Day 9 - Monday 15 April

Sand everywhere
Sand everywhere
15 April 2002

Martian greetings, Earthlings!

As I write (noon on Monday), we are in the middle of a severe Martian dust storm with winds blowing up to 80 km/h. That doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider that we are in the middle of a sand desert. We can’t see the sky and sun anymore; just dust everywhere and all around. We just had to reinforce the South window, as it is taking the full blast of the wind. The whole Hab is creaking and swaying, and we wonder whether it will hold!

This morning, before the storm, I went to check the greenhouse and found that we are running low on irrigation water. Our plants are doing well though. The tallest radish stem has now grown to 8 cm, which is a growth of 1 cm in the last 12 hours! We sampled two radishes and although we did not see any red bulb, just stem and leaves - it tasted delicious. Together with Nancy I checked our other plants in the lab. We also tasted the Arugela salad. Delicious!

EVA in the sandstorm
EVA in the sandstorm

We just had lunch. David, our DGO, prepared sandstorm soup (just drop the black pepper grinder in the pot of soup) and red-hot tuna tacos. David is from Texas, as you might have guessed. We are still planning to go on an EVA but the satellite weather map shows that we had better wait as the forecast is for thunderstorms and strong winds.

It is now 7pm. Well, we eventually went on an EVA. We initially planned two EVAs: one close to the Hab for bio sample retrieval, the other an exploratory EVA with the ATVs.

EVA retrieving bio samples
Retrieving bio samples in the sandstorm

I went on the first one with Nancy, to collect samples of soils in the immediate vicinity of the Hab to assess the bacterial contamination that human activities introduce to the environment. Six samples were supposed to be collected. So no big deal, just get on your knees and fill up these little vials. Right! Not with an EVA suit of 20 kg on your back, and not with a sandstorm blowing at 80 km/h. The first time we tried the plastic bag holding the empty vials was blown away, and don't even think about running with an EVA suit on. So we decided to abort this first attempt and to return to base. We reconfigured our suits, strategically rearranged our pocket content and tethered absolutely everything. It did eventually work when we went back out, but it took us longer, about twice as long as anticipated. But it was definitely good training and a useful simulation of EVA activities in a Martian dust storm. After all, on Mars, dust storms can last weeks or even months and the first crews would have to face situations like these during their EVA outings.

Radish growth
1 cm growth in 12 hours!

On returning to the Hab, we were welcomed by a strange yet vaguely familiar smell. No, this time it was not the ‘biolet’, but freshly baked bread! Yes, our DGO, David, eventually got the bread-making machine working and we have a fresh and still steaming loaf of bread on the table.

We have now spent one week living and working together and we are complementing each other quite well. There is no tension among the crew and we quite regularly have a good laugh. Today could have been difficult, with this crazy wind, blowing non-stop, but it does not seem to affect the crew too much. Elton John and Bruce Springsteen (DGO's prerogative) blasting out the speakers, together with the rhythmic swinging caused by gusts of wind must help I suppose.

Computer working area
Computer working area

Here comes the rain! It just started and will help to wash away the dust accumulating everywhere.

Ophir Chasma pork medallions are on the menu this evening, with dusty planet-shaped bread, red-Martian green beans and fajitas. And we are looking forward to watching the second part of ‘Dune’ this evening. So, all in all, everything is well on board our shaking and rocking ship.

Wishing you all the Martian best,

On to Mars!


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