Archive for January 14th, 2010

MDRS-88 sol 5: Water on Mars

The plan for today was to split up into teams morning and afternoon. In the morning, Diego and Bianca would perform the first experimental (suited) trials of the ergonomics study while Paul, Laksen, and I did a preliminary survey of the radiotelescope from the pressurized tunnel (i.e. path to the greenhouse). Then after lunch, Steve and Bianca would go off looking for microfossils while Paul, Laksen, and I began actual work on the radiotelescope.

What actually happened was that after Paul, Laksen, and I filled up the ATVs’ tanks and checked their oil and tires, we went to pump water from the trailer in which it is delivered into the hab’s external tank and the pump wouldn’t run. It had been fine yesterday…. I tried unkinking the hose and poking at it in various ways, up to and including a complete disassembly, but still it would only hum when plugged in. At one point when we had it disassembled it began to spin, and we cheered and put it back together. Naturally once it was back together it wouldn’t work any more. Fortunately we have enough water in the tank for several days so this isn’t an immediate crisis, and right after lunch the water pump began working again, apparently all by itself. We went out and filled the tank right away, as long as it was working. (I still don’t trust it long-term).

While I was working on the pump, Laksen looked for the source of water we’d seen leaking out from under the hab. It turned out that the U-bend under the sink in the science lab had come loose — someone in some previous crew had put a bucket under it, but we’d been using it unawares and it had filled up and spilled over. There was ice at the back of the cabinet and water on the floor as well. Laksen started to look for PVC pipe cement to reattach it but I thought I remembered that gluing a U-bend in place would be bad — you need to be able to get it off to clean out the trap — and that it should be possible to just finger-tighten the joint. Turned out the gasket in the joint was in backwards, and once reversed and finger-tightened it no longer leaked (well, maybe seeped a little). We did manage to get about a half-hour in on the radiotelescope, reading over the documentation and surveying the current state of construction.

While lunch was cooking, I also ran up to the Musk Observatory to see if I could fix the #1 webcam there, which was completely washed out even when the sun wasn’t shining directly into its eye. Poking around at the computer there, I stumbled into a deeply-buried settings screen where all the contrast, brightness, and gamma controls were seriously messed up. A simple press on the Restore Defaults button brought the camera back to life. Go me! There were three working webcams when we arrived and now we have five. I’ll tackle the sixth when I get a chance.

For lunch we had split-pea soup from a mix, with dehydrated peas and corn and some yummy yummy TVP added. It was actually pretty tasty. We Marsnauts are research subjects in a food study, where we alternate cooking and non-cooking days and fill out a survey each day about how we liked them and what our current mood and energy level is, and today is a non-cooking day. On non-cooking days we eat only rehydrated foods (the sort of thing you would find at a camping or survivalist store); tonight’s dinner is Texas BBQ Chicken with Beans. Some of these dehydrated meals are really good. (They’re also expensive.) On cooking days we can cook whatever we like from what is available — which is, more often than not, something else pre-prepared. One night I got ambitious and made a stir-fry of tofu, rehydrated broccoli, and rehydrated onions, served over real rice. It was pretty good, in my opinion, but I don’t think it was good enough to justify the time it took.

Our time is fully occupied here. The days are filled with EVAs and various maintenance and repair tasks, and the evenings are largely taken up with the daily reports we have to file with the Mars Society, planning the next day’s activities, and blogging. Blogging is a serious activity here — it’s public outreach. Diego and I had blogs before being selected for this mission. Laksen started blogging after he was selected, and Paul and Bianca both started blogging after they arrived here. Only Steve is blog-resistant.

After lunch we suited up for our radiotelescope EVA. The radiotelescope we have here is a very simple one based on designs provided by NASA’s Radio Jove project ( It just consists of a pair of dipole antennas — basically two parallel wires — which can receive a signal from a powerful radio source such as Jupiter or the Sun. The height of the two wires above the ground determines the angle in the sky where the antenna is focused, and right now that height is fixed to the position of Jupiter when the telescope was first constructed (it’s since moved). We’re replacing the poles that hold up the wires with telescoping assemblies so the telescope can be “pointed” at different parts of the sky. Two of the poles were replaced by the previous crew and we’re going to try to finish the job. Today we managed to get the two fixed-height poles taken down and all the necessary parts moved into the lab; the next step is to build the telescoping poles.

Almost immediately after that EVA Paul and Laksen decided to go out on one more EVA to check out some repairs we’d made to the suits. I was tired, but when Paul invited me along I said “I’m never going to have this opportunity again” and I suited up with them. We’re getting pretty good at the suiting process and it went quickly; we then took ATVs a short way away and climbed up a mesa. It was cool to be walking across the stripes you can see from the hab, and the whole thing felt exceptionally Marsy. The view was spectacular, but I pooped out before reaching the summit, alas. I rested on a rock while Laksen and Paul climbed to the top and got some great pictures.

After everyone got back from their various EVAs we sat down at our computers to prepare our daily reports and began boiling water for dinner. So ends another day on Mars.

Liveblogging Mars (updated)

If my updates are only whetting your appetite, here are some other sources of up-to-the-minute information on MDRS-88: