Crew Journalist Report, Day 3
The plan for day three was to drive out to a nearby site with interesting geology. Unfortunately, recent weather has turned the local terrain into mud of varying degrees of viscosity. This proved too much even for our four wheel drive. Parking the car, we decided to make the last leg of the trip on foot. The result was some very muddy Martians, and after slipping and squelching our way for a few minutes, we decided to abandon our original plan and instead aimed for the more modest target of a nearby hill.
When we returned, we cooked some lunch, and then prepared to formally enter into simulation, meaning we would begin our isolation Mars analog. At 2:00 pm, we switched into sim mode with a small ceremony where we all talked about what our mission meant to each of us. Usually, such Earth ceremonies would involve a bottle of champagne, but on Mars we need to stay focused on safety and our research. So instead, we had a lemonade toast and a team sealing of the airlock. This was symbolic of our team agreeing to abide by the rules of the sim for the length of the mission. The next time we walk out of that airlock without an EVA suit will be on the 24th of January.
Once sim began, our attention switched to our experiments. Some calibration and setup exercises were performed for the quadcopter, EVA Activity Planner, and astronomy experiments. For viewers just joining us, the quadcopter experiment is looking at improving crew safety by observing the local terrain using a camera mounted on an airborne drone. The drone, or “quadcopter”, will be flown to a local site of interest by crew members Rebeca Rodriguez and Wissam Rammo, with a GoPro camera attached. The images and videos captured will be reviewed on return, and the suitability of the terrain assessed by the crew.
The EVA Activity Planner experiment being carried out by Andrew Henry and Danielle DeLatte, is also aimed at increasing crew safety, in this case specifically during EVAs. Using the planner, crews are able to plan an EVA using a 3D rendering of the local terrain, with satellite imagery overlaid. It is hoped that by providing 3D terrain, and satellite imagery prior to heading out, the crew will get a better intuitive understanding of the local terrain, improving situational awareness while on EVA, and reducing the chances of the crew getting lost.
Finally, the astronomy experiment being carried out by Scott MacPhee and Renee Garifi involves observing exoplanetary transits (planets eclipsing their parent star in a far away star system). In this case, Renee and Scott will be using the Musk Observatory at MDRS to measure the brightness of a target star over a duration of several hours. When an exoplanet passes in front of its parent star, the stars brightness will drop ever so slightly, indicating the presence of a planet. A simple analogy is that of a housefly landing on a spotlight – you may not be able to see the fly directly, but you can glean its existence by detecting a drop in the total light it emits. The data they collect will be shared with the KELT astronomy research collaboration and compared to previously recorded data to further contribute to the body of knowledge on these transiting exoplanets.
We also received some initial results from the socio-mapping experiment being conducted by crew member Romain Charles. This experiment studies the dynamics of the crew, and how we interact with each other. A snapshot of the relationship of each crew member to every other crew member was established prior to MDRS to establish a baseline, and during the course of our mission crew members will provide feedback via regular questionnaires, and the evolution of these relationships over time will be tracked.
Everyone is really excited to be in sim-mode and to get started on our experiments. Personally, I’m insanely excited about all the cool stuff we have to play with here like the quadcopter, the rover, and the telescope. And by play, I mean conduct serious scientific research. Science is fun, stay in school kids!