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Sol Journal – December 5th

December 5, 2016

Take my job

Movies and books created this image of Commander – tall, athletic, more than 40 years old, tough, hardly smiles and always hides the secrets from the past. The commander of Mars 160 mission is tall, slim, less than 40 years old, kind, jokes every day and has nothing to hide. Alexandre Mangeot is an aerospace engineer from France with an ambitious dream to become not only the astronaut but to be among first explorers on Mars. It is his third mission at Mars Desert Research Station, in which for two of them he was the commander. The first time I met him was two years ago at our semi-final selection rotation here in the desert of Utah. Back then, our commander was geologist Paul Knightly, which will join us for the Arctic mission, and Alexandre was the Executive Officer. As I mentioned many times, the crew performed so smooth and I wondered how would we do under new commander. It is Sol 73, seven days until the first part of the mission is over. While I’m writing this journalist report, Alexandre is trying to repair the lens part from my camera. He doesn’t give up, even though he had several tries. “I promised you, I will do the best I can, until I run out of options” – said Commander glowing with delight. This small example shows that Alexandre is the man of his word and true engineer. He can sit hours and hours assembling dozens of small parts in camera lens or connecting sensors to a mini computer and writing the codes. If any of us have a problem with computer, internet or any other gadgets Alexandre is the one who can fix it. 

He grew up watching the “McGyver” TV series, the story about a brave guy, who always helped people and got out of any difficult situation using engineering skills. McGyver always uses local resources to invent mechanical and electrical tools to help him out and save his life. As Alexandre says, his inventions work with the first try and he dreams to have this super engineering power as well. Alexandre wanted to have the nickname “McGyver”. Unfortunately, for him, whenever he cuts out the internet to save it for reports and research or controls how much data we consume and sees how many devices are connected – we call him “Darth Vader”. Of course, our Commander is not evil at all. He is fair, has great sense of humor, when needed strict and when needed kind. But he also deserves the McGyver nickname, by being able to fix almost anything at the station with the given limited resources.

I’m grateful that Alexandre found the balance between keeping the discipline, subordination and  trusting the crew. Every morning just after the breakfast commander calls us for the briefing. We all tell our plans for the day, decide who cooks lunch and dinner, who writes creative reports and discuss the EVA schedule. If something prevents any of us to work, fulfill their project’s goals Alexandre does his best to solve the problem and negotiate if other parties are involved. Alexandre’s projects aim to improve the life and work of the crew – designing the 3D model of new station and creation of space suit interface SSUIt. His first rotation at MDRS was in 2012 and since then the idea of implementing renewed design of the habitat into real life became his little dream. Alexandre started the graphic work at the beginning of the mission and now has the preliminary study almost ready to go. The final touches will be done in the second part of the mission next year. The SSUIt project is the interface to implement into existing Mars Society space suit in order to monitor health during the EVA and collect the data from environment. So far, he tested it on the field with the sensors for: GPS; temperature and humidity inside of the helmet and outside; pressure; UV, infrared, visible light and the webcam. Alexandre plans to finish the prototype when he is back home and will bring for the Arctic mission final product for four space suits.

The projects could have been more advanced but to be the good commander took all his time. I remember that often after midnight I could see Alexandre working on his projects. I remember the desperation and anxiety on his face every time the space suit interface failed. I remember that no matter how tired and busy he was, he always listened to us. He always tried to understand each of the crew member and find the solution. Often it is standing between two fires and staying cool. But I also remember his smile at the dinners when we are all happy discussing the little successes of the day. I will never forget how much effort, patient and love Alexandre put into the Mars 160 crew. If somebody thinks to be a commander is just to walk around with a cool look and give the orders. Well, take the job and carry the heavy weight of responsibilities for three months 24/7, don’t lose your temper and be the best crew member! Being a commander is hard job and in many aspects you have to be ready to sacrifice yourself for the well being of the crew and the mission. I like to imagine the life in 10 years and I see so real the video conference from Space station, where Alexndre Mangeot, the Commander, sends his regards to Earth before starting the engines and heading to Mars!