Today's update from Romain: Forget about those repetitive, negative questions from the press on what the crew dislikes the most about Mars500, or how awful is it living in the modules? What about the best parts of this whole adventure?
Through ESA, we sometimes receive questions from journalists who want to interview us in our Mars 500 modules. It's quite interesting to note that almost all of them ask questions about negative feelings, like: "What was the most difficult moment?", "What do you miss the most?" or even "What is the worst thing about life inside the modules?" In today's diary, I won't answer their questions - in fact - I'd like to focus on the other side of these queries, and on the best moments of our trip.
Each of us has his own 'best days' and I'll only talk about my ranking; when I take a look back at our 437 days of isolation, with my personal rating, I'd rank three events on the highest step of the podium.
Even if we're isolated from everything and everybody, we still try to make the best out of every day.
New Year's Eve is one of these!
It made a strong and lasting impression on me because of the excitement and the energy that our Russian crewmates shared with us. The 31st of December has always been a 'party night' for me but it went one notch further when celebrated with Russians.
The second best day of my isolation happened on 1 February. On this day, we opened the hatches of our 'Martian Lander' module. This action meant that we were reaching our goal: Mars! It was also an opportunity to discover something new after nine months of quiet travel: the new Martian module, the new food that was stored there and the items left by our family and friends. On this date, and for several days, our mood was very high in the Mars 500 modules.
I already talked about these two events in previous notes, so I won't develop them further today. Instead I'll describe the third-best day of this mission for me. It happened this year on 12 July for my second birthday in isolation; last year, in 2010, I also had a great day full of surprises and nice moments but the 2011 session was even better!
Unlike last year, I was really looking forward to beginning this day and the closer it came, the more excited I got. It began with the – now famous – surprise from Diego, which I enjoyed a lot. He hung in the middle of the kitchen a 'companion cube'. This item is related to a video game that we both played a few months ago during our free time and that I love, Portal. In this game you take on the the role of a test subject who tries to escape a scientific facility controlled by a crazy computer. I'm sure that you can notice the irony of playing Portal while being confined for 520 days!
By tradition, I opened my presents during our breakfast. Wang Yue prepared for me a beautiful piece of calligraphy, my crewmates printed a picture on which they wrote nice words and I opened some gifts given by my family more than a year ago, which had been collecting dust waiting for my big day. It was really a good moment between all six of us.
I also made sure I was available from 10:00 to 13:00 because I was expecting a visit of some friends. As soon as the first video arrived, I realised I had received more than I could have imagined: It was like an overwhelming wave of congratulations and nice words sent by all the people outside!
It began with Elena, my ESA psychological support, who introduced me to a representative of the French Embassy in Moscow. She even prepared a birthday party in her ESA office for all the team! Then I could exchange some videos with my friends, too. In parallel, I received a video including all the IBMP managers looking after the Mars 500 facility and each of them went in front of the camera to add a few words.
Even Wang Yue's Chinese colleagues sent me a very nice message (actually, I trust him for the translation because my Chinese level isn't good enough yet). At 13:00, the private communications were stopped and it took me some time to come back to the reality of our modules. During the rest of the day, I spent my free time opening all the email that I received from my family and friends.
The last surprise of this day was uploaded from Mission Control to our server: a French movie and some video clips and photos prepared by a friend. I fell asleep with a big smile on my face after all this!
Two days later, we used almost the same recipe for Sukhrob's birthday. This time 'Diego's surprise' was a poster of our doctor holding the Earth on his shoulder like the Atlas supporting the heavens. The breakfast was again a nice moment which we shared together, laughing and chatting. After opening his presents, Sukhrob seemed pleased and he was full of energy for the rest of the day.
On 25 July, the last birthday of this exceptional month arrived and Wang Yue turned 29. This time, Diego's idea was a huge instant noodle box. This is the only Chinese-like food that we have here and Wang enjoys it more than everybody else in our crew. Once again we began our day's work with a joyful moment.
A few hours later, he received a very special video message. The Chinese Space Agency had invited his parents to Moscow for their son's birthday. When we learnt about it, the five of us were very happy for him!
To conclude this diary update I would like to add that a lot of other days could be rated as good ones - like Halloween, all our birthdays and even our power black-out in December. The point is that, even if we're isolated from everything and everybody, we still try to make the best out of every day.
So far this mind-set has allowed us to cope with the challenges of the mission as one team and I'm sure that we'll continue to do so.