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2006-04-14, 2000h MST
AustroMars Mission Sol 7: “The right Stuff”
Today, as we have nearly reached the halftime of the AustroMars mission, our Mission Control Center (MCC) in Salzburg decided that we should have a little bit of rest. Therefore our flight plan was set up that we would have spare time in the morning and would not conduct any EVA to reload our internal batteries. Also it was decided we would have time devoted this evening to watch a movie, for which the crew had quickly made up its mind that this one should be “The right Stuff”, by Philip Kaufman.
Spare time in the AustroMars slang does of course not mean that we would have free time, but rather that we could work on our scientific reports, do some housekeeping, conduct a video conference and take care of the burning issue of the missing water flow into the GreenHab. Here – after some extensive checking and testing – a broken grey water sump pump was identified as the root cause of the problem.
So, Markus Spiss, our Mission Specialist for Life Sciences and Christian Hutsteiner, the Flight Engineer, continued where they had stopped yesterday night: repairing or exchanging the grey water pump and checking the water quality indicators of the GreenHab. The first measure was to add water (several litres) into the nearly empty tank number 5 to make sure that the bacteria in this tank would not decay. Next on the list was to find a spare pump. After some search, Markus and Christian found an old pump which had the problem that its electrical contacts were not properly cased, so one could not use it as a submerged pump. Nonetheless it was identified as a good interim solution to pump the grey water from the grey water tank into the GreenHab system. Piping was adapted to fit to the GreenHab water pipes, the pump was plugged onto the electric grid and it started to pump! To avoid any problems with the electric contacts, Christian and Markus devised a solution where only the lower part of the pump would be exposed to the grey water, leaving the pump contacts out of the water. This solution worked and so we had at least an interim solution for this anomaly at hand. Interim only, as the pump has to be manually adjusted permanently to stay close to the grey water level, to pump effectively but not get submerged at the same time.
Dissatisfied with this solution, Christian and Markus got into contact with the MDRS Engineering Team to learn that there is a 12V bilge pump available that could be used as well, but which was not broken and could therefore be submerged. After 3 hours of hard work, the two succeeded and the new 12V bilge pump was installed. Now we have to wait for a timer that has to be installed as well to limit the pumping time of the new sump pump. If the pumping time is not constricted, the sump pump would pump so much that the GreenHab tanks could overflow in the worst case. Until the timer is there, we will therefore manually switch on and off the new sump pump.
While Christian and Markus were busy in implementing the sump pump, the rest of the crew was concentrating on housekeeping, writing reports and checking emails. Both Markus and Christoph Kandler, the AustroMars Mission Specialist for planetary Sciences, used the extra time to conduct an extensive documentation of samples and data that had been collected so far. Gernot Grömer, the Health and Safety Officer, whirled through the laboratory area to clean gloves and rooms, while Alexander Soucek, the First Officer and I (Norbert Frischauf) used the time to improve communication with the MCC, Principle Investigators and the media.
Even though we had a more relaxed sol today, the scientific programme demanded its tribute and ordered us to collect saliva and urine samples, measure blood pressure, weight and body water, do sleepiness tests (FAMOS and Pupillomyograph) and to conduct an extensive psychological survey in the afternoon.
Now, at the time when I write the report, the crew is pretty much relaxed and in good mood. The break was a really good thing and proved its worthiness, especially after the last few days, with their very compressed and demanding activities. It is great to see how this six men grew together over the last 6 sols. By now I would say that the AustroMars crew resembles more a family than a group, an observation that was wonderfully backed up when our Flight Engineer entered the Habitat with a big smile, looking around at each of us, proudly declaring that the new bilge pump is installed and works. Spontaneously everyone in the Habitat applauded, acknowledging the hard work that Christian and Markus had devoted to this effort.
In a few hours, once we have finished writing our reports and had dinner together, we will watch the movie. I will then again look around and I am pretty sure that I will be reaffirmed in one thing: This group of people, backed up by 4 more on-site, 30 more in the MCC and several others back in Europe, possesses quite a lot of that was is supposed to be “The right Stuff”…
Signing off for today
Commander, MDRS Crew 48 “AustroMars”
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