We are on Mars. It’s unbelievable, but yet so real. After half a year of planning, we arrived yesterday to the habitat and it was a rush of first impressions. We cleaned some larger items of the previous crews and made ourselves at home.
03 December 2017 - Day One on Mars
The effects of the long Martian day, which is 40 minutes longer than a day on earth, kicked in and we were quite tired. We dropped into our bunks happy and exhausted, which is the best state of mind when you finish a day.
There is always beauty in new beginnings, and so was the morning of our first Martian Day. We got up really early. There is still so much to be done before we can start our research and breathe life into the plentiful projects of crew 184. Nonetheless, we spoiled ourselves with a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs. We are trying to use up our fresh food as soon as possible. All our meals are measured for a study on our intake and its effect over the course of our stay on Mars.
The colors of the distant sun, leaping over the Martian hills and the science dome of our habitat was something I had never seen on Earth. Maybe the euphoria tainted my perception, but anyway, it was darn beautiful.
Even though we were not assigned on an EVA (Extravehicular Activity), just yet, the day was eventful. First Officer Randazzo and Crew Engineer Hunt started assembling the workout bicycle and it seems to be a universal truth, that assembling is as hard on Mars as it is on Earth. But It’s not important how you get there, but that it works and that you gained knowledge in the process.
Tomorrow we will head out for our first EVA, I think, that's when the magic really starts. We are familiar with our new home, but now we want to see the space that surrounds us. We hope we can manage to wear new spacesuits without larger problems, as we have heard, that you have to be fit. That’s another reason, why we plan an intense workout regime during our stay.
Personal Logbook: As a journalist and filmmaker I have certain goals like everyone else of my crewmates. I am very excited about the time to come and conscious about my tasks and the things I need to do, to create great stories. While today was mainly spent with preparations and adjustments, tomorrow will be opening a great window of opportunity for pictures, when we will finally go outside.
I have filmed a lot today, but I think, that what follows, will be more meaningful. As now, I haven’t managed to make too many interviews and it will be a challenge to find new corners and angles in the habitat to film all the time, as it is is quite small. I was a little tired this morning but worked on autopilot through most of the day. Patience and motivation will be important to make the most of my time on Mars. I guess these qualities are common for every astronaut and storyteller.
Ad Astra. Herr Willie, Journalist, Crew 184
04 December 2017 - First Steps
Today was the day, we really stepped out on the Martian soil. But before our boots printed our profiles in the dusty ground, we had to learn how to survive. Meaning how to use our space suits properly and to stay always in touch with our crewmates.
We decided to split our crew into groups of three each, to have a short familiarization EVA. Commander Horn and Medical Officer Sczepaniak and me had the privilege to be in group one. The pole position also helped to clear some problems for the rest of the team. It took us some time to have all radios checked and synchronized and applied perfectly to our suits.
Our space helmets are certainly a piece of art. Quite unique in size and design, and clearly differentiable to other groundbreaking space missions in the past decades. Every era should have its iconic space suits and round and clear helmets define the era of humans on Mars.
It takes two people two put the helmet and the oxygen container on the astronaut, which is clearly an effort. But it also increases the feeling of security; because it clearly has what the astronaut needs most – plenty of breathable air. But it takes a little bit more to be able to go out of the habitat than just putting on a suit.
To avoid the risk of decompressing our lungs we stayed twenty-five minutes in the preparation room. We used this time to triple check ourselves before we went into the airlock. This tiny chamber is the last thin border to the Martian environment. At this stage we could already look through a round window - the reflection in our round helmets made the outside look like a hovering planet...
In the airlock, we decompressed for another five minutes. The moment of opening this last door to adventure was beautiful, commander Horn opened the lock and the Martian sun welcomed us.
Yesterday night blew a hefty Martian storm over our habitat, so the first thing we did was checking the premises for possible damage. We discovered nothing of concerns and jumped on our ATV’s (Automated Transfer Vehicle), which we had extensively trained on Earth. While an ATV is fuelled on petrol and is for one passenger, an Rover is a vehicle for two passengers, a pick-up and a rechargeable battery. I had struggled with the vehicles before, but today it was a complete joy ride. Everything seemed in sync, as I was always meant to ride on this surface.
Our plan was to explore the near surroundings and so we did. The ground was mainly even and we quickly distanced ourselves from our hab. The landscape got more surreal as we gained ground. Round shaped and sharp-edged hills and rocks are sprinkled left and right of us. We stopped and climbed on the highest elevation point. I was surprised how easy we reached the peak.
The surface is soft and gives enough grip to step up. On top, it was a great opportunity to shoot some pictures to send home. After we returned to the hab and a quick lunch I decided to join the second group for their first minutes outside.
After everything was done I actually felt the exhaustion of the EVAs. While I was out there the adrenaline kept me focused and going, because every new shot was a promise. But it was great to return to the hab, which turned to our home within just a couple of days. I never expected that, but the intensity of our endeavor seems to accelerate everything. Mars really makes every minute count and precious.
Personal Logbook: I am exhausted, but very happy after this day with 1 1/2 EVA’s. There are challenges to shoot video with the round helmet, but I surprisingly managed well to focus. For the first time, I also had the chance to take some photography on film on Mars, which made me really content.
There is a special process to prepare the films. If I am out on the Martian surface I will have my suit and gloves on. It's hard to open a package of film, I prepare them already in the habitat as much as I can. Also with my helmet on I can not lick the adhesive tape of the medium format film, when a roll is finished. Therefore I prepare short tapes of scotch that are placed on my film bag.
After a roll is finished I close the film out in the field with that adhesive tape and when I come home into the habitat I take the exposed films and stow them and prepare the load for the next day in the same manner.
Ad Astra, Herr Willie, Journalist, Crew 184
05 December 2017 - Crisis Management
Some people say you only really arrived at a new home when you managed your first crisis and you didn’t run away. Well, that means we have finally arrived on Mars. We woke up to a bunch of problems, which could have had a dramatic effect on the livelihood of crew number 184.
Crew Engineer Hunt woke up early today and was the first to realize, that our internal water tank on our top floor had reached a critically low level. This tank provides water for our kitchen, the bath, and the toilet – it is the heart of our Martian shelter.
It is just below the roof because it uses gravity to spread water to the various outlets below. At first, we thought, our pump was defective.
That conclusion was plausible because shortly after crisis number one we detected crisis number two. Our battery, which is fueled by a generator and the solar panels, was down to five percent. Commander Horn and Crew Engineer Hunt, still in his pajamas, observed the devices and detected a leaking oil tank.
Was our failing energy source the reason for the block in the water delivery?
And could officer Hunt fix the oil leak and subsequently fix the hab water supply? Time was crucial because we only had limited reserve water bottles and the toilet was also relying on the tank. From personal experience I could tell, holding back on business at the space-loo makes it impossible to stay operational.
The night was awfully cold leading to Sol 4 and so we came up to a new possible reason for the failing water system. Maybe the pipes leading into the hab were frozen? We checked them and although we couldn’t peek inside we could feel how cold they were. The sun still hadn’t turned around far enough to warm up the external water tank. We never had been so anxious for the hot giant star to move faster to hit Mars with a wave of heat.
After two hours of troubleshooting and learning more about the life-sustaining infrastructure we contacted mission control and requested assistance on our problems. We were assured, that we were on the right track and that we will live another day. After we closed the oil leak, which was caused by a cap, which wasn’t screwed tight enough, the battery gained quickly to power. And once the sun turned the water flooded into our hab.
Because of the crisis situation we had to push our second EVA two to three hours back. Me and a crew of three, led by Science Officer Akash Trivedi, were already in the pre-breathing chamber when we heard the good news of the resolved problems. We could start with a light heart to our mission to collect soil and rock samples.
Akash Trivedi is one of two European members of our crew. The Briton is well connected to the University of Oxford, which asked him to do a so-called matryoshka project. He received satellite data for interesting surfaces on Mars and now wants to collect samples from exactly these spots. Like a Russian doll, both elements will complete one another. We took the rover out and as we reached our destination climbed on hills to collect the sources.
It was fun. The heavy helmet and backpack didn’t really hold me back. But I must say carrying the camera equipment and the necessity to be faster at a certain spot and staying longer to have enough footage is demanding. It sounds contradictory, but you have to stay ahead and longer in one spot at the same time.
Coming back was great because there was a special treat waiting for us. With restored energy and water, we will have our first shower on Mars. We were holding back on it since the beginning, looking at the water crisis, quite a good exercise to deal with such a shortage. So if you excuse me, I have a date with our shower…
Personal Logbook: Today was a fruitful day, but I will be happy when I lay down to sleep. Because my crew has little to no experience with documentary work, it is also a workshop for them to align with the demands of filmmaking. In a way, they have to be actors, but actors, who play themselves. Once you understand this and the technical requirements of filmmaking you are halfway there.
Some are very talented and pure gold. For others, I have to explain certain procedures over and over again. And it’s all good and no one's fault. It just makes it a bit harder for me. Which is tough, when you already do four jobs by yourself.
Today I could also do some more photos on film, which made me very content.
During the various problems we had to manage today I was doing some photography of our polished helmets and suits. I thought I use the calm to cover these essentials. Tomorrow I might stay in the hab for a day. I definitely should take a little rest in one of the next days. I think I will make this decision upon the weather forecast. Still super excited to be here, but taking care of my energy level.
Ad Astra. Herr Willie, Journalist, Crew 184
06 December 2017 - Climbing Higher
Day number five on Mars and we are still alive and happy to be here. While it continues to be quite chilly in the morning our water pipes didn’t freeze last night. Learning from yesterday we checked the pump first thing after waking up and while the hab tank filled up I looked around and saw into very content faces of relieved Marsonauts. The generator is still a bit shaky, but our solar panels work great and as long as the sun is shining we should be fine.
We were planning to continue our matryoshka project today on an EVA and we wanted to start quite early. That’s why we had an early lunch at around ten o’clock. As I was assigned with commander Horn and officers Trivedi and Hunt to join the exploration team I was also free of my daily cooking duties.
Cooking is, of course, different to what we are used to. We have milk powder, which we mix up with water. Just imagine the insane amount of milk we would have to fly up into space, matching our demand. Imagine if we would have shipped a couple of space cows up to the red planet, but we would need to provide them with food… don’t get me started.
We really get our groove on with our EVA preparations. This time we pre-checked our radios in the pre-breathing chamber to get our suits and helmets on. Today I tried a new helmet, I had specially made on earth to meet my needs for filming and photographing, as it is important to have my analogue cameras close to my eye for focusing. It is a combination of a newly developed pressure-resistant head and a 180° crystal face shield, which looks like a giant scuba mask. There were some issues with it during the EVA, but I will come back to that later.
We drove out much quicker than in the last EVA’s and took a rover and two ATV’s, which are just one-seater. For the geological matryoshka project of Science Officer Trivedi, we climbed a few hills at different locations with interesting rock formations. The sun was up and we had some great frames with impressive shadows.
My helmet turned a bit foggy, so a lot of my filming was a kind of a blind flight. But with the experience of the last days, I managed ok. We stumbled about a stone formation, that almost looked like a bone of a giant creature. Maybe it is a fossil of an early Martian life form? But maybe it is also our earthly expectation we project on Mars. If we observe similar formations we might draw a scientific conclusion in the future.
Being on these hills gave us a great overview of the territory we had covered in the first days we spent on the new planet. It was a quite majestic moment. Unfortunately, one of my analogue cameras fell down twice today, opened up, and also my settings were temporarily messed up. I will only know in a few weeks if the pictures came out well. So the mission is to take further pictures, never to stop, and to be sure to have enough material to show to the folks on the mother planet.
We came home a bit prematurely and were surprised to detect a little water leak just below our airlock chamber. We analyzed the scene and tried to analyze the source of the leak. Was it melted ice connected with the frozen pipes yesterday? We later consulted mission control and were assured it probably spills from our kitchen sink, which shouldn’t bother us too much. And the Martian ground can hold a little bit more water for sure.
Back to the new helmet. Unfortunately, it couldn’t be perfected for the Martian environment, just yet. At the moment breathing still causes moisture in the helmet, which makes it harder to see through the face shield. With the assistance of health and safety officer Sczepaniak we applied some improvements to the breathing mechanism and the first tests were very promising. I will test it in the field tomorrow.
Yesterday night Commander Horn conducted a space-themed board game night, which was super fun. Crew Engineer Hunt showed unexpected winning potential, but I wasn't doing too shabby either. For me, it was only a short stint, though. I honestly had to concentrate on my preparations for the next day and my mind wasn´t really up to relaxation.
Personal Logbook: It was a good day. I am less exhausted today, even though it was equally tough on today’s EVA compared to yesterday's. Maybe I am getting used to the Martian life circumstances. Maybe I am evolving quicker than I thought.
I had to speak out on our EVA today to the rest of the crew. In the lack of a crew camera for pictures of the geological surface, I was constantly asked to take pictures of rocks. I can do that, but actually I am busy documenting every move of the crew. Doing these scientific shots can much easier be achieved by an additional camera of the respective specialist officer. Everybody agreed and I was happy, that my role is understood, and so I can continue my storytelling.
As I didn’t take a shaver with me I am growing an impressive beard at the moment. Maybe it will turn Hemingwayish in a few days. That would be a first for me, but very appropriate for an adventurer...
Ad Astra. Herr Willie, Journalist, Crew 184
The journey continues in Logbook Two...