Archive for January 22nd, 2010

MDRS-88 sol 13: Rainy day fun on Mars

Spent most of the morning on paperwork, one way and another. We have to do an end-of-mission summary report, and most of us spent much of the morning working on our sections of it. It’s really rather amazing what we’ve accomplished in the last almost-two-weeks. We’ve done some serious science, we’ve had some amazing adventures, we’ve become experts at things that we’ll never do again. (Unless we return, of course — there are quite a few people who’ve gone on multiple MDRS rotations — but even if we do return, things will have changed.)

I helped people with wordsmithing and such, and as we were working on the brief personal biographies for each section I was struck once again by what an amazingly qualified crew we have. Laksen has four advanced degrees and is a VP of a major biomedical company; Bianca represented Belgium at International Space Camp; Paul was a semifinalist for the “academic Heisman” award; Diego is well on his way to being an ESA astronaut. I am so honored to have had the opportunity to be part of this crew.

Despite the fact that much of yesterday’s snow is still around, Paul, Laksen, and Bianca took off on a GPS-tagging EVA. The mud was terrible, though, and they soon had to turn back. I prepared hot cocoa for the poor chilled Marsnauts. Paul’s radio came back from the EVA muddy and nonfunctional, but once I scraped the mud out of the little USB port on the bottom it came back to life. (In the process I also discovered tht these radios have a powerful LED flashlight built in. Good to know about in case of emergency.)

In the afternoon it began to rain, making the already horrendous mud even worse. Also, our Internet connection is currently limited again, even though the bandwidth usage report shows that we did not use more than the usual amount of bandwidth yesterday. (I’ve asked the Mars Society to contact HughesNet and find out what’s going on but haven’t heard back yet.) So with horrible weather outside and no Internet to speak of, I pulled out the game Set and taught it to Bianca and Paul. They are both very smart people and caught on immediately — in fact, they both beat me handily.

It’s snowing now. The snow is building up on the satellite dish and at the moment we have no Internet at all, so this report may not go out until tomorrow, but I’m going to try to send it now just in case.

(Later:) Well, that didn’t work. Diego brushed the snow off the dish and that brought the signal back, but it went back down to zero again within 20 minutes. At the moment I’m watching the signal meter wobble between 2 and 4, which is not enough to get a lock on the satellite. So nore more Internet until the weather clears.

The feeling of isolation I am feeling right now is, I think, the most important thing I’ve gotten from this experience. The dust and the mechanical failures and the sound of breath in your space helmet are all part of the Mars experience, but I don’t think that any smaller-scale simulation could have given me this very genuine feeling of complete isolation and self-reliance. We are a long, long way from home and from anyone who could help us, and we are reliant on the materials we have here and our own wits to survive, and even though we are not actually on Mars the situation is similar in emotionally important ways. It’s not just our current situation that makes me feel this way; I’ve felt it the whole time, but right now I’m feeling it very keenly.

This feeling makes me more adventurous, more willing to take risks, and it also makes me more what I call “protagonisty.” Protagonists don’t just sit around or wait or expect other people to do things. They try to better their own situation; they take actions that affect the plot. Making your protagonist more protagonisty is an important way to make a story more engaging; making yourself more protagonisty is an important way to improve your own life.

It was being protagonisty that got me here, and I think the same is true of all the other people here. I’ve been a lot more protagonisty in these two weeks than I usually am — leaping in to fix things, trying things that might have a downside, seeking forgiveness rather than permission. It’s been an important life lesson to me and I hope to hang onto it for at least a while after I get home.

But I am ready to go home now.

I sure hope this weather doesn’t stop crew 89 from getting here on Saturday…

(Later:) Okay, Paul’s going out to try brushing the snow off the satellite dish again…