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Our analog astronauts are specifically trained space suit testers. After a comprehensive selection process they undergo several months of intensive basic training before they are deployed on technical tests and Mars simulations. During the AMADEE-20 mission, our six analog astronauts used spacesuit simulators to test various experiments and procedures for future human and robotic exploration of the Red Planet.
In the last part of the AMADEE-20 review, we look back with our analog astronauts Anika Mehlis and Dr. Robert Wild on their time in isolation during our 13th Mars simulation in the Negev Desert in October 2021.
How did it feel for you to live together in a confined space during the isolation phase?
Anika: Our habitat felt like home in no time. We were so busy and had so many fun and exciting things to do that time went by quickly. I did not feel too confined since we were a great team. It felt more like a camping trip combined with a science field trip! Besides – it was quite comfortable and there was also time and space to have some privacy if needed. All in all it was an amazing experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Robert: I honestly thought it would be more difficult than it was. I’m sure many of us have had bad experiences with roommates in the past, and during the mission the added stress would not help. But everyone knew we had to support each other through it all, and problems were dealt with very quickly as they came up. Even with the stress, it was a very positive living experience.
How closely were your daily routines timed in relation to the scientific experiments and their preparation and follow-up?
Anika: We had a daily activity plan based on a flight plan that showed our tasks in half-hour-increments. There was time for breakfast, a team briefing and then experiments, extravehicular activities (EVAs), housekeeping and preparations for the next day followed by another debriefing and dinner. We also had media activities and some rare free time scheduled. It was important to stick to the times allotted for everything. If we needed less or more time than planned, that was valuable information as well.
How did you organise the daily tasks? Did everyone take turns? Did you always do it together?
Anika: As mentioned above tasks like housekeeping, cooking, cleaning and repairs were also scheduled in our daily activity plan. With six people and so many tasks and experiments, we did not end up doing too many things together. Rather than that we took turns as scheduled and everyone got to do daily tasks. Most of the time one or two people had kitchen duty and some experiments scheduled inside the habitat while two others were on EVA and the last two had OPS (operations, contact to “Earth”) and SCIOps (Scientific Operations, guiding the Analog Astronauts on EVA through their experiments and taking notes of everything) duty.
What was the most delicious dish you prepared for yourselves during the isolation phase? How varied was your menu?
Anika: We had a vegan meal plan based on our preferences, calorie intake needed to perform on EVAs and food available. The menu was quite varied with fresh produce like fruit and vegetables early on and more dried and canned foodstuff in the end of the mission. We had several quite delicious meals! One of my highlights was a vegan chocolate dessert Robert whipped up with pomegranate as a topping. Some other meals were rather funny than delicious – e.g. when we each had 50g of pasta with 300g of pickled green peppers.
How dark and quiet/noisy was it in the habitat at night ? (Were you able to sleep well or were you disturbed by light/noise)?
Robert: The habitat itself was quite dark, with the lack of outside light in the desert and only some LEDs and small displays lit up inside. And for the most part it was also pretty quiet, especially when the generator was not running. But some nights we had pretty strong desert winds, and they would cause loud flapping sounds on the roof membrane and the whole habitat to shake a bit. Luckily that only ever happened in the beginning of the night, and things always calmed down later. Overall I was able to sleep quite well through it all, which was helped by usually being quite tired.
How did it feel to open the door after the time in isolation and a not insignificantly large group of people was waiting outside? Are you overwhelmed by the “crowds” at first? Or are you simply delighted to have so much life around you again?
Anika: At first it was a little bit disorienting to step outside and see so many people waiting. It felt great to feel the sun and wind on my skin again! Best feeling! The speechless and welcoming gestures were quite moving and it WAS nice to see our on site support team in person again after those long weeks of only talking via chat. I have to admit that the ensuing media “frenzy” and interview marathon was quite overwhelming but I hope and think the whole team took it in high spirits. Night fell and we saw the stars again and it was just a beautiful end to this amazing time.
Which experiences during your time in the Negev desert do you not want to miss?
Anika: All of them!!! The cameraderie, the lessons learned, the special moments when we shared inside jokes, personal stories, the moments of exhaustion and frustration but also the joy and excitement of difficult tasks concluded, the proud and at the same time humbling feeling of being part of such a great endeavor, the feeling of flow extracting DNA from samples (I love microbiology), gazing at the milkyway above the Negev desert, card games at night, being in the suit and stepping outside onto the red soil or riding the quad bike and being able to really feel how it could be to be on Mars and many, many more. I could go on like this for quite some time. But the one thing above all is the people – my team-mates but also the on site support crew, the team back home “on Earth” and everyone we met and who supported us – being part of such an international team was a great joy for me.
Thank you, Anika and Robert!
Anika has already mentioned the AMADEE 20 mission team. The many people who stand behind such a complex, international research mission with expertise, commitment and enthusiasm. They gave up their time – and not a little of it, sometimes their holidays – to be part of it. Everyone involved was committed with joy, discipline, curiosity and enthusiasm. It was a great pleasure to experience this OeWF mission spirit. Teamwork at its best!
More detailed information about the mission: https://oewf.org/en/amadee-20/
This article is available in: German
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