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04 January 2010 @ 03:24 pm
Anxious and busy preparing for an early Friday departure. The radio station in my head keeps playing "Rocket Man," "Leaving on a Jet Plane," and the theme from "Das Boot." Here's a random collection of the stuff that's been rattling around in my head.

Yes, I'm anxious, even though I know I don't really have anything to be worried about -- apart from lost luggage, bitter cold (tonight's forecast low: 8° F), and the possibility of rolling over my ATV and dying of a fractured skull in the Utah desert. (I had to sign a disclaimer which said, among other things, that I acknowledge that riding on an ATV in the desert wearing a pretend space suit is stupid dangerous.) They've had 87 of these two-week rotations so far and I'm sure nothing serious will go wrong. Right? (But I'm not packing any red shirts.)

I've been reading The Real Mars by Michael Hanlon and it's fascinating. If you've been wondering "why go to Mars anyway?" you might want to gnaw on this: satellite observations of Mars show surface features which seem to indicate that in the past the planet had substantial quantities of surface water. (There are other theories to explain these features, but this is a commonly-accepted one.) But Mars is now far too cold and airless for liquid water to exist on the surface. If Mars was, indeed, once warm and wet enough for rivers and lakes, what caused its climate to change? The answer to this question could help us to understand, and possibly reverse, our own global climate change. And despite the sophisticated robots we've sent, we need close-up hands-on observations by human beings -- with their nimble fingers, excellent senses, and ability to change plans on the fly -- to really understand the early history of Mars.

For some reason, Mars was weirdly omnimpresent in my life even weeks before I knew I'd be going. My favorite ride at Disney World? Mission: Space, a simulated flight to Mars. The last book I read before getting the email? Mars Crossing by Geoff Landis. The last Dr. Who episode I watched? Waters of Mars. And I'd been thinking for quite a while that our upcoming trip to Australia feels a little like a visit to a recently-colonized Mars.

Don't forget to vote in the What should David take to "Mars" poll. If you read Spanish, MDRS-88 Biologist Diego Urbina asks a similar question over in his blog. The MDRS-88 Executive Officer, Laksen Sirimanne, has posted the research goals for the mission (which I helped write) on his blog. You can see bios of the crew, and read the daily reports from earlier rotations, on the MDRS web site. And you can see a nice collection of photos of MDRS over at PopSci.com.

I think I have all my ducks in a row for blogging and such. I should be able to post here once a day, but I won't be able to read LJ, Twitter, Facebook, or email. There's a special email address you can use to contact me if it's important, which I will be sending out to my email correspondents shortly. (If you don't get that email in the next day or so and you think you need it, feel free to email me and ask for it.)

Friday's coming soon. Zero hour nine 7:45 AM. Better get packing.

Timapparentparadox on January 4th, 2010 11:57 pm (UTC)
I think I have all my ducks in a row

Go Ducks!
Smofbabesmofbabe on January 5th, 2010 12:02 am (UTC)
This is really exciting! Hope you have a wonderful interesting time.
Elf M. Sternbergelfs on January 5th, 2010 12:23 am (UTC)
Whee! Have fun. Enjoy being 8 light-minutes away. Do they simulate that part? What's the bandwidth to Mars expected to be like? Will be you be allowed to blog? What's the sleep schedule like?
David D. Levinedavidlevine on January 5th, 2010 12:46 am (UTC)
There's a 20-minute simulated delay in Internet traffic (but you can use web-based Gmail, so I'm not sure how it's simulated). Bandwidth is limited -- there's a certain number of KB allowed each day and you have to work within that budget. I will be allowed to post to my blog once a day but Twitter, Facebook, IM, and email are right out. We will probably be too busy for social networking anyway. I don't know how much sleep I'm likely to get... maybe not much. Still, it's only two weeks and I should be able to cope with just about anything.
qiihoskeh on January 5th, 2010 02:02 pm (UTC)
Accessing gmail with a 386 should give you plenty of internet delay.
scarlettina: DrWho: Tardis Callingscarlettina on January 5th, 2010 12:30 am (UTC)
elfs asked about sleep schedule and, based on my Africa experience, I wondered about this myself, as well as foodstuffs and other basic living considerations. I wonder about water--will you be limited? I'm assuming it will be extra important to stay hydrated living in an artificial environment.
David D. Levinedavidlevine on January 5th, 2010 12:50 am (UTC)
I really don't know how much sleep I'll be getting. Food will be provided -- we're subjects in a food study with two different types of dehydrated foodstuffs. Water is definitely limited, and water management (in and out) is a big part of living at the hab. If all goes well, you get a shower once every day or two. If the pipes freeze, less than that. But they're very concerned about hydration... one of the jobs of the person who stays in the hab during any EVA is to call every 15 minutes and remind the people outside to drink water (the suit backpacks include a CamelBak).
Kalimac: puzzlekalimac on January 5th, 2010 12:30 am (UTC)
The list of experiments sounds fascinating & productive & will keep you very busy. And the photos make the practical procedures fairly clear. Does the habitat have a simulated airlock? (On the moon missions they had to depressurize the whole spacecraft every time they planned to open the door. I presume that will not be the case for a long-term Mars mission.) I see that one of your mission objectives, the biological identification one, involves a control experiment in which crew members go outside without their spacesuits, but is it the rule that, apart from that, you must stay inside the habitat whenever you are not wearing the suit? That would help simulate any claustrophobic feelings about the actual experience.
David D. Levinedavidlevine on January 5th, 2010 01:10 am (UTC)
The hab has two simulated airlocks, one for EVA and one for "out of sim" activities like taking out the trash. We had to get special permission to "break sim" for the space suit experiment control; the general rule is that apart from emergencies we do NOT get to go outside without a suit or otherwise break sim. However, the sim has some flexibility built in; for example, the paths to the observatory and the greenhouse are designated "pressurized tunnels" so you don't have to suit up to visit either of those, and there's a "pressurized rover" (an ancient and decrepit Plymouth Voyager called V'Ger) for certain EVAs.
Carlcarl_allery on January 5th, 2010 02:34 pm (UTC)
Just have a really good time. You can catch us all up on stuff when you get back. I assume you're allowed to take photos and post them after the mission? :)
mcjuliemcjulie on January 5th, 2010 04:23 pm (UTC)
Bon voyage!