... that is to the Mars Analog Research Station (MARS) in Utah.
To my dear friends, family and colleagues: thank you for all the well wishes. I really appreciate all of your emails and voicemails, and I have to apologise for the delay in getting back to each of you. Just a few days to go and I have a very intensive work week so I am trying to wrap up as much as I can in the next couple of days.
Lots of "details" to follow up on and as you can imagine the success or failure of our mission will be in the details. So where am I in the preparations? Flight is booked. Flying United from Orange County to Denver and then United Express to Grand Junction in Colorado getting in around 5pm on Friday the 8th. Selected this particular flight because there are two other flights from Denver to Grand Junction after mine, which means that if I miss my flight or my bags don't turn up I have two more chances to get my gear and myself to Grand Junction on Friday. With the current weather conditions and snow storms hitting most parts of the US I wanted to leave enough of a margin. Getting to Grand Junction on Friday is really critical since we have to leave Grand Junction to Hanksville around 9:00am so that we can get to the MDRS by Noon on Saturday the 9th for the crew handover. The handover (from MDRS-87 which is a joint Mars Society and NASA AMES Spaceward Bound crew) on Saturday will take several hours. I expect that the crew commanders will have their own briefing as well as the scientists and I will get an overview of all the Hab Systems from the departing Chief Engineer. This is going to be a hectic few hours as I will need a thorough briefing on the status of all Hab systems including power, water, communications, spacesuit status, GreenHab status and Observatory status. What worked and did not work during the previous two weeks, what was replaced and why, and what still needs fixing. I have been monitoring the daily engineering reports so I will have a list of prepared questions. As prep, during the past couple of weeks I have been reading and studying the Hab Operating Manual, Extra Vehicular Activities (EVA) procedures and the GreenHab procedures. I also completed an on-line course on the Musk Telescope and received certification as a Visual and Imaging Astronomer. Although, the Radio Telescope is non-functional I completed that course as well mainly because I wanted to learn more about it. Hotel is booked as well. We will converge at the Best Western Sandman Hotel a short distance from the airport. We tentatively have a crew briefing around 7:00pm and will probably do it over dinner.
I believe I now have everything I need for my two week stay on MARS. I rarely need more than a sweater living in Southern California where the weather is absolutely fantastic almost all year round. Luckily for me I have travelled to Antarctica, Everest Base Camp, the summit of Kilimanjaro and Tibet so I have some pretty good cold weather gear. So down jackets, woolen hats, gloves, liners, thermal underwear, socks, t-shirts, pants, shirts.. I have them all neatly stacked and then I look at my duffel bag.. and I tell myself that there is no way all of this is going to fit in it. On top of all of that, I have a laptop, HD video camera, a digital camera, my Blackberry and my Garmin GPS Forerunner. I think you all know what that means. It means four different battery chargers, four different types of USB cables, spare batteries and a camera tripod. I have been asked to bring a cup, water bottle, Swiss army knife (I have a really cool one), binoculars, several flashlights, spare batteries, a sleeping bag (I am taking a North Face sleeping bag rated for 0C, so if the generator fails in the middle of the night I will still be able to get through a really chilly night), mattress pad, hiking boots and general toiletries. Toiletries is a tricky subject to get into on a blog. I wont be able to have a shower everyday because we are limited in the amount of consumable water per day. Also, because the waste water is recycled and used for the flush toilet and part of the waste water gets an extra level of purification and will be used to water the greenhouse plants we cannot use any old soap and shampoo. There will be a specific type of soap that will be given to us at the Hab. Another thing is that we are not allowed to use toothpaste because it will contaminate the water recycling system and we will have to brush our teeth with baking soda. Interesting! I will have to try that before I leave. Since no mouth wash is also allowed I better take an extra big supply of Altoids. One other thing: water consumption is heavily monitored, so lots of hand sanitizer will need to be taken as well. Lastly, because of the limited showers I made a back of the envelope calculation on the number of wet wipes I will need.. um, either I am a clean freak or there is something wrong with my math.
Anyway, I will report back whether I can fit all this gear into my duffle bag or not, or I will have to UPS my sleeping bag and mattress pad and some other stuff to GJT. Life on MARS will not be that easy, but then again not everyone gets to go to MARS for two weeks.
PS: Just found out that because of the Food Study the diet is completely vegetarian! Made a quick run to In-An-Out-Burger and ordered the double. No longer a problem eating tofu for two weeks.