Snow On Mars| Sol 4 On The Mars Desert Research Station

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We woke up this morning to a light dusting of snow on Mars. We had planned on a long EVA in the afternoon but CapCOMM made contact and instructed us to cancel our plans due to weather forecasts of heavier snow in the region. It’s a risk to our safety to go out in the heavy flight suits in this weather, so we must remain indoors until bright skies return. It’s disappointing, because it’s always an adventure every time we take a trip outside the Hab, especially when you’re knocking around with geologists and astro biologists. The things those guys can find in rocks is astounding. I’m learning about triassic periods, and endoliths, extremophiles and all the rest. Wonderful stuff!

The cold weather brings good things to the crew too, though. Firstly, the ground remains relatively firm underfoot. So for the first time since we got here, our boots are not sludging about in red mud every time we leave the Hab. Boots caked in mud is kind of their standard condition, which makes them very messy to get on and take off. The mud makes them pretty smelly too. There’s pockets of sulphur-containing rocks in the vicinity.  You can slip and fall in mud too when wearing that heavy space suit, it’s a constant threat on EVA and we are advised by CapComm of the need to be vigilant at all times in those conditions too. We leave our red muddy boots in the airlock, and then put slippers on or house-shoes whenever we’re indoors. And you need them. There’s lots of hard corners, a crazy staircase and lots of metal to manoeuvre about in the Hab (read my journal entry for Sol 3 for a map of the Hab). My slippers are already wearing out fast and it’s only Sol 4. So no muddy boots or fear of slipping today.

Secondly, and probably more importantly, the cold also brings a ceasefire to ‘Poopgate’ (for now), because whatever way the system is plumbed, the toilet is flushing solids again, without assistance from the plunger or ‘the snake’ (a long metal pole with a spring type contraption that can be extended and manipulated to get around u-bends), or any other implements that we have tried and probably should never disclose  to anyone ever (what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas and all that).

Mars Desert Research Station

Mars Desert Research Station

Speaking of Vegas, it’s probably a good comparison of  how ‘Poopgate’ affects us in the Hab.  Imagine that  you’re on the roulette table, you’ve put everything you own (and all your villagers’ possessions too) on black. You’re watching that swirling ball on the Roulette wheel, desperately crossing fingers that this time, the ball will land on black. That’s the pressure you feel flushing the toilet during ‘Poopgate’! Because here at MDRS you are always aware of your water stores. So whenever you hear that toilet flush, you’re thinking about dwindling supplies. You have the same thought when you wash dishes, or brush your teeth, or wash your hands, or water the plants in the GreenHab. You’re always thinking about your water. And doubly so when the toilet backs up, because each attempt to flush solids is not only pointless and pretty disgusting, but also a total waste of our precious resource.

On top of that we have the water pump- it makes these unearthly growl sounds for about 2 mins post-flush, which are so loud that should anyone decide to do their business during the night, it wakes everyone up. Probably the best alarm clock ever invented. Because it’s so loud, there is no privacy and we all basically know each others bowel habits.

When someone flushes the toilet, heres the sequence of events that occur in all our minds:

  1. Oh that’s strange- xxxxx (insert Crew member name here) went to the toilet earlier than yesterday
  2. Did the flush ‘flush the movement’ though ?
  3. God I hope so, or we are all going to have to suffer another unflushed ‘movement’ ?
  4. How much water was that?
  5. Damn, that pump is so loud.
  6. Crap, we’re losing more water!
  7. I hate xxxxx for flushing that toilet.
  8. I need to go to the toilet but I’m going to have to wait now.

See? So EVERYONE is happy and relieved to be able to do what nature intended today. Thanks to the cold snap it’s as if we are living normally. With a normal toilet.

Other than that, Idriss brought us to the Atlas mountains in Morocco for his first (of three) culture nights and told us all about his Berber family traditions. He made lovely meal and presented special traditional confectionery, Bouchiar, a fine wafer soaked in butter and honey. He and his dad made them just before he left for the mission. They are delicious and even more so because of the stories he shared with us about his family. Yum!

Mars Desert Research Station

Mars Desert Research Station

The snow storm never happened in the end. So late afternoon Michaela, Idriss and I took a quick sneaky EVA to get some air and take some pictures. We stayed very close. It was nice to get out for a bit. All in all, a pretty good Sol.

Oh, and another thing? We got a water delivery. A bountiful Sol indeed.

Niamh Shaw, Crew Artist & Journalist
Mars Desert Research Station, Utah.
CREW 173
SIGNING OFF

 

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About Author

Niamh Shaw

Dr Niamh Shaw, a performer, scientist and engineer, is passionate about awakening people's curiosity. Formerly a full-time academic and published author in peer-reviewed journals she embarked on a career which merges science, art, technology and humanity and is currently the Artist in Residence at CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory, Cork. Niamh regularly contributes popular science/tech related topics on national TV and radio, including TV3's Late Lunch Live for Science Foundation Ireland, as well as speaking publicly at events including TEDxUCD, Trailblazery (2013), Space Expo (Trinity College), Festival of Curiosity (Space Tourist 2014; Curious Tales with Dara O’Briain, 2013). Her most recent science art performance,'To Space’, funded by Science Foundation Ireland (in partnership with CIT BCO) & The Arts Council of Ireland about Irelands involvement in Space, premiered at Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival and will be presented at Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August this year, supported by Culture Ireland.