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

Friday, January 15, 2010

It Will Be Done

Well my cholesterol levels are back to normal thanks to a hearty bowl of de-hydrated Texas Barbecue Chicken and beans. It was a long day and a lot of things were accomplished. It's always good to start the day on time, unless of course you wake up late. This morning, our schedule didn't matter to me. I got the best nights rest since I've been here and I wasn't getting out of bed until I needed to do something. Luckily my iPhone alarm didn't go off and wake me up this morning. Upon waking up, I realized why it never went off, it fell in the middle of the night and traveled eight feet until it knocked into the concrete floor. I remember an old Batman cartoon, where Two-Face is sitting in a chair unable to sleep because he's worrying about "The Bat", Batman whispers in his ear "How much is a good nights sleep really worth?" I haven't tried to turn my phone on because I don't want to know if it's working. I can tell you this, you can use a good nights sleep on mars; the phone won't do you too much good.

I'm going to share a secret with you. I'm planning some excursions that others in my crew are unaware of. First, next time I see the Zen Master, DG, I'm going to give him some money and have him head to town and buy me some steaks. I found a BBQ grill in the Antartic Pile and I found some lawn chairs in the hab. One might ask, what to do with lawn chairs, steaks, and a BBQ grill on Mars?

I reached my third summit in five days. Diego and myself climbed Olympic Mons today. I did my part this morning to contribute to Diego's "EVA Suit Constraint Study." I had to go out and log plants and take pictures and samples of each plant in a full space suit. This was not fun, just really annoying and time consuming. After we were finished I convinced Diego that we should gather some geological samples from the mesa" over there". That mesa happened to be Olympic Mons. I didn’t want to gather geological samples. Don’t get me wrong I like looking at rocks and I can appreciate the history, but in my eyes this experience is as much an adventure as it is research. I wanted to climb the tallest thing I could see, not to stop there and feel accomplished, but because it is only from higher ground that I can see where I want to go. I told you before, I'm going to climb the "Great Mesa." This climb was another step in that direction. I was able to find a rover path to the Great Mesa; now I knew it could be done.

This is my devious plan. I'm going to load a bag with some steaks, charcoal, and ice. Whoever is with me will help pack the grill and lawn chairs. Then we take the rovers and follow the path to the edge of the Great Mesa. It is too steep a slope to scale where the trail ends. We must then head north two kilometers and start climbing there. Once we reach the top it's a three kilometer trek to the top. Once we hit the summit, we will geo-tag the location with pictures on google earth. Then its time for the grand finale. We take out the lawn chairs, fire up the grill, and have some good eatin' on top of the largest peak on Mars, The Great Mesa.

Shh… you cant tell anyone about my plans. I don’t think NASA would approve of me spending my time this way after they flew me 36 million miles.

After I thought up my grand scheme, I had to actually do some work. We had to finish the design of the radio telescope, which we did. We have to move and elevate the power combiner between the two single dipole antennas. This will allow the antenna to be adjustable, so that other crews can view both the Sun and Jupiter over the coming years.

I was dead tired as the day wore on. I decided not to partake in the geological expedition. Instead I stayed at the hab and used the microscopes to analyze some of the rocks I have collected since I've been here. I found a few pieces of flint, one of which looks as if it was used as a cutting tool sometime ago. I also examined some pumice which was part of an explosive volcanic eruption within fifty miles of the hab. The lava rock is pretty cool, I found some quartz crystals and blue-green algae on the pumice. It's amazing that anything lives out here.

All in all it was a good day, the food was good, the sleep was good, and we still have power. The main accomplishment was finding a way to the top of the Great Mesa. It will be done.

See ya on the other side,
Astro Paul

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Work, Work, Work

I'm getting used to the martian oatmeal in the morning. I had to stop putting de-hydrated milk into the oatmeal because it was giving me stomach aches. I haven't had a steak in close to a week! The food here isn't bad, and I'm not complaining, it's the fact that all of our meat either comes from a can or is imitation. My cholesterol levels are lowering because of the lack of red meat, and I don't approve of that.

Enough about the food for right now. The crew accomplished a lot again today. The hab was cleaned from head to toe, or is it stem to stern, starboard to port. I don’t know, but you get the point. We swept, vacuumed, mopped, and scrubbed the hab. It was well worth it. With all the EVA's over the last few days this place is crawling with martian dust; we don't need to be breathing any of that in. Some of the geological sites within a few kilometers of the hab contain radioactive rocks, plus this dust consist of silicone sand, which can be very damaging to your lungs. So mom I had to clean for my health, don't think I'll clean this much when I'm home. Love ya ma.

After the downstairs was okay to walk around in we started planning our assembly of the radio telescope. This is a very exciting process, we are assembling the scope in sim, which makes the process longer and more tedious, but also more gratifying upon completion. After the initial planning stage we suited up and headed out. The two dipoles need to be at a height of twenty feet in the air, this makes the process complex because the masts are made out of pvc. We were able to get one of the two remaining masts constructed and raised. We have some more work to do, but the outlook is good and we hope to have the scope operational by the weekend if we have the correct coax cable, which we cant find at this point.

The EVA went well and a few of the other crew members went out to search for geological samples in the hopes of finding micro fossils. The geological research has been fun to do but with little meaningful results. Until today that is. When Commander Steve returned from his EVA he diligently went to start analyzing his samples. This was a great moment because Commander Steve found a micro fossil. He found an ostracod. It’s a small crustacean that is from the upper Jurassic era. This is about 120 million years old. The latin lover boy also found an extremophile on one of the samples that he returned with.

There wasn't too much exploring today, but we did get a lot of meaningful research done today. It was work, work, work, all day long, but it was worth it. I made blueberry muffins for desert. One of which I am eating right now, and has given me enough energy to continue typing. Damn that muffin is good, just like momma's apple pie (except my mom never actually made apple pie). Dinner was great, Daring Dave whipped up some couscous. I've never had that before, but it was very good. Tomorrow seems like another good day, someone is smiling on us. I believe we're the first crew this season to keep the hab running this long. No showers really puts a damper on my style, but hey, I have a lot of old spice deodorant that should hold me over. Nobody on "Lost " ever bathes, shaves, or goes to the bathroom, so I think we're still sitting pretty here on Mars.

Over and Out,
Astro Paul

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Great Mesa!

Pheww! This was a long day, but also very enjoyable. I'm so tired I can't even remember what was for breakfast. Ohh, I got it; a flour tortilla, strawberry preserves, organic peanut butter, and the best of all, NUTELLA!!! The morning briefing was quick, so the engineering crew headed out to fill the rovers with gas and oil, and check the tire pressure. Diego and Bianca headed out early to get their EVA out of the way.

After we saw them off safe and sound on the rovers, the engineering team went out to check the water and life support systems. We actually had to do some work today. The sump-pump used for pumping potable water into the hab was not functioning correctly. This could potentially be a real bad problem. With bad weather coming, there's a chance that everything might be iced over in the morning. If we don’t get enough water in the hab to last for a few days things can go wrong quickly. In the middle of the desert your body goes through water like Tiger Woods goes through… never mind, that was inappropriate. The delete button on my keyboard is not working, so I cant erase that. We took the pump apart and it started to work, we re-assembled the pump, and it decided to cut out again. We immediately moved to the backup pump, but we have to eat lunch, so "immediately" can wait.

As we were eating the best Martian split pea soup that you've never tasted, we hear the pump start working. Commander Steve walked by the pump and turned it on, viola, it works. We can't figure it out, but this might give us a better understanding of Commander Steve. Apparently he has the ability to plug things in and have them work. This is a problem for the engineering team because the pump is still not fixed, and worse than that, it seems to be random. There's two things I cant stand in life, people who are intolerant of other cultures, the Dutch, and when electrical systems have random problems. Anywho, Diego, the latin lover boy as he is referred to in his home town, said the pea soup was amazing. Don't tell him but I just poured the bag in the pot and told him I cooked it.

Now we had some fun work to get done. Since the Musk Observatory is shut down, we chose to turn our astronomy efforts toward the radio telescope. The radio telescope is not a telescope in the traditional sense of being something you point at the sky and look through a lens. The radio telescope is actually two single dipole antennas designed to pick up 20.1 MHz and send the signals to a power combiner. Our job is to replace two of the mast that make up one of the single dipole antennas. We're replacing two fixed height masts with two adjustable masts in order to pick up solar emissions as well as radiated energy from Jupiter over the next few years. We were able to get the initial design done and take down the two mast that needed to be replaced. Hopefully we will have the entire scope assembled by the end of the week.

The day ended early, so Laksen and I did the engineering rounds a little sooner. As we were walking out to check on the generator, I saw two slopes that lead up to the top of a very high mesa. I asked Laksen if he thought the two peaks were scalable, when he said yes my eyes lit up. I have never been mountain climbing, what a way to start. We hurried inside and told Daring Dave of our plans, he was already in his flight suit ready for departure.

We headed out and I took the lead. I didn’t know how to get to the base of the slopes we were going to climb, I only had a heading. We pulled the ATV's, I mean rovers(damn this delete button), to the bottom of the slope. I asked over the com channel if everyone was ready. I was a little shocked when Dave said he didn't seem too confident. This was because he thought I wanted to take the rover to the summit of the mesa. This guy is crazy; rover to the summit, man I wish we would have taken them to the summit, but this was impossible. We started climbing to the top, about halfway we stopped and setup a video camera to document our drive for the summit.

This climb was much tougher than I expected. I was consuming a lot of oxygen really fast. I had to keep myself from using so much air, so I held my breath for the entire climb. I'm just kidding. I stopped and caught my breath. When I looked at my O2 meter I knew I had about 65 minutes to reach the summit, descend, and make it back to base camp. I was committed, not just to the climb, but to my fellow Marstronauts. This would be the highest climb ever attempted here. I couldn't back out now. So I did my best impersonation of the guy in the Dos Equis commercials and attempted to be the most interesting man on this world by controlling my breathing.

We reached the summit, My first summit. Hopefully, the first of many. This was a great feeling. There is something special about looking out over the horizon and seeing nothing above you but sky and space. I turned around only to find another great mesa in the distance that was about 1000 meters higher. That one is next I thought in my head. However I only had about 30 minutes of oxygen left, so it was time to head back. We took some great pictures at the peak. Ben Linus himself would be envious. He's never climbed a mountain on Mars.

In my eyes the summit was symbolic of life. You set a great goal and you plan to attain it. When the goal is close you realize you going to have to sacrifice, its gonna take much more work to finish than it took to get you where you are. Then, somehow, the human will takes over and you will not be denied. You reach the summit, you attain your goal, you win the race. You've accomplished something truly special, only to find out that there is an even greater accomplishment waiting for you if you are willing to try. Every nerve, molecule, and thought tell us we must strive, to reach farther, to go higher. This is what life, this mission, and the entire idea of space exploration is all about. I must, we must, press on! I guarantee we get that next "Great Mesa" before this mission is over. After all we're on Mars, this is one big adventure, what's the worst that can happen? I'll be laying my head on a blow-up pillow on top of a wooden bed tonight, but it sure feels like I'm on cloud nine!

It's great up here,
Astro Paul

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Every Little Thing's Gonna Be Alright

Oatmeal again this morning. No big deal, I keep getting better at making oatmeal with various dehydrated fruits. Today Mr. Apricot, Mrs. Blueberry, and everybody's favorite little Miss Sliced Apple got thrown on the menu this morning. I must say, they made a heck of a bowl of oatmeal. Amazingly, breakfast was done early and the morning briefing went rather smoothly. This is in part due to the extensive planning that we do at night for the subsequent day.

We proceeded to the rover garage, outside the front door of the hab, to test out the rovers and top them off with gas and oil for the day. Laksen and Diego took the rovers for about an hour to collect biological samples for the EVA suit ergonomic study. During this time, I fabricated a few tool belts that would be used by some of the crew members for the next Mars Walk. I had to find a way to carry a geological pick, camera, compass, and still have an accessible compartment for the geological samples. This might sound easy if Home Depot is close by, try being 32 million miles away from the closest Home Depot. All I had to work with was a D-clip, electrical wire, tape , a seatbelt, a multi-tool, and a holster. My dad starred in his own show when I was young, it was called "Macgyver". I never saw this show, but I've heard a lot about it, and he passed a lot of good traits on to his boy. I was able to make two belts that held both the camera and the geological pick safely, and had a place for the geological samples to be stowed. Let me see you do that John Locke! (You can see the tool belts in the pics; the seatbelt held the pick close to my knee so it wouldn’t keep hitting me when I walked)

The geological walk was a lot of fun. We traveled 1.70111428 × 10-13 light years, or nine miles to get to the site. The site is named Family Crest. There were no trails on the way out, and there is no GPS yet here on Mars, so it was a monumental task to get to the site. This is why Commander Steve was there. Commander Steve was the pilot for many of the early manned reconnaissance missions that flew over most of the land around the habitat. He knows this area like the back of his hand. When we arrived at the site the views were spectacular. As soon as we turned the rovers off we saw that we were standing next to a deep crevice known as an arroyo. This thing had to be over 200 meters wide and about 100 meters deep. Dave wanted to ignite the human propulsion system that has been recently added to the suit in order to get to the mesa that we wanted to take samples from. I told him I thought this wasn’t the best of ideas, as I turn back to the rover Commander Steve had already activated his Ironman style afterburners and was heading straight for the side of the mesa. Dave and I stood and watched, half comically, half awestruck. We followed Commander Steve. When we got to the site Steve wasted no time gathering samples.

After gathering all the needed samples there was nothing left to do. The right thing to do would have been to head back to the rover and the hab and call it a day. But were on Mars, and mission support is in the Netherlands. "All I want to do is have some fun!" We did in fact head back to the rovers but not to the hab. There is about a quarter the gravity here on Mars than there is back home on earth. This means joy-riding is not just much more fun, its even a little bit safer. Note in case mission support is reading this: we did stay on the trails at all times we were on the rover for the EVA. Upon our return the other half of the crew needed to collect some biological samples and go meteorite hunting. We came in through the airlock, re-acclimated ourselves, and entered the hab. We took off our Analog Simulation Suits and helped our fellow crew members to get dressed for their Mars walk. (Did you catch the acronym for the space suit?)

Laksen didn’t have the approved Marstonaut beanie that NASA had provided us with, I took this opportunity to give him my Florida International University beanie . He wore it with pride, and played the part well. I went out to the rover garage and assisted Bianca, Diego, and Laksen in starting the rovers and took some pictures of them departing.

They just got back to the hab. Looks like they had a heck of a walk. Did you notice that I haven't mentioned a problem with the plumbing, electrical systems, or life-support systems. I knew when I made that bowl of oatmeal this morning that, as my buddy Bob says, "Every little thing's gonna be alright!"

Thanks Murphy,
Astro Paul

Monday, January 11, 2010

And One Small Step

Oatmeal and de-hydrated fruit for breakfast. I knew it was gonna be a great day from the get-go. The one worry that was unyielding was the question of whether the generator would turn on after we powered it down to check the oil. That wasn’t going to stop me from enjoying my human powered quaker oats for breakfast.

Onward we went. The first activity of the day was to conduct the biological sampling research. The goal of the experiment is to gauge the constraint that the EVA suit, or space suit, place on an astronaut while retrieving and categorizing samples. Today we gathered samples from a few different Martian locations and tagged and bagged 'em. This was not all that hard, just time consuming. The highlight was the ride back on the rovers. With less gravity the rovers really are the king of the road.

Now was time to see if murphy likes us or not. Was anything that could go wrong gonna go wrong? As Laksen and myself were making our engineering rounds, we filled up the various different water tanks needed for drinking, cooking, and the all important flushing. None of us wanted to do it, but it had to be done! Commander Steve, Laksen, and myself went to go check the oil on the generator. We switched to backup power. David radios in "We have lost power in the hab." This isn't right, this was suppose to be fixed, the batteries should be working. Please not again. Laksen and I have one job here, to keep the hab running, and as of now this damn generator is not allowing us to do that. Alright, we checked the oil, all good. So just start the generator back up, right. Wrong! Its not starting again. That's when I stepped in and acted like I knew what I was doing. I jumped the battery for the generator and Laksen stared the generator while simultaneously eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Where did he get that crunchy peanut butter?

Much to my amazement, with the generator running and online, the hab still was not powered. Laksen then pulled off his shirt and revealed his blue suit and cape with a big "S" on his chest. Without hesitation the "L-Man", as Laksen likes to be called when he's in character, ran in the hab. Three seconds later he's standing in front of me with his fist on his hips and his chest full off air smiling from ear to ear. Reminded me of a childhood superhero here to save the day. L-Man humbly said "Desperate circumstances call for desperate measures!" I still don’t know what he meant by that, however he did manage to get all the life support systems back online and the hab fully functional. Thanks L-Man!

The day had gone so well that Daring David wanted to try our luck and take the first steps on Mars! I was speechless. This is the guy who disappears into the sunset on a high performance rover and goes about the whole situation nonchalantly. Now I'm suppose to follow him out to new horizons. I didn't have a choice in the matter. Commander Steve told me I knew what I signed up for, so "Do what you were destined to do!" I now felt invincible. Myself and David entered the room to put on out EVA suits for the mission. He could hear my heart racing, but he kept cool and didn't mention the fact that he knew I was nervous.

We suited up and entered the airlock. The decompression light went off after what seemed like an eternity. Here I was, about to be one of the first to step out on this desert landscape. All I could think about was something witty to say to David as we stepped out. I knew this would be the moment that kids dream about and people write about, so I didn't want to screw it up. We took the first step and I was opening my windpipes to say the heroic line that will be uttered for eternity. And what comes out, "Paul, I have to urinate". David thought the door was closed and was trying to inform me that he was not ready, instead, he uttered the first words ever heard on the Martian soil. "Paul I have to urinate!"

After this brief debacle, David and I continued on our majestic hike through the mountains and valleys southwest of our living habitat. After climbing for awhile, we realized there were only two peaks within sight that were above us now. We could see for miles it seemed. All colors in the spectrum were represented. In the distance I could see what looked like a log cabin. I looked at David, he had a gaze in his eyes. We proceeded to descend the rocky cliff that we had worked so hard to scale. When we reached the bottom, we saw that there was no more log cabin. Maybe we were seeing things, maybe its that wacky food we've been eating. Wow I have a terrific itch on my nose that I cannot reach in my spacesuit! It was time to take the rovers off of the test track and into the environment that fate had made them for. We scouted the area around the hab, raced each-other, and then headed back home. As we're entering the airlock I remembered what I wanted to say. I told Dave "It is in our blood to wonder and explore, today we ask even more questions, but this shows the great will and accomplishment of our human race." I was still ticked at David for stealing my thunder with his urination line, so I locked him in the airlock for the night to watch some Dharma Initiative videos. All in good fun Daring Dave!

Once Again,
Astro Paul