Friday, January 22, 2010

The Last Night

So our official simulation is over. As it stands we have left Mars and we are simply in the Utah desert. Tomorrow we are suppose to rendezvous with Crew 89 and turn the hab over to them. It's a bit of an awkward situation. I hate to see her go, but I am sure not staying here!

In all reality, this has been a great experience, but I envy those who have been able to take showers over the last two weeks. I am looking forward to the three hour drive back to Grand Junction, and the single night stay in the hotel. This week has flown by. We've accomplished a lot in the last two weeks. We were able to erect the radio telescope, complete geological gathering of various micro-fossils, as well as complete an EVA suit constraint study. Thank goodness we worked our tails off the first week, because this last week has been full of snow, wind, dust, and rain, making it nearly impossible to do anything outside of the hab.

We had two long term studies that we had to finish paperwork on tonight. We've been eating de-hydrated foods as part of a food study, and we had to fill out some questionnaires about living in this habitat. The beds are composed of a piece of plywood! We have taken time to exchange photos, we all have well over 2000 photos over the last two weeks.

Much of the afternoon was spent cleaning the hab for the next crew. We must leave this place better than we found it, in every way possible. The ATV's were a mess, Bianca cleaned them thoroughly. We are looking forward to the crew handover tomorrow. It should take place around 12 in the afternoon, but my hunch is that with the mud, clay, and snow, the next crew is going to be a little late.

I don't have too much to report tonight. Ohh wait, I promised you lunch on top of the world. Well, it’s certainly not the top of the world. But I did climb the tallest thing I could and set the camera up. I had a mid-afternoon snack on top of about a forty-foot tall mesa. Yeah, I know, that's not that big. The ground had about four inches of snow upon it, so climbing a forty-foot mesa was not aerobic exercise.

See you in Grand Junction,
Astro Paul

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Waiting Game

Sometimes thing are out of your hands, and you have to make the best of the situation. We didn't appreciate how beautiful the weather was when we first arrived here. For the last three days it has snowed at night. This makes for a really fun morning, snowball fights considered. However, in the afternoon when things tend to heat up around here, the beautiful snow starts to melt. Melting snow might not be a problem in the city, but out here the melting snow gets mixed in with the desert dust and turns to a muddy clay.

We attempted an EVA today, only to find ourselves regretting the decision two hours later. We should have heeded each others advice and not go out, but each one of us said "If you go, I'll go." This turned out to be the worst of situations. So we left the hab and took the rovers out for our geo-tracking EVA. We attempted to take a few trails up onto the mesa to the west of the hab. Halfway up the first hill my rover got stuck and started to slide backwards. There was no traction, the situation was much worse than I originally anticipated. As I'm sliding backwards, I look over my left shoulder and see that I am sliding sideways off of the side of the hill. This is not good. I stepped off of the rover and turned it around manually.

Laksen said he knew of another trail up the mesa, that was further down. We headed to Laksens trail and took it for what seemed to be miles. I found myself admiring the view, because I was no longer leading the EVA, I got a chance to take in the sights. It was astonishing, seeing the opposite sides of the mesas that we usually don't see from the hab. They were covered in snow; smooth from top to bottom. As my attention turned back to the trail, I saw the convoy ahead of me stop. The trail suddenly ended. We tried vigorously to find the trail and press on, but under these conditions it was simply not possible. After a little debate we decided to head back to base.

Since I was in the back, when we turned around I was now leading the way home. This was the most enjoyable part of our afternoon. I let the rover run wide-open around some of the turns. This was a great idea for the adventurer in me until I saw that a lot of the snow had melted since we had been off the main trail. This meant that there was water everywhere. I decided to go through some of the puddles instead of getting off of the trail, which could be dangerous at this point. I was getting further and further ahead of Laksen and Bianca. As I looked back to see where they were I hit a huge pothole, my hand went smashing into the accelerator, and my foot came off of the rest where the rear brake was. Luckily I didn’t go over the handlebars, I was able to regain my stability and realize what actually happened. The water had melted earlier in the day in some spots, and turned into a mushy clay that filled a hole in the trail. The weight of the rover was more than enough to overwhelm the clay and that’s why I didn’t see the hole.

As I was assessing what happened I felt a throbbing pain radiate through my right arm, my thumb had went squarely into the handlebars and was now beginning to sent jolts of pain through my upper extremity. As if that wasn’t enough the freezing water somehow seeped into my boots and was no covering my socks. My feet felt like a block of ice. No more games, its time to get home, and fast. I got back to the hab as fast as I could and behold, there is a cup of steaming hot chocolate waiting for me. Needless to say, the hot cocoa healed me up real quick and I called it a day.

As beautiful and welcoming as this place can be, it can change in a heartbeat. You've got to respect your surroundings, and I learned that lesson quite well today. I was hoping to get some science into this report, but the weather gods had a different agenda. Tomorrow if the weather holds up, it's lunch on top of the world, you'll see what I mean.

Astro Paul

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Just Rovin' Around

So I thought I've seen snow before. Well I was wrong. We wake up and there's at least three inches of snow outside. This time the snow was so thick that there was no chance of it melting away by mid-afternoon, and we knew that. We knew all the planned EVA's were off for the day. We knew we were most likely going to be stuck in that hab for the better art of the next 24 hours. Some might of thought of this as a blessing in disguise; it would have been a great chance to get caught up on some report writing, or do some house keeping.

The engineer in me said I should spend the day downstairs getting caught up on some research or analyze all the geological samples that I have brought back to the hab. But the Martian in me told me other wise. Sometimes destiny comes a callin' and you have no choice in the matter. Such was the case this morning. The rovers needed to be warmed up even if we weren't going to use them today.

We actually planned on warming up the rovers, we went out to the rover garage. And there it was, a white blanket of glistening snow over everything for as long as the eye could see. This is more snow than I have ever seen before, it was just asking for a snowball fight or a snow angel. So we did all of the above. The reports, the research, everything could wait for an hour, this was our time to run-a-muck, and that’s exactly what we did.

Some of the crew members were still inside the hab when the fun began. They thought we were just going to be in the rover garage for a few minutes. So I decided to start throwing some fluffy snow-ball s by the second floor windows of the hab to see if that would catch anyone's attention, and it did. I saw Diego grin from ear to ear as he looked at the porthole. He must have ran downstairs because he was outside before I could throw the next snow-ball. I decided to start chucking the oddly shaped blocks of snow at the entire crew; some laughed, others threw some back, and others made snow angels.

It was a heck of a time that could only get better. We then turned on the rovers and got the idea of taking them out for a morning warm-up, like we do every other day. Except today was different, it was not the mundane warm-up that we usually do, there was nothing usual about this mornings rover rides. They were invigorating. Everyone got in on the action, Daring Dave, the Latin Lover Boy, Bianca, Laksen, the rover rides were a free for all. The rovers had little control in the snowy terrain, so helmets were needed, but man those things would spin like a top. Everyone stayed safe and stayed on the trails, we had fun and did it responsibly, the Martian way.

We have just been notified that one of the three satellites that are orbiting Mars is having a major throughput problem. This means that our internet and communications are down for the day. Mission support say the problem will be taken care of in the morning. Who really needs to surf the web, when your daily activities are analogous to the guy in the Dos Equis commercials. I may not be the most interesting man in the world. I'm not even close, but you show me someone who had as much fun as we did today, and I will tell you that they didn't have that fun on Mars.

I know its been two days without any real scientific reporting, that’s because we are trying to finish the documentation for our projects and get everything situated for the next crew. Hopefully tomorrow we have steaks on the Great Mesa, if it doesn’t snow. I don’t always go exploring other planets, but when I do I prefer Mars!

Stay Thirsty My Friends,

Astro Paul

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Kinda Like Home

As I wake from my bed with another bad nights sleep I curse my bed and my blow-up pillow. But what did I expect, I'm on Mars, I should be happy with breathable air everyday. Right? I've come to adore this place. It feels more like a home than a research expedition. I've come to have a meaningful and genuine relationship with the hab and the people I share it with.

You would think that the fact we have two working sinks, one toilet, zero usable showers, and enough dust in the air to infest your lungs with silicosis that I would be overjoyed in the thought of leaving this place in four days. But that's not the case, not by a long shot. Even my rover, which nobody else will use for some reason, I have grown attached to. It hit me today as I was watching District 9 on my computer, that this place, my surroundings, this habitat, is not that different than what I consider comfortable living.

Some people call it being resourceful. My roommates used to get on me for mixing beans in with my pasta, I saw it as an easy way to get my protein and carbs, without wasting money on chicken and pasta sauce. It’s practical, it's my engineering mind taking over. I've come to realize that one does not need much to get by; it's funny to think that I have played football for the last 16 years of my life, and I don’t even know what's going on in the NFL playoffs. This place has that kind of effect on you. When everywhere you look you see sights that you've never seen before, every sight, every sound, every experience is novel and unique.

A lot of my buddies back home are giving me a lot of crap right now for blogging, and putting my thoughts out there for everyone to read. There are even those who have said, "Paul's going to space camp", and "Paul, it's a simulation", and then they would laugh as if it was a joke. I thought this place would be a great experience for me. Little did I know that it would be more of a relationship than an experience. I enjoy getting up in the morning and being partly responsible for all three rovers working properly, I have become somewhat responsible for the continuous running and maintenance of the hab. I know I'm only the assistant engineer, but I feel like I have learned the ins and outs of this hab, and I'm proud of that.

As we head down the home stretch, a light has been switched on in my head. You would be surprised when you sit down and think about what is really important. There's no tv out here to cloud your mind with what others think to be important. When you can only use the internet for important emails, you see how much precious time is wasted seemingly staring into oblivion. So much of our lives these days consist of taking in what others have to say, and following the standards that others have set. Out here there is no one telling you their thoughts on what is important, people are just working together for a common goal. How many times in life do you see that? Listen to this, no one here will ever benefit monetarily from the work they did here, many will never return to see the positive impact that they and their crew had on this habitat. Yet, everybody does there job, and does it well. We actually pay to be a part of this.

I know this is only a simulation, but I am at the point where you need to stop looking at what you've accomplished, and what you have to do, and you need to take in the moment for what it is. The snow covered hills, the smiling faces in the below zero temperatures, the uncanny willingness to help others with any and everything. I don't think there are too many examples in society that function as well as this group has. I am the youngest one here, I am the only student, no matter what I do I am looked at as the little brother. Others may have a problem with that, I don't. Everyone here has taken time out of their day, their lives, and their experience, in order to give me a piece of much needed advice on engineering things or even life lessons dealing with college and the process of becoming an astronaut.

So now I'm hear listening to the nightly crew debriefing. I used to hate meetings at football, because people would talk about simple things, and it seemed like they just wanted to hear themselves talk. Here, I enjoy listening to others speak, because the courtesy is reciprocated. Its nice to be around others that care and are as passionate about things as you are. Maybe it’s the common goal that we all have, maybe it's something else, I don’t know. What I do know is that a week and a half ago I was on the verge of spending two weeks with five strangers, now I sit here and tell you that this is going to go down as one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

Roger That,
Astro Paul

Monday, January 18, 2010

Snowy Mars!

Last nights sleep was a real doosey. It's hard to get used to wooden beds and blow up pillows. But that didn't distract me from enjoying my morning ritual of oatmeal mixed with way too much sugar and some mandarin oranges. I looked out the porthole on the second floor, the sight was gorgeous. It was a white Mars. I was beginning to think we were going to have sunshine everyday. The snow was delightfully entertaining. It covered all the mesas, rovers, and seemed like a thousand diamonds strewed across a rocky terrain.

As beautiful as the snow was, it puts a damper on any research or work that we had planned for the day. With the ground covered in snow, there is no way to see trails and we couldn’t gather biological or geological samples. It was beginning to look like we were destined to sit in the hab all day. So what does one do? We turned to the internet. The internet would save us, as it saved Al Gore's presidential campaign. No sooner than I turned on my computer and tried to check my email did I find out that the internet was down. See the problem with internet via satellite is that when there is a heavy dose of cloud cover, there goes the neighborhood. Alright let simply let the weather clear and we'll be alright. Turns out someone accidentally downloaded 250 Mb of data this morning. Since we have band-limited internet, this download put us over our limit for the day.

So we can't go outside because the ground is covered in snow, and we have no internet connection. What to do on Mars? We look back outside the hab and the snow is gone, that fast. As soon as the sun rose over the mountains it took care of any remnants of snow left on the ground.

Laksen and I took this time to go fill up the gray water tank and do the rest of the engineering rounds. Filling up the gray water tank is fun, there's always the chance of the hose disconnecting from the pump and gray water shooting up and hitting you in the face. IN THE FACE! We had to check out the greenhab to make sure everything was functioning normally. It was, thankfully.

Now that the ground was clear it was time to boldly take the rovers where no man has gone before. We headed up the mesa again, and then took the trail to the Great Mesa. Now it was time for some real exploring. We took a trail that had not been geo-tagged before. The trail was pretty beaten up but we had to finish. We saw some really nice hills, so naturally we drove the rovers on top of the hills and attempted some grandiose pictures. As we neared the end of the trail we found a nice slope that was worth a climbing attempt. I convinced Laksen that we should come back by the end of the week and try to scale this side of the Great Mesa!

The day was coming to a close and I knew something was missing. Steaks! I went back to the hab and prayed that we had enough bandwidth to send one email. If you had only one email you could send from Mars who would you send it to? I would send it to the Zen Master, and that’s what I did. I sent an email to the Zen Master asking him if he could gather some steaks and charcoal next time he leaves the Earth and heads to Mars. I got it all planned out, steaks, BBQ, potable water, and cosmic dust; sounds like another day in paradise.

Astro Paul

Sunday, January 17, 2010

And It's Done; Almost

Look Closer! That's me on the cliff!

I've realized that breakfast is going to be the same everyday, so I will stop writing about it as if it is news worthy. Since today is football day, I mean Sunday we decided to sleep in. Well I decided to sleep, seemed like everyone else was up at the normal time like it was just another day. We knew Crew 89 would be counting on us to complete the radio telescope so they could do their monitoring of Jupiter, this prompted us to give up our Sunday-Funday and devote it entirely to getting this telescope working.

Last night we finished drilling all the necessary holes for the scope, and this after noon we erected all four masts of the telescope. The final assembly design requires that the height to the two single dipole antennas be at 20 feet, as of right now we don’t have enough coax cable to get it operational at 20 feet, so today our goal was to get the antennas working at 10 feet and outputting their signal to the receiver and thus the computer. At around 2PM we put the final pole in the ground and we tied down all eight guy wires. Now it was time to see if our design worked. We turned the receiver on; this is the over-hyped moment of truth. What do we hear? Static, can you believe that, damn static. After all that work in designing and constructing the telescope we get static. Hooray Static! In this case static is actually a good thing because during the day the radio emissions from the sun far out way the radio emissions form Jupiter so all we would get would be static. Pheww, that's a relief, the scope is pretty much done, all we have to do is raise it to 20 feet and move the power combiner.

Radio Emissions from Jupiter

So on to things that are a little more fun. Bianca and Laksen went out today geo-tracking some rover trails so that we can superimpose the GPS tracks on GoogleMars. The other day Diego and I were able to see a nice trail when we were atop Olympus Mons. This trail was not viewable from the ground therefore, Bianca and Laksen were not able to find the trail to the top of the mesa behind the hab. I told Laksen I could get him up on top of the mesa if he really wanted to go. As soon as I said that, Daring Dave is breathing down my neck saying "Of course we want to go." So we suited up and headed out. The trail was a little rougher than I remembered, but nonetheless I was leading us out there on the rovers and I was not going to let them down. Alas we found the trail, it's hidden between two nice sized hills. We took the hill to the top of the mesa and the view was extraordinary. Everything here on Mars is dangerous, but this trail is something else. Every twenty meters there is a cliff that runs about two feet into the trail. This is nice because you can see straight down the cliff, which is about 300 feet.

The trail kept going, we got farther and farther away from the hab. It was getting dark, the sun was poking its' nose out from behind the Great Mesa, it was time to head back. Laksen said we had about three more minutes, he had been tracking our ride pretty closely with his GPS watch, so I trusted him and pressed on, this was the best move we made all day. Better than the final assembly of the radio telescope. As we were about to turn around we saw where the edge of the mesa stuck out about four feet beyond the wall of the cliff. With Laksen urging me not to. I had to step out on the edge of the overhang. Laksen told me that the sediment below my feet would crumble pretty easy, but I told him I couldn't hear him because he was too far away. I realized it was pretty dangerous as I saw some of the rocks flying off of the cliff below my feet, but at that time I had come to far, the edge was only two steps away. Now I really couldn't hear Laksen, but it didn’t matter. My auditory senses were useless, the visual stimuli was overwhelming for my brain. You could see everything, every peak for miles, every valley, there was snow everywhere, and the cliff edge added all the excitement needed for a brief state of pure euphoria.

I got so caught up in the moment I failed to notice that the Sun was very nearly removed from the horizon. This was much more dangerous than standing on what I thought was a weight bearing cliff, if we're left out here in the Martian cold that could be it. See here on Mars there is no search and rescue team, there's us and that's it. We needed to get back to the hab and soon.

We were flying back, the trail was a little rough but that didn’t matter now. Dinner would be waiting and that is all I could think about. I hope we still have some of that cajun seasoning, man I hope there's some food left when I get back. Luckily as we're powering down the rovers the last bit of sunlight escapes from the atmosphere and it's dark. That's it, it happens so fast. The sun goes and hides behind the horizon not to be heard from until the next morning.

Well that's it. Another successful day here on Mars. I wonder how things are going for Jack, John, and Kate on that little island of theirs. You know what, I don’t care, this is one of the most adventurous and exciting things I've done in my life. It’s the end of week one and the remoteness of this place is peaceful. It lets you sit back and recount what is actually important in life, I don’t think Tony Romo had as much fun as I did today!

Over and Out,

Astro Paul

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Dino Bone Huntin'

I'm not exactly sure how the day started but, for the second day in a row I was able to sleep through the night. The crew quarters seem to have a thermostat issue, this is exacerbated when its 50 degrees out during the day and below zero at night. I brought a winter rated sleeping bag that is suppose to be okay to use when your surroundings are 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Since this sleeping bag makes up my sheets, comforter, and part of my pillow, it gets uncomfortable at night when it gets 77 degrees in the hab.

I remember, once again it was oatmeal for breakfast. We found some de-hydrated mandarin oranges, they went pretty well with the Quaker Oats. The food here has been surprisingly good. I haven't cooked much, Daring Dave and Bianca are the only ones that are trusted with the cooking responsibilities. Lunch was tasty. Against all odds we were able to get some corned beef into the hab. This was a revitalizing experience, I felt day by day my red meat meter going down, but corned beef saved the day.

We didn't just eat all day, we actually had some research and work to get done. We had to drill all the holes for the radio telescope today so that everything can be constructed by the end of the weekend. There is a problem, we don’t have the extra 16 feet of coax cable needed to erect the telescope. I think were going to get the hardware part of the telescope finished so that the next crew can come and simply hook up the coax and the hear the radio emissions from the Sun and Jupiter.

I duct taped my camera to my analog simulation suit for our geological EVA. This was the best idea I've had all week. The video was spectacular, we call it the rover cam. When I get home and I have some more bandwidth to work with I will be able to upload the video file. Part of our EVA was to go dinosaur bone hunting. I think we spotted a dino bone, Commander Steve thought it was a rib bone. I also found some living organisms on some rocks. They're called Lycans, I found two types yellow and white. The yellow Lycan reminded. They look like little polyps under the microscope.

As a crew we hope to have most of our research conducted by the end of the weekend. This should allow time for the climbing that I have been planning on doing. Another day with minimal engineering problems and good sleep, I can't complain about that.

I've never had tofu, but apparently NASA or the Mars Society is in cahoots with the tofu makers. We have enough tofu to start using it as paper weights. Luckily Daring Dave knows how to cook tofu, so dinner was enchilada style tofu. I didn't think it was possible, but it was very good.

Hey for all those interested in this reporting, I have begun to embark on my next endeavor. I have found a company, Nastar, that has a Suborbital Scientist training program. The program consist of launch and re-entry simulations. Up to 6G flights in the x and z direction(front to back and head to toe). Also parabolic flights and sub-orbital space flight simulators.

Life good here on Mars,
Astro Paul