Today was a fix-it day for me. After the morning’s briefing I checked over the EVA packs to make sure they were all charged up for the day’s activity, but pack 4 was not charging and not functional. I tried all the basic useful stuff like wiggling the connections but it seems completely dead. It’s probably just a loose connection somewhere. We decided that we could make it through today with only 5 packs. I also attached Velcro to our laminated name tags so we can all have our names on our space suits.
In the second half of the morning, Laksen and I went up to the Musk Observatory, which is out of commission for now because the telescope has failed and been sent back to the manufacturer, to see if we could get the two outdoor webcams back on line. We had been told that the computer at the Musk, which controls those webcams as well as the telescope (when the telescope is there) had failed due to low temperatures. Maybe it did, but it’s a bit warmer today than it was last week and the thing booted right up. However, both webcams were really messed up in their positioning. This might have something to do with the fact that for a camera mount each one was just duct taped to a rock. I un-taped them and re-taped each one’s stand firmly to the shelf on which they sit. We got one camera working properly and the other came up by itself later in the day, when the sun was no longer shining directly in its eye. That gets us up to five working cameras out of six (it was only three when we arrived) and I’ll see if I can fix the sixth and improve the positioning of the second Musk camera tomorrow.
After lunch, Paul, Steve, and I went out on EVA #2. This was Steve’s first EVA and Paul and I, now the Old Hands, walked him through the suiting procedure. We took the three ATVs out to the very end of the trail, which put us within hiking distance of a mineral formation where we had reason to believe we might find microfossils (Foraminifera, Radiolaria and Diatoms). The formation proved to be pretty inaccessible, but Steve bravely clambered up an unstable slope and collected two bags of samples. Steve’s initial microscopic analysis didn’t find any fossils, but he did find a micrometeorite and there are more samples yet to examine. We also got a bunch of fine photos.
This is the farthest and the fastest I have ever gone on an ATV. For safety’s sake we wore motorcycle helmets, with our EVA helmets bungeed on the back rack, but on the way out all three of us managed to have the helmet fall off at some point. Mine suffered a cracked sun shield but that was the worst of the damage, fortunately. This explains why four of the six helmets have some kind of crack in the visor. After the third such incident we switched to carrying the helmets in front of us, perched on the gas tank. It was exciting and a lot of fun, but when the MDRS came in sight at the end of that trip I must confess I said to myself “Hab, sweet hab!” I’m a little achy but feel very satisfied and pleased with myself.
Very shortly after our return Laksen, Diego, and Bianca went out on EVA #3, their first EVA. Paul and I helped them suit up and took tons of pictures. They were all very excited, like kids on the first day of school. Paul and I waved as they rode off into the distance, pleased and proud at our babies leaving the nest. When they came back we helped them unsuit. It was a busy and productive time and I felt very professional, checking each pack to make sure its straps were tight and hoses properly fastened. “Looks like we’ve got an intermittent malf on #3,” I said in my Astronaut Voice. After all this work with the backpacks I felt almost proprietary toward them as I racked them up. My babies! Two of the packs actually came back from EVA #3 with problems, which means we currently have only three working packs. Paul and I will look at the malfunctioning ones after dinner in hopes of bringing at least one or two of them back online.
We had a bit of excitement this evening when one of the crew went downstairs to take a sponge bath at the sink in the Science and Engineering Bay. When this person asked us to not come downstairs for a little bit, we pointed out that there’s a webcam covering that area. Eek! I rushed to cover the camera (without looking) and wound up falling down the last couple of steps. Fortunately I landed well and didn’t hurt myself, no Naughty Bits appeared on the webcam, and we all learned an Important Lesson.
You may have noticed that an ongoing theme of this report, and all other reports from MDRS, is fighting with malfunctioning infrastructure. (And I haven’t even mentioned the fun times we’ve been having with the toilet.) I believe that this is an important part of our mission here — the problems we are having are not the same problems a real Mars mission would have, but the time we spend on problems and the way we react to them are representative of the schedule and psychological problems a real Mars astronaut would have. Certainly the daily struggles of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers to survive on the surface of a harsh and unforgiving planet show that persistence, ingenuity, and improvisation will continue to be necessary skills for all kinds of explorers in new environments.