Status Report

Dispatch from Mars Society Arctic Expedition Robert Zubrin July 23, 2001

By SpaceRef Editor
July 23, 2001
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Our EVA today almost went perfectly.

The day was splendid, and the team consisting of Cathrine, Brent, Charles, and yours truly managed to get
suited up and out the lock in just over an hour – a big advance over 5 days ago, when the same crew took
3 hours to get 3 people prepared. We then went over ridge and into the crater, navigating accurately
southeast to Waypoint 11 at map UTM coordinates 8372.5 N, 421.7 E. We then turned southwest, heading
towards Trinity Lake, located at grid points 8370.9 N, 420.5. Because we kept to the high ground to
maintain visibility and avoid mud traps, we first saw the lake (most people would call it a pond) from a
hill made of impact breccia directly overlooking it. The view from this point was excellent, and looking
further into the crater, we could discern a large rock, standing up like a monolith. Our mission was to
characterize a large erratic boulder seen in the crater, so we thought this might be it. So we traveled
back down the escarpment and circled around the lake and through a small pass to reach the monolith. A
check of map coordinates, however, revealed that this could not be the boulder that the science support
team had in mind, so we continued onward and soon found our objective at its predicted UTM location of
8368.9 N, 418.9 E.


We spent about an hour and a half at the boulder, examining it in every way. We measured it, we sampled it, we photographed it. You name it, if you can do it with a house-sized rock, we did it. Our goal was to try to figure out the history of the block, and Charles and Cathrine manKc®3 to work out what I think is a sound hypothesis. The boulder contained lots of shocked material, so it clearly came from the impact. But it was sitting on tope of glacial debris, so it seems that it did not fly directly to its current location, but to somewhere else, after which glaciers managed to relocate it. Its composition is mostly dolomite – a limestone like carbonate, which means that it did not come from very deep underground. It was covered with bacterial coatings of various colors, as well as different types of lichen, and we sampled them to allow for lab analysis to determine their nature.

So, having met all our science objectives, we started to head home, zipping across the crater in high spirits. I was traveling last in line, and thinking how easy the EVA had been, when suddenly my ATV slowed, stopped, and sank into the mud lying just beneath the bone-dry covering on the crater floor.

I dismounted immediately to take weight off the vehicle, and tried to push it while running the engine, but we both just sank deeper. I radioed for assistance, and the others, who had been moving off rapidly into the distance ahead, doubled back to help. I was carrying a rope on the back of my ATV, and I grabbed it and moved around to tie it to the hitch at the front. I then threw it to Charles, who by this time was standing in slightly firmer mud about 10 ft in front of my vehicle. We tried to pull it out, but the two of us were not strong enough. So I moved back along the right side of the ATV to try to reach the throttle so I could fire the engine while pushing. This was a mistake. The mud was much worse on that side of the ATV, and I sank down halfway between my knees and my hips. It was quite scary, because unlike the encounter with the mud a week ago, this time I could not detect any floor of permafrost under it. Also, the mud this time was more liquid, making it impossible to dig it away from around my boots.


I grabbed the throttle. The ATV had stalled out and so I reached for the starter button, which is on the left side. The ATV would not start. It was still in gear. Somehow, I had to reach the left foot pedal, way down on the other side of the vehicle. But I was stuck almost hip-deep in the mud on the vehicle’s right side, and couldn’t reach the left pedal. I got my mid section up over the rear of the ATV, and then pulled with all my strength to get a leg free and up onto the rear rack of the vehicle. Then pushing with that leg, I got my other leg out. I was out of the mud and could now reach the gear shift, but the ATV was sinking deeper than ever.

By this time, Brent and Cathrine had made it back to where Charles was standing. I started the engine, revved it and shifted into first. Then with the three of them pulling on the rope, and me gunning the engine and pushing the ATV as best I could, we dragged the vehicle out.

The rest of the trip back was uneventful, and quite pleasant except for the after effects of a massive adrenaline overload. We stopped at Trinity Lake to take water and soil samples for Christine’s analysis and then returned to the station.


By the way, I need to make a correction. The hydrochloric acid mentioned in yesterday’s report that I urged Christine to give to the geologists did not come from my water testing kit (delivered to the Arctic 3 weeks late by DHL) but came from Christine’s own soil analysis kit. Let the record so note.

Returning to the hab, we debriefed, filed our reports, and had another excellent dinner (exactly like his first in every detail) prepared by Charles. It appears that he’s a one-trick cook. But it is a good trick.

Dinner eaten, and reports done, the crew took time to relax. Brent stitched together another panorama on his computer, while Cathrine and Christine read, (Cathrine is reading “First Landing!) and Charles and I settled down for an exciting game of Martian Chess.

Martian Chess is much like regular chess, except that you roll a die to determine how many pieces you can move in your turn. Another difference is that each player has 13 cards, and that when you move a piece of your own onto an opponents square, you don’t capture it automatically, but must play a card. The opponent then plays a card of the same suit, then you another and he another (much as in Honeymoon Bridge), and the winner of the trick captures the enemy piece. A third difference is that you can exchange pieces you have captured for those of your own taken by your opponent, and then use you moves to “paradrop” these newly freed warriors anywhere on the board. This makes for rather wild play. For those who are interested, the complete rules are given below.

Zubrin and Frankel playing Martian Chess

I find Martian Chess interesting. It is more like real life than regular chess. Regular chess is strictly a logic problem, but in real life, as in Martin chess, there is not only strategy, but also luck, and deception. And like real life, but unlike standards chess, Martian chess never simplifies. Since exchanged pieces are constantly coming back into the game, the population of the board remains high, and the positions get ever more insanely involved. And no matter how heavy the odds, the right combination of creatively and luck can upset any forgone conclusion of the outcome.

It took about 50 years for programmers to write code enabling a computer to beat a master at standard chess. It might take a similar period for them to write new programs allowing their machines to win at Martian Chess. But the day they do, we can change the rules again.

New worlds have new rules. That’s why it’s best we send people.

Rules to Martian Chess

Martian Chess is played on an ordinary chessboard using a standard set of chess pieces, a standard deck of 52 playing cards, and a six-sided die. The pieces are set up in the usual fashion, and each player is dealt 13 cards. White goes first.

In his or her turn, a player roles the die. The number shown on the die is the number of “moves” a player can make. Each move allows a player to move a piece (pieces move in the same fashion as in standard chess), but no piece may be moved twice in the same turn. Instead of moving a piece, a player may use a move to discard a card from his hand, placing it face up on the discard pile so it may be seen by his opponent, and drawing a new card from the deck. A player may also use a move to exchange one piece he has captured for an identical one captured by his opponent, placing the returned piece of his own color into his “reserve.” A move may also be used to place (paradrop) a piece from a player’s reserve on any vacant square, except that pawns may not be placed on the first or last rank.

An exchanged prisoner can be paradropped on the board in the same turn it is exchanged. However a paradropped piece cannot be moved again in the same turn, even if it had been exchanged in a previous turn.

Capture; When a player moves one of his pieces onto a square occupied by an opposing piece, he (the attacker) plays a card. The opponent (defender) must then play a card of the same suit if he has one. If he does not, he may play any card. The attacking player then plays one more card, which must be of the same suit as his initial card if he has one. The defender then plays a card, which must be of the initial suit if he has one. The highest card played (Aces are high, followed by K,Q,J,10,9,Ö2, as in Bridge) of the initial suit led wins the battle. The winner keeps his piece on the contested square and takes prisoner the losing piece. The cards played go into the discard pile, and each player then draws two more cards from the deck to replace those used in the battle. When the deck is used up, the discard pile is shuffled and used to replace the deck.

If an attack on a defending piece fails (i.e. the defender wins the card play), the attacker may, if he has moves left and pieces in position, send another piece to attack the defender again in the same turn. The second attack need not follow the same suit as the first.

Prison and Reserve; Captured pieces are placed in a player’s “prison,” which is simply a grouping of pieces of the opposite color kept off to the side of the board. During his turn, a player may use one or more of his moves (awarded by the number shown on the die) to exchange one or more of his prisoners for identical pieces held by his opponent. The exchanged pieces go into each player’s “reserve,” which is simply a grouping of pieces of a player’s own color kept to the side of the board. Once in a player’s reserve, a player may use a move to paradrop the piece onto any vacant square on the board, except that pawns may not be dropped on the first or last rank.

Object; the object of the game is to capture the opponent’s King.

SpaceRef staff editor.