Archive for January 12th, 2010

MDRS-88 sol 3: In sim

Last night I went out after dinner to admire the stars. When I was a kid I didn’t understand about stars twinkling, because when you live in a city you can only see the very brightest stars and they don’t twinkle visibly. But here there are billions of stars, they are big and bright and they twinkle most merrily. But when I got back to the hab… the inner airlock door wouldn’t budge! I knocked but got no answer. I walked back around to the Engineering lock and found Paul and Laksen doing their engineering rounds. They had locked the front door not knowing I was outside and were extremely apologetic.

When we awoke this morning we were officially “in sim.” I arrived on Mars while I slept! Kind of like a cruise ship, except without the luxury, natives, and air.

As I was getting dressed I stubbed my toe on the milk crate provided as a step to get into my upper bunk. It was still hurting a while later so I took off my shoe to inspect it and found it bleeding. Bianca, our Health & Safety Officer, was concerned about infection so she treated it with peroxide and mecurochrome and bandaged it. It still hurts a little — only a little, but I feel really stupid to have injured myself (albeit trivially) on my first day on Mars.

After a breakfast of oatmeal with reconstituted dehydrated fruit, we had the commander’s briefing and a briefing from our Health & Safety Officer. We do have procedures for emergency medical aid here, but we hope not to have to use them. (Stubbed toe doesn’t count, even if it’s bleeding.)

Our first official activity in sim is to establish the controls for our study on Determination of Error in Biological Sampling due to EVA Suit Constraints. “Control” in this case means surveying several patches of desert for plant life, while not wearing EVA suits. (Even though we are in sim, we have special authorization to perform this activity without suits. We were supposed to run the controls yesterday, before the start of sim, but most of the day was consumed by the power problem we had.) The “experimental” runs of the study will perform the same task while wearing suits.

We had two working sessions today, with two teams going out in each session. As it happens I was randomly selected to participate in only one control and four experimental runs, so I went out only once. During the first run I was the only person in the hab. I checked in by radio every 20 minutes with the teams on the surface, updated the MDRS Twitter feed, and tried to diagnose the malfunctioning webcam in the EVA prep area (to no avail). I also effected a temporary repair on EVA helmet #1, which has a cracked visor. Duct tape to the rescue!

For my control run, I had a nice walk out to the study area, a square of desert marked out with flags where my job was to identify as many different plant species as possible, count the number of plants of each species, and collect a small sample of each plant, all in twenty minutes. It was kind of fussy work and I can tell that it will be much harder in an EVA suit (which I will have to do four times… oy). At the end of it I just dumped the samples out on the ground — the point of this exercise was just to measure the number of samples collected in the time allotted rather than to actually use the samples. I could really identify with the Mercury/Gemini astronauts who got angry with the scientists who treated them like lab animals.

When we were done with that, Paul was really agitating to do a proper EVA, and we finally got the go-ahead for that with about an hour of light left. We helped each other on with our suits, went through the airlock, and stepped out on the surface.

What. A. Blast!

The goal of this first brief EVA was just to gain experience walking and driving in the suits. We were out for 40 minutes, including a hike over gently rolling terrain and ten minutes on the rovers in the immediate vicinity of the hab. I was grinning like a fool the whole time and Bianca got some awesome pictures.

Now I really feel like the first science fiction writer on Mars!