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A quick, chilly sunrise on Mars — the sky holds the light before the sun appears, but the air is so clean and thin that the rise itself comes quickly.  Before I’m completely awake, the sun is high in the horizon, and hash browns are sticking to the pan.  Crew 159 comes to life, each in a different way.  Breakfast segues into morning briefing which spirals into a spirited discussion of brain-eating bacteria and birth control.

XO Giammona and AstroEngineer Stoltz headed out on EVA, continuing our mission-long focus on radio boundaries, geomorphology, and adventure-based testing of crew innovations— sounds like it was physically tough and super exciting out there today, they climbed higher than any EVA thus far, discovering that our presumed radio boundaries mean nothing when you have the height of land on your side.  Engineer Cocchiara, acting as HABCOM, and myself (chef of the day) remained inside.  The maintenance bots came last night, replenishing our water supply and removing our solid wastes (these are incinerated during atmospheric re-entry as the bots return to Earth).  Here on Mars our health and morale depends on the supportive infrastructure; we’d really be up a creek without it.

We reconvened around a lunch of vegetable soup and breadsticks, and after talking the morning over, crew members trickled into their staterooms for an afternoon nap session.  Everything was quiet for a while, and then we all began to come alive and think about the fact that it is Christmas Eve.  Engineer Cocchiara is from Palermo, Sicily, and her family’s tradition is to make a lot of pizza and play cards late into the night.  We are all more than happy to comply, and have been making pizza dough as per the specifications of Chiara’s Nonna.  Question: how do you make fresh tomato sauce on Mars?  Answer: mix ALL of the dried tomato products together and simmer with basil!

Last night AstroEngineer Stoltz was able to take his first deep space photographs— he took lovely snaps of the Blue Snowball nebula, as well as Polaris.  Tonight is a bit too overcast for stargazing, but his next goal is to photograph M42 and the Christmas Tree cluster.  Tomorrow is a full moon, so we’re hoping for clear skies after it sets.  The ISS made another flyover tonight, and though XO Giamonna was at the ready with his antenna, it seems that the Space Station’s digipeater is still not turned back on.

Tonight we’re enjoying our specially engineered pizza (though I must say, be careful of freeze-dried mozzarella) and thinking of all our loved ones.  The sheer vastness of distance between us makes the act of marking this occasion festively seem very important and special, a tiny fist raised towards the void…