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After a full week at MDRS, and our 5th day in Mars analog simulation, it is surprising that each day is quite different from the rest, this despite the somewhat dry and routine appearance of our weekly scheduling spreadsheet. I suspect that this stems from the fact that our comfort and annihilation are separated only by the metallic shell of the Hab walls or the thin skin of our EVA suits. We do not go about in fear of these facts each day, but they are routinely part of our ‘wiring’, we space-faring individuals.  Days and nights on Mars will be no less different, routines yes, but each day different.

After breakfast Biologist Yusuke Murakami presented his EVA plan and field objectives and directed his EVA team members XO Heidi Beemer and Engineer Victor Luo with their specific EVA tasks. Yusuke’s investigation and outreach project is an observational analog survey characterizing geophysical and biophysical zones where extra-terrestrial life could exist. Victor also used Yusuke’s survey sites to attempt further stereo infrared scans for his 3D virtual reality modeling.

The EVA team was out onto the surface at 0950 and completed their field plans using EVA vehicles, and also by foot. Upon return to the Hab, engineering EVA duties were completed. The entire team held our post-EVA debriefing. Fogging of helmets became an issue, due in part to sweating induced by slightly increased temperatures this morning, and also navigational choices. Base-map resolution, from which some EVA traverses are planned are sometimes insufficient to resolve topographic features that can become obstacles during EVAs. Sometimes a point-to-point approach, despite being the shortest distance is not preferable to slightly longer routes having gentler slopes. Good route planning is essential on Earth, and will be essential and at times life critical on Mars.

Scientist Juho Vehviläinen and Geologist Toni de Morais Teles completed an afternoon engineering EVA, collecting materials from the ‘Antarctica’ pile (aka the boneyard) to construct a medical evacuation litter. This emergency transport mechanism, in addition to cross-arm carry will both be trialed during an upcoming EVA medical emergency and Hab transport training.  Toni has also completed final equipment preparation and checks, and prepared an EVA request for his science EVA tomorrow.

HSO Dr. Susan Jewell prepared laboratory equipment this afternoon readying for her salivary sampling and biomarker analyses associated with her stress mitigation research. Some crew will soon be pre-testing particiants in her investigation to evaluate yoga and mindfulness meditation to mitigate negative effects of isolation and confinement in extreme environments. MDRS is a perfect environment to initiate this work.

In addition to managing HabCOM operations for the first time, I also had my first cooking duties, paired up with Juho in the kitchen. Much to our surprise Juho and I managed to prep some rather tasty food today: pancakes and oatmeal this morning, tuna-veggie mac-n-cheese and lemon rice chicken soup (sans chicken) for lunch, and delicious pasta primavera with meat sauce for supper. We received two thumbs up on all meals, from an obviously hungry crew.  I also began working on constructing the 7th stateroom in the loft. I framed out the first wall and it fits perfectly in the attic. This project requires careful planning during the building phase and will take up bits of my time for the next week. Like many crew on MDRS-144, I come here with multiple skill sets and experiences. My time in the carpentry and painting trades will come in handy here, at FMARS, and perhaps someday on Mars itself.

Last night, after CapCOM and evening chores were completed, the team settled in to watch a movie. There’s a small DVD library here at the Hab, comprised of donations from previous mission crews. Flipping through the two volumes of DVD’s we noticed a theme emerging: lots of science fiction and space exploration-based films.  I suppose it’s relatively easy sometimes to select a movie with others who also embrace the same culture. We chose to watch an Australian made film “The Dish”, a ‘based-on-a-true-story’ docu-comedy which recounts the story of an Australian team of radio astronomers stationed at the Parkes radio telescope, and their role in providing vital deep-sky-network communications and video links for the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. Despite several technical glitches, the pressures of being thrust onto the world stage, and under the tight scrutiny of NASA technocrats, the radio observatory staff triumphed and fulfilled their objectives. This reminded me that despite all the preparations, the practice, the checking, the triple-checking, the testing, and evaluations, it is what was not prepared for, the ‘surprises’ that become the true test of individual and teamwork capabilities and resolve. After a week here on mission MDRS-144, it is gratifying to observe the cool, natural reactions of this crew to things unexpected, and the strength of the team as they support one another…essential stuff for all team exploration.