Sol 7

Sol 7 : « Carpe Diem »

Sol 7 : « Carpe Diem »

“It’s the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary; only wise men are able to understand them.” - The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

Today it’s Sunday at the MDRS! The day started a bit later than usual: we woke up at 8:30 instead of 6:45! The daily workout session was longer too: we enjoyed a one-hour session with lots of cardio exercises, to get us in shape for the day. For breakfast, Mathurin and Yves cooked pancakes for the Crew. They were delicious, and we ate so many of them with maple syrup that we decided to avoid lunch and just have a brunch!

Then, Sunday means clean-up! Since we arrived at the station, we had not taken the time to fully clean the Hab. This morning, we cleaned up all the tables, countertops, and cooking utensils. We keep a close watch on our water consumption every day, and we are very careful not to waste water, even during cleaning. Léa vacuumed, after struggling to make it work. After a week, the floor was dirty… But now, everything is clean and well tidied up for next week, and this has given the Crew a real boost! Finally, we erased the white bord we used to track our daily task, now that they’re implemented in the AMI interface. That way, we could write quotes on it, like “Crape Diem”!

During the afternoon, we enjoyed some downtime, not forgetting some essential tasks: Yves collected data for all the experiments we performed during the week, and some Crew members took cognitive tests for the Orbital Architecture experiment. But we made sure everyone was well rested, whether it was reading, or knitting, or crocheting, or making a puzzle and listening to music… The mood is great for this first Sunday on Mars!

Sol 26

Sol 26 – It’s not over until it’s over… but now it’s over!

“’I’ve always wanted to see a Martian,’ said Michael. ‘Where are they, Dad? You promised.’

‘There they are,’ said Dad, and he shifted Michael on his shoulder and pointed straight down.

The Martians were there. Timothy began to shiver. 

The Martians were there—in the canal—reflected in the water.”

Chapter 26 of The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

Waking up to our last Martian sunrise was the strangest feeling, like ignoring the elephant in the room. We were due to return to Earth today, and staying focused in these circumstances was not easy! Nevertheless, Corentin led us for our final workout session of the mission, and we had breakfast, almost as if today was a normal day. 

An EVA crew composed of Quentin, Alexandre, and Corentin then proceeded to perform the last EVA, in order to disassemble and bring back to the Hab all of the atmospheric instruments deployed over the course of the mission: the LOAC, the field mill, Purple Air, the weather station, and the Mega Ares antenna. To be ready for any potential issue, Quentin had requested a 4-hour EVA for redundancy, but the crew ended up completing their objectives in under two hours. After a tear-jerking speech by Quentin over the radio and a few last photos with the station as a backdrop, the crew headed back to the station with their trunks full.

Performing my HabCom duties, I was half-listening to what Jérémy and Adrien were discussing while doing the dishes, and one question caught my attention – what if we had made different choices? In the sense: what if our paths had led us elsewhere than to where we are now? The very thought of there being a life in which I would not have lived through this experience threw me off completely, and for the first time, I felt that every choice I had made in my life had contributed to leading me here. 

After lunch, we were “surprised” by a second emergency protocol simulation, during which we detected a breach in the GreenHab. Added difficulty: as planned by Quentin and Alexandre, a crewmember pretended to feel ill in the Science Dome during the sensor checks to disrupt the execution of the protocol. Despite it, the breach was sealed in time and the “ill” crewmember was safely returned to the Hab by our Health and Safety Officer. We continued finalizing and “disassembling” our experiments throughout the day; Adrien and Corentin took apart the aquaponic system, but not before they harvested all of the greens it had produced! A feast awaits tonight, after we submit our last reports…

It’s amazing how quickly we get used to extraordinary things. Upon arriving at the station a month ago, we were facing our dream, facing what we had worked so hard to attain, and for that reason, we felt invincible. Over the past weeks, we have dodged storms, lived under Mars’ atmosphere, played by his rules, encountered obstacles, and sometimes unfavorable odds. It is difficult now to look back and see what we have accomplished: it all still feels part of our day to day, of routine operations, and the tiny steps along the way don’t yet add up to the monumental leap we have taken. But in a little while, perhaps no later than tonight, we will feel even more invincible than on Sol 1: the scientific results we have produced and the friendships we have formed will appear, evidently, before our eyes.

At 5 pm, we opened both airlock doors, feeling the wind on our faces for the first time since we left Earth. If there had been water and canals in the Utah Desert, we might have seen some Martian traits showing through our very Earthly faces, smiling back at us. 

Marie Delaroche

Sol 25

Sol 25 – Let’s (pretend to) save the station!

“Behind the door, the stove was making pancakes which filled the house with a rich baked odor and the scent of maple syrup.”

Chapter 25 of The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

Only two more Sols! Trying to make the most of them is the crew’s ambition. Each crewmember is working hard to wrap up their experiments, gathering and organizing the last bits of data. Despite our starting to feel quite tired, the inexorable approach of the end of the mission has not affected our enthusiasm. Nevertheless, a few signs that we’re nearing the end are showing through: we talk of what comes next, of our next adventures back on Earth, of our families and friends that we’re anxious to see again. 

This morning, we prepared Alice, Adrien, and Jérémy for their last EVA in the Martian desert. Although we have gotten “used” to perform extravehicular activities, and are now more efficient than ever in preparing our crewmates to exit the station, Quentin, Alexandre, and I reminded each other of the importance of taking these EVAs extremely seriously. As we saw the two rovers disappear behind a hill, and as I gradually lost radio contact due to the growing distance, we realized once again how isolated and vulnerable we could feel, especially with half the crew missing from the Hab, and even if only two Sols remain. The Martian environment outside the Hab remains hostile, no matter how efficient and accustomed we have become.

After our explorers returned, we had a relaxing lunch, listening to and talking about the music Jérémy was playing on the speaker. What we had forgotten was that it would not be playing music very much longer… Just as Corentin and Quentin were wrapping up an EchoFinder session, and Adrien was returning from the GreenHab, the depressurization alarm resounded. Immediately, we gathered in the Lower Deck to begin simulating an emergency procedure, designed to identify how AI4U could help future astronauts follow a complex procedure. Two crewmembers toured the station to check “sensors” to find the source of the leak. The emergency EVA crew could then proceed to “repair” the station from the outside. Thanks to them, the Science Dome has been saved!

After the 30-minute operation, everyone returned to their tasks. Pancakes and bread were baked by Alice and Quentin, while I sorted and edited the many beautiful shots taken during this morning’s EVA. Quite foolishly, I was taking my time to write this report, a bit more than usual, when Jérémy reminded us all that tonight was our last evening on Mars… officially. I felt a rush of adrenaline: let us make the most of it!

Marie Delaroche

Sol 24

Sol 24 – Home is where your crewmates are

 “A toast to all of you; it’s good to be with friends again.”

Chapter n°24 of The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

The shuttle landed in the night, not far from the Mars Desert Research Station. Alice, Corentin and I stepped out, treading lightly as the gentle Martian gravity welcomed us back. Light burst from the main airlock window; our crew was waiting for us! Waving hands and smiling faces were gathered behind the second airlock door, waiting for the pressure to equalize. When Jérémy let us in, I felt like I was home. I would have hugged them all, if I had had two functioning arms! The crew was reunited once and for all, ready to finish our mission together.

This morning, like every morning, at the beginning of the daily workout, the song Cheerleader came on, and though I desperately wanted to join in, I simply tapped my feet, and smiled at the thought that for the rest of the mission, I could be my team’s very own cheerleader! 

Almost everything feels like it is going back to normal: after a few strange and chaotic Sols, we are all managing to ease back into our routine: taking our tests, handling data for our experiments, writing our reports. This makes me think that I have not yet mentioned what has been taking up most of Alice’s time these past few Sols. As crew Scientist, she is responsible for centralizing all the data our experiments produce, from images captured during EchoFinder sessions, to the many daily surveys each crewmember takes. To put it her way: “I don’t do data handling. I do big data handling!” 

Throughout the day, we continued testing AI4U, prompting it with an emergency protocol written by Alexandre and Quentin which we aim to start simulating tomorrow: at a random time during the day, an alarm will go off, indicating the depressurization of one of the station’s modules. We will then test whether the AI is useful in getting us organized and helping us execute the emergency procedure!

Yesterday, Jérémy wrote that despite the circumstances, routine operations that keep the station up and running have never ceased taking place. Most notably, Adrien has continuously taken good care of the GreenHab. Unfortunately, for unknown reasons, a second fish has ascended to fish-heaven today. Out of the eight fishes originally brought to the MDRS by Adrien, we have lost both Mercury and Jupiter. Our botanist’s hypotheses range from a sudden increase in pH, to the possible emergence of bacteria, to the increasing temperatures in the GreenHab. The investigation is ongoing, in the meantime, the other fish have been transferred into another aquarium.

Although accumulated stress, our lack of sleep, and general state of fatigue are starting to take their toll on the crew after more than three weeks on Mars, surprisingly, one thing comes up more and more often in conversations: not wanting to leave…


Marie Delaroche

Sol 23

Sol 23 – Keeping the (space)ship afloat!

“I have good news,” he said. “I have looked at the sky. A rocket is coming to take us all home. It will be here in the early morning.”

Chapter 23 of The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

Today Jérémy is writing to you, as Marie must focus on her health. Hopefully, she will be back very soon, and in perfect shape, to narrate our chronicles here much better than I will ever do. In the meantime, Alice and Corentin have accompanied her on her way to the Earth, where she can have surgery.

I must say that it was a solemn moment to see them leave, early in the morning, all equipped with their luggage and their determination. As there were only four of us left at the Mars Desert Research Station, I could not help but think about the pioneers of space exploration. Those who ventured into space alone, or on the surface of the Moon with only one fellow crew member. Alone in front of the Universe, far away from home.

Quentin and Alexandre mentioned how big the station now seemed, as the four of us were gathered on the Upper Deck. Only then did I fully realize that the operations would become slightly more difficult. Indeed, for safety’s sake, we make sure that at least two of us remain in the Hab at all times. Everyone thus had to change their habits, like Adrien who watered the crops earlier than usual so that he could be at the Hab during this morning’s EVA. It was supposed to be a routine activity, as Quentin and I simply had to change the batteries and retrieve the data of our atmospheric instruments. However, even the easiest tasks feel more complex in this context.

This being said, it was also very interesting for everyone to get the opportunity to experience different roles: As both the Commander (myself) and the Executive Officer (Quentin) were in EVA, we gave the responsibility of the station to Alexandre. With the Health & Safety Officer away from the campus, his duties have been handed over to me. And we all gathered our energy to write the requested daily reports.

Replacing some time dedicated to scientific activities with other tasks often feels a bit frustrating, but that’s how it is: we need to keep all the systems running, while ensuring that no useless risk is taken. Onboard the International Space Station, only half of the schedule is dedicated to science, while the rest consists of operational tasks!

When there is already more than enough to keep a crew of seven people busy, one may think that it must be difficult to share this workload between only four crewmembers. However, I think that we have all learnt a lot from each other and ensured that there were enough redundancies so that any subset of four crewmembers would have managed to keep our basic operations up and running. I must say that I feel very proud about this: it is not a success of some individual crewmembers, but a success of the whole team!

During the past few weeks, we often talked about the fact that, when all gathered around the table, we always had the feeling that there were not enough people and that someone was missing. It is a very strange feeling, but we had to count to make sure that the seven of us were actually there. Now I let you imagine how it feels with only four crew members left! As it was already dark and I was climbing the stairs towards the Upper Deck, I almost felt the isolation of the old lighthouse keeper. It is quite romantic to see it this way, but it is only one out of many parallels that you can draw between space and the sea, and it is no coincidence that the European module of the International Space Station is called Columbus. 

Like sailors at sea, far from the daily stimuli that the world has to offer, we also feel a bit more affected by some events. For instance, in the afternoon we noticed with pain that the leaves of the tomato crops were starting to turn yellow, as the temperature within the GreenHab was reaching about 40°C/100°F. Even worse: the lifeless body of one of our eight fishes was found in the aquaponics system. In such a restricted group, we quickly get attached to the simplest things. I am not sure whether this event would have had such an effect on the Earth. Here, I can assure you that we will mourn the passing of this poor creature for quite a while! Adrien has tested the water quality to investigate the potential reason behind this unfortunate event. Nothing seems wrong so far, we will keep you posted.

But please let me finish this report on a positive note. As I am writing this, one of our two moons is magnificently rising in the sky, and I just learnt that Marie's surgery  went smoothly. She woke up from anesthesia and will soon take the shuttle back to the station with the two other crew members. Only when you lose something important, you truly understand how valuable it is to you. And God knows we missed all of them during this very long day!

Jérémy Rabineau

Sol 22

Sol 22 – “The last week’s a smooth ride”, they said!

“The Martian mountains lay all around, millions of years old. Starlight glittered on the spires of a little Martian town, no bigger than a game of chess, in the blue hills.”

Chapter 22 of The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

I woke up this morning as my crewmates silently and sleepily stepped out of their rooms to take their daily tests and measurements, as I lay on a reclined mattress under the main Hab window. It feels strange not being able to have the same habits as the rest of my crew; as Corentin led them all through the daily workout session, I took advantage of my not being able to participate by taking my role of crew photographer close at heart.

There was no time to waste after breakfast; after being delayed twice, the third and last EVA at Candor Chasma dedicated to the photogrammetry experiment would finally take place this morning! Corentin having replaced me as the third member of the EVA crew, I was assigned the role of HabCom to monitor the EVA from the Hab. It was a quiet morning: after handling the data retrieved from the atmospheric instruments, which the researchers from CNRS are very pleased with, Alexandre played chess with Quentin to the sweet churning sound of the bread-making machine. Meanwhile, Jérémy tested all of AI4U’s functionalities. The objective is to have all crewmembers interact with the AI in order to give detailed feedback to SPooN and CNES, who have created the prototype.

After 4 hours of exploration, the three astronauts came back to the hab tired. They finally collected all the necessary data for the photogrammetry experiment. We enjoyed a long lunch and some off-worldly conversations. It's amazing to see how close we have become over the past few weeks, despite our differences: every single crewmember is doing their best for this last week to go as smoothly as possible. 

In the afternoon, we struggled to keep to a tight schedule. Crewmembers are taking turns using AI4U, and getting their cognitive tests and physiological examinations done. Alice has started comparing the performances of the photogrammetry teams, who are feeling quite competitive…

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be traveling back to Earth with Alice and Corentin, and possibly getting surgery. Jérémy will be writing the reports for the next few Sols, and I can only hope to be back before the mission ends. 

In any case, this evening, although bittersweet, will most certainly reflect the team's spirit during the entire mission: quick with a joke, never sparing with kind words.

Marie Delaroche

Sol 21

Sol 21 – Sunday Slumber

“They all came out and looked at the sky that night. They left their suppers or their washing up or their
dressing for the show and they came out upon their now-not-quite-as-new porches and watched the
green star of Earth there.”

Chapter 21 of The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

Our third Sunday in the MDRS started out as usual: with a little more sleep for the entire crew. After
yesterday’s emotional rollercoaster, somewhat rested, we tucked into some more pancakes prepared by
Alice. We watched and laughed as she tested AI4U’s joke functionalities; over the past week, Alexandre
has continued running tests on the program to help the CNES researchers make the right changes to it,
with future space missions in mind.
Our third Sunday in the MDRS continued not exactly as usual: two crewmembers were scheduled to go
on an EVA. As Sol 20’s outing was cancelled, the batteries on all atmospheric instruments had not been
changed and had been left in the cold; Alexandre had therefore requested a Sunday EVA. Despite the 20
mph winds, which the crew is now used to hear blowing around the station, Alice and Alexandre
managed to change all three batteries and retrieve the data. Unfortunately, the LOAC had to be brought
home once again to be fixed, as it has not been collecting any data for the past Sol…

With everyone back at the Hab for the afternoon, everything started to feel like a real Sunday at MDRS,
and we were glad to have more time to rest after Friday night’s events. Naps were taken, movies were
watched, books were read.
Despite not being able to work on his astronomy project due to a malfunctioning robotic observatory,
Alexandre has taken up astrophotography. Along with Adrien, he set up a tripod and camera under the
glass dome of the observatory to take advantage of the beautiful Martian skies. We have not yet been
able to see Earth from up here, we are still actively looking…

Marie Delaroche

Sol 20

Sol 20 – A dream crew

“The sail fluttered down, folding unto itself, sighing. The ship stopped. The wind stopped. Travel stopped. Mars stood still as the majestic vessels of the Martians drew around and hesitated over him.”

Chapter 20 of The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

Writing a journalist’s report with my right arm in a brace and sling isn’t easy…

Last night, I fell in the Upper Deck of the Hab and broke my collarbone. Although I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around what happened, I know that things would have been radically different if the crew and Mission Support had not reacted the way they did: calmly, efficiently and with great care.

The crew truly worked like a dream, Quentin even said it looked like a ballet from afar. 

Our Health and Safety Officer, Corentin, and I took a short trip to Earth during the night on an ambulance-starship to go to the hospital, and get my clavicula and shoulder examined. I’m fine, although exhausted and feeling somewhat responsible for disrupting the mission’s plotted course.

As Jérémy and Alice took us back to the Hab, our spirits were lifted by the breathtaking Martian landscapes we went through to return to the MDRS. Adrien, Alexandre and Quentin welcomed us back to the MDRS, with anxious smiles, delicious blueberry pancakes, and cookies.

The afternoon was dedicated to resting, as most crewmembers had gotten very little sleep. We’re ready to get back to our daily activities as of tomorrow!

It feels very reassuring to be all together again at the MDRS after twelve very uncertain hours. Although we were all very shaken, I am amazed by our crew’s resilience and high spirits. Words cannot express how thankful I am to be a part of this team.

Marie Delaroche

Sol 19

Sol 19 – Back to Beautiful Candor

“All down the way the pursued and the pursuing, the dream and the dreamers”

Chapter n°19 of The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

After many Sols spent in the Martian storms, the conditions were ideal for the second photogrammetry EVA at Candor Chasma! The outing was a success: with only notes taken from the 2D map, Jérémy and Alexandre managed to find all 10 checkpoints in time. They came back to the Hab in time for a delicious lunch: a lentil dahl prepared by Adrien, and a bowlful of cherry tomatoes from the GreenHab!

 I also took the time to prepare a batch of bread this morning, while Alice was HabCom and the others were out on EVA. I noticed how calming it was for me to focus on this task while letting my thoughts wander off for a little while, and talking to Alice when communication with the EVA crew was cut off. Moments shared with only one or two other crewmembers are rare, as we are almost always all together during meals and after dinner, our only breaks during the day. Only late at night when most of the crew has gone off to sleep, or during moments like the one shared with Alice this morning, can we enjoy one-on-one conversations. I would say it’s one of the things I miss the most about Earth!

In the afternoon, I visited Alice in the Science Dome, and she explained to me how she analyzed her rock samples gathered during the last EVA: using a stack of sieves with finer and finer meshes, she can separate the different size of grains present in a sandstone, and weigh the different parts to get an idea of the rocks’ composition. In the GreenHab, Adrien harvested spinach and showed me how well the plants in the aquaponics system had grown! The root system is now four times as dense as in the beginning of the mission. Aquaponics could be an interesting way of envisioning agriculture in space: no dirt is required, the water circulates within a closed loop, and the systems allows crops to be “planted” much closer to each other, optimizing the available space. 

Back at the Hab, Corentin had prepared pancakes, and Quentin was analyzing the data from this morning’s EVA: he retraced the crew’s steps through the canyon, to better compare their performance to that of the next EVA crew, using the 3D maps!

Marie Delaroche

Sol 18

Sol 18 – When space exploration brings philosophy to the table

“It is good to renew one’s wonder,” said the philosopher. “Space travel has again made children of us all.”

The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury

“Alexandre to the Hab, I have arrived at the Observatory.” 

When I heard this message over the radio this morning, I instinctively wrote it down in my notebook, for no particular reason other than that I was happy for Alexandre. The Sun was shining, he would be able to spend time in the solar observatory to record footage of our star and program his nighttime observations.

I also felt happy for Alice and Quentin: the Sun was shining, the hills were drying, boding well for tomorrow’s scheduled EVA. As the exploration EVA using the 3D map ended up being rescheduled to Sol 20 due to the weather, tomorrow, Quentin, Jérémy, and Alexandre will be looking for the checkpoints using only the 2D map.

I started preparing lunch while Jérémy and Corentin debriefed the Sociomapping reports received after the first half of the mission. This technique allows to literally “map out” the relationship between crewmembers: using a series of weekly queries we answer regularly, a 3D map is generated, illustrating how the crew is organized, and how efficient communications are between us.

While Alexandre and Jérémy were preparing their notes, and memorizing paths and caches for tomorrow, Quentin made a discovery: the weather station receiver did not need to be placed outside, in the rain and cold! By placing it near the Hab window, the receiver was able to “hear” the instruments’ transmissions directly from inside the Hab. 

Gathered around the Hab table for lunch, as we were rereading some questions sent by journalists about our mission and Martian exploration, we quickly slipped into debate mode: Why go to space? Why explore Mars? Many answers arose. Most of us mentioned science: good use of orbital space can help solve the climate crisis, studying Mars helps us understand our own Earth, even pure scientific curiosity can be a powerful motivator. But some crewmembers also mentioned a reason more difficult to justify, abstract yet almost visceral, even artistic: the desire to explore. Which is why I chose this quote, instead of going through Bradbury’s 18th chronicle as usual:

“‘It is good to renew one’s wonder,’ said the philosopher. ‘Space travel has again made children of us all.’”

Marie Delaroche