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Communication to Earth, Sol 10, from Crew 173 Mars Desert Research Station, Utah.
This is kind of how it went down:
Scene 33a: INT. COMMUNAL AREA OF HAB. DAYTIME
NIAMH is working on her computer and RICK is making lunch. They are both hard at word. A film crew for a news channel are filming them from the top corner of the room. The crew seem bored.
NIAMH and RICK want to look good for the television and are eager to make a good impression.
“Mmm, that smells lovely, Rick. What are you making?”
“How long does it take to boil rice? This is taking for ever”
He tastes the rice and seems displeased
“20 minutes for brown rice”
“This isn’t even brown rice!”
“Wow! Really? That’s odd.”
They both laugh. Too much (it really wasn’t that funny)
“It normally takes 20 minutes for brown rice anyway”
The crew whisper together.
Enter MICHAELA. She notices the film crew at the top of the stairs and doesn’t know whether she should enter the shot or not. The crew notice MICHAELA and direct her to enter the shot. MICHAELA enters the shot. She wants to look good for the television and is eager to make a good impression.
“That smells lovely. Hows it coming along?”
They both smile. NIAMH smiles too. Too much.
Scene 33b: INT. COMMUNAL AREA OF HAB. FIVE MINUTES LATER.
NIAMH is working on her computer and RICK is making lunch. They are both hard at word. MICHAELA is in her state room. The crew are checking their phones.
“Lunch is ready. Will you let everyone know?”
“Do you need a hand?”
“I’m good thanks.”
MICHAELA emerges from her room.
“Lunch is ready?”
IDRISS and ROY enter the shot. They notice the film crew at the top of the stairs and don’t know whether they should enter the shot or not. The crew notice IDRISS and ROY and direct them to enter the shot. IDRISS and ROY want to look good for the television and are eager to make a good impression.
IDRISS and ROY
“That smells lovely. Hows it coming along?”
IDRISS and ROY
RICK, MICHAELA, NIAMH, IDRISS and ROY smile at each other. Too much. Again.
Everyone sits down to eat. NIAMH, RICK, MICHAELA, IDRISS and ROY smile at the crew. Too much. The crew are eating and checking their phones.
Jacques and Laurent shared lunch with us, which was freeze-dried gumbo. From a packet. Its sounds exotic doesn’t it, but this version of ‘Gumbo’ is essentially a big bag of ‘Cuppa Soup’ with rice. Spicy, like a Gumbo should be, but I would say more salty than spicy. We all sat around the table in the communal area, which is vastly becoming the beating heart of our mission. Everything happens around that table.
Over lunch, Jacques and Laurent participated in some of the outreach work we do for our followers. I brought this special postcard with me. Its kind of a ‘scratch n sniff’ card, and seeded with all the volatile compounds that were detected on the surface of the comet 67P, which recently orbited the sun and back as ESA’s wonderful Rosetta spacecraft captured it all for us. The image on the card is an artistic impression of the comet created by Ekaterina Smirnova. Karen O’Flaherty, an Irish astrophysicist who works at ESA asked me to ask the crew what we thought the card smelled of. Was this what we imagined a comet to smell like? So as we chewed on our salty gumbo, we passed the card around and each of us described what we thought the card smelled like. (You can hear our responses in the video below).
And then Idriss, Roy and Michaela headed out on an afternoon EVA with Jacques and Laurent following behind, awkwardly acclimatising to the weird and limiting sensation of wearing the space suit. Rick and I stayed in the Hab on radio duty. Rick is an awesome crew mate. He can cook, bake bread, plant seedlings, fix things, is the best at suiting us up, remembers everything, rarely speaks. Very easy company. Although his rice cooking knowledge is shaky, he’s the perfect astronaut candidate and someone you want to have in your corner in times of danger. The ideal candidates are something we Earthlings will have to think about when we send people to Mars for real in future.
When they all returned, Jacques and Laurent wouldn’t come back upstairs. Instead they sat in the engineering bay. Not at our table, the beating heart of our mission. Which was very strange to us. I made them coffee and dropped it down to them instead. Which they also didn’t drink. I caught them looking at each other as I climbed the stairs back to the table. It was then I realised how everything must seem to Jacques and Laurent. To the rest of the world. And probably seemed to me too on that first day here. Only 10 days ago but a lifetime away. That everything was filthy and manky and unhygienic in our lovely little HAB. Our home, with my amazing crew mates. I caught a glimpse of how we must seem to people on the outside. We had become used to smelling badly, drinking bad coffee and eating salty, constipating food. And living together in this tiny, confined space in the middle of nowhere.
We waved them off, they were both exhausted from the EVA. I didn’t tell the rest of the crew what I saw. What was the point? We were all relieved that they were gone anyway. It was weird having new people join us. They had invaded our lovely bubble. And reminded us briefly that there’s a whole other world just 10miles away from us. We weren’t ready for that just yet. We had another 3 full days of beautiful isolation left to savour. Then we can worry about the rest of the world. And the fact that we smell bad, and are living in a microbiologists nightmare! But that’s how it rolls round here. Ah the life of a simulated Astronaut on Mars. And we love it!
Crew Journalist & Artist.
If you’ve missed the earlier journal entries from Niamh Shaw’s adventures simulating life on Mars last January as the crew artist and journalist on the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, you can read them right here on HeadStuff:
Sol 0 | Mars Simulation in the Utah Desert
Sol 1 | The First EVA
Sol 2 | Celebrating Mars Israeli Culture Night
Sol 3 | Trouble Sleeping & Freeze Dried Food on Mars
Sol 4 | Snow on Mars
Sol 5 | How Do You Celebrate Irish Night On Mars?
Sol 6 | What Do We Do With Money On Mars?
Sol 7 | The Inspirational Power Of Mars
Sol 8 & 9 | This Is Mars Calling The Children Of Earth
Main Image: Michaela & Idriss on Extra Vehicular Activity. Photo: Niamh Shaw.