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Originally, Tuesday, 19th April was planned as “Agency Day”, so external people have the opportunity to take part in the activities on site and getting different experiments done. But the weather threw a spanner in our plans.
08:20 – The breakfast faded into a briefing seamlessly. We have a full plan for the day.
08:50 – Thick rain clouds throw shadows over our preparations, it starts to drizzle.
09:00 – The so-called “donning” ought to start now, that means that Daniel Schildhammer, today’s suit tester, should begin getting into the space suit simulator, which takes about one hour. But that plan got crushed, since the drizzle grows to a light steady rain. Everything outside has to be brought to safety.
09:30 – Inside the biggest tent, our OPS command center, the majority of our ÖWF team and the present guests have assembled. It is still raining and occasionally heavy squalls set in. We use the time for other things. Expedition lead Gernot Grömer has a Skype conference with the Mission Control Center in Innsbruck and checks the latest weather forecasts. They predict a probability for rain of 50 %.
09:40 – Erich Pröll is filming the training of the team scheduled for providing safety for the suit testers during the extravehicular activities. Ulrich Luger, experienced paramedic, explains the mode of operations of the “Lifepak 15” to the others. This is a medical monitoring unit, capable of measuring blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen saturation of the blood. Using this unit, the health condition of the suit tester is being checked before and after “donning” respectively “doffing” (getting into and out of the suit).
The light is getting bad, we switch on our lamps. The camera has to be set to the new conditions – Erich Pröll is doing a “yellow fader”, like he says, smiling, as he uses a (originally white) paper colored by the sand. Really nothing here is clean anymore.
The rain is falling with changing intensity and it gets constantly colder. Our guests cover their laptops, there no data will be processed here during the next hours. Outside a real storm is blustering and it is very loud now. Side wall is being unsnapped by the wind and has to be refastened. The weather forecast was adapted to the real conditions and announces a rise of the probability for rain to 70 %.
At the edge of the tent, growing yellow-brown puddles formed, the sand changes to tough mud. The MCC recommends to wait until 09:45 before deciding how to go on. Now it is 10:15 and it doesn’t look like the rain would stop. Quite the contrary – it grew even more intense. Someone jokes we could use occasion for an ample shower. Comment of our filmmaker: “But let me know before!”
Hopefully everything keeps waterproof so there will be no short-circuits, a lot of electronic equipment is standing around. We have to prepare ourselves for a longer stay in the command center. Some groceries and the espresso machine are being brought to the OPS tent at the double to provide the attendant with the vital.
10:45 – The rain is easing of a bit, but the water already starts to drip trough the roof. We are sealing the holes with tape as good as possible. A short pause between two rain showers allows urgent trips into nature. I adjust myself with some additional layers of clothes. The latest weather forecast predicts rain for the whole day. Also for the rest of the week it doesn’t look much better, if we can believe the meteorologists: very cloudy to rainy.
12:30 – Our Phileas rover is being placed inside an empty transporter, allowing the team to work on the rover despite the high humidity. Meanwhile I use the short dry spell to inspect the sleeping tent. Due to the perpetual wetness, it is already at the edge of its potential. We have to further span the tent to prevent greater amounts of water from flowing inside.
13:00 – The MCC comes top a decision: We will wait for about another hour and then start to help today’s suit tester, Daniel Schildhammer, getting the suit on inside the tent. In secret, we all still hope for a longer pause in raining, which we could use for the many upcoming scientific experiments.
13:20 – Daniel Schildhammer gets half a dozen measurement devices attached to himself, his data are being captured and transmitted to our medical experts at the MCC. The rain developed its own rhythm. Half an hour rain (first light, then intense, then stormy), afterwards circa 5 minute break. Then the same from the beginning.
13:45 – A hard wind gust rips loose several tent walls, now it is getting uncomfortable. Sundry people run to fix them.
14:30 – The storm is now so severe, that we get the feeling like our tents will soon get blown away, but they withstand. We park the second transporter upwind from the tent in order to reduce the affected area. Inside the tent a rain shield for Aouda is being improvised, the ventilation and the antenna must not get wet.
15:00 – A camera team of Discovery Channel is now here and starts to do interviews. Also Norbert Frischauf, one of our Flight Directors, arrived to visit us together with a camera man from Bayern Alpha. Additionally, he is the leader of the Phileas team and wants to get an impression how the work on the rover develops. For us, it is very unfamiliar by now to see someone who is perfectly clean – yet. A bit of dirt will not fail to appear, but under this circumstances our board member refuses to camp here.
We get the information that the weather near the coast is even worse – extremely uncommon in this season. The Easter week here is one single great feast and a tourist attraction with its many processions. This year there will have to be canceled a lot.
15:30 – A squad of non-hydrophobic volunteers meanwhile began to trench drainages to avoid flooding of our tents. Digging is not that easy here – the ground consist of many layers bedded one over the other which have to be pecked through to get the water to at least partly drain off. The earth drill, intended for our experiments, is very helpful also in this unusual purpose.
16:00 – Final decision of Mission Control: We wait another 90 minutes for the weather to clear up, if it is still raining then, we switch to “camping mode”. Communication with our colleagues at the MCC develops to a hard test for our crew’s moral: In Innsbruck the sun is burning down. In contrast, here in Spain the “market rate” for sun-tan oil fell down sharply and the stock price for raincoats raises fast.
17:00 – We surrender facing the hazy prospects and declare the end of the test day. One should not spoil your connection to the weather gods. When someone steps outside in one of the short rain-free periods to call out to the sky: “So what – that’s all?”, he should not wonder when a minute later the next heavy rainstorm starts. But it is really mean when an hour after we stopped all activities the sun comes out and right above our site a small piece of blue sky appears.
20:00 – The majority of the cleanup efforts have been completed, the preparations for tomorrow will last deep into the night. At least during dinner it stays dry. Or better: it does not get any wetter.
21:30 – Debriefing for today and briefing for tomorrow. From early afternoon onwards, rain is predicted, so we want to start earlier than usual – even before dawn. If we will see it…
This article is available in: German
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