11th March, 2020
Sol 10: Save it for rainy days
Today, we woke up to the sound of raindrops softly hitting the roof of the Hab. On any other day, the idea of spending a day with friends, stuck inside, watching rainfall from the window from the comfort of y. our home can be pleasant. It is much less so when you don’t always get to go outside even when it’s sunny. In fact, it is even less so because we must go outside somehow, but don’t know how we’ll do it safely. The science doesn’t care if it rains, and at least two of us must go on EVA to make sure everything is alright.
The sky is a cruel mistress. Explorers on Mars will be lucky enough to avoid rain, but may have to suffer through massive dust storms. Not knock over Matt Damon’s spaceship bad (the film kind of exaggerates that), but wide enough to cover much of the planet, and capable of causing electrical malfunctions and power losses. The even bigger danger comes from far away. With little atmosphere and no magnetic field, Mars is particularly vulnerable to solar winds and the intense radiation from solar flares.
It’s ironic to write a report about our astronomer’s work on a cloudy morning. Florian’s luckily had the chance of doing some fantastic work while he had clear skies, and still has things to do when he doesn’t do observations. Astronomy isn’t just pointing a telescope at the sky. During the day, the sun needs to be tracked and monitored. Night-time observations through the remote-controlled telescope must be scheduled, with the necessary calibrations that come with it. And once the observations are done, there are heaps of treatment needed to create a beautiful picture, or one where data can be extracted. Besides astrophotography, Florian looks at thirty galaxies in a search for supernovae: incredibly powerful, but very short-lived and extremely rare explosions of massive stars.
Things then began looking up: having a free-ish morning helped us all cook delicious burgers for lunch, we saw some tomatoes beginning to grow, and the sky turned blue in the afternoon which helped us take a look at the observatory and watch the sun live. Things began to look up, until they kind of didn’t.
“This is Shannon, is everyone together right now?”, buzzed the Station Director over radio. That’s an unexpected one, as we’re left alone all day long usually. We were reading, coincidentally, our daily email from Supaéro students back on Earth, with focus on the coronavirus epidemic.
“The World Health Organisation has recently classified COVID-19 as a pandemic.”
Well, not an epidemic anymore, I guess. Earth sure does spin when we’re away. When we cut ourselves off most communications, Italy was looking somewhat worrisome, but things felt fine enough at home. In recent days, it turns out everything looks like it’ll be canceled, and we’re probably in for some quarantine coming back.
The good thing is, we’re probably some of the safest human beings in the world right now. The bad news is, all our plans for our return have been thrown into chaos. There’ll be no crew following us, and no one is looking forward to LA anymore. We began our day with our eyes looking at the sky, and end it looking back at Earth. We look with worry to the people at home, and hope they’re as healthy as we are.
Author: Clément Plagne, Crew Journalist