Sol 3 | Trouble Sleeping & Freeze Dried Food On Mars

GreenHab at MDRSThe day goes very fast here at Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS).  I have this imagined schedule in my head at the top of the day, thinking that there will be ample time to get it all in, plus time to relax, chill out with the rest of crew 173 and rest up after dinner…. Yeah, that hasn’t happened!  And I’m sure its true for all MDRS crews. You want to do so much to maximise your experience here, aware that the mission and this opportunity to simulate living on Mars will be over before you know it. I want to do my own work, and work with all the crew on each of their separate projects, plus capture the stunning landscape while on EVA. Today I followed Rick around, as he planted some new seeds in the GreenHAB, but I also wanted to join Michaela and Roy on their geological EVA. Ahh! So much choice but so little time!! I’m falling in to bed at the end of the day, my stomach full of freeze dried food and my head full of new ideas on top of the schedule I had in place before getting here. We’re only a few days in to our mission and I know already that I’m not going to get everything covered. But I kind of didn’t factor the conditions at MDRS also affecting me.

Like the beds situation for instance- allow me to describe my ‘stateroom’ as the sleeping areas are called. On the upper floor of the HAB, there is a communal area where we eat and work together and then a third of this circular tin has been cordoned off and dived up in to 6 equal spaces for sleeping. From left to right there’s Rick, me, Idriss, Roy, Arnau (when he gets here) and Michaela (she has a porthole in her room because she’s the Commander). Each room is more or less the same size maximum 1 meter wide and approximately 3 meters long. Look at the floor plan of the Hab below. Do you see a sort of box shape that bisects each set of 2 state rooms?  Well thats exactly what it is, a sort of hollow box. So  I sleep on the top of the box that I share with Rick, who sleeps on the lower inside of that same box. We are in separate rooms, just sharing this same box thing. Everyone closes their door every night and settles down to some quiet time alone to reflect on the day. Except me.

MDRS Hab Floor plan
Floor plan of The HAB (Credit MDRS 2015)

The room isn’t the problem per se, or the sleeping conditions. I’m enjoying sleeping in a bag in fact, I quite like the simplicity of it. I spent a year sleeping in a tent when I travelled across Australia way back in 1991 and have always been quite proud of the fact that I adapted quickly to living in nature. Being in the sleeping bag takes me back to that. The one thing I’m really struggling with is the heating system. At the bottom of the box in each stateroom is a duct that serves as our heating system. It gets really cold at night, down to minus 2 centigrade most nights, so we definitely need heat. The only problem is, the heater literally blows hot air into each room – these tiny 1m by 3m rooms. I made the mistake of closing the door on Sol 0 and woke up gasping for air and a blinding headache. So now I keep my door open, and even with that adjustment, I cannot sleep with this dry air and loud heater blowing around me all night. I’m beginning to adjust to the sleep deprivation, dehydration and the daily morning headache. So first thing I do now at the top pf every Sol, is put the boots on & head outside to the Observatory to get some fresh air in my lungs. That usually clears the head and if that doesn’t work, a few litres of hot water followed by another 5 cups of coffee usually clears it.

There’s also the altitude and the diet to contend with. Shannon, the MDRS facility director has told us of previous crews who suffered from  severe altitude sickness throughout their entire mission. So compared to them we’re actually doing quite well. Personally, I also think I’m adjusting to our diet of mostly freeze dried food. Who knew so many foods could be freeze dried? Freeze dried Cabbage, freeze dried butter, freeze dried raspberries – freeze dried everything! And of course there is also limited water supplies. Every time you boil the kettle or make coffee, you’re watching the tank and thinking about how much I have used. It’s all part of adjusting to life on Mars.

Despite the adjustment it’s the best feeling ever and the days are flying by. We’re getting into our groove now and our daily routine is beginning to emerge. With or without sleep we all have breakfast together and plan the day. I’m going to be exhausted leaving here. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Lets do this!

 Niamh Shaw
Crew Artist & Journalist Crew 173

If you missed the earlier journal entries from Niamh’s adventures on the Mars Desert Research in the Utah Desert you can read Sol 0, Sol 1, and Sol 2 (That’s day 0, Day 1 and day 2 for us earthlings) right here on HeadStuff Science.

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