Sunday, January 10, 2010

A challenging day at the MDRS, but ALL is well.

7:15pm: What a day! But as they say, All's well that ends well (hopefully!).

We were off to a great start this morning. Paul and I replenished the Internal Potable Water Tank by pumping water from the External Potable Water Tank. Now one would think that this is as easy as throwing a switch, but not quite so. Paul had to go to the second floor and climb up to the loft where the tank was located, and I had to go down to the first floor and into the Engineering Airlock where the pump plug was located. We had to communicate via walkie-talkie going back and forth with me switching the pump on and Paul shouting back on the water level. Not very difficult and we had this done in less than ten minutes. Next we went outside and measured the water level on the External Water Tank. Done! The Trailer Potable Tank surface was completely frozen so Paul and I used a crow bar to smash through a section of the ice and get to the water. In a time of need we would then be able to drop a pump in there and pump water to the External Water Tank. So far so good!

(a) Internal Potable Water tank, (b) Engineering Airlock

Next we went through the simulated pressurized tunnel to the GreenHab area where we completed several regular maintenance tasks on the Water Recycling System. We were on a roll. Earlier, Paul, Bianca and Diego had completed maintenance on the ATVs had got all three running smoothly. What can go wrong?

(c) Front of GreenHab, (d) Pressurized Tunnel to GreenHab

(e) Water Recycling System, (f) Using Plants for Water Purification

Paul and I walked over to our last maintenance task of the afternoon and went to check the oil level of our new diesel generator. It had been in operation for less than 24hrs. Easy procedure for measuring the oil level - take Kitty off-line, shut down the generator (2 switches to OFF simultaneously), measure oil, restart the generator. That’s four simple steps and we figured it would take less than 10 minutes (of which five minutes would be used to let Kitty cool down). Well we did exactly just that. We took Kitty off-line and measured the oil. Less than seven minutes later we tried to restart Kitty and she would not budge. It appeared that her battery was dead. So we went to backup procedures. We started the gasoline powered generator - Honey, and we switched Hab power to Honey. Just then we got an urgent call from the Hab saying that they had lost power. While Paul and Diego waited with Honey and Kitty, I rushed over to the Hab to take a look at the Inverter. When I got in there through the Engineering Airlock I could not quite recognize the settings on the Inverter and within a few minutes an alarm went off and everything shut down. I mean ALL of it. The whole Hab was dead from a power standpoint. It was completely dark except some sunlight trickling in through the portholes. All indicators, lights, LED’s and the Inverter had come to a complete halt. Now this is not a situation any Chief Engineer wants to be in. My heart was racing so fast, I was left in the Hab in Utah and my heart was way past the orbit of Jupiter at this time. How could this be, in less than 24hrs we had lost power to all systems even with the brand new generator. Now losing power at the Hab is not a new thing. It has happened before but with the new generator this was not supposed to happen and certainly not in the first 24hrs of my watch. By this time everyone was on edge. Paul and I were going through every checklist we could find, going over the Hab Manual, Trouble Shooting Guides and anything we could get our hands on. Nothing! We could not restore power. Now it was time to calm down and go to the only available alternative. Get in V'jer our trusty  Ford Explorer and go to Hollow Mountain and find DG Lusko who has been the "caretaker" of the Hab for the last couple of years. So that’s what we did. Steve, Paul and I decided to make a run to Hollow Mountain. I was a little worried in that being a Sunday afternoon wondering if Hollow Mountain was open or if we can even reach DG. Worst case scenario: we would have a very cold night in the Hab and we would not be able to start our simulation in the morning until power was restored. We were very fortunate in that we got a hold of DG and he immediately came over to the Hab and found the cause which turned out to be a cascade of things. It seemed that Kitty was not charging her battery for some reason, so by the time we wanted to restart Kitty she had a dead battery. Honey was started easily but the inverter would not put it online because of events of the previous evening. During the installation of Kitty, DG had turned Kitty ON and OFF which made the Inverter disengage the trickle charger to the backup batteries. It has been malfunctioning lately due to age and may need to be replaced  so the backup batteries were completely discharged and when Kitty went offline the system was completely without power. DG jump started the battery for Kitty and got it up and running. He also added a trickle charger and also connected Kitty directly to the backup batteries which are charging right now. Phew, what a relief! Since about 4:30pm, the Hab has been functional within normal parameters with all power and all systems restored.

(g) Invertor and Power Systems, (h) Power Generator

With power restored we were able to get to our other tasks for the day. Paul and I completed our engineering tasks and after dinner we will do a second check just for good measure. Bianca and Diego completed some preliminary work on his space suit experiment. Paul and Steve went off to collect geology samples from what appeared to be from the Curtis Formation which is of the lower Jurassic period of the Mesozoic era (so I am told). David coordinated activities as HabCom Officer.

8:15pm: Hab, GreenHouse and all systems performing well. I am breathing normally and all my respiratory and cardiovascular functions are back to normal.

8:20pm: Getting ready to have dinner. Dinner consists of white rice, rehydrated corn, and reconstituted tofu and broccoli.

I plan on another engineering walk-around and a check on ALL systems before winding down for the day. Tomorrow is a big day because when we wake up we will be in full simulation mode. It will be Mission Day 1 on Mars.


Kiri said...

What an exciting start to your mission! And thanks for sharing all of the fascinating details. Keep up that pioneer spirit. I'm sure you'll have a fantastic day tomorrow.

Laksen Sirimanne said...

Looking forward to meeting you in 2 weeks. I will try and post as often as I can so that you and your crew knows what we are going through. I will write up several check lists for you.