We’ve just passed our two week anniversary of being on Mars, and today marks the second time I’ve actually gotten to go outside. As you can imagine, this is a bit of a hassle in that you need to wiggle into hazmat suits that crinkle wherever you walk and have a microphone strapped around your throat. Not tight or anything, but it’s always there, like a sibling that’s going “I’m not touching you!” while they’re totally touching you. And on your throat. I grew up with a bunch of siblings, first analogy I could come up with. But yeah, going outside! After wrapping myself in a giant lunch-box and standing for 5 minutes in the “airlock” to simulate depressurization, I was free again! Hello world!
Today we had two big missions, and normally “mission” is a word we use when really we want to generally do something rather vague outside and have fun running around in the sun. Vague thing number one! Christiane and myself were to clamber up to her experiment on the hill and check it out, make repairs or bring it back to the habitat, whatever. I was just hired space muscle in this gig, and it turned out I was well needed too! The weather was less fantastic than it looks in these photos, essentially a large cloud front was ominously moving towards us the entire time, and this meant ever increasing winds. Having perched myself on the top of a ridge, I was now being gently punched by steady winds of at least 17mph and gusts that were trying to double that. You’d be amazed at how weather can trick you out here. There’s no leaves or trees or anything that flaps, it’s just rock. So you’re standing there, the world looks entirely benign, and then…shove! Gust gust whoosh! It made getting the experiment back to the airlock door a bit of a trial, but I don’t call myself hired space muscle for nothing! Mission success!
Awesomely vague mission number two had now begun, which entailed practicing getting around, making GPS coordinates for later use, and more than anything getting accustomed to being out there. We had two teams of two people, so making sure we could see each other, keep in touch, practice radio etiquette, these were all on the menu (it was ala carte). We met up near the water tanks and got ready to scamper about and see what we could see, all the while trying not to get blown down a hill. All things considered, the wind was actually pretty nice; the sun is bloody hot up there when you’re in a suit, so having a constant cool gale on you is a lifesaver.
After teaming up with the other EVA group, we started sauntering along the quarry we live in, checking out calderas, taking measurements on our GPS things, and being overly dramatic about the wind. Our suits are very baggy so they can have a one size fits all thing, and weather is quite loud in them. Also, if you try and make yourself as wide and flat as possible, you can scree-surf down the really grainy hills. Wind can be great fun when you’re being extremely careful just like you’re supposed to be (I write for mission overlords who may read this, wink!).
Really the rest of the day was us checking out that giant hole that lives next door, and getting a feel for the area. I also managed to find a beer bottle part way down a caldera that some hunter must have left awhile back. People apparently go out looking for goats at times (I’ve actually seen the goats, super cute) and I guess when they get bored they leave beer bottles about. But no worries, Space Janitor Alpha Team got it taken care of. When you’re wearing a hazmat suit, everything is dramatic, you’ll have to excuse me. Then…it was time to head back home, le sigh. Nah, I was looking forward to it, that suit was 20% full of sweat by this point in the day, egads. My gloves were like the backwaters of Louisiana, I’m even halfway sure I had a miniature crocodile in there.
And we all made it back safe and sound. It was a grand adventure today, full of gusts straight from the sea and sliding down into gullies and shenanigans like that. It’s always nice to be reminded that the world is a little bigger than the dome, even if you get really sweaty and sharp little stones try desperately to invade your shoes. If you haven’t done it today, I suggest you go outside. It’s not quite as air conditioned as inside, and can definitely be less comfortable, but it’s enormously more fun if you’re in the mind to make it so, and I want to imagine that all of you are having a grand time outdoors, so that I can live vicariously through you. It’ll be a long long time till I can feel that wind properly, and not just have my suit push me around instead.
Being outdoors is the best, go on some adventure!