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2006-04-20, 2100h MST
AustroMars Mission Sol 13: “13 is a lucky number!”
They say that 13 is an unlucky number, but this Sol number 13 was one of my luckiest days in the MDRS. All was triggered by a special event in the afternoon, which switched my mind to Martian modus entirely and made me feel like a real astronaut on Mars. As I write these lines I am still fully absorbed by this feeling – a feeling that came as a huge surprise as there was no indication that the day could develop into something great like this.
Contrary the morning was rather stressful. First of all the primary satellite connection, which had recovered yesterday, degraded again to a point where we had to switch over to our backup satellite connection. Having that one solved, Gernot Grömer, our Health and Saftey Officer, “fell off a ladder” – in a simulated anomaly ordered by our Mission Control Center in Salzburg – and got a deep, strongly bleeding wound on his left lower arm, which had to be treated immediately. Since the second medical expert of the AustroMars team, Markus Spiss, the Mission Scientist for Life Sciences, was not available at the time of the accident because of his GreenHab duties, it was up to two “greenhorns”, Alexander Soucek, the First Officer, and myself (Norbert Frischauf) to perform the first help. Gernot played his part so realistically, that I first did not realise that Christoph Kandler, the Mission Scientist for Planetary Sciences, was standing at the accident area with a video camera filming every move of Alexander and myself. After we had applied the first aid, Alexander performed a two-hour surgery stitching the wound in a sterile environment, demonstrating that such proceedings can be undertaken in the confined environment like the MDRS Hab. He had of course not an easy job, as both the flight surgeon and Gernot eyed him closely, but at the end Alex proved that the pre-flight training had paid off.
In the meantime, both Christian Hutsteiner, the Flight Engineer and Markus had found an interim solution for the immanent problem with the 12V greywater sump pump (in reality a bilge pump), whose pumping power is not sufficient to overcome the level difference between the greywater tank and the tanks in the Greenhab. The interim solution is that a bucket and a hand pump is installed at ground level, pumping the grey water from the tank into the bucket and from there the 12V bilge pump can do the rest.
The afternoon finally featured the event which had me land entirely on the red planet, with both my mind and my heart. Markus, Christoph and I were sent on a long-duration GeoMars and Track and Trace EVA, northbound of Lovell Highway, to collect three geological samples from the soil and from a vertical wall, including also a core drill approximately 2 km away from the MDRS in a dried river bed. Afterwards we were sent to a spot on top of Skyline Rim, where Markus and Christoph had just found a way to reach the top two days ago in a spectacular scouting mission, in alignment with “Operation Edelweiss”, which shall lead to a simulated spectrographic measurement of a spot at the Factory Butte “Volcano”, where a Martian orbiting spacecraft has found traces of Methane and Water vapour. But as the altitude is too high for the Aerobot and the distance is too big for the AustroMars Rover it is up to the astronauts to conduct the scientific measurements.
Using the scouted route, we quickly reached the requested sampling coordinates and took a geological sample there. To enable later crews to also find the way we have taken and such to ease the further exploration of Skyline Rim and Factory Bench, we created two waypoints. One at the base of the route called “Thoar Tirala”, the other one at the top of the route called “Thajer Joch”. The names were assigned by Markus and refer to land sites nearby his home in Tyrol. Up on top of Skyline Rim we could nicely see the Factory Butte (Volcano) in the distance – an impressive sight! Exploring a bit further, we moved southwards, hoping that from the edge of Skyline Rim we would be able to see Repeater Hill, if not by naked eye then maybe by using a teleobjective and an analysis of the photo afterwards.
On the way to the edge we found an impressive cape that we consequently added in as new waypoint, naming it “Kap AustroMars”. And then we stood at the edge – the view was absolutely astonishing. More than 100 m higher than the Lower Blue Hills plain to our feet, we could easily see Phobos Peak and other land sites we had visited during the course of the AustroMars mission. It was at this precious moment that I suddenly really felt like an astronaut on Mars, when I remembered the graphic of the astronaut standing at the edge of Vallis Marineris with the rising sun in the back, and then suddenly the image switched and in the very next moment I was THIS astronaut. It was not only this feeling, but also the fact that I realised we had accomplished this goal in an impressing group effort. Over three days we had brainstormed, planned, and conceived a strategy together with our MCC to reach Skyline Rim on a direct route and not via Coal Mine Wash. And there we stood, Markus, Christoph and I, in a silent moment reflecting on all the ups and downs that we had encountered within Operation Edelweiss. In trying to capture this moment, but also to show this spectacular view to the other crew members we made a 360° panorama shot. As this place was so special for me we added it in as a new waypoint and I named it “Andreas’ Buena Vista”, so that my four year old son would not have to stand behind his sister Carina, who had got “her” quarry (waypoint “Carina’s Quarry”) some days ago already.
When we did he photo shots, my crew mates and I communicated by radio and were quite surprised when suddenly the Hab responded. Obviously Skyline Rim is so high that the radio waves can relatively easy reach the MDRS, although there is no direct line of sight because of Repeater Hill. Of course this was great news, as it meant that for future excursions we could rely on radio communications and thus the WLAN is not required anymore – at least not for EVAs at the edge of the Rim.
As said before, this was the luckiest day for me within the AustroMars mission. A lot of factors came together to make this happen: the fact that we have made it up there although there were a lot of obstacles to overcome, the team spirit that came to fruition to achieve this goal and finally the great view, which let me think that I was standing at the edge of Vallis Marineris as a future Martian astronaut. The afternoon was so great that the morning stress and all the troubles were easily forgotten. And from now on I will not call “13” an unlucky number anymore – well maybe I won’t be so strict on that point here on Earth but definitely on Mars…
Signing off for today
Commander, MDRS Crew 48 “AustroMars”
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