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AustroMars Mission Sol 8: “Sand, Stones and Wings”
Halftime at AustroMars. After our recharging day yesterday, we were set back to full speed by our Mission Control Center (MCC) in Salzburg. This could easily be seen by the fact that we had three EVAs .Well, I should say at that point that the MCC had only planned for two EVAs, but we requested a third one, as we wanted to make use of a few synergies. But one after the other…
Sol 8 of the AustroMars mission saw in the morning an EVA devoted to Radiation shelter activities. Gernot Grömer, the Health and Safety Officer – acting as EVA Commander – and Christoph Kandler, the AustroMars Mission Specialist for planetary Sciences, were sent off to an area 500m South of WPT 322 at the Lovell Highway (ca. 2.5 km south of the MDRS). There they were ordered to dug a hole with a shovel and to fill sand bags to assess how much a space suit would hinder an astronaut doing this kind of work. Although this activity sounds a bit like “Drilling at the army” there is a real sense to it. In case there is a strong solar storm coming towards Mars, the hull of the Habitat might not provide enough of shelter for its inhabitants and so additional protective measures would have to be undertaken to reduce the radiation levels that the astronauts inside the station would get exposed to. A relatively easy method – at least in theory – would be to pile sand bags around the Habitat to create an additional protective shell, especially around the very vulnerable areas like the station’s windows.
Although not as effective as lead, sand has still a good stopping coefficient and has the big advantage that it is not as massive as the greyish metal. But don’t be deceived: although lighter than lead, a sand bag can still be very heavy. Today’s sand bag had the enormous weight of 46 kg! Sure on Mars this weight would be reduced to a bearable weight of around 20 kg, but in the AustroMars mission a 46 kg sand bag was found to be at the limit of what an astronaut in an analogue space suit could still handle. Making some rough calculations at the end of this exercise, we learned some interesting facts. The most important is surely that erecting a 2 m high and 50 cm deep protective wall around the MDRS would call for more or less one week of work (!) for two people working exclusively on such a radiation protection measure!
When Gernot and Christoph came back at lunch time, Christoph had to hurry up with his meal, as he was supposed to go with me (Norbert Friscauf) on another EVA immediately therafter. Alexander Soucek, the First Officer, acted as HabCom in the GeoMars EVA, in which Christoph and I were ordered to take geological samples at three pre-defined waypoints.
Coming out of the Habitat, we started our EVA by activating the AustroMars Rover “Sissi”, which had been put into sunlight to re-charge its batteries. Afterwards, Christoph and I left for the first waypoint (WPT 322) at an incision of Lovell Highway, something like 2 km South of the MDRS. Here, big boulders lie shattered on rounded hills in a scene that has always triggered in my mind the idea of giants’ children playing around with – for them – little domino stones. This is for sure one of my most favourite areas, I have therefore given it in my mind the name “Boulderdash”. A bit to the West of this area, Christoph and I took our first two samples on top of a hill, exactly at the pre-defined coordinates. Seeing an interesting eroded area with big sandstones nearby, we decided to move there and take another sample of one of these stones.
Having finished our first waypoint, we continued northwards on Lovell Highway and moved westerly on Brahe Road, before we drove southbound to reach our second waypoint (WPT 031). Boy, was that an interesting area. I claim for myself that I am interested in everything (well maybe not in knitting), but even if I would have been a hardcore-I-don’t-like-geology type of person, I would have been impressed by this landscape. We found molluscs and sandstones, gypsum and selenite crystals and we had not to be convinced to take a lot of samples there. According to our Principle Investigators’ wish list, we conducted a drill with a depth of 55cm and packed the drilling core samples afterwards.
Because the features of a spot nearby, centred around a soft widening creek were so intriguing – brash lying beside of molluscs, sandstones, gypsum and selenite cristalls, sometimes extremely clearly separated from each other in this creek – we decided to establish a new waypoint, as we will most likely come back to that spot again. In an old tradition we named the waypoint in such a way that it includes something personal and as Christoph was so kind to offer me the naming privilege (this time), I selected the name “Carina’s Quarry”. I choose this name because of the stones and the brash and also because my daughter Carina is celebrating her 8th birthday today. And as a side story it should mention that she still likes to play with stones…
Although we could have spent hours at that location – it was extremely interesting – we had to go back to the MDRS, which we reached at 17:10.
In the meantime, Markus Spiss, our Mission Specialist for Life Sciences and Christian Hutsteiner, the Flight Engineer, conducted EVA number 3 of today. Their objective was more engineering related: testing the communications devices on Repeater Hill and test-flying the AustroMars Aerobot. Whereas we don’t know yet whether their effort on the communications device were successful – we hope they are, as then we can hopefully extend our communications range significantly – they have definitely been successful in test-flying the Aerobot.
Although the wind was quite strong they managed to get the Aerobot safely airborne at the second try and could fly it for several minutes. As we want to use the Aerobot for reconnaissance, it has a pretty good on-board camera installed, which transmits its images directly onto a PC. Unluckily the camera fastenings opened and so the camera did not provide any reasonable pictures. Still we were lucky that we did not loose the camera, as the camera cable held it fast. All in all I would rate this test flight as a successful one: the Aerobot has proven its airworthiness, even though Christian had to control it with his thick space suit gloves and we will for sure find a solution how to fix the camera. This is definitely not an anomaly that will stop us!
Looking back on the whole day, I would say that this was one of the most remarkable days at the MDRS so far. Most of us have swapped knowledge patterns – if not before, then at least today. Gernot, an astronomer and paramedic did some ground digging work, pretty close to engineering today, while I, having been exposed mostly to engineering work in the last week, had the pleasure of conducting some real hardcore-science on today’s EVA. Similar things are true for most of us. Only Christian, our pilot could make use of his predominant knowledge today, but then on the other hand he flies usually Black Hawk Helicopters and not fragile, little aerobots.
Obviously MDRS is a great test-bed, not only for experiments and the associated ideas and strategies, but also for its inhabitants. An old proverb states, “The more you invest, the more you gain!” I would definitely undersign that this proverb is also – or even particularly – true for the MDRS.
Signing off for today
Commander, MDRS Crew 48 “AustroMars”
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