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This is a question that is asked a lot at birthday parties and company lunches with the summer coming up. This year I have an awesome answer, because I am going to Mars! It is so funny to see my family’s and coworkers faces after you say this. One even said, “you mean you go to a town called Mars?” Nope.
My Mars adventure started on Thursday 9 July 2015. After travelling for 10 hours I found myself behind a desk monitoring the third AMADEE-15 Hangout on my laptop. I had done that before, accept, this time I was sitting behind the camera in the ÖWF HQ in Innsbruck. Actually, we were filming in the Flight Control Room of the Mission Support Center. While the camera rolled, I got time to look around. The Flight Control Room looks a lot like the NASA or ESA ones you know from NASA.tv. There are consoles for the various positions with the console for the Flight Director and the assistants in the center. Then my gaze switched back to my laptop screen and from there to the actual scene in front of me. My brain was processing, yes I’m really here.
The dress rehearsal itself started on Friday at 9.00 AM sharp. It was impressive to see the large group of volunteers. The lecture room was buzzing with excited people. After a warm welcome by OeWF president Gernot Groemer, he introduced us to the experiments by using gamification elements. With this approach, describing experiments pantomimically or by drawing it helped to memorize what experiments will be conducted during the mission.
During the mission there will be a team on Mars, this is the field crew; and there will be a team on Earth, this is the Mission Support Center team. I already read about the various roles, but, to be honest, it was a mystery to me who needed to communicate with whom. I was probably not the only one. Gernot had an amazing way to demonstrate the way it needs to go. He built a living organization chart in front of us. This made things a lot more clear. And it was great fun watching it. The day flew by unnoticed, and before I knew I was having a nice Chinese dinner with the media team and the field crew.
The second day started again at 9.00 AM sharp. This time we sat together in the lounge and listened to an interesting lecture about astrobiology. A lot of the AMADEE-15 experiments involve the search for life, which means looking for microbes. Professor Dr. Christine Moissl-Eichinger from the Medical University of Graz came over on her free Saturday morning to give us an introduction to this fascinating field of science.
After a short coffee break it was time to dive into a practical training session. We were about to begin with the first simulation of the Mission. Everyone had to gather at his or her respective planet. In my case, I had to go to Earth. This meant I had to go upstairs. The Flight Director held the morning briefing with the Earth crew in the Flight Control Room. After the briefing I went to the media room with MediaCom team lead Olivia Haider and sat down behind my desk. Our room has vital mission telemetry projected on the wall. I could listen in on the communication on Mars with my headphone. From now on, the basement was off limits because Mars was located there. The only way you could take a peek there was by wearing a white jacket. The white jacket indicated you were a ghost and temporarily not part of the simulation. It is amazing what this does for your perception. Mars really felt far away and going down the stairs to the basement in the white jacket felt like a real journey.
On Sunday we did another simulation. Lessons learned from Saturday made everything go smooth. Everybody felt the same thing: we are ready for the glacier!
All these circumstances made my weekend at ÖWF an awesome experience. It is amazing to see the professionalism and feel the enthusiasm of my fellow volunteers. The whole building was filled with positive energy en people smiling. The dress rehearsal made clear to me that the AMADEE-15 analog mission is really serious business. I look forward to participate in the Mission. With everything I’ve seen and done this weekend, I am proud to say: I am a Mars Pioneer.
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