Status Report

Dispatch from Mars Society Arctic Expedition – Robert Zubrin, July 22, 2001, Mars Society

By SpaceRef Editor
July 22, 2001
Filed under , ,

After yesterdays’ rough EVA I thought it best to take it easy today. In any case it was Sunday, and so we
rested. Instead of going EVA, we spent the day doing lab work in the station, repairing spacesuit gear,
doing planning and other light activity.

The first thing we did after breakfast was perform a psychology experiment for the human factors research group at NASA Johnson Space Center. The folks there are interested in knowing what kind of things would most brighten up the living environment in remote outposts like ours. So they sent us a set of 7 posters. The backs of these ruggedly laminated sheets had served nobly and well as signboards during our Viking anniversary motor rally two days ago, but now it was time to use them with images displayed for their intended purposes. Six of the posters were of the travel agent variety, depicting verdant forests or tropical islands. The seventh showed a man standing above the clouds on top of a stark mountain peak accompanied by an inspirational quote form Sir Edmond Hilary to the effect that “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” They wanted to know which posters we would like the best for our public space (i.e. the hab wardroom on the upper deck) and our private space (i.e. our bunks).

The crew evaluates crew morale posters sent by NASA JSC psychologists.

The crew evaluates crew morale posters sent by NASA JSC psychologists.

Since none of us spend any time in our bunks other than to sleep, the only decision that mattered was which picture to post in the wardroom. We all agreed that all the lush travel posters would look absurd on the wardroom wall, where they would have to weend next to a window looking out on the bleak but strangely beautiful Haughton Crater. So despite the trite slogan from Hilary, the mountaintop scene won the day. Then we sat around the table and spun a Swiss army knife to determine the order in which each crew member would choose his or her poster. I came in third and selected one depicting “The Land of Myths: GREECE.” I am a lover of Homer and in fact brought his works to the Arctic with me on this trip as my pot-luck contribution to the station library. I would very much like to visit his homeland some day. So now the poster is on the wall of my bunk, uplifting the spirits of my backpack and sleeping bag.

Around the time the art show was winding down, Christine stole a minute to sit down at the keyboard and pound out some more Mozart. She was a bit flustered, because the instrument only has 5 octaves while the music requires 7, but it sounded very good anyway. So I snatched one of the voice recorders we use for our mission reports and taped a sonata for transmission to Mission Support. We have a CD and tape player in the hab, but there is a stirring quality to live music that no recording can match. I think that a human mission to Mars would do well to include at least one person who is skilled with a musical instrument.

Christine's concert, played on a 5-octave electronic keyboard.

Christine’s concert, played on a 5-octave electronic keyboard.

So we transmitted the first concert broadcast from Flashline Station. I look forward to hearing the first one broadcast from Mars.

Cathrine and Charles spent much of the day in the lab, examining the geological samples we have acquired over the past week. Through an oversight, the geology lab lacked hydrochloric acid, a rock-testing staple. So Cathrine and Charles made do with vinegar. Martian ingenuity. The soil samples fizzed but the rocks didn’t, indicating calcium carbonate in the soil and dolomite (magnesium-calcium carbonate) in the rock. I discovered though that we actually had dilute hydrochloric acid in the water testing kits sent from Denver June 28, which finally arrived two days ago (Thanks, DHL!). But Christine, who has been using the kits to analyze habitat and environmental water, was so horrified by the amount of vinegar the other two scientists were pouring on the rocks that she kept her acid stash secret. I explained to her that they would not need to use anything like that amount of hydrochloric to get the same result, and facilitated the liberation of 10 milliliters to support the geological cause.

While on standing on a high butte overlooking Von Braun from the north during the EVA yesterday, Cathrine had taken a series of 14 overlapping photographs to provide the basis for making a panorama. During the early afternoon, while I puttered around working on our spacesuit backpacks, Brent used PhotoShop to stitch Cathrine’s pictures all together to create a 360 degree view. It’s pretty spectacular.

Geologists Frankel and Frandsen performing acid tests in hab lab using vinegar.

Geologists Frankel and Frandsen performing acid tests in hab lab using vinegar.

In the mid afternoon, we began an experiment in high-data rate telescience. Right now it is impossible for a spacecraft to transmit anything like live television from Mars. But on a human Mars mission equipped with advanced radios and a nuclear reactor that will give it 100 times the power of any solar powered robotic spacecraft, the high data rates needed for interplanetary TV will become possible. This will enable videophone conversations across space, albeit with lightspeed-limited time delays. Under such circumstances, it could become possible for a group of scientists on Earth to effectively advise the crew on a specified way to conduct an investigation.

To simulate this kind of interaction, Pascal and Charles Cockell, who are at base camp, took on the role of terrestrial scientists and taped a video recommending a certain strategy, route, and technique for tomorrow’s EVA. In UTM coordinates, we will go into the crater to waypoint 11 at 8372.5 N, 421.7 E. Then we will go to Trinity Lake at 8370.9 N, 420.5 E. Then we will go through a pass to reach a house-sized erratic boulder at 8368.9 N, 418.9 E. Our mission then will be to characterize the morphology and composition of the boulder, so as to determine its origin. Is it surface material that has been moved around, or does it represent deep subsurface rock that was ejected by the meteor impact that created the crater? We also need to sample the cyanobacteria that may be living in cracks in the rock, and develop a quantitative estimate of its biological inventory.

Brent Bos stitching together photographic panormama taken yesterday by Cathrine Fransen from Buttle north of Von Braun.

Brent Bos stitching together photographic panormama taken yesterday by Cathrine Fransen from Buttle north of Von Braun.

The plan only requires us to go about 5 km from the station, but we will need to cross the same region of the
crater where the geophone sortie got trapped a week ago. The ground is dryer now, but that is not necessarily
an advantage, since in many places the dry dust simply conceals a thick layer of viscous mud lying just underneath. Given the risks involved, I decided to make our traverse a 4-person EVA, so as to have maximum ability to help each other out of trouble. The EVA crew will be Charles, Cathrine, Brent, and I, with Christine operating the capcom station at the hab. It promises to be a long and interesting day.

Panorama taken yesterday by Cathrine Fransen from Buttle north of Von Braun.

Panorama taken yesterday by Cathrine Fransen from Buttle north of Von Braun. (Click on image for larger version)

Life in an international crew continues to be an enlightening experience. Charles, our Frenchman, gets dozens
of personal messages, which he is delighted to let the whole crew read. They are all from women. There is
Dominique, Melissa, Kathy (the only one) and Kathy (the best), Lisa, Veronique, Francoise, and I think
several others whose names escape me at the moment. Cathrine and Christine are in stitches over it, yet it
must be said that there are a lot of men who would like to be in his position.

Vive la difference !

SpaceRef staff editor.