Archive for January 15th, 2010

MDRS-88 sol 6: Life on Mars

Today started out much like yesterday, with a quick trip out to Engineering to warm up and gas up the ATVs. The weather was gorgeous, clear and crisp but not too cold, and even on that short ride I was struck anew by the sere beauty of this alien place. If it’s nice again tomorrow I’ll try to take a video.

After breakfast and morning briefing, Paul, Laksen, and I put our heads together over the bits of the radiotelescope in the science lab. As in the movie Apollo 13, our challenge is to make this fit into that using only this stuff. In our case the available stuff is a little more than they had in the Apollo capsule but it’s still weirdly limited. The radiotelescope consists of four twenty-foot masts holding up two dipole antennas, and they have to be braced with guy wires, but we don’t have wire, just rope (and it’s several different varieties of rope scavenged from various other projects); we don’t have turnbuckles or eye bolts; and we don’t have all the tools we’d like, but we do have an entire large plastic container full of various kinds of adhesive tape. It’s like trying to do a home remodeling project at your beach house, if your beach house were too far from the nearest town to buy anything you left at home.

Another thing we did this morning is that we decided the hab was getting pretty scruffy, so we buckled down for a couple hours of cleaning. If you saw on the webcam that Bianca, the only woman, was mopping the floor on the residential level, please be reassured that the guys were sweeping and vacuuming like mad in the lab and the EVA room (where the webcam is still out of order — sorry, I’ll look into that soon, I hope). We also took out all the garbage and discards, scrubbed the toilet, and swept out the airlocks. The place looks much, much better now and we’ve instituted a strict shoe policy (no outside or downstairs shoes upstairs) to keep the dust from getting into the residential areas. It’s a bit like being Japanese.

After a really thorough cleaning we were ready for a good hot lunch. As it is a “cooking” day, we could fix whatever we wanted… though, again, it’s a matter of making this fit into that using only this stuff. We have nothing fresh, very little meat and very little that isn’t dehydrated. We wound up with a very nice creamy wild rice soup, chili, and mashed potatoes with cheese. Hot and filling.

Most of my afternoon was spent in a space suit, just outside the hab, setting up the radiotelescope. We started by driving lengths of pipe into the ground to act as bases for the masts, using what I call The First Tool: a big rock. Then we drilled holes into the masts in some places and attached pipe clamps in others so that we had somewhere to attach the guy ropes, measured and cut the guy ropes, and erected one mast. But as soon as we got it up we realized the antenna’s coaxial cable is not long enough to reach the antenna at its new height. We took measurements, took the mast back down, and called it a day; an unknown number of days of work remain, but we are optimistic that we can finish it before the end of this rotation. If there’s more coaxial cable in the hab somewhere.

I was pretty wiped out after that and I declined to join in the afternoon’s geological EVA. While they were gone I recorded a brief video tour of the hab, which is something I’ve been meaning to do for some time, and caught up on some paperwork. Steve, Bianca, and Laksen came back with some great pictures, lots of geological samples, and the story of having run into a couple of local tourists who were just pleased as punch to get their pictures taken shaking hands with a real live Martian. Steve’s microfossil search achieved success: he found a fossil ostracod! Diego also found life this afternoon, specificially endoliths (cryptoendolithic algae) in some minerals he collected this morning.

Then came the time of staring into the cupboard and wondering what to fix for dinner. We found a box of couscous and Bianca got the brainstorm to prepare a vegetable couscous. We rehydrated onions and sauteed them, added broccoli, corn, peas, and carrots rehydrated in water with a couple boullion cubes, and topped it off with half a can of tomato paste and a variety of spices. Served over couscous cooked in the water we drained off the vegetables after rehydration, it was really really good. We also had “blueberry” muffins that Paul fixed from a Jiffy boxed mix. Best dinner yet, and great conversation over it as well.

Unfortunately that dinner took rather a lot of time to prepare, so I didn’t get around to writing my report until quite late. I have to submit this in the next five minutes or Mission Support will be unhappy with me, so off it goes!