Half-time on Mars
Time flies and I’m not the only one in the habitat making this observation. We did not notice these first seven weeks passing by. Boredom is not something we have experienced until now. We are all very busy with our personal projects and, when not, there is always something to take care of in the habitat.
In the first month, we experienced difficulties with communications, a shortage of water, the failure of our treadmill and our bike, failures of spacesuits, and a lack of power from the solar array, leading us to start the ICE generator and spend an evening with flashlights. Yes, living on Mars - even if this 'Mars' is located in Hawaii - is far from being a holiday. We are isolated, depending only on our remote mission support team and ourselves when something goes wrong. There is no ‘customer service’ on Mars. If something breaks and we can’t repair it, we have two options: invent something with the available materials and equipment or wait for a resupply to get the missing part.##markend##
Nearly all our food for four months was delivered at the beginning of the mission - almost two months ago. We keep it in the container, which is also our workshop. We received a resupply at the end of May, but it was only a small part of the total amount of food, consisting of items that cannot be stored for four months. Yes, all our food is freeze-dried or shelf-stable - that is to say canned foods, dried milk, cereals, dried fruits, and nuts.
When we want to cook a meal, we must think ahead of time and rehydrate the food. We have a lot of variety in our choice of freeze-dried vegetables: spinach, tomatoes, bell peppers, green beans, corn, broccoli, cauliflower, etc., along with freeze-dried fruits such as blueberries, strawberries, cherries, apricot, pineapples and raspberries. In addition, we also have dried apples, raisins, dried mangoes, cranberries and banana chips. We also grow alfalfa, broccoli, radishes and beans from seed, and these make up our salads.
In terms of meat, we have a large freeze-dried choice: chicken, beef, sausage, but also a lot of canned meat and vacuum-sealed sausages. Cheese is also freeze-dried and eggs come in powder form; we regularly make omelettes and scrambled eggs. We have a yogurt-maker, a cheese-maker, and a bread-maker. We have tested all of them; the yogurt was really a success, but the cheese could still be improved. The bread is just great!
For a change from our freeze-dried routine, we sometimes have some home grown lettuces and radishes, products of my experiment. My personal research project involves growing plants in the habitat. I am studying the effect of different light wavelengths – red and blue, white, and multispectral – on the growth of radishes and lettuces. For this I use a red and blue LED UFO lamp and white LED panels provided by the Kennedy Space Center, as well as a multispectral lamp provided by Heliospectra. The EDEN initiative from the System Analysis Space Segment department at the DLR Institute of Space Systems in Bremen supported the experiment with horticulture supplies (seeds, soil, plant starters), cameras, and timers.
The second part of my experiment focuses more on the psychological benefits that plants can provide to astronauts. On a given day, each crewmember takes care of the plants growing in the Biomass Production System for Education (BPSe) provided by ORBITEC, which is in the living room. Plants growing in this unit include peas, cherry tomatoes, lettuces and radishes, as well as Rutgers California Supreme Tomatoes – whose seeds spent six years aboard the LDEF satellite.
We also have an educational outreach project involving growing plants in partnership with the DLR_School Lab. Students are growing lettuces in their classroom using ‘Bottle Crops’, a kit consisting of a container, fertilizer and seeds specially designed by the Institute of Horticulture Technologies in Dresden (Institut für Technologien im Gartenbau GmbH; INTEGAR – see image below). We have the same system in the habitat and are performing the experiment in parallel with the students. Each week, they ask us questions about the growth of the plants and about the mission or Mars in general, which we answer in a video. If you want more details about this project, you can follow our educational outreach activities here.