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2006-04-08, 2100h MST
AustroMars Mission Sol 1, 5:30 Utah Time:
„Mars De-Orbit Burn complete – landing sequence initiated…”.”MCC Salzburg – AustroMars Crew here, the Mars Descent/Ascent Vehicle dubbed “Fast and Furious” has landed!”
This sentence was spoken out at 5:30 Utah time. The sun was still way down the horizon. Only an eerie light told us of the beginning day. Us that was Gernot Grömer, the Health and Safety Officer, Alexander Soucek, the First Officer and myself, Norbert Frischauf.
While we were standing there in our EVA space suits in the dawn of this cloudless and cold Saturday, we realised that we had finally reached Mars – after 2 years of preparation! It sure was one of the most emotional moments of my life. Looking at each other we bashed our fists together – like basketball or volleyball players do – to freeze the moment in our minds and hearts and then we turned around and started our march to the MDRS habitat. Pre-checked GPS waypoints guided our way, as we stepped through the Martian plains, completely alone in the slowly brightening day. A day, which beared two names: Day 8 and also Sol 1, to reflect the fact that we had landed on Mars.
Sparkling Venus in the east was a magnificent site, but most of the time we did not see her, as our way lead us to the west, up on Repeater Hill. There, the three of us arrived just about in time to see a sunrise that none of us will ever forget. Bathed in orange-golden sunlight the Habitat presented itself to our feet and soon after we were on our way to the airlock. Going downhill was a rather easy task and 15 minutes later we opened the MDRS’ airlock. Being aware of all the hard work that has brought us here I felt inclined to say the following words when I entered the airlock, “This may be only three persons entering the MDRS habitat, but they carry with them the wishes and hopes of 130 volunteers, who have deliberately invested two years of hard work to ensure that the AustroMars mission will become a huge success. We will do all we can to make sure that this hard work will come to fruition!”
Silence on the radio. Even if this would have been a real Mars mission there would have been not instant reply, so far is Mars away that any message will need at least 5 minutes to reach the Earth. For us – being in a high-fidelity simulation – this physical constraint is law as well! Any question/comment sent to the Mission Control Center (MCC) in Salzburg will require 10 minutes of patience on our side. This feature of our mission was something we did thoroughly enjoy throughout the whole day when we checked out the Habitat and prepared the first experiments. Among them, body fluid measurements, micro-biological sampling of the human skin flora, saliva sample taking, routine medical examinations and the final check-out of the AustroMars Rover “Sissi.”
Of course there were some minor technical hick-ups, which were all overcome. EVA Crew number 2, with Christian Hutsteiner, the Flight Engineer, Christoph Kandler, Mission Specialist for planetary Sciences and Markus Spiss, Mission Specialist for Life Sciences, experienced a power breakdown of the air circulation of backpack number 3. The solution of this problem was by all means real astronaut like: C. Hutsteiner connected one of his intact air hoses to the helmet of C. Kandler and provided him enough oxygen that the three could safely reach the Habitat.
The most imminent issue were the permanent power outages, caused by the faulty power generator Wendy and its backup system. Our flight engineer watched the power situation very carefully and it was not only for once that he forced us to switch off most of our equipment to save on power. At these times of the day I felt like being a crew member of Apollo-13, but at least we were not stranded in interplanetary space, but could feel safe and rather comfortable in the MDRS Habitat.
There were a few other bugs, which are – on their own – to minor to be mentioned and although in sum they are sometimes annoying, the whole AustroMars team is aware that the root causes and the solution of these anomalies are the icing on the cake as they provide us the necessary feedback and learning experience, which is so desperately needed for planning and successfully conducting a future human Mars mission.
With this knowledge in our minds it is not so difficult to conduct all the scientific experiments which require us to take urine, saliva and blood samples in hourly intervals, to fill out numerous pages of questionnaires and to live through days of sleep deprivation. This is tiring, not only physically but also mentally and we shall see how the crew will perform in the two weeks to come.
However, having seen how we all have fulfilled our tasks and overcome all obstacles on this very first day – or should I say sol – of the AustroMars mission, I am very confident that AustroMars with its 17 experiments out of 10 disciplines will be able to make a difference, helping defining the stage for the next level of future analogue missions. If we can achieve this, then all the hard work hard work of 130 volunteers will have truly come to fruition!
Signing off for today
Commander, MDRS Crew 48 “AustroMars”
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