Friday, April 2, 2010

Day 12

The winds have died down and today will mark our last full day at MDRS. Cleaning, packing, and burgers await. We're all excited to get back to showers and classes, but there is always something so sad about leaving this place.

Yesterday we came out of sim about lunch time. The morning was spent fiddling with software to ensure we could export radio coverage tracks. Unfortunately, there was not enough sun to power the repeater battery and it had died. I decided to test the direct station instead. Eric and I suited up one last time and headed outside to take pictures for the PA Space Grant Consortium to show our appreciation. After the crew came outside and we noted the time we stepped foot back on earth, Eric, Billy and I got on ATVs to do one last coverage EVA. We traveled for 2.5 hours through the desert with insane wind gusts hitting us. It was hard to see and I had to stop repeatedly to wipe dust and water out of my eyes. We also couldn't hear each other. By the time we came back, my ATV had stalled out 5 times and Eric's had a flat tire. We were exhausted, but we got some great tracks out of it. I will post some once I'm back to normal internet. Just to mention the internet situation out here- we have limited bandwidth and cannot load photos, videos, etc. As silly as it is, I will be excited to get back to Facebook with photos!

Once we got back from the EVA, Chris and I ventured up to the observatory to untie the repeater. Because of the high winds, we had used ropes and guerrilla tape to ensure it would stay in place. The tape was so strong and well put that Chris broke the handle on the scissors trying to get it off. We had to laugh, but finally got all of the equipment inside. I spent a good hour packing all of it up and ensuring it was ready for shipping. It was then that Dan came down the stairs (about 4 PM) and informed me that our septic system had been condemned by the government and we could not use it. A porta potty would arrive late in the night and we were to "hold it" until then or use bags as they did on FMars to secure the discharge. Gross, much? When we asked if this was a joke, mission support replied with:

"Wish I could say it was... The testing they did in Dec. showed levels
of tritium and deuterium along with dioxides of hydrogen in
astronomical levels, in addition to the human and plant waste. The
source has yet to be determined and may be environmental. I just hope
it is not the potable water that has the issue... DG will have more
details when he gets there, and will also check to see if the septic
water is glowing.


Despite the email, we made dinner and watched a movie. We were all somewhat nervous and actually did hold it until about 11, when each of us individually went out in the dark, cold (29 degrees) desert to go to the bathroom. At 11:30 we received the following:

"OK, since it is now past midnight here in Texas, I will admit this was
an April Fool's joke. As I mentioned to DG and Artemis there is some
small amount of tritium and deuterium in your dihydrogen monoxide
(H2O) it is certainly not high enough to notice. Probably something
near the order of parts per quintillion and trillion respectively..."

We all died laughing at the fact that we were so convinced this wasn't a joke. We sat awake until at least midnight trying to come up with a way to retaliate. Mission support will be getting some great pictures from us tonight. After reading some of the bible to reflect on Maundy Thursday, we went to sleep to prepare for our last day.

"I'm having an identity crisis in my bed. It was two days!" -Me

Plans for today:

Rover Testing
Burgers in town!

Off to our last full day,

Crew 93-XO

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Day 11

I typically write my blog in the morning, but Billy and I will be getting up early tomorrow to get started on the repeater coverage EVA's. You guessed it- great news- we launched the repeater today! Billy and I cracked up as we attempted to tyrap a coax to a fiberglass mast in 30+ mph wind. After looking online, we saw that we had just been hit by a 42 mph gust! I have never had so much trouble trying to stabilize myself. The dust was beating at us, so we worked as quickly as possible. Once complete, we ran down the hill to get back into the hab, and at one point I literally was thrown about six inches. Earlier in the morning we had lifted off the hatch of the hab to deploy the base station antenna.

Once I got the repeater all set up, Dan, Billy and I spent some time troubleshooting to get useful data from the radios. After some tinkering, we were able to send data packets from a handheld to the base station and map a track on a topographic map. I was really pleased until I sent Jessica and Dan out with radios on an EVA to check on the turbine. Unfortunately, the set of GPS' I brought were not very reliable and I couldn't receive any track. Billy and I will use his professional GPS tomorrow to ensure we get the data we need. Although it is so late in the trip, I am thrilled to have all my equipment set up and working. I will definitely be shipping it much further in advance next year...

Had to run outside to recover ATV covers a couple times- the wind just wants to take all our supplies with it- we found an empty gas can had also flown a good 300 feet. Billy spent some more time with the rover. We will do most of that testing on Friday, when we are officially out of sim. Took my last 90 second shower at MDRS for a year. Can't say I'll miss it. I am so excited to enjoy a bubble bath after freezing water and dishwasher soap! Jessica made a pretty decent stir fry for dinner tonight with rehydrated veggies and chickenish chunks (soy protein)- it tasted more like home. We are all in our rooms now, relaxing and looking forward to a movie. The original plan was to go out of sim tomorrow afternoon, but Dan seems pretty adamant on staying in sim until Friday, so we will do so. Crews tend to pick their own simulation dates. I'll keep everyone posted, but can't wait to check my cell phone and get back on gchat! The first week was relaxing, but now I can't help but wonder what I'm missing in the real world...

"Let me answer that question with a headbutt" -Me

Plans for tomorrow:
Radio Coverage EVA
Rover Work

Off to a movie and some rest,

Crew 93-XO

P.S. A late update...Dan, Billy, Eric and I just treked up mountains in 35 mph winds with 50 mph wind gusts to check on the repeater and wind turbine. Engineering at its best. We weren't really treking, we were gliding...

Day 10

The winds were so strong yesterday that we spent most of the day hoping that the hab wouldn't blow over...or at least that we wouldn't lose the top hatch. The antennas arrived in the morning, but to my dismay it was too windy to launch the repeater. It wouldn't be worth damaging the equipment. The winds have slown a bit, so hopefully we can launch the repeater today and do a few quick EVA's to get repeater coverage.

We did test the battery with the solar charger and panel directly outside the hab on the trailer. We got battered with salt and sand as soon as we stepped out into engineering. One of the lenses of my sunglasses popped out, and I literally could not hold myself up against the wind. It made for some great pictures. Dan also did an EVA to check on the turbine. Billy spent the afternoon programming the rover and actually got it running. Very exciting to see!

It was a non-cooking day, so we had our last freeze-dried crap meal for dinner. It has not been decided yet, but the idea is that we come out of sim tomorrow afternoon or Friday morning so we have time to mail our equipment and clean the hab for the next crew. We will head back to Grand Junction on Saturday afternoon once the new crew gets it. I know we are all anxious to eat real food and use a toilet you don't have to pump, but I always get quite sad leaving this place.

Make sure to check out Billy's pictures!


"You don't make sense" -Jessica
"This sounds odd coming from a guy who's main project is a wind turbine, but I really wish it was less windy!"-Dan
"I'll put peanut butter on anything"-Billy

Hoping for less wind and more EVA action,

Crew 93- XO

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Day 9

The winds are so high this morning that I thought the hab was going to blow over. I stayed in bed as long as possible to keep warm, but finally got up when I heard Billy moving around the hab. We are still being shaken by 30 mph winds. The weather is to be gorgeous today, up to 76.

Yesterday was our day off- it wasn't really decided that, but it became that. We all had a very lazy morning on computers, and I studied until about 2 PM. Then I headed out to the trailer in a bathing suit top and shorts to soak up some sun. I was only out for two hours, but was showing some great color by 4 PM. I'm convinced the sun wants me to be as red as the planet. I'm only a little pink this morning. Others had joined me outside, until Eric cut his toe. He and I headed in and I spent some more time working on schoolwork while he watched a movie.

Dan, feeling much more productive than the rest of us, set off to do a turbine EVA. This long EVA was meant to really test the ability of the turbine to provide power. To do this, an inverter was attached to the battery, with a lamp attached to this inverter. With this, a noticeable change could be observed when the power dropped to low in the battery. Although the setup was simple, the majority of the time was spent waiting for the battery to fall to a low power level. Without the turbine providing power, the battery remained well charged for about three minutes, while the inverter stopped operating after approximately four minutes.Once the turbine was turned on, the lamp and inverter stayed on for 40 minutes before concluding the test, while showing a battery voltage similar to when the test began. This led us to conclude that the power would last so long as the wind blew. Dan came in and we all scavenged for dinner. I personally had two bowls of frozen yogurt. :-p The variety of food here is quickly getting old...3 more days until cheeseburgers!

Today's plans:

Hoping antennas arrive for repeater coverage EVA
Launch repeater and place antenna on hab roof
Rover work

"They don't like it when you shoot at them. I figured that much out myself" -Mal, Firefly

Attempting not to be blown away,

Crew 93-XO

Monday, March 29, 2010

Day 8

We have officially spent 1 week at the hab. The heat didn't come I on last night, so my usually quite tropical room was freezing and I couldn't get myself out of bed this morning. The others must feel the same, as Billy and I are still the only one's up, and we got a late start. It is to be 65 degrees today- I am so excited to see the sun come out! Billy and I will set off shortly to do another mapping EVA. Still no sight of my packages...makes testing the repeater, well, impossible.

Yesterday was extremely productive. After breakfast, Billy and I suited up to do Mapping EVA # 2. This time we traveled to Lithe Canyon, North of the hab. The ride was much more exciting this time, as it was a bunch of twists and swerves and up steep hills. I also switched to suit #3, which truly fit and didn't bounce during the ride. When we got back, Jessica, Dan and Eric set off to put the turbine back up. It was a quick EVA, so upon depressurizing and coming back into the hab, decided to go out for another EVA. It was made aware that Jessica and Dan had not yet been on an ATV EVA, so both members of the crew, accompanied by Chris and Eric, went out to explore Valles Marinaris. Dan must have been feeling particularly energetic, because he then set off to go check the voltage coming off the turbine. Billy and I had set up a study party while the others went out, as we have a ton of work to do before the week is out.

We made dinner, chicken primavera and mashed potatoes (ew non-cooking day) and decided to play some crew games. Jessica introduced "oink, piggy oink" where one member spins around with their eyes closed and then sits on the nearest member they can find (all blind). They ask for some animal noise, and try to figure out who said it. I was laughing too hard each time to actually get away with anything, so I got pulled up quite a bit. After we had had enough, we watched three episodes of firefly and passed out. Another successful day.


"Wait, Eric, are you not coming?"-Jessica
"Yeah, I am, I just gotta go take my pants off first"-Eric

"Chris, we're shaking our booties out here!"-Jillian
"I'm OK"-Chris

Plans for today:
Mapping EVA #3
Turbine Work

1 week left!

Crew 93-XO

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Radio Research Plan

Radio-based Voice and Data Communication Research Plan

This proposal seeks to continue the effort of Crew 79 by providing reliable communications between an EVA team and its base. Crew 93 will use prior studies from past crews to determine what worked well and what fell short of the MDRS crew needs. This crew will attempt to improve the communication system previously established by ensuring power is maintained and also experimenting with placement of equipment and its range.

Based on the experience gained from these prototypes, Crew 93 will use the same set-up as Crew 79 in order to correct previous issues and establish a reliable communication system. Interviews held with members of previous missions will outline the needs for modification of the communication system. Aspects of the system that performed well will be kept in the new system as much as possible unless, through the course of a redesign, an improved method is found. The interviews will also allow mission members to provide useful insights and input into the redesign so that their needs and desires are included.

This crew will test links established between Kenwood TH-D7A APRS enabled radios and attached GPS units on each space suit, a pair of deployable APRS and voice repeaters using a Kenwood TM-D700A for the digital repeater, and two Icom IC-W32A radios for a cross band repeater. Figure 1 diagrams the previous and current system. The system, as designed, will help establish improved surveying and mapping missions of the terrain through the automatic position reports forwarded to the habitat module via the APRS data links. Figures 2 and 3 show the mapping possible, especially with the combination of the data and Google Earth in Figure 3.

No additional radio equipment is necessary, however, a voltmeter will be secured in order to keep a log of battery power to ensure power is not lost during an extra-vehicular excursion (EVA). Interviews with past crew members indicated that equipment had failed due to a lack of necessary power. The goal is to have less dependence on only battery power, which requires an exploration team to retrieve the batteries at regular intervals for charging. A combination solar and battery power system will be constructed to provide long service time for the repeater. A solar panel from the Hab will be used to aid this generation of power on the hilltop. Battery power will be tracked and recharged as needed.

As seen in the past, placement and power supplies may limit operation and range. The digipeater will be placed strategically and range will be measured to see how far the explorers can go before communication is lost. Equipment may be moved to different locations for testing. This will provide data for future missions.

Sponsorship was secured in past years with the Kenwood Corporation, Amateur Radio division, which produces the TM-D7A handheld and TM-D700 mobile data radio. These units have been used at MDRS in the past, and are directly compatible with the Amateur Packet Reporting System (APRS) as designed by Robert Bruninga, WB4APR, of the United States Naval Academy. The Kenwood radios and APRS system has seen extensive use at MDRS during several crews for tracking of EVA teams, digital messaging and voice communication.

The APRS protocol allows for arbitrary data transfer formats in addition to position and message formats. This is suitable for adding telemetry devices in the field that can report back to the mission members and beyond. Some remote sensors suggested for use are sunlight intensity sensors, temperature sensors, and radiation sensors. These can be interfaced to the APRS system by way of an OpenTracker APRS telemetry interface from Argent Data Systems, a BASIC Stamp from Parallax (if needed by the sensor to digitize the data), and an inexpensive handheld radio such as the Kenwood TH-K2AT. Together, a full one-way telemetry system can be added to the many tools available to mission members for remotely monitoring their environment.

Radiocommunications system
1. Radiocommunications system based on Amateur Radio

Surveying and Mapping
2. Surveying and Mapping

Google Earth
3. Visualization in Google Earth

Day 7

Shower day!! Naturally, I'm in a great mood. We're having a ball out here. Non-cooking day, but not even that could bring me down. Billy and I are up earlier than the rest of the crew, discussing our EVA for today. Getting warmer out- supposed to be 70 tomorrow!

Yesterday marked the start of the radio coverage EVA's. I'll create another post with my research plan for those who are curious. I still haven't received my antennas, nor jpole, so we are just functioning on the direct radio station. Unfortunately, the coverage we get with this is merely line of sight, so it is difficult to stay in contact with the Hab. Billy is doing an EVA to map the roads around the hab, so he accompanies me to mark waypoints where we lose contact. I sure hope the rest of my equipment shows up so we can understand what kind of coverage the repeater can provide. We left the hab on ATV's and traveled North for 15 minutes, then headed west for about 25 minutes, and finally headed south. All in all, we were gone for two hours. My pack wasn't very tight, nor my helmet to the pack, so every time I hit a bump the whole system bounced and I have a few nice bruises on my nose and head. My back is still sore. Billy and I now are fighting over the best, tightest suits and packs to use today. Earlier in the morning, Jessica, Eric and Dan suited up and traveled up engineering hill by foot to take down the turbine so Dan could work on the failed component. They were quick, but commented that it was hard to walk in so much wind.

Billy and I returned about 1430 and settled in for lunch, an episode of firefly, and a nap. At 1800, the crew all met to initiate "Breakfast Day". Jessica and I took over the kitchen and made a huge stack of pancakes and hashbrowns with onions and some other rehydrated veggies. Since we had heard that it was to be clear, as soon as the sun set we all headed out to the pressurized tunnels to view Mars and other visible constellations. We decided that since we were on Mars, it must have been a reflection. :-p We came in about an hour later, and all grabbed sleeping bags to get comfy on the hab floor. Watched two episodes of firefly, did some bow recovering (grr) and went to bed shortly after about 0100.

Still no sign of "Squeak"...


"Did we find a raptor claw??" -Chris
"Kind of, but it is plastic and made by Crest"-Dan
"Oral-b, Dan!"-me

"I want a peacock fan!"-Chris

Plans for today:

Radio Coverage EVA 2
Mapping EVA 2
Turbine work
Rover work

Off to answer emails, keep em coming! :)

Crew 93-XO