MDRS-88 sol 12: Snow Day on Mars

You know, given enough time you can get used to just about anything. Even though sleeping in the hab is a lot like trying to sleep on a park bench with an idling semi nearby, I’m now getting at least seven solid hours of sleep every night. My hands have gone from being so rough that they catch on my sweater to just being dry. And although I can’t claim that I don’t notice when I’m wearing a space suit, the feelings of claustrophobia and the harsh oppressive sound of my own breathing have vanished from my perceptions completely. The daily engineering tasks have become second nature, and crises that would have dominated our day in the early part of the mission are now taken in stride, with all of us leaping into immediate action so that no serious consequences occur.

Must be almost time to go home.

Even though we’re only in the middle of our second week here, we feel the end of our rotation breathing down our necks. The new crew arrives Saturday, and we need to spend Friday cleaning up and doing our end-of-rotation paperwork, which means that today and tomorrow are our last two days in sim. Fortunately we have completed all of the suit study trials, have collected a bunch of rock samples for the microfossil and extremophile studies, and have finished work on the telescope, so we are in good shape, but there’s still plenty of data analysis to do on those projects and lots of GPS tracking and geotagging yet to do.

And then we woke up and found the ground covered with snow from the front porch to the horizon. We thought Monday was a snow day, but that was really just a heavy frost and it was all gone within hours. This was SNOW — at least a couple of inches of fluffy white stuff. Quite a shock after yesterday’s blue skies and 50-degree temps.

And then the Internet went down! Trapped in a tin can, miles from civilization, and NO INTERNET!? Surely we would be shortly reduced to eating our own shoes! Fortunately, power-cycling the satellite modem a couple of times brought our connectivity back. We learned a few things from that incident that I documented in the Quick Guide.

Even with the Internet back we weren’t sure what to do — the fossil-hunting and GPS-tracking EVAs that we’d planned out last night weren’t going to be possible with everything covered with snow. But Paul pointed out that we really needed to warm up the rovers so they’d be ready for tomorrow.

So we did. We made sure those rovers were good and warmed up. I believe the technical term is “Yee-Ha!”

Laksen and I came in while Paul, Diego, and Bianca were still warming up the rovers; I fixed corned beef hash for lunch while Laksen dealt with his daily engineering tasks. Then the gang came in to the traditional welcome beverage for those who come in from the snow, which is hot cocoa. Except that since this bunch is from Florida, Texas, Colombia, Sri Lanka, and Belgium, none of them knew about this tradition and I (from Wisconsin) had to explain it to them. They enjoyed the hot cocoa, though.

After lunch we saw that the sun had come out and the temperature had climbed to 47 degrees, so Laksen, Bianca, and I decided to try a GPS tracking run — we’d stick to the main road and keep our speed down for safety. At first it was delightful, motoring across the fresh crisp snow, which sparkled in the sun and provided a delightful contrast with the red rocks and blue sky. But as we got further down the road and the temperatures continued to climb, the dirt beneath the snow changed to mud and the going got kind of nasty. We were slipping and sliding all over the place and the rovers’ wheels were kicking up great quantities of brown and red goo; climbing hills turned into a real trial. I got stuck at one point, and Bianca had to take over my rover to get it out, but then I remembered the first lesson of driving in snow — Don’t Stop, Don’t Slow Down — and from then on I was fine. Still, it was pretty unpleasant, and then we couldn’t find the next stretch of trail in the snow, so we decided to bag it and head back to the hab.

When we got back from that and cleaned up as much as possible, I worked on the Quick Guides. I have 9 one-page guides completed (ATVs, radios, webcams, white water system, black water system, gray water system and GreenHab, Internet, communication with the Mars Society, and EVA suit maintenance) and 2 to go (power system and engineering rounds), but I decided to print out and laminate what I’ve got. I also emailed them to a bunch of folks at the Mars Society and I hope they will be helpful for future missions.

Then it was time for dinner. I whomped up a batch of fried rice with tofu, miscellaneous vegetables, and rehydrated egg whites, which wasn’t bad despite the fact that we’re all out of soy sauce. Meanwhile Bianca rehydrated some cauliflower, topped it with Hollandaise sauce and rehydrated cheese, and popped it in the oven. It all came out delicious; just the thing for the end of a snowy day.

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