SOL 52 - EVA Narrative: Challenges and Accomplishments

Sol 52 [15 November 2016]

Another intense EVA!

Today, Annalea, Anastasiya and I headed towards the field site at 9:17 in the morning. After gearing up, we went inside the EVA airlock, simulated depressurisation and egressed the hab. Our first task was to remove the two trash bags from the hab. This EVA was basically focused on collecting hypolith abundance data and taking the sample back for macroscopic measurements of hypolith colonies.
The first lesson learned is to always accompany a route map while heading for a field site. Today, although our sampling site was in the vicinity of MDRS, for the first 15 minutes we kept wondering about the most convenient way to reach the ridge where we were supposed to conduct the hypolith study. The ridge was approximately 1400 meters above from the sea level. Although we were trying to take a route which was most convenient and required more walking than climbing in spacesuits, we ended up a shorter but difficult route. I had been to the location for an EVA before, for a different research objective, but we decided not to proceed that way as it was easy but a long walk. Also, we did not have the exact route map to follow. Finally, we came to a conclusion and found our way towards the ridge. The path to the ridge was absolutely tricky. We had to climb multiple slippery mounds and a steep incline, which, in the heavy spacesuit, was something to do. But we did it!

The two unexpected events occurred. First, my helmet started fogging up while climbing. Second, Anastasiya found a fly (we were not alone :) roaming inside her helmet which was very disturbing. So, we decided to stay for 10 minutes in the middle of the mound which was very slippery; we adjusted our legs properly so that we do not fall down. Anastasiya got rid of the fly, and the fog in my helmet started clearing up. The foggy helmet makes your excursion even more challenging and actually dangerous as you are not able to see through. Having resolved those issues, we moved ahead and decided to slow down our pace, which worked. During this period, we were constantly receiving transmissions from our HabCom – our Crew Geologist Dr Jon Clarke (a responsible job!). HabCom is a person who is based inside the hab, monitors the activities of the EVA team, and provides suggestions if needed via radio transmissions. This job rotates.

Finally, we completed our exhausting journey to the sampling location. Dr Chris McKay has proposed the hypolith study for Mars 160 mission. So, as he has suggested, I want to cover as many sites as possible to get a significant data of percentage abundance of hypolith in the Utah Desert. Although I felt this was not an ideal site for hypolith study, I wanted to record the data. Moreover, I collected some soil sample for further analysis.

I was just deliberating with myself, why our work of recording hypolith percentage abundance in the Utah Desert is important even though it is commonly practiced in the deserts. Our work stands out because we are performing this study in the full simulation suit while carrying almost 16 kilograms on our bodies. It is unprecedented. Additionally, it would provide a significant comparable data with other Mars analogs to understand the pattern and extent of colonization and environmental effect. We are also trying to understand the challenges and limitations of conducting such studies in full simulation suit for the future human astrobiological exploration of Mars. Telescience is a very important component of MARS 160 mission, which means, we maintain regular communication with our Earth-based scientists, as sometimes protocols need to be modified according to the changing situations.

So, we finished our field work and headed back to the hab. Again, we were extremely careful while climbing down. We were putting baby steps :)

Oh yeah, suddenly we felt that we were hungry! We started discussing mashed potatoes on the radio.


When my helmet got fogged up. (Image Credit: Crew Artist Annalea Beatie and The Mars Society)

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