Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mars Mission Day Nine

Finishing up the Radio Telescope

Yesterday it had snowed when we woke up and it was cloudy and cold all day. I went on two EVAs and even with three layers of clothes and my Analog Simulation Suit (ASS), I was still cold. Today is the complete opposite. We woke up to bright blue skies and warm weather. At noon today it was 50F and the wind had picked up considerably. We could hear the Mars Flag on the top of the Hab banging itself on the flag pole and the whole Hab was creaking, and with all sorts of things rattling outside it sounded like rain hitting the Hab.

Breakfast was the usual: a packet of flat bread with strawberry jelly (I think I am getting kind of tired of the flat bread after eating it everyday for a week) and two cups of black tea. I find that the tea masks the flavors of the filtered well water that is supplied to us and I drink tea all day to stay hydrated. With two EVAs a day and all the other activities it is important to stay well hydrated in this very dry desert climate.

David, Paul and I have an early morning ritual that all three of us enjoy immensely. Prior to any of the EVAs the three of us go outside for a “check out” of the Rovers. We check the fuel and oil level; make sure the first aid box is secure and that there is a tow rope available. Then the fun begins. We start up the Rovers and take them out for a three minute ride to warm the engines. This is so much fun.

On Rover "Spirit"

Right after breakfast, David, Diego and I went out on our first EVA (EVA#22) for the day to complete Diego’s study on the “Determination of Error in Biological Sampling due to EVA Suit Constraints”. I call it the Spacesuit Mobility Test for short. I had completed the “controls” for the study a few days ago and found it very easy to catalog the plants that we had to collect and document. But this morning, wearing the ASS it was a complete and utter nightmare. First I noticed that looking down constantly made my visor fog up, secondly there is very limited visibility through the helmet, and thirdly – the show stopper - is the bulky gloves. I noticed that I could not even get the zip lock bags opened up easily, nor could I write down the sample numbers easily. I huffed and puffed my way through the experiment and really had to pace myself and concentrate on what I had to collect and document. I had to prepare a mental checklist and follow that procedure with every sample. Twenty minutes later I had collected quite a few samples and was quite pleased with myself. Next, it was David’s turn and he had to sample at two different locations. Total EVA time for me was 40 minutes.

Collecting plant samples for Diego's study

Working in the Analog Simulation Suit was not very easy

I returned to the Hab around 1030 just in time to complete our daily engineering rounds with Paul. Of the many maintenance tasks that we have to complete, one in particular is called the “stinky water transfer”. This is the transfer of grey water (water from the sinks and kitchen) from the gray water tank to the straining tank in the GreenHab. What we have to do is to open the grey water reservoir cap (the reservoir is buried in the ground) and insert a submersible pump and then plug into an extension cord and then the gray water starts to pump into the GreenHab straining tank. Now while one person holds the pump in place (and God forbid if the pump completely falls into the gray water tank) the other person has to stand tippy toe over the straining tank and hold a strainer while the gray water fills the straining tank. This whole process stinks and so we have named it the “stinky water transfer”. Paul and David are such good sports and they lend a hand every time, that is twice a day. Why is this important? Well the gray water then goes into a series of holding tanks where they are transferred into several tanks that contain bacteria which break down the organic material. Next they go through three other tanks that contain water hyacinths and duckweed that continue to break down the organic materials and the water gets “cleaned”. This water is NOT drinkable but we use it to flush our toilet. Toilet water goes into a sewer tank and then to a sewer leach field. This water recycling system is not as sophisticated as the $250 million water purification system on the International Space Station, but is an excellent scaled down prototype system for water reclamation on a mission to Mars. So far the entire stinky water system has been working very well and has been easy to maintain.

Transferring "stinky water" to the GreenHab

Today was a packed morning as I had a second scheduled EVA (EVA#23). Paul, David and I went outside to put in the finishing touches to the radio telescope that we had assembled. We have been recording signals with an antenna height of 10 feet, but we wanted to complete the mounting of the extension poles so that future crews can raise the antenna height to twenty feet. Unfortunately we cannot test the telescope at this height as we need a special 16 foot length of RG-59/U coaxial cable that is being shipped to the Hab, but it will probably arrive after we leave. I will post a separate write-up about the assembly of the Radio Telescope. Naturally, we are all thrilled with this accomplishment and the kudos from Mission Support and the Mission Director was most welcome. The timing of this was important. Since the Musk telescope is down for repairs the next crew (MDRS Crew-89) is planning on doing some research with the radio telescope, so we really wanted to get it completed before they got here. Total EVA time was 40 minutes.

The radio telecope assembly  is complete

By the time we got back into the EVA airlock Bianca had cooked us a very tasty lunch of cheddar/broccoli soup and pasta with peas and carrots. It was fantastic after a really busy morning. She really is an excellent cook

My third EVA (EVA#25) for the day was a GPS geo-tracking EVA with Bianca and David. We made a second attempt to find Cactus Road which is a trail North-East to the Hab. After multiple dead ends we finally found a route along a washed out river bed and continued to track it until the sun set behind the mountains. Due to the lateness of the day we decided to head back to the Hab around 1730 and just got back before the sun set.

Engineering checks were completed and the engineering report was filed at 1830. All Hab systems are functioning well. Dinner consisted of cheddar/broccoli soup and pasta/with chicken/ peas and carrots (and I added jalapeƱos to it). It was an excellent dinner.

Today was an awesome day with three EVAs and the close out of the assembly of the radio telescope. Even the GPS trail tracking EVA was a success since we found a trail to Cactus Road. Tomorrow, weather permitting we will make one more EVA to GPS tag the trail. In other news, Steve, Paul and Diego made an EVA to Radio Ridge Road which is on the mesa above the Hab and discovered several dinosaur fossils.

Dinosaur fossil found on Radio Ridge Road

Tonight is sponge bath day, so I am going to sign off right now so... to all the people on the good Earth, goodnight from Mars.

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