6th March, 2020
Sol 5 – Crew 223 : Grounded
Mars is a colourful place. Today on EVA, we explored the North Ridge, a hilly area a few miles from the Station. The exploration was rather athletic, and we once again saw all sorts of terrain as we trudged up and down the steep sandy slopes. It felt like we walked for hours and miles, despite the area being rather small and us being done in about an hour. It probably was because the terrain changes so much – in a matter of minutes we went from red hills to rocky areas to grey, Moon-like zones. It’s also probably because the heavy suits make us slower. Most certainly, it’s a bit of both. The other great news is that the more comfortable suits that had failed on our first EVAs have been handsomely fixed by Luc and Aurélien, and now work fully. Begone, back pains!
The ground out there is barren and lifeless. Still, there’s somewhere not too far where the soil is life-giving and fruitful. The greenhouse is in full bloom thanks to the good work of Valentin, our devoted GreenHab officer. Aromatics, radishes, carrots and many others are busy growing all day long and may at some point be food for us. But there’s another, odder, thing growing in the warmth of the GreenHab. In glass tanks lives a green, bubbly mass called spirulina. They’re algae that shine by the low area needed to grow it, and the massive amounts of nutrition value it creates with very little input. In those two tanks that occupy very little of the water consumption and space of the greenhouse, they have the potential of feeding us much better than all the rest. It’s not as tasty as rosemary or basil, but some day we may be forced to be as efficient as possible, and we’ll be happy to have it.
The Science Dome is also on the cutting edge of vegetal research. Today was the official start of the Music for Plants experiment. It posits that in harsh environments, sound waves may influence the durability of plants – in other words, plants may enjoy music! To test this, Valentin puts different batches of radishes and watercress under strong UV lights, basically giving them sunburns, and tests different sounds on the plants in the meantime, seeing how they evolve every day. With the thin atmosphere of Mars, plants will inevitably be put under stress from sunrays, so finding out how best to protect them and have an agriculture on another planet is fundamental. In that same Science Dome, a tower breathes. No soil this time: little pods on the tower are filled with a special foam and fed with a nutritive liquid mix, and plants grow just as well. Aeroponics and vertical culture are possible keys to efficiently feed a colony on Mars, and working with the first small-scale examples of these is a privilege for us.
Author: Clément Plagne, Crew Journalist