Mars mission to Iceland – Part 1

So I’m probably Jack Swigert.

As a fall-back, last-minute replacement for an oversubscribed colleague, I have no illusions of my role on this mission – Rover Module Pilot and Bag Carrier. A job that I have undertaken with quiet stoicism and gin.

It is now Day 2 of our 10 day mission to our Mars (analogue) field site. After a routine launch from Cape Gatwick and a 3 hour cruise phase we touched down on a terrain showing definite signs of life. Our launch mass limit was overcome by a very helpful close-out crew member combining our 9 bags and boxes and taking the average.

DSCF0052-small

The post-landing checkouts took longer than expected, with calculators needed for the complicated three-way conversion of alcohol to Krona to pounds. With breakfast now sorted for the mission, we turned our attention to pulling the release cables on our pre-booked rover. As with all space missions, some things never go to plan, and tasks that would be simple back home actually take much longer (and a V8 engine) when tested for real.

The original Rover was quickly judged to be woefully too small for all of our instruments, and so we had to drive to a depot – definitely not with the hand brake accidentally left on – to have a roof box fitted. Which still left all of our essential boxes on the floor. What is the Icelandic for balls? So despite having a big loud exhaust vent and a proud rallying history (probably literally in the case of this rover), the original Rover had to be upgraded in situ – an ability I highly recommend for future Mars missions.

So our current Rover is now a monster four wheel drive monster V8 monster (plus a roof box), which might have a fuel issue on longer missions. I think I spent more time watching the fuel gauge move in real time than on the road, but it was an absolute necessity for this trip. The upside is that I’m still daydreaming over the noise from in front of us.

DSCF0099-small

We are now at base camp for the mission in Myvatn, and it’s beautiful. Not quite magnificent desolation, as there is way too much energy here, but mesmerizing all the same. We prepared and ate our first meal of the mission (never dehydrated veggie curry), and then headed for high ground for some geological context. And a mega-stitcher photo opp.

It’s now late, just time for us to send our communications back home, which with the time delay gets there one hour ahead of us here. And now we have to plan for tomorrow.

We will probably do a reconnaissance drive and walk before deciding where to actually deploy our instruments. We have a visible and near-infrared “portable” field spectrometer (think Ghostbusters), the latest version of the test ExoMars PanCam stereo and high-resolution cameras (think Wall-E without wheels), and a rock hammer (think handsome and clever geologist). Oh and I’ll be doing some fancy 3D stuff with cameras too hopefully.

I’ll explain the science of the mission later on I think. Or I strongly suggest you check out my fellow analogue-astronaut Dr Claire Cousin’s field blog. She’s talking way more sense than me.

So I’ll sign off this mission log with a photo of our field base. Iceland – I love you almost as much as Mars.

DSCF0119-small