Home‎ > ‎Crew 144‎ > ‎


Commander's Report


Gregory Leonard

Beginning 22:00 last night (December 1, 2014) MDRS-144 crew started full Mars surface analog simulation. Before we entered into simulation, all crew gathered outside the Hab, under the MDRS stars to discuss the importance of the next phase of the mission. We all affirmed our team’s resolution to complete the mission with full integrity and work and grow together as a team. This shifted rapidly into a team photo shoot that included some long exposure creative pictures in front of the backlit GreenHab. No doubt, all crew are amazed to finally be in Mars analog simulation, and are well prepared for our myriad of surface and in-Hab explorations and investigations. 

So, today began our first full day on analog Mars and as such our daily activities will become more structured than they were during pre-simulation. For some of the crew, this will soon include a daily morning yoga session facilitated by HSO Dr. Susan Jewell.  Susan is implementing a trial phase for an IRB certified study for the upcoming MDRS field season 2014-2015 that investigates the effectiveness of yoga and mindfulness meditation to mitigate negative effects of isolation and confinement in extreme environments. The study will also include use of innovative technologies, such as , Google Glass and 3D Virtual Reality as possible delivery platforms of the programs. Our crew 144 will participate as the “pre-testing” team testing the videos and technologies in preparation for start of the MDRS season. This morning, Susan introduced us to a familiarization session and the requisite salivary drool samples to assess for the biochemical markers for stress. Apparently just thinking about some favorite foods or smells can trigger the salivary glands. This should be interesting indeed.

Our group breakfast was followed by a team meeting and an EVA brief lead by Crew Scientist Juho Vehviläinen who initiated his surface investigations today.  Being our first mission EVA, all crew were eager to help in the preparation and support for the Mars analog surface work. The time each team member spent a couple days ago learning to use the EVA space suits proved to be quite beneficial. All EVA crew were fully and safely prepped, in the airlock at 0942, and exited the Hab at 0945.  The EVA field team included myself, Engineer Victor Luo, and Scientist Juho Vehviläinen. This EVA supported Juho’s research, designed to investigate correlations of soil moisture with landcover type (see Science Report). Soil moisture at all traverse stations will be determined using the soil dielectric properties as a proxy for moisture; to accomplish this, a hand-held dielectric sensor was used at all traverse sites. It was found that several sites contained rather hard, indurated soils that could not be penetrated by the sensors probes. In this case, measurements were collected from the nearest penetrable soils.

The first survey zone was located ~2 kilometers northeast of the Hab, and therefore required the use of EVA vehicles. We had all practiced with the EVA vehicles a couple of days ago and subsequently had no issues with the vehicles themselves, or applying the mobile-vehicle EVA communication hand signals and driving protocols that we had established. Radio communication link with the Hab was apparently not possible from the first survey zone, and we attempted to establish a radio repeater link with Victor mediating radio checks between Juho and me at the field site, and the Hab. It was necessary for Victor to travel most of the way back to the Hab before he could re-establish a link. We later found out that the Hab could indeed hear all of our comms, but we somehow could not receive theirs. Periodic and relatively frequent radio checks are very important for the EVAs, forming the basis for EVA team safety. We learned rapidly the potential limitations of EVAs as a function of faulty or poor communications conditions. We are troubleshooting the one-way communication issue, although it is likely resultant from the relatively long Hab – EVA team separation.

Fortunately the second survey zone was located only 150-400 meters east off, and in full site from the Hab, and communications were unimpeded. Surveying was quite efficient in this area, and there was time to collect additional survey data along small selected ground traverses en-route back to the EVA vehicles. Considering our proximity to the Hab, we also collected a series of new photographs of the Hab, GreenHab, and Musk Observatory, including the new tunnel connecting the Hab with the observatory. Before completing the EVA, we inspected the Antarctica pile and generator site, collecting a GPS waypoint at the generator.

EVAs apparently work up a healthy appetite, and we were delighted to return to the Hab to the smell of delicious (and spicy) food being prepared for lunch, compliments today of Susan. After lunch we held debriefing on the days EVA. All agreed that the EVA went quite well, although communications could be strengthened; this is partly a matter of site selections, and perhaps better radios. Two of us had incipient to minor fogging within the helmets which did not significantly impair our visibility or ability to conduct the EVA. A colder morning or increased exertion would likely exacerbate the fogging. All EVA crew reported some difficulties with operating instruments with small buttons while wearing the bulky EVA gloves, and having enough pockets, clips, carabineers, etc to secure required field equipment. We are learning.

One of the two crew members with reported illness yesterday is recovering well and is nearly back to full strength; the other is stable and remains under HSO monitoring.

Most crew spent part of the afternoon completing requisite in-simulation testing measures and compiling reports. Crew Biologist Yusuke Murakami finalized preparations for his EVA work, scheduled for tomorrow. Crew geologist Toni de Morais Teles translated yesterday’s journalist report into Portuguese, and captured photos of the EVA team from inside the Hab. The lower deck is currently functioning as a 7th stateroom and we’ve added some a small (temporary) carpet remnant for improved sleeping comfort until the new loft stateroom is completed. Finally XO and Crew GreenHab technician Heidi Beemer harvested alfalfa sprouts and wheat grass from the GreenHab to be included with tonight’s sushi dinner being prepared by Victor and Yusuke. Gourmet sushi on Mars, woe the hardship.