Day 7 & 8 - Sunday 14 April
Martian greetings, Earthlings!
The first part of this weekend was more than interesting.
Saturday morning, we ran into a mini-crisis as we realized that we would run out of water before the end of the weekend. Let me explain. We still depend on external sources for two main supplies: water and fuel. A local supplier brings both water and fuel from the nearest village (approx. 10 km from the Hab). We have to send the order by e-mail to Mission Control, who then contacts the supplier. Fuel was brought on Thursday. Water was not. So we were contemplating being without water over the weekend. Saturday morning, we tried to siphon the last litres from the 2.5 tonne tank that we are depending on and we started to envisage measures such as no more showers, or dish washing. We also had another problem, over night the little pump used to pump the water from the big tank to the top of the Hab broke down unexpectedly. So we had no means of pumping the remaining water from the nearly empty tank. The situation looked bleak.
Nevertheless, as we are explorers, we decided to not deviate from our plan of action. We had set our minds on an ambitious EVA expedition to explore and revisit ancient points visited by previous crews. And this was what we were going to do! Together with Jan and David, we planned our expedition very carefully by studying the map and recording all previous points on our GPS devices. After a light meal we put on our EVA suits ready to leave in the early afternoon. I was the EVA Commander.
On our ATVs, we set off to the North, and then turned to the West in the hope of finding a mud track indicated on the map. We never found it. But we were taken through extraordinary landscapes with hills and canyons. We missed the first GPS waypoint, but we found all the others. Some of the paths that we took reminded us of those followed by Luke Skywalker in Star Wars! We followed ancient riverbeds along the bottom of multi-layered canyons and climbed hills close to the canyon edge. We also found a field of fossilised oysters like the one found by our colleagues a few days ago in another area. It was unbelievable. But this was only the first part of our trip.
Once we got back on the ‘main road’ (a dirt road called the Lowell Highway), our next goal was to explore further and to find a new route to the river. We took several GPS positions and took turns to name several features on the road, like for example Dimitri's Corner (on Lowell Highway), named after my son, or Brussels Sprout (a hill in the middle of the road that I climbed). Eventually we found the river (the Muddy Creek River). We reached the edge of a cliff from which we had ‘an out of this world’ view - most likely the same that dinosaurs enjoyed many millions of years ago.
From there, we backtracked and set course for our third objective, which was to precisely locate a water feature indicated on the map. We found it but it was not surface water but an underground reservoir that we eventually spotted because of the vegetation it harboured, a sort of oasis of a few trees and bushes in the middle of rocks and sand. The US Dept of Geology Survey sign, indicating that there was a natural underground reservoir, quickly confirmed our hypothesis. We collected some soil samples from the area for our biologist. After a four and half hour ride in the desert, we eventually returned to the Hab. What an unforgettable experience!
In the meantime, the deliveryman had come to fetch the water tank, returning it filled. So the only problem remaining was the pump. As we were not able to fix it on the spot, we decided to carry the water by hand with the six of us forming a chain, and so we transferred 250 litres of water, bucket by bucket. What an exhausting day!
Luckily, on Sunday morning our Commander decided to grant us "individual work schedule", which is a very nice way to say that we were free to do what we wanted. So I enjoyed my first late morning and a sponge bath. Yes, due to the new water situation, showers are no longer allowed. A sponge bath is not so bad, and you would not believe how much you can wash with only half a litre of cold water and a sponge.
As today's DGO, I fixed us scrambled eggs and bacon for brunch. Over brunch we hatched a plan for the afternoon. After all, it was Sunday afternoon and it was time to test Mission Support abilities to help a stranded Martian crew. So the plan was simple: two simulated EVAs would take place simultaneously, one with three people to retrieve bio samples, and the second with two people in the greenhouse. But then everything would start to go wrong. The first EVA team would be separated and lost in a sandstorm while the second EVA would get stuck in the greenhouse due to a jammed door zipper. On top of that, a general power failure would force the remaining person in the Hab (role played by the Commander) to leave the radio and go to fix the generator, leaving Mission Support in charge of helping everybody remotely.
Well, we had a good laugh during this simulated simulation and Mission Support eventually guessed that something fishy was going on. This Martian joke was in fact a good training session for Mission Support to realize where there were problems in the overall mission scenario and organisation.
The news from our Garden of Eden is excellent as the radishes are growing seemingly at an exponential rate. Saturday, the tallest radish leaves were 4.4 cm and this Sunday evening they had climbed to an astounding 7 cm.
For the evening meal, I prepared Schaeberle chicken sauté with Deimos rice salad, enjoyed by all Martians present. And to conclude the day, we watched the story of another world without water, the first part of the remake of Dune (not bad so far).
From a planet full of diversity and of life, I wish you a peaceful Martian night on Earth.
On to Mars!