Février 2016

29 février 2016

Midrotation video – Crew 164 !


SOL 7 – Crew 164

MDRS 164 Journalist Report 27/02/2016

Sol 7. Today we kept on exploring the vicinity of the Hab using the
ATVs. We rode 2km south to find a canyon where to test the CRV. We
couldn’t find the interesting place we spotted the night before on the
map of the area, but it anyway gave us the opportunity to test the
ATVs (the clutch of ATV n°4 is obviously broken, but it is still nice
to ride) and to take beautiful pictures of the Martian landscape.

Today we worn space suits. Some improvements are still to be made (the
problem on the backpack n°1 was not due to the battery, but I will try
to change the fans tomorrow), but we are still wearing them with a mix
of pride, dignity and scientific application. The weight we feel on
our shoulders is not only the backpack’s batteries, but also the
feeling that we have so much left to do, so much data to analyze by
the end of the mission.

Today we held our mid-rotation scientific meeting. We all had to
describe the experiment we are responsible for to the others, and
explain what we have done so far and what remains to do. My crewmates
are indeed ugly and stinky, but it is a real pleasure to work with
them and to see that we are making useful progresses for space

At this very moment I am cooking pizza with my friends. There is no
best way to end a hard day’s work than breaking an egg on the head of
your commander or putting rotten pepperoni slices in the boots of your
Safety Officer.

Tonight we will be exploring the sky in the Musk Observatory.
Calibration is not perfect yet, but we still get to see amazing
pictures of the Moon, Jupiter and its satellites, and Sirius, making
us think of where space exploration will bring us next.

Today I felt like the 8-years old me would have been proud of me. And
there is no better proof that the mission is going well, and no better
proof that we are on our way towards a great achievement.

Camille Gontier, Crew Journalist MDRS 164

28 février 2016

SOL 6 – Crew 164

MDRS 164 Journalist Report 26/02/2016

Sol 6. Another beautiful day in the Hab. Morning EVA was dedicated to
the exploration of the vicinity of the station. As a Marsonaut, I
realized that my only regret is that there is no air in Mars
atmosphere. The ATVs we will used on the red planet will need electric
engines. Silent electric engines. The best part of today’s EVA was
driving our ATVs along the roads around the Hab, feeling the roar of
our engines and the wind around us as we were surrounded by the
majestic and millenium-old mesas of Valles Marineris. It felt like «
Easy Rider » on Mars. Hearing nothing but the small buzz of an
electric engine probably won’t be as fun as burning dead dinosaurs to
produce cinetical energy and being as noisy as possible. The « Space
Cowboys » spirit will disappear in front of technological progress.
Serious reparation job was undertaken once back in the Hab. NorCal’s
batteries, backpack n°1, loft tank pump’s filter : we are getting
everything ready for getting back to work on Monday.

Lack of inspiration ? I prefer calling it tiredness after a week full
of exploration and scientific experimentations, and feeling that we
all need a good rest evening, during which we will trade our
screwdrivers and multimeters for a book or a movie. But I swear I’ll
be back, fresh and rested, as soon as tomorrow. Per Ardua, Ad Astra !

Camille Gontier, Crew Journalist MDRS 164

27 février 2016

SOL 5 – Crew 164

MDRS 164 Journalist Report 26/02/2016

Sol 5. After waking up a bit tired (watching « 400 Days » the evening
before was probably not the best idea ever), we welcomed a very nice
and friendly journalist from Phobos TV, who spent the day with us. He
shot the EVA, the space suits, our experiments and the daily life in
the Hab. The most difficult part of it was certainly remaining serious
in front of him. Now that we are all by ourselves for dinner, we are
making up for all the « yo momma » and « knock knock » jokes we could
not do during the day.

– Astronomy is finally under way ! Afer encountering a few troubles in
opening the Musk Observatory (we had to use 20kg pliers to break the
lock), and spending a night observing noting but blurry light spots on
the screen, tonight will be our first operational night at the
observatory with Arthur, the crew astronomer. The telescope was tested
during daytime, and all seemed nominal. On the first night, we were
able to observe, through the little findscope, a pale white dot a few
degrees above the moon, surrounded by four little aligned dots :
Jupiter and his satellites. Being able to see them from several
millions kilometers away gave me vertigo. Tonight, we will be able to
focus on it through the main telescope, and I am almost afraid of
getting any closer to this foreign planet.

– We made a new friend : the sweet voice of the EMUI glasses are now
familiar to Louis, the crew engineer. Using vocal control, he can use
them to do several tasks during his EVAs : taking pictures, writing
notes, consulting a map of the neighborhood of the Hab, while being
hand free for other experimentations. Even though these huge
spectacles make Louis look like a Harvard’s medieval philosophy
teacher (I am sure he is actually wearing a tweed jacket with pieces
of leather on the elbows under his space suit), that is exactly the
kind of devices that will be used during future space manned missions.

– MOMA : we did not bring the Museum Of Modern Art with us, but rather
a tool for the Measurement of Opacity of Martian Atmosphere. Using an
Arduino chip and three leds (green, blue, red), Mehdi will predict the
nebulosity and the quantity of dust in the air to improve the
efficiency of our solar panels.

Camille Gontier, Crew Journalist MDRS 164

26 Février 2016

SOL 4 – Crew 164

MDRS 164 Journalist Report 25/02/2016

Sol 4. Today, Arthur used the Musked Observatory and its inexpensive
equipment to observe a bush 10m away from the Hab ; Mehdi grumbled all
day about his home-made bread not being salted enough ; Mohammad and
Louis almost lost the NorCal drone in the desert, and decided to call
it « PIkachu » ; and Jérémy discovered the « Photo Booth » application
on the iPad lent by the Cadmos, leading to an all time high in his

A TV reporter from Phobos TV is going to spend the whole day with us
tomorrow, to document our mission for national broadcast. So,
regarding the pathetic events from today, I think it would be a good
idea to show the good mental health of the crew and the seriousness o
our scientific procedures by giving an overlook on how our experiments
have been going so far :
– The NorCal drone has been taken out of his box yesterday, and now
seems totally functional. It was taken out of the Hab in the afternoon
through the engineering airlock : the main objective was to control it
from the Hab and to drive it through the tunnel to the Musk
Observatory. Mission accomplished, illustrating the range of the
emitters and the capacity of its batteries. Return was a bit erratic
as we lost video contact : we had to watch it from the kitchen window.

– The good ol’ CRV lent by Association Planète Mars is still working
fine and happily delivering its payload at the bottom of the highest
cliffs. During lunch, we watched an old documentary broadcasted on
French TV a few years ago and covering MDRS 43 mission : we were
happily surprised to see that the CRV was already part of this

– After lunch, Jeremy always stays in the kitchen, religiously reading
food packages and looking at stuffs on his iPad. He is not in need for
an after lunch coffee, but is writing down everything he ate in the
software lent by the CadMos. His food analysis will be used by the
French space agency to prepare Thomas Pesquet’s mission to the ISS
next november.

To continued tomorrow !

Camille Gontier, Crew Journalist MDRS 164

25 Février 2016

SOL 3 – Crew 164 on top !

MDRS 164 Journalist Report 24/02/2016

Sol 3. Morning EVA was a great success. Mehdi, Arthur and Jérémy went south, where hills blocked radio communication after only a few minutes. They came back two hours later, exhausted by the heat of the Utah desert and the weight of their space suits, but happy to bring data, pictures and memories back with them in the Hab. 

But the afternoon EVA I did with Mohammad was a bit disappointing. We indeed received a very nice refill capsule from Phobos station, filled with yeast and tortillas : we brought it into the station trough the engineering airlock hatch. But the ATV check let me in a bitter despair. The main goal of the EVA was to test which ATVs were fully functional in order to use them for tomorrow’s EVA. Sadly, only one of them is working fine (the one Mohammad used to drive a lapse around the Hab, saturating the radio channel with a very professional and scientific « weeeeeeeeee » scream. I swear he will start building Martian sand castle before the end of the mission) : two others remained desperately silent, one emitted a shy roar after ignition but stubbornly refused to move, and we couldn’t even find the gear stick of the last one. Impossible to drive it backwards, which was kind of annoying as the tunnel to the Musk observatory and the Green Hab was just in front of it. Good thing Mars is not flat : we can still go anywhere behind us as long as we drive long enough following a straight line. 

Besides, after having tried a dozen times to turn it on, we ended up totally killing the battery. One more problem on the list. Which, after all, did not really seem to upset the crew. We now are a fully functional crew, and we won’t be bothered by such a small crack in the schedule. Good surprises as well as bad ones are part of this adventure and of the life of an astronaut : what was a problem on Earth is now an opportunity to show adaptability, to develop new procedures or to expand our technical skills in the Hab. 

Camille Gontier, Crew Journalist MDRS 164 

24 Février 2016

SOL 2 – Crew 164

MDRS 164 Journalist Report 23/02/2016

Sol 2. So far so good. In spite of the dryness of the air, the heat in
our rooms, the realization that some experiments will be difficult to
realize on schedule, and Mohammad’s cooking, the morale of the crew is
still pretty good. Even too good, I would say. The Hab is filled with
a starry-eyed and friendly atmosphere, indeed favorable to the
seriousness of our work and data analysis, but also to some weird
events. Yesterday in the afternoon, as we were all working on the
upper deck, we heard a ring coming from downstairs. Not the kind of
beep or alarm classically coming from our equipment, but a really
old-fashioned door-bell ring. We all climbed down the stairs, thinking
that someone was waiting in front of the main airlock : I mean, the
Hab is just but a martian home, so why not having it equipped with a
nice door-bell ? We all thought it was Shannon bringing the cat to the
Hab (yes, you read it well : we are soon going to have a seventh
passenger on board. To be told in a next journalist report.), while it
was just a rotating cooking timer used to put a video camera on to
shoot a time-lapse of our work on the CRV. We are isolated in a
Mars-analog mission 400 millions of kilometers away from Earth, and
the first thing we thought of hearing the ring was not « we might have
forgotten a piece of equipment downstairs », but « it might be the
mailman ».

I am not a very good teller, but I swear it was funny at the moment.
But it was a friendly reminder that we are not at all losing our sense
of reality, and we are all focused on the main goal of the mission :
gathering data and testing equipment. Whatever the planet, whatever
the place (a lab or the Hab), our state of mind is still the same : we
are scientists, and we have to get the job done.

Camille Gontier, Crew Journalist MDRS 164

23 Février 2016

SOL 1 – Crew 164: First adventure

MDRS 164 Journalist Report 22/02/2016

Sol 1. Serious business began today. Day started with a collective work out, and the schedule was one last time reviewed and validated by all crew members during breakfast. We all started working on our own experiment : assembly and integration of the Cliff Reconnaissance Vehicle was done in the afternoon, for a first test to be undertaken during tomorrow’s EVA. Similarly, the electrocardiogram, the embedded EVA interface, and the EMUI glasses are now ready for first operational tests. For the first (but certainly not the last) time, I had to contact Earth to have clarification about the ECG software analysis, as the user manual was not available offline and as I forgot to download it. « Les grandes déroutes sont logistiques » (« main defeats have logistical roots ») : it is only when you realize how true this motto is that you know the mission really started, and that you are now left alone on Mars.

But, first of all, the first EVA of the mission took place this morning. We made the preparation as solemn as possible, and I don’t think an Orlan space suit would have been worn with more application and pride by a cosmonaut on LEO than our own suits.

For two hours, the Hab became strangely silent, and we were only surrounded by the soft roar of the water pump, the continuous whistling of the ventilation, the shy beep emanating from our electronics and, from time to time, the electronic voice of the EVA leader coming attenuated somewhere from a walkie talkie and followed by a communication beep signal. For now on, I think this will be the sound of the mission. A strange mix of a technological soundtrack and of the sound of living astronauts. The encounter between science and life.

By the end of the day, an other sound appeared : the wind loudly whistling and slamming around the Hab, making us think on how weak the station actually was in front of the fury of the elements. Being protected from this Martian storm, and yet feeling the wind creaking on the roof of the Hab, made me feel like being isolated in a bivouac tent in a middle of a desert storm. This is how Joseph Kessel described Antoine de Saint Exupéry working on his first novels in « Mermoz » : as an engineer, the man would, isolated in his tent in the Sahara, write down in the evening all what he thought about in his plane during the day. He especially told us about the encounter between a professional pilot and a dreamer little boy. And I do not think that being an astronaut is any different than using science to fulfill the dreams of little boys, with their gaze lost among the stars.

Camille Gontier, Crew Journalist MDRS 164

22 Février 2016

First contact from our crew 164 !

– Journalist Report 21/02/2016 –

At two hours of the beginning of our sim, the morale of the team is extremely good, and we all are overwhelmed with enthusiasm and happiness. I mean, we have been waiting for the beginning of this mission for one year (and even two for Jérémy and I) : after one year of clerical work, scientific preparation, answering questions like «are you going to get dressed as a Martian ?» (I almost responded that I was planning to bring green makeup and an antenna made out from a hanger), physical preparation, a 30 hours plane trip, and a road trip in the desert listening to nothing but terrible rock on the radio (to be fair, I was expecting a Josh Hommes’s « Song For The Deaf » spirit original soundtrack) : we finally made it.

Nothing to do with the anxiety and the darkness surrounding the take off of Tintin’s rocket in « On a marché sur la Lune », nor with the dark premonitions of the crew’s family prior to the departure of Saturn V in « Apollo 13 » (1) : as we are ready to enter a two-weeks long Mars-analog mission, we mostly feel related to Jules Verne’s characters before the launch of Columbia, their enthusiasm, and their feeling that all what they went through before this moment was just a small step towards the realization of a great achievement.

We are overwhelmed with the desire to make this mission a success, to gather reliable and promising data for further analysis, and to come home not only with a personal feeling of satisfaction, but also with the certitude that our experimental results and simulation data will serve the greater good of Martian exploration. « We won’t go gentle into that good night… »


« Celui qui survivra à cette journée

Et rentrera sauf chez lui

Se dressera sur la pointe des pieds

Quand on nommera ce jour. »

(Shakespeare, Richard III)


Camille Gontier, Crew Journalist MDRS 164


(1) : and let alone with « Armageddon » : our two-years long scientific preparation has nothing to do with the spirit of this movie, which is ridden with scientific errors and inaccuracies. First of them : Ben Affleck making out with Liv Tyler. I mean, come on !