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Rovers and Handcarts
04/28/2014
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Josh and I stayed in the Hab this afternoon.  He was cap-comm (we use walkie-talkies with the EVA crew) and I backed him up and did some housekeeping and note-taking too.  We watched images from the rover camera--which was super-exciting.  We both drove the little dude. The rover worked wonderfully till its main battery ran out, though the separate camera battery kept going.  That high-tech complement to human presence on Mars contrasted to Jorge's bike/handcart invention.  He actually did ride the bike, and he, Peter and Humberto, reconfigured it into a wheelbarrow-like handcart, hauling a bag of sand meant to simulate an injured astronaut (or, you know, a lot of rocks).  Both projects are important.  The former can be used to do science near a human base without having to send astronauts out in suits, a process we have found even with our minimal equipment to be time-consuming and energy-draining.  So a shout-out to Chris Follette, a grad student in space studies at the University of North Dakota.  The rover--MACHO (Mars Complement Humanity Rover)--ran like a beauty.  It really was cool seeing the images come across.  Josh exclaimed several times during the test run.  I did too.

And Jorge's bike/cart worked just as well, proving that rugged low-tech has a place in surface exploration too.  Testing a Martian handcart in the state where Mormons arrived by handcart?  Priceless.

The whole EVA crew came back very happy with how the work went.  The only negative was Humberto getting a bit of a swollen ankle (he is still healing from an injury from a few weeks ago).  He's resting up, and dinner is underway.  Okay, I still need to do some flower identification and give y'all a little more background on the geology of Marstah (Mars + Utah).   Till later.

-Christopher Cokinos

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Water Leads.  We Just Follow It.
04/28/2014
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We had to break sim today.

Sim is simulation--that is, conforming to the constraints of what a Mars mission would be like, even though we're only here for the duration of a shuttle flight.  We broke sim because we had to take liability forms to the post office.  So Peter and I took the Prius Resupply Vehicle to the Hanksville Lagrange Point and took care of that business, which also included buying some needed supplies (more batteries for the rover, bandanas to make "hippie helmets" to soak up some sweat when we have the helmets on) and, importantly, to get some jugs of water.

On the way to and from the Hab we passed bright green cottonwoods, trees that until we began moving water around in the West at least, grew only along water courses.  I love cottonwoods.  And though Peter was disappointed we were breaking sim, I thought maybe we weren't.  After we go to Mars--really go, human-footprint-go--and after we study its environment in ever-greater detail, we might want to transform it into a place that supports a wider array of life.  So I looked at those trees and wondered about cottonwoods growing on the red gullies of impact craters.

Mission Support reassured us that we'd get a water refill today--D.J. over in Hanksville hauls water and gas in, trash out.  And, indeed, he came while Jorge, Humberto, Peter and Kavya were outside the Hab doing an EVA to test a University of North Dakota rover and to test Jorge's ingenious bike/handcart combo.  But we just wanted to make sure we had water to drink.

Now we're almost overflowing.

Water leads.  We just follow it.  Water ran on Mars.  Rivers, oceans.  It may still.  Where we are now was once the floor of an ancient ocean.  Of course, we're 90% water.  Josh and I watered some fast-growth plants down in the Engineering Bay and just now he yells up to tell me one of them has produced a shoot.  We were all a bit on edge last night when the pump was cycling air, and the tank was low.  (Water is pumped from a holding tank outside into another tank in the kitchen.  The pump's grinding sound is both reassuring and irritating.)  Drink up, we keep telling each other, because it's dry here.  The areas here where we don't find flowers feel like Mars.  For me, at least, the areas where we do find flowers also feel like Mars, some vision of it long after the work of Crew 141 Mars Desert Research is in the vast dataset of how we get there in the first place.

Christopher Cokinos