Archive for January 16th, 2010

MDRS-88 sol 7: Engineering

Today started with the now-usual ATV warm-up run. We had gorgeous weather again today, despite the fact that snow was in the forecast — for some reason the weather we’ve been having has been much drier and warmer than forecast for Hanksville, just three miles away. (Mind you, it was 14 degrees F when I got up. Brr!) Because the weather was nice and the trip back from Engineering is so scenic, I stuck my camera in my front pocket with the lens sticking out and took a short Rover-Cam video. It’s not quite level but otherwise turned out quite well. Like the other videos I’ve mentioned, I’ll upload it to YouTube after I return to Earth.

After our morning briefing I tackled the EVA room webcam, which has been down since before we got here. The camera itself is in a difficult location to reach, at the end of three USB cables. I checked all the connections, unplugged and replugged it, rebooted the system — nothing. So, suspecting that perhaps one of the cables had been gnawed by Martian mice, I un-duct-taped the camera from the wall and plugged it directly into the computer. This resulted in all sorts of uninformative Windows errors and also knocked the printer offline. I tried all the USB troubleshooting steps I could think of — no dice (though I did get the printer back up and running). Finally I gave up and decided to put the camera back where it had been, just so it wouldn’t get lost among all the other bits of miscellaneous computer hardware here. But when I plugged it back into the third extension cable, I heard a little bing-bong from the computer. I looked… and it was online! I have no idea what I did but I’m not going to mess with success. I taped it back up and, with Bianca’s help, got it pointed at what I hope is an interesting part of the EVA room. (Bianca and I are both on the short side, so if you see the taller Marsnauts walking around with their heads cut off that’s why.) So we now have six working webcams, up from three when I arrived.

Once I got done with that I helped Laksen pump water around. We have to haul out an electrical pump to move our clean water from the trailer in which it is delivered into the external tank next to the hab, and then run a separate pump to get it from the external tank to the internal tank in the loft. We also have a third pump to move gray water from the underground tank in which it is collected into the greenhab, where it is filtered and processed by duckweed and water hyacinths until it is clean enough to use for flushing the toilet, as mentioned earlier. The gray water is then moved from the greenhab to the toilet via a hand pump, which takes quite a bit of effort, whenever you want to flush. This is one reason we say “if it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.” We also fired up the heater that keeps the pipes under the bathroom from freezing. Maintaining human life is all about water — too much water, or water in the wrong place, can be as much of a problem as too little, even on Mars.

After a nice lunch of rehydrated noodles with vegetables, courtesy of Bianca, I sat down with Laksen and Paul to continue work on the radiotelescope. We spent about half the afternoon designing the guy wires that will keep the telescope’s masts vertical and properly positioned; this involved a lot of basic trigonometry and quite a bit of figuring out what we have in terms of hardware, rope, and cable. This took enough time that we did not get out on the surface today for this project.

In the late afternoon I went out on a geological EVA with Steve and Bianca, looking for microfossils. As I had no idea what to look for, and wasn’t brave enough to climb up as high as Steve, I just picked up interesting-looking rocks and took photos. The light was excellent and the photos came out very Marsy. I took some videos too.

Most MDRS missions have only one engineer. We have three, in effect — Laksen is the official engineer, and Paul and I are both handy with tools and available to help. For myself, I’ve been spending a lot of time on engineering tasks because I don’t have a scientific mission and because I enjoy solving problems. It’s great for me because anything I can do in this area is a bonus — nothing was expected of me coming in. I understand that life on the International Space Station is similar: broken equipment and daily maintenance can easily take over the whole day. But with the three of us working on maintenance and repairs, we can actually get ahead of the game and leave the hab in better shape than when we came. This is very satisfying to me.