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Archive: 15 Oct 2016

Picture of the Day – October 15th

October 15, 2016 | Permalink

Credit - Annalea Beattie

Crew Photos – October 15th

October 15, 2016 | Permalink

Alexandre and Claude-michel

Alexandre and Claude-Michel



Geology exploration






On the edge





Sol Journal for October 15th

October 15, 2016 | Permalink

The little things

Mars Desert Research Station sounds grand. The view of the whole habitat structure: the greenhouse, science laboratory, observatory and ATV’s, with red alien looking hills behind it – astounds you. But when you start to live at the station long enough and stay mostly inside, the little things make the crew happy. We are lucky to be here when the station undergoes the changes. Today is one of those special days – we received the new furniture. Our living and dining room had only one big table and eight chairs. Now there are four comfortable sofas, big white dining table. The colors of the sofas are mint with black and white prints. They are so comfortable, that once you lay down there, it becomes a black hole with super gravity, which doesn’t let you get up. The wooden light brown coffee table is right next to them with little tree on it, that was presented by Mars One volunteers. The whole corner reminds us of Earth, of our cozy homes. We call it recreational zone or the corner of inspirations. Some might say “tuff it up guys, you are on Mars, not in the 5 star hotel”, but as habitability studies have shown, it is important to have recreational zones for the crew and an overall level of comfort, therefore their work will be more efficient.

There many other little things which reminds us of Earth, warmth and comfort. Some of them freshly baked bread in the morning, short but still a shower, a movie night once a week, creative cooking together and a good laugh.

For my perfect day on Mars I will just add that it started with a kind, supportive message from a Russian cosmonaut Oleg Blinov with the wishes: “To live each day, that by the end of it, you have a feeling of the great victory over yourself”. “Head over hills” – that is exactly how I feel every time I speak to cosmonauts. Seems like they have this magic power and strike you with their light, strength and wisdom.

And when you think it can’t be better, I received a song “Curiosity”, written by a Russian rock band which was inspired by our mission.

Sol Summary – October 15th

October 15, 2016 | Permalink

Person filling out report: Anastasiya Stepanova

Summary Title: New furniture makes a big difference

Mission status: Operations are nominal. Food resupply arrived.

Sol activity Summary: The EVA crew found lichens and brought some samples for further use. Furniture assembled and looks great. Suddenly the living room became so cozy and warm. This new corner reminds us of Earth. Sofas are very comfortable, so nobody wants to leave them. Food resupply was delivered. The day was busy with assembling of the furniture and cleaning.

Anomalies in work:  No

Weather: Hot during day, strong wind

Crew Physical Status: Good

EVA: Overhangs measurements, lichen scouting, field sketching

EVA Narrative – October 14th

October 15, 2016 | Permalink


Jon Clarke

Surface mobility is the key to the exploration of Mars.  Here at MDRS most of our mobility is provided by quad bikes, known in this part of the world as ATVs.  These are useful, fun and, if misused, dangerous, single seat machines that enable us to cover distances impractical on foot.  Here we are restricted to tracks to minimise our environmental footprint but, if not so constrained, we could ride to all but the roughest and steepest areas with them.  On Mars there won’t be tracks but, once sites have been driven to, follow-up visits would use the same proven routes.  There are no roads on Mars – but there soon will be!


Crossing “White Moon” towards Skyline Rim.  Factory Butte (1848 m) rises beyond

Today three of us (Alexandre, Claude-Michell, and I) took our ATVs towards Skyline Rim. This spectacular cliff lies stratigraphically above the area of the station itself.  Instead of the familiar red, browns and whites, the geology is dominated by grey tones, the result of weathering of the Cretaceous organic-rich Mancos Shale.  The rim itself is composed to the buff-coloured Ferron Sandstone, an ancient delta formed by rivers from the west depositing their sediment load in the Cretaceous seaway.  Our interest on this trip was not the Cretaceous sediments themselves, but scouting gypsum locations, to determine the state of the track after several years’ absence, and to ground-truth possible inverted channels indentified on Google Earth.


Looking out across “Grey Moon” and the valley of the Snake River

First we drove north through the familiar red, brown, and purple sediments of the Jurassic Brushy Basin Member than headed west towards Skyline Rim with Factory Butte dominating the skyline.  The route took us through an area where the Jurassic sediments were unusually pale in colour, indicating that the iron had been leached out.  Perhaps this area had been wetter when the sediments were deposited, and the iron was leached out. The map calls this area “White Moon”. Rising through the stratigraphy, we crossed the Dakota Sandstone, here very thin, which marks the start of the Cretaceous succession.  In doing so we entered a visually different world.  Instead of the familiar linear ridges and beehive-shaped hillocks of the Brushy Basin, the Cretaceous Mancos Shale landscape consists of dissected low ridges and plateaux of shale varying from weathered (the so-called “Beige Moon” and “Yellow Moon” areas) to almost fresh (the “Grey Moon”).  And it is a lunar landscape, saline, mostly devoid of vegetation because of the salinity and the constant shrink-swell of the clay soils during the occasional rains.


Glassy gypsum fragment, about 8 cm across, on the surface. 

The gypsum occurs as glassy fragments and sheets, some as much as 20 cm across and 3 cm thick.  They glint in the sun like broken glass beside a road.  The gypsum forms at the base of the weathering profile. Oxygen-rich water percolating through the shale has weathered the pyrite (iron sulphide) in the organic-rich sediment, forming sulphuric acid.  This has reacted with calcium carbonate of fossil shells, forming calcium sulphate brines.  These have evaporated leaving behind the clear sheets of gypsum as veins in near surface fractures.  The iron from the pyrite precipitates as the yellow iron hydroxide goethite.  The shrink-swell behaviour of the weathered shales has heaved the gypsum to the surface.  We may well revisit this site later in the mission to sample it for microbes, and compare the results with gypsum formed by sedimentary processes.


The base Skyline Rim – grey Mancos shales capped by yellow Ferron Sandstone

After a short walk up a dry creek to the base of the cliffs (only a 50th the height of those of Vallis Marineris on Mars!) to look at the exposures, we return to MDRS the way we come.  We carry out one brief stop at a dried waterfall where a creek has cut through an inverted channel ridge.  We noted many features for a future visit – lichens, hypoliths, and overhangs for a geotechnical survey.


Dry creek and waterfall cutting through an inverted channel ridge

On our three hour EVA we have covered 17 km, almost twice the distance of an Apollo Lunar Rover traverse, in less than half the time.  This is not because we work faster than the Apollo astronauts, but because this was a scouting trip.  We have the luxury of scouting because we are here for almost 80 days, unlike the Apollo astronauts who had only three days per mission on the Moon and had to deploy geophysical and astronomical stations as well as carry out detailed site descriptions and sampling on their traverses.  Astronauts on Mars will likely be there for over 500 days, and they too will be able to scout, selecting the best sites for more detailed study on later EVAs.  Despite the distance we have covered, we are never more than 6 km from the station, well within the current NASA estimates of walk back distances on Mars in the unlikely event of all our quad bikes being immobilised.  A comforting thought!

Science Report – October 15th

October 15, 2016 | Permalink

Field Drawing in a Space Suit: Blind Data (Test 2/15/10/2016)

Unlike many of the activities that can be done in space, drawing is a safe space to fail. Field drawing in the heavy space suit on an EVA is tiring though and although nothing is life threatening, it requires stamina and courage in spades to sustain concentration.

You know from the start the drawing will never be exactly what you hoped for and you know you will run out of time. The spacesuit and time constraints go together.

On today’s EVA Test 2, the idea for this experiment is to see what a scientist can deduce from an observational field sketch without any prior knowledge of the subject drawn.

The idea was for me to choose a geological feature at the designated lichen sampling site, draw it while in full simulation and on my return to the hab give the drawing to geologist Jon Clarke. He would interpret and annotate it as a geological field sketch and then we would see how the drawing stood up – how much information Jon could gain from looking at it and whether the key features told him the story of the geology.


It went pretty well. I chose the patterning of fluvial patterns in a dry creek bed

(modern, though we did find 150 million year old fossilized gryphea oyster shells there, washed down from Hab Ridge). I had about an hour to draw but it took me a while to get comfortable. Even though I had only a basic understanding of what I was drawing I quickly learnt that charcoal powder, for overall tone and a kneadable or electric rubber to highlight the peaks of sand ripples could have been very useful as sand ripples have white highlights, a sharp side and a gentle side.

But all this tells me is, as an artist, is I already understand what tools I need to draw different things. It’s unlikely that astronauts on a field trip would use charcoal powder and I’m not suggesting anyone should.

Would charcoal powder have to be de-pressurised?

I think it would.


After several hours outdoors in thirty degrees and high wind, the sampling of lichens was over. I had been drawing for an hour and could no longer see well because of the glare. We called it quits and went home for lunch.

Geologist Jon Clarke immediately identified linguoid ripples in a dry creek bed from my drawing. He also annotated the direction of the current flow and where the channel cut in as well as the jointed mud cracks that indicate an eroded bed rock surface. He explained how mud can crack and curl in ripple swales, depending on what sort of clay it is and how long it’s been drying and he drew another diagram to make his point. (The curls can rework into mud clasts which become armoured mud balls).

I think Test 2 was successful as an experiment. Today we established I am able to actually draw features of a particular landscape that a scientist can recognise as indicating some kind of  geological narrative, which is a bit of a relief. On Test 3 on another EVA, I will again choose a geological feature and both draw and photograph it.

Then we will compare images as blind data to try ascertain differences between forms.


On to Mars.

Annalea Beattie