MDRS-88 sol 0: Grand conjunction

I’m not quite all the way to Mars yet. This is as planned. Currently I am safely ensconced at the charming Best Western Sandman Motel (which Diego, from Colombia, calls “a road motel like in the movies”) in Grand Junction, Colorado.

Kate dropped my Monster Bag and I off at the airport at 5:45 this morning, where the MB weighed in at 50.2 pounds — a hair over the limit but the agent let it slide. If I want to bring home any Mars rocks I’m going to have to leave something behind.

After an extremely uneventful security and flight experience I had a decent lunch at the airport in Denver, where I spotted fellow Marsonaut Diego Urbina by the many space-related patches on his laptop and backpack. He was not scheduled to be on my flight, but he’d missed his connection in Houston yesterday and then his flight from Denver to Grand Junction was canceled, so he was on standby for my flight. Fortunately he got on, as did his luggage, and we shared a shuttle to the hotel.

We both took a nap after that (I’m running on about three hours’ sleep here) and then met up with Paul McCall and Laksen Sirimanne for dinner, over which we had a humorous, round-robin discussion of the early days of the mission. They’re all great guys, very talented, very interesting. Diego is serious about becoming an ESA astronaut and I think he has a shot at it. Laksen is committed, brilliant, and humble. Paul is quiet and sincere — a real All-American type. After dinner we met Stephen Wheeler, just arrived, and talked over plans for tomorrow and the following week. The final member of our crew, Bianca Nowak, was to arrive later (she’s probably here by now but I haven’t met her yet).

It is FREAKING COLD here. Currently 0° F with a bit of wind and some snow and ice on the ground. Even wearing long underwear, jeans, a flannel shirt, wool socks, a nice wool sweater, a down jacket, and my Tilley hat with the ear flaps I was still shivering when I was outside. Tomorrow I’m switching to heavier long undies and the ugly but warm WWII-surplus wool pants. Could be worse, though — it’s way warmer here than the real Mars (not to mention having way more air).

The news from the current MDRS crew is mixed. They all had colds but they’re feeling better today. The main generator is still down but the backup and batteries are holding out. The frozen pipes got thawed out but it looks like the shower is out of commission for the rest of the season, so it’ll be nothing but sponge baths for us. And the telescope isn’t going to be fixed any time soon so we will try to get the half-assembled radio telescope up and running instead. Doing this in space suits will be an interesting challenge. It’s Man vs. Machine and Man + Machine vs. Mars! (Apologies for sexist language, but it was necessary for the alliteration.)

Tomorrow we drive out to the hab and our adventure begins in earnest!

P.S. Check out the MDRS Webcams at

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