to get a Nobel on Mars,” says Peter when, hot and sweaty, we get out of our gear. A pond and mountain lion would help too.
--Christopher Cokinos, Crew Journalist