We checked out of the hotel and drove out to the hab, stopping at Wal-Mart on the way for some supplies. (Yes, Wal-Mart. Not much in the way of alternatives here.) The drive from Grand Junction to Hanksville took about three hours and treated us to some spectacular views. The terrain was mostly snow-covered but as we approached the hab it became more and more Mars-like, especially after we passed Hanksville. We did get slightly lost in that last stretch -- we were following a vague and extremely sketchy map drawn on the back of a cash register receipt by the clerk at the Hollow Mountain -- but we were only half an hour behind schedule when the white cylinder of the hab, familiar to all of us from photographs even though we'd never been here before, peeked out from behind a rust-colored rock formation. Excitement! Our new home and a new adventure begins!
The current crew (MDRS-87) greeted us warmly and gave us a whirlwind tour of the hab, complete with safety instructions, an EVA suiting demo, a short hike to a nearby fossil bed, and instructions on dealing with the temperamental ATVs (every one different from the others). Because we are not yet "in sim" we were able to bring our bags in and do other necessary chores without having to put on our space suits. Also, by happy coincidence, we were just in time to help install the new generator, which we hope will solve the power problems that have been bedeviling the last few crews. (Most of the work on that was done by DG, a local resident who is instrumental in keeping the hab running.) The shower, however, is definitely dead for the duration, as is the telescope. Alas.
The departing crew clearly had mixed feelings about leaving. Although they were doing a little happy dance at the thought of big greasy hamburgers in Hanksville and hot showers in Grand Junction, they seemed a little misty-eyed as they piled into the van and headed back to Earth.
We all looked at each other. "We're on Mars! Now what?"
Well, "now what" consisted of hauling our massive load of Stuff up to the residential level, eating the surprisingly tasty meal of freeze-dried chicken and corn the outgoing crew had prepared for us, and discussing our plans for the next day and the next two weeks. Steve and Bianca then drove into town (using "V'ger", our Plymouth Voyager "pressurized rover") to pick up Bianca's baggage and all the food we will be eating for the next two weeks, while Laksen and Paul performed an engineering walk-through and inspection of all the hab's systems and I got set up with Twitter (@MDRSupdates) and fixed up the web cams (http://www.freemars.org/mdrscam/). When Steve and Bianca returned, we all helped load in the groceries. The sun had set, and I got my first view of the vast and magestic desert sky. Oh wow.
We don't plan to begin sim until Monday. Tomorrow (Sunday) we will do a lot of necessary prep and setup that will be much easier without space suits, including running the control for a study to determine how much EVA suits impact our efficiency.
We aren't really on Mars yet. But we're definitely a long way from home.