Day 10 - Tuesday 16 April
Martian greetings, Earthlings!
After yesterday's sand storm, we had much cooler and nicer weather today. With temperatures down to 15 deg. C., it certainly felt cooler, but it was still nice because there were blue skies and sunshine.
I overslept this morning and got up at 9 o’clock, just in time to catch the morning briefing, but missing breakfast. Just to show that we are quite busy here – I was up late last night, working on my reports and I did some additional work (ESA related) over the Internet. The morning was again spent finishing and correcting previous EVA and scientific reports.
We decided on an exploratory EVA today. Andrea, Jan and myself would go on a long EVA to retrieve some bio sample collectors at various locations and to find a new way of getting to the river and to collect mud samples from the river bank for our biologist.
After a quick lunch prepared by our Commander Bill Clancey, we suited up. I managed to find a new way to suit up without needing any help. We left the Hab at three o'clock and after retrieving the first dust collector near the Hab and re-erecting the Martian flag, we left on our ATVs in a Northerly direction on the Lowell Highway. I was again EVA Commander.
We measured several points en-route using our very handy GPS, but somehow still managed to have different readings. Our geologist Andrea took several photos of interesting features, mainly rocks and various geological layers. We passed 'Dimitri's Corner' and 'Brussels Sprout Hill', and went on to the 'Route 66'. From there we turned in a Westerly direction to try a new route to the river. The main dirt road soon ended and divided into several paths among the rocks. We explored the paths one-by-one, and took GPS coordinates each time we could not go any further because of a dead end or a cliff. We decided to backtrack to 'Brussels Sprout Hill' to try a different road from there, but to no avail. We backtracked again and went to 'Dimitri's Corner', from there we took the other dirt road leading to the geodetic point further up West. This is typical of exploration expeditions where you can see on the map where you want to go, but you don’t know how to get there as there is no existing route and you often come against features that you cannot cross.
From the geodetic point, we turned North and followed the main canyon, first following a path on top of the canyon, then gradually coming down the canyon walls, and eventually arriving in the canyon itself. We followed the same canyon road as the other day, the one that reminded us of a scene in Star Wars where young Luke Skywalker met Obi Wan. We made our way along the canyon road until we reached the point where we had previously not been able to continue. We named the point ‘Y Ravine Junction’, as two ravines come together making it nearly impossible to pass. Well, this time we did eventually manage to find a way to pass the junction and so we continued on our journey though the dramatic landscape. We found the access to the river at the end of that canyon and we ended up on a sort of beach.
Happy and relieved to have found the beach, we collected two mud samples. We decided to cross the river and explore the other side. We drove upstream, soon arriving at the foot of rock formations that we could not climb with the ATVs. We had to go back across the river. Leading this expedition, I tried to cross first and, although the first few metres went fine, I soon realize why it was called the Muddy Creek River: the rear wheels of my ATV got suck in the mud and started to sink deeper and deeper. I could go neither forward nor backward and then the engine went dead!
We quickly devised a rescue plan by radio with Jan and Andrea. They were to go back to where we crossed initially, and return to the opposite bank. Luckily we had taken a long rope with us on the EVA. Attaching the rope to our both ATVs allowed Jan to tow me out of the mud trap. Once safely on a small mud island in the middle of the river, I was able to restart the engine and finish the crossing.
The rescue had eaten most of our remaining time and as it would start to get dark in about one hour, we decided to take the shortest route back to the Hab. On the way back, we all managed to get stuck at ‘Y Ravine Junction’. It took the three of us to pull and push together to get the ATVs out of the soft sand ravine. We eventually made it back to the Hab, after having retrieved two other dust collectors on our way. Again, what a great ride it was! A five-hour expedition in the desert, in these beautiful Martian like landscapes! And also, many lessons learned with relevance to Mars exploration, e.g. a stranded crew that managed to rescue one of its members.
We arrived back at the Hab just in time for dinner. Our Commander, fulfilling his DGO duties, had prepared us space meatballs with pasta and Valles Marineris sauce and freshly made bread. To finish this great day, we watched the last episode of ‘Dune’ (really good film) until around midnight.
Have a recuperating Martian night on Earth.
On to Mars!