January 23rd, 2010


MDRS-88 End-of-Mission Summary Report

Here's what I submitted to my commander for his End-of-Mission Summary Report to the Mars Society.

MDRS-88 Mission Summary
David Levine

Background information: David is an award-winning science fiction writer who worked for 25 years as a technical writer, software engineer, and user interface designer for Tektronix, Intel, and McAfee. He came to MDRS looking for the "telling details" that make stories believable, and got not only that but an amazing adventure as well.

Journalism: David fulfilled his primary mission as Journalist by posting almost 10,000 words of daily reports to his blogs on livejournal.com, dreamwidth.com, and bentopress.com, along with over 70 photos (N.B. photos were small, only 20-80 KB in size). He also posted several brief status updates per day to his Twitter and Facebook readers. These updates reached nearly 2000 "friends" (registered readers) and an unknown number of unregistered readers, and received over 100 comments. He also took over 700 photos and 25 video clips, some of which will be used in future outreach, public education, and publicity opportunities. After returning to Earth, David will write articles and essays about his experience at MDRS, as well as fiction incorporating the things he has learned here, and attempt to place them at national publications. He will also speak about his experience at science fiction conventions and other venues.

David also maintained MDRS's official web presence by selecting and uploading the crew's daily photos (despite many technical issues), managing the MDRSupdates Twitter feed, and fixing and maintaining the webcams. When we arrived at the hab we had only 3 working webcams; now all 6 are working, and all are level and pointed at interesting things. These are all important public-relations and outreach elements of MDRS's mission.

Engineering: In addition to his journalistic duties, David used his technical background to assist Laksen and Paul in keeping the hab and rovers running. He participated in the daily engineering rounds, diagnosed and repaired electrical and plumbing problems, and made sure the radios were properly stowed and charging every night.

David took responsibility for the EVA suits, making sure that all backpacks were properly charged and straps tightened after each EVA. When we arrived we found only five working backpacks and one badly cracked helmet; David repaired the helmet and replaced a dead battery to bring us up to six functional suits, then fixed hoses, replaced fuses, repaired cables, and unstuck zippers to keep all six suits running for the whole rotation.

David also used his technical writing skills to create a series of one-page Quick Guides to help get new crews up to speed quickly on the hab's systems and to offer fast, focused answers to their questions when things go wrong. These are intended to be the documents we wished we'd had when we first arrived. They have been emailed to the Mars Society and to the next crew; laminated printouts will also be handed over to the next crew, and the "Quick Guides.doc" file has been left on the hab laptop so that it can be updated by future crews.

Other: David also worked on the reconstruction of the radiotelescope (much of this work was done in EVA suits), rode along on GPS tracking runs, and participated as a research subject in the food study, suit constraints study, and hab architecture study.


MDRS-88 sol 15: Re-entry

The day dawned clear and cold, with most of the snow melted and the ground mostly frozen rather than muddy. By noon it was about half dry, squidgy in a few places but no impediment to travel at all.

Spent the morning packing, taking a last few pictures and videos, and doing a few bits of paperwork, but mostly just waiting for Crew 89 to show up. I put on my space suit for the last time, to get a video of the process; I walked up to the Musk Observatory for the last time, to get one more set of photos of the splendid view; I walked around and got a few pictures of things that had come to be important for me without ever being photogenic, like the Engineering shed. I said a fond goodbye to my radios, my faithful rovers, my trusted backpacks -- even cantankerous #4. I gave Laksen a signed copy of Space Magic. I must confess I got a little teary-eyed.

Crew 89 was about an hour late, which made us even more pleased to see them when they finally showed up. Even better, they came in a huge 4x4 that would easily handle any rough roads and could accommodate all our luggage. They came in with a huge load of food, including many things that had run out early in our mission or even before we arrived. Lucky bastards!

We spent about three hours in hand-over meetings, walking them through the hab's systems and answering questions. Having written the Quick Guides, I could answer questions about areas I never even handled. They seem like a smart bunch, but so naive in the ways of Mars. They intend to do jazzercise every day and have a clever plan to get showers which seemed horribly overambitious to us, but hey, if they can make it work, more power to them.

After the traditional group photos on the front porch, we drove off, leaving the starry-eyed young'uns to make their way on Mars. They have an exciting and challenging two weeks ahead of them, but I'm sure they'll find their way just as we did, and in two weeks they will be the old hands, doing the same for Crew 90.

In any endeavour, from running for the bus to serving a tour of duty, one naturally paces oneself, conserving energy and attention to last as long as necessary. If this were a three-week mission I'm sure I would be much more ready to go on at the end of two weeks than I am right now, but as it stands I am completely spent and more than ready to go home. I am so very glad we didn't have to spend even one additional night at the hab.

We had a little excitement not long after departing the hab, about which I'll say no more. Then we got a panicked phone message from the commander of Crew 89, saying that a jacket and wallet had been left in our car and he was running after us in New Blue. We were not pleased at the delay, but it would have been churlish to keep driving, so we waited by the side of the road for about half an hour until he caught up and got the missing jacket (the wallet was not in the car; I hope it turns up). If we'd been able to call him back, though, I think we might very well have left the jacket hanging on the milepost 152 sign and kept going. Do not get between the outgoing crew and their showers.

Once we made it out to where I had proper cell phone service I checked the hab webcams on my iPhone. The new kids seemed to be settling in nicely, but there was a weird moment when one minute they were all at the table and the next they were all gone; a few minutes later they'd returned. A sudden crisis, or did they all just go out to look at the stars? We may never know. It's very weird looking at the MDRS webcam and seeing other people in "our" hab. Imagine seeing live video of your own kitchen with a different family in it! Surprisingly addictive to watch.

After a stop at Wal-Mart to return a few unused items and buy some souvenirs, we had one last dinner together -- real meat, and non-dehydrated vegetables, and soda pop, and wine, and all the water we wanted, just for the asking. Heaven. Bianca had to go back after visiting the loo because she realized only after leaving the bathroom that she could flush the toilet. I washed my hands in warm water for the first time in two weeks, and also saw myself in the mirror for the first time in two weeks (I caught a lot of sun, apparently, because those spots aren't washing off). We reminisced and cracked in-jokes at the expense of the new crew and generally acted like crazed prospectors just returned to town.

Then the hotel -- just a Best Western, but oh so luxurious with its soft soft beds and clean white sheets and acres, just acres of space. Waiting for me at the front desk was a surprise package from kateyule: gingerbread astronauts (with red sugar Mars dust on their boots) and computers and space shuttles and stars and red-frosted planets Mars. I love my sweetie so much. We shared the cookies all around, hugged and shook hands and promised to stay in touch, and I cried a little again. Might see some of them tomorrow at the airport, but we have to assume this is our final goodbye.

Finally, after settling into the room, dealing with some email questions from the new crew, and a long phone call to Kate, came the eagerly-awaited moment: a long, long hot shower, with real soap and everything. I washed my hair three times and scrubbed myself all over with a washcloth until I felt actually clean. I stayed in there until my fingers were all wrinkled. And I flushed the toilet too, just because I could.

And now to sleep, in my soft warm luxurious motel bed. Tomorrow I return to Portland and my beloved and much-missed snookie.

This is David D. Levine, Space Cadet For Mars, signing off!

P.S. You can track Crew 89's progress on their group blog at http://www.wkiri.com/mdrs_crew89/ (kirimars on LJ).