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2006-04-12, 2030h MST
AustroMars Mission Sol 5: “Bacteria Day an Yuri’s Night”
If I had to describe this day in two words, I would most likely choose “bacteria day”, as today’s EVA’s were all centred on biological experiments. Already in the morning, Gernot Grömer, the AustroMars Health and Safety Officer, Markus Spiss, our Mission Specialist for Life Sciences, and Christian Hutsteiner, the Flight Engineer, were going on the third LiMa (Life on Mars) EVA. This time Gernot was the EVA commander, while Alexander Soucek, the First Officer, acted as the HabCom. As LiMa is set to optimise the procedures for finding and processing potential life bearing samples, this experiment includes an extensive contamination protocol to enable the highest levels of planetary protection.
Consequently the probes were always contained in sterile containers, carefully moved into the lab area of the MDRS and processed accordingly afterwards, by making use of a glove box.
Because this EVA was not intended to be a long range one, but took place in the vicinity of the Habitat, lasting 3 hours and 20 minutes, we used the occasion to test the AustroMars Aerobot. This system is a remote controlled and motorised aircraft, equipped with a camera to provide for excellent images. Resembling a some-what motorised paraglider, the Aerobot features an electric propulsion system, which can support a 10 minutes flight, depending on wind strength. We intend to use the AustroMars Aerobot in a exploration cascade as an intermediate reconnaissance system, situated between the satellite imagery and the AustroMars Rover, as its resolution and coverage lies exactly in between of those systems. Since I (Norbert Frischauf) was occupied in testing out the Rover, Christian had the pleasure of testing out the Aerobot. So far Christian and I are foreseen as Aerobot pilots, as we two are pilots in our daily lives as well. Christian flies helicopters at the Austrian air force and I am an acrobatic soaring plane pilot. Although we have successfully tested the Aerobot in the AustroMars preparation week, today we had no luck. At the first launch an unpleasant gust, had the Aerobot crash so quickly that Christian could not react, while at the second test, the propeller stopped just at the time when the Aerobot was starting to become airborne. Consequently the result was the same one as at the first launch. Because gravity did its best to prove its existence, a part of the Aerobot’s structure broke loose and so we had to abandon all test flights for today to fix the damage (which was done in the afternoon).
After lunch the second EVA was due, again focussing on biological effects, but this time not so much on the search for life, but rather on the issue of contamination. The experiment is called “Track and Trace” and is set up to quantify backward and forward contamination. Measuring the backward contamination or the transport of material from outside the Airlock into the Habitat, was done by two astronauts wearing sterile covers over their space suits on which specific plates were mounted to collect samples outside of the Habitat and such to obtain data how much outside material is transported back into the Airlock and/or the Habitat. Contrary, the forward contamination experiment was done with a normal looking space suit, on which fluorescent micro spherules of different colour were applied to the left and the right arm. In addition specific places of the space suit were covered with special collectors, which were to accumulate some of these micro spherules to check for cross and forward contamination, which was happening while doing normal activities on the Martian surface. Christoph Kandler, the Mission Specialist for planetary Sciences, was the astronaut who conducted the forward contamination experiment, while Alexander and Christian wore the sterile space suit covers. During the EVA, Alexander acted as EVA commander while Gernot lead the experiment as HabCom. It is the first time that such an experiment to quantify contamination is undertaken and for sure Track and Trace was one of the toughest experiments so far, because the sterile covers pose a thermal challenge on the astronauts. Collecting geological samples proved to be a sweat driving exercise. In a sense of good luck however, the suit donning procedure had already taken 2 hours – although two other crew members dressed in TYVEK suits had helped the astronauts – so the EVA was cut to an acceptable minimum of 2 hours.
Bacteria day was finally concluded by some biological sample taking of hair and skin of the crew and now it is about time to come to the historical part of day: Yuri’s Night!
As today is the 45th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s spaceflight, space enthusiasts and professionals celebrate this great achievement with parties all over the globe. And of course AustroMars participates as well! In the morning EVA, Alexander had the great idea to surprise the EVA team by playing the Russian anthem adding a statement of Yuri Gagarin on his remarkable flight. For a moment the whole AustroMars world was united, as all of us here at the MDRS heard the words, as well as the MCC in Salzburg, since we transmit our EVA communication via Voice over IP directly to Austria. A lot of people had gathered at that time in the MCC and they all were extremely surprised, impressed and touched. Now, at the time when I write this report, with our daily work being finished it is time to lean back and to do the most obvious thing: join the world-wide Yuri’s Night party here at the MDRS! After all the experiences we had so far, we will do so in the spirit that space flight is a world-wide endeavour and one of the best tools to ensure that countries and people can work together on critical technologies in a peaceful manner. The International Space Station is a first important step on this way, but when I look outside onto this Mars-like landscape I do hope that it will not take another 45 years for humanity to finally leave its cradle and to set foot on Mars…
Signing off for today
Commander, MDRS Crew 48 “AustroMars”
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