Friday, December 28, 2012

Internet Issues...

Sorry I haven't posted for a couple days. We've had problems staying under our internet allowance, and communication from mission support comes before blogging. Now it seems to be under control but I've been busy! I'm trying to keep notes (or mental ones) so I can still make a post for each day. They won't go up until I get back, so bear with me.

I don't really want to leave...

Monday, December 24, 2012

Social Networking (Day Nine)

Today my blog was featured on!

We are also going to do a reddit "Ask Me Anything" this afternoon (3 pm Mountain Time, 5pm EST). I'll update this post with the link once we get started.

If you want more detail about our days here, you should go to Derek's blog. He's written good reports that are a different style than my writing.

We are considering writing a letter to all our congressmen, briefly describing our experience here and urging them to support science funding. Any suggestions or advice? It would be a challenge to keep the letter short while still conveying all the things we want to talk about.

We got more snow this morning. We will have a white Christmas but it may lower our chances of EVA . I'd take EVAs over a white Christmas...

For Christmas day, we are going to cook up a rehydrated feast. The film crew will be here for our small celebration. Since they leave the day after, we'll also be celebrating their company and the future film along with Christmas.


Day Eight

I awoke around 9 this morning to raucous laughter in the hab. Clearly, I forgot to set my alarm! I pulled on a second layer of clothes to go into the main room and soon heard discussions of an EVA. This was great news because we've been snowed in for days now, I'm not sure how many. It was quickly decided that Erick and I should go on a one hour scouting EVA to determine the slipperiness of the remaining ice and snow. I scarfed down a bowl of cereal and half a cup of coffee. We suited up and got out of the airlock by 9:45.

We found four different terrains between the hab and Teetering Rock, the hopeful location of the next full EVA. Snow and dry ground were completely fine to walk on (green light). There was bumpy ice which was okay but not ideal (yellow warning). The bumpy ice looked really cool and seemed to be formed by wind. In low areas, there were small streams of ice. They were very slick but not very wide (caution needed).

We turned around near the 30 minute mark and headed back to the hab. We briefed the rest of the crew on the conditions and suggested they walk slowly and go single file across the bad patches.

The crew fixed soup for lunch while Erick and I were gone. I didn't think tuna in chicken noodle soup would be good, but it was! After lunch, we sent EVA 005 out and then I caught my breath. It was a hectic morning!

Here are some pictures:
 Erick on a hill top near Teetering Rock.

Me waving, "Hi Earth!" with the hab in the background.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Day Seven and Eight

Today I'll discuss ABCs - Astrophotography, Birthday, and Cabin Fever.

Yesterday was my 23rd birthday! Everyone was really sweet with birthday wishes and dinner. Derek cooked a great meal as usual, and we had an excuse to celebrate with good brownies and delicious homemade space ice cream (John's special recipe).

I was waiting all day for it to be dark- good thing it was the day with the least amount of sunlight in the whole year! I stumbled across a note in Diane's CCD photometry pamphlet about using DSLR cameras and got inspired. After a day of reading about astrophotography with DSLRs I was excited to go observing. We went out for a bit in the early evening and then again at 4:30 this morning. We tried to catch a variable star to measure with the CCD, but clouds and cold temperatures made it difficult. We are getting better at aligning the telescope - we did it in a record 35 minutes this morning!

Here are my first attempts to photograph the heavens. Don't have high expectations.

The moon is the only object big enough to use autofocus (but it doesn't focus well). I ran across a website that said you should photograph the moon as if you're in full sunlight because the moon is in full sunlight. Diane's friend gave me some advice via email - you should use large aperture. Does that mean large aperture opening or large f number?

 This is a picture of Saturn taken in the early morning with a long exposure. Sunlight is starting to lighten the sky and a couple clouds were up near the horizon. It was a beautiful dawn, but so so cold!

This is a picture of Saturn taken through the telescope. Your eyes are much better at focusing than a camera is - it looked amazing and crisp through the telescope.

The astrophotography is really fun. I may have to invest in a tripod so I can continue the hobby after this trip. I need to get better at manually focusing. It should be easier to play with settings when my fingers aren't frozen...

Today is another day stuck inside. I wish I had move EVA adventures to write about. The forecast for the next week is sadly cloudy, so we may not be able to do as much observing either. What can we do? What would actual colonists on Mars do if they were stuck waiting for good conditions?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Day Six

Another snow day - it didn't get warm enough to melt all the ice and snow.

April and Diane made delicious potato pancakes this morning - mashed potato gems with ham flavored TVP cooked on a griddle with some oil. Awesome.

We caught up on dishes and cleaned upstairs. The hab floor was vacuumed and mopped (still doesn't look clean) and the floor turned a few shades bluer. We have a lot of dust and dirt here.

April continued with her rock analysis and Diane and I had a good observing session. Although it's 4 degrees F outside, the sky is clear and the telescope is aligned and focused! We had a couple variable stars to look at, but missed the 8:30 and 10:30 ones. Diane is going to wake up and catch one at 5:30 using the CCD camera.

We've stayed up much too late and tomorrow we are supposed to start enforcing the wake up time... zzz...

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Day Five

Yesterday (day five) was a snow day. We were stuck inside until the rover got stuck outside and we had to have a unscheduled EVA to retrieve it!

It was a day filled with lots of writing, tea drinking, and science! April and I worked in the lab a little bit. One strange, rock I picked up fizzed when HCl came into contact. That means it's either limestone or a fossil. My rock might be ancient, dead sea creatures!

We finally got clear skies, so at dusk Diane, Erick, and I went to the observatory. We fixed all the issues we had been having - alignment between the finder scopes and the telescope and the telescope's alignment procedure. Everybody (including the film crew) looked at the Moon, Jupiter, Alberio, and the Ring Nebula. Then Diane figured out the camera and imaging process and got a neat photo of Andromeda.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Day Four

Day Four included a large breakfast, a midday EVA, wind, film crew, yoga, rain, and snow!

Here are some pictures from EVA 003:

April is backpack 6, Derek is 5, and Erick is 2. I did not color enhance these photos!

After going through beautiful red hills, we visited a sight found by EVA 001. We wanted to further investigate a rock pattern that looked like a impact crater and a weird shape that looked like a footprint. We found the site- which is a huge feat since Mars is a vast planet, we left no markers, and it was a small feature. There were more of the same shapes seen all around the area. We thought the raised rock features resembled coral.

The film crew put mics on the inside of our helmets and followed us around during the EVA. It was great that we only noticed them a couple of times. Their presence did not ruin the simulation mindset!

After returning from the EVA we talked with the film crew about what we do here and what people on Mars might do in the future. We had leftover lunch and tea to warm up. Then Diane, Erick, and I did some yoga on spare camping mats. Very helpful for shoulders sore from carrying packs!

Diane, Erick, the film crew, and I went to the observatory. It was too cloudy to observe or try to align the telescope but we documented a small problem with the dome and introduced the film crew to the observatory.

Our Christmas tree is inflated and we're in the holiday spirit!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Day Three, Part Two (Oh right...)

9:45 pm
When writing my earlier post I totally forgot that the film crew arrived today! Three european blokes are going to use our crew in their film. Today we met, checked out the hab, and observed our return from EVA. They'll start filming during tomorrow's EVA. Tomorrow's EVA (003) will be with April, Derek, Erick, and myself. We are going back to Hab Ridge (EVA 001's location) to further investigate their finds and go beyond to look for blueberries.

As promised here are some pictures from today.

 Erick and everybody helping during EVA 002 prep. Film crew watches from the engineering hatch.

 April and Erick examine a conglomerate rock during EVA 002.

 Looking at rock fragments.

 We strap review mirrors on our arms because the helmets limit our field of vision. This photo captured April (main) and myself (mirror).

 Erick in the middle of climbing.

On the way back to the hab, sweet hab

Update: 10:55 pm
The wind is really howling, rattling, and whistling tonight!

Day Three


First EVA 001 is on their way back. Erick and I held down the fort. While the others were gone we tidied up for the film crew arriving today, made bread (still cooking in the bread maker), checked the septic tank's leach field, pumped water, and cooked lunch - split pea and ham substitute soup!

When EVA 001 came into visual range, the simulation really sunk in for me. I felt a surge of triumph at seeing my crew members returning in their suits.

7:03pm    Notes from EVA 002
EVA 2 Dec 17
1:20 pm

1:25 Ford rover found - we are not alone

1:32pm mushroom rocks
mini rocks standing up
near bend in road

1:33 1st use of hammer
large red rock collected by N

1:33 Found evidence of liquid water on surface

1:37 more "standing" rocks collected in case 1


1:41 getting windy

1:43 breaking open green rock
collected a piece

1:46 Collected rock made of lots of little rocks *

1:50 Collected 3 black rocks - 1 w/ weird hole, 1 w/weird mark
from random "why are those there?" region
Is it all from a meteor?
Geiger counter slightly active
non magnetic
Inside of black rock is lighter (fragments collected in case 2)

2:05 Collected red + white striated

Saw clay


3:14 left Camel rock
*later found out this is called conglomerate rock

My first EVA was amazing and possibly indescribable. Mars looks wonderful up close and through the helmet, compared to far away through the hab windows. The suit was a comfortable temperature, my gloves did not interfere with using the camera, taking notes, etc. It is difficult to hear both radio communication from the hab and speaking with my fellow EVA crew. We all have to get much better at charades.

Pictures coming later.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Day Two

Our first full day has felt extremely long. We did so much!

Woke up around seven, ate breakfast, drank coffee, and replaced batteries in a carbon monoxide detector that was complaining.

Walked to hab ridge (out of sim) to see what difficulties the terrain brings. With our suits on it will be even more difficult to climb hills, balance, and see.

Went IN-SIM as soon as we returned. Ate a delicious italian soup for lunch (from chef Derek), tried on suits, wrote reports, figured stuff out in the observatory, cooked dinner, discussed human existence, world powers, quantum mechanics, and tomorrow's EVAs. All of a sudden it was time for bed!

Here are some pictures to illustrate the brief description. We took group photos somewhere in there. I've got to get some sleep!

John, April, Derek, Nora, Diane, Erick - Crew 120
April, Erick, Nora, Diane, and Derek

Day One

It’s our first night on Mars! We dressed for the occasion in our matching polo shirts (thanks to Derek). Also thanks to Derek we’ll be wearing some great sneakers from Sketchers. Here's a photo of us on a pit stop:

We had technical difficulties leaving and ended up being late, but that’s okay. We spoke with Crew 119 and got acquainted with the hab. When they left we and made dinner – we had no idea what we were doing but it turned out fine! We ate “Western Tamale Pie” with rice, chicken, peppers, and extra seasoning. We thought it’d be like chili (it wasn’t).

We plan to make a schedule of dinner cooks, which would hopefully fit well with the rest of the day’s activities (e.g. if you are on an afternoon EVA, you’re not making dinner). Haven’t decided what to have for Christmas dinner, but that’s a ways a way.

I absolutely love my camera, but probably won’t be able to upload full resolution versions of the pictures until after returning to Earth. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

One day until take off!

Crew 120 and mission support had a meeting last night to go over procedures and straighten out specifics. We reviewed the Friday/Saturday schedule, getting to the hab, crew positions, emergency procedures, comm procedures, and our mission in general. Here are our official crew positions:

Commander - John
XO - Derek
HSO/Astronomer - me (Nora)
Engineer - Erick
Geologist - April
Astronomy/Journalist - Diane

We all might take turns as journalist.
Apparently April has a lot of work to do. Yay, I want to help on EVAs!
I find it ironic that I'm the health and safety officer and I have a cold. I shouldn't be contagious by the time we're all confined in our little tin can; things are already on the upside.

Within the first couple days of getting there we will decide on a general schedule and a mission statement. On the conference last night mission support said, "We are not mission control. We are here to support you." I thought that was the coolest.

It is strange, I already feel like I know everyone. Maybe it's because we've talked three times now, emailed a bunch, and we've seen each other's faces, resumes, and bios. Maybe all the MDRS participants are kindred spirits - we must all share some personality traits and philosophies to want to do this.

Packing is still nuts. The Mars trip alone is a packing challenge, but I also have to remember to get Christmas presents home and bring anything I want over winter break. What will I forget? What isn't going to fit!?

See you in Grand Junction!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


I got a new camera last night! It's an Olympus and it's much better than my 7 year old point and shoot. E is more experienced and will hopefully be able to show me the ropes. We'll take awesome photos for everyone!

If anyone has suggestions or requests for a photo or video, I'd love to entertain them.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Swisher goes to Blogger

Hello World!

The Campus Martius crew will come together in Grand Junction, CO in five days! In six days we will start our two week adventure at the Mars Society's Mars Desert Research Station.

I haven't blogged before, but I'd like to share my experience with friends, family, and future MDRS crews. I'm a physicist, not a writer, so this will not be great literature but I'll try to be informative and entertaining.


I've collected most of the items on the packing list and must now find a way to fit everything in my suitcase! We have to bring some unusual items like a sleeping bag, biodegradable soap, multitool, and a headlamp. Diane found it amusing that clothing is listed as required but undergarments are optional. My suitcase zippers are not amused.

The crew (except John who is already on Mars) had our second cyber meeting today. Last week we video chatted and got some things figured out despite the lag and echos. Today our teleconference went well too. Hopefully we will have spiffy looking crew patches and at least one matching crew outfit. Derek has done a great job raising funds. He got sketchers to sponsor us, so we will all be wearing these shoes on Mars. We will have one night in a hotel to get acquainted and organized before leaving Earth.

Here's what's in store for us:
  1. Observing. We'll probably have a wacky schedule but I'm sure it will be worth it because we'll be far away from human light pollution.
  2. Engineering. Erick wants to do something cool with the rover, not sure exactly what yet. The rover is remotely controlled from the hab and allows us to see the great outdoors without getting suited up.
  3. Geology. April has a neat GIS project. Hopefully we'll also go rock collecting and get lots of EVA (extra-vehicular-activity) opportunities!
  4. Report writing. Required so that mission support can keep and eye on us and make sure we're ok. EVAs must be requested and scheduled at least one day in advance and any changes or repairs to the hab must get permission first. We can also ask them for help and tell them about any troubles.
Hopefully we will be productive Martians :)

Thanks to crew 119's pictures from the MDRS flicker account.
More to come...