The crew has noted that we don’t get many surprises here. The landscape never changes; it’s always other-worldly, red, and desolate. Our schedules are similar from week-to-week, and when we do get a surprise, it’s usually a negative, such as a back-up energy system failing to engage. However, there are many aspects of this mission that have been pleasant surprises for me!
Mostly sunny, sometimes cloudy, this surreal view never gets old!
Numero Uno: The shower situation is not bad at all! Note that, this is coming from a gal who used to shower for at least 15 minutes per day, and here we each get about 7 minutes per week!! Tonight, I took a 1.5-minute shower and felt clean, satisfied, and refreshed. Well actually, I was in the shower for 10 minutes, but I had the water running for only 1.5 minutes. I can’t imagine going back to my old routine when I return to Earthly life, it wasted so much water!!
Checking the water level in our tanks that “bots” refill about once per month
Number Two: I underestimated how much I would crave new music and photos, and I overestimated how much reading I would do here. I loaded down my suitcase with eight books that I’ve been wanting to read, and unfortunately, I have only read two of them. What really makes my day is reading emails, seeing photos of family and friends, or hearing a new song that someone sends me. I listen to music most of the day while I am working, mainly because there’s quite a bit of background noise (sound-proofed walls are lacking in the dome), and at night we play music of the chef’s choice while having dinner together.
Martha and Neil making their own music, aka "Fake Band on Fake Mars" ;)
Number Three: We are learning so much in the kitchen! Everything is homemade here, each week, there's at least a couple days with baking involved.. breads, rolls, pie crusts, bagels, scones, pizza dough, doughnuts.. you name it, we’ve probably tried it in glutenous and gluten-free forms! As for our main dishes, last week, we did “take-overs” where we each learned to cook one of the meals that another crew member had made in the past, and that is literally the first time that any of the meals have been repeated, so much variety and deliciousness! We also have ice cream parties from time-to-time, started out by trying plain ole vanilla, but since then we’ve had success at nutella gelato and raspberry-lime sorbet. And for me, solely based on learning to make "out of this world" flan, I can say that this mission has been a success!
Yours truly with homemade pretzel rolls (the lighter ones are gluten-free)
Number Four: I am surprised that I am never bored! After living in the vibrant city of Chicago, one might think that hanging out with the same five people for eight months in a 1000 square foot dome would be a hellish contrast. However, time is flying by, the six of us are still getting along great, and I’m not even bothered by being inside most of the time. It helps that I have alot of research going on. Also, we have quite the extensive inventory of board games. So far, I think my favorite games are Citadel, Puerto Rico, and King of Tokyo.
Number Five: One of the subjects that NASA is researching here is how to facilitate crew autonomy. With missions to the International Space Station, the crews can still continuously communicate with mission support. In contrast, with a Mars misison, there is a 20-minute delay as communications travel the wide-distance between Earth and Mars. Since it is logistically burdensome to rely on directions and orders from mission support, a Mars crew should operate in an autonomous manner to efficiently achieve goals. I’ve been surprised by this whole dynamic with mission support. Rather than giving orders, they are on-call for 12 hours per day, waiting to support our needs, and not only our needs but also our wants! We receive daily news updates, and we can request recordings of sports games or special broadcasts like the State of the Union address earlier. I still feel connected to current events on Earth, even though I have limited internet access and communications with the outside world.
Gunshow in our Hexoskin shirts, which monitor and record workout performance
The Sixer: After a few months of living in confinement and cooking like we do, you might wonder if we'll be needing some larger clothing in the next resupply ;) However, on the contrary, we actually are becoming healthier and stronger as the mission goes on. We stay on schedule with our daily workouts, take vitamins religiously, and give ourselves time to relax when needed! Also, because we do not have any physical contact with the outside world, we aren’t faced with flu bugs or common colds. A real Mars crew will have other health concerns that are not simulated here, such as radiation damage from being outside Earth's protective atmosphere and muscle / bone atrophy from working against less gravity.. but on fake Mars, it seems only fat deposits are shrinking!