The Answer, Naturally, is 42


The Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Engineer look out over the valley while awaiting further orders from ground control. Photo taken out the window of the HI-SEAS hab by Tristan Bassingthwaighte.

Welcome to the 42nd day of NASA’s longest simulated Mars mission! The day started with a bang. Or rather, a whimper. The whimper was the sound of our power systems almost dying.

Don’t panic.

At roughly 6:35 a.m. Martian Standard time, I was standing in front of UILA, our version of the Starship Enterprise’s control panel, holding a camping mug full of almost-hot tea, wondering why the hab was down to 8 percent power. 12 hours prior, after a relatively sunny day, we had been closer to 80 percent. How had we dropped more than 70 percent power in less than 12 hours?

Strangely enough, on purpose.

Earlier the previous day, we had received notice of an incoming hydrogen delivery. The hab runs on solar power upwards of 90 percent of the time, but on dark days, we dip into a backup supply of hydrogen that lives in the fuel cell supply tanks. With an incoming supply due to land the next day, mission control sent over orders to burn through the hydrogen still in storage as quickly as possible.

Don’t panic.

Instead, do something completely different. In our case, take the usual routine — working in the near-darkness under dim LEDs, cooking before nightfall, running when the sun is at its brightest — and turn it on its head. Instead of running on the treadmill at 11 a.m., we ran at 8 p.m. We cooked after the sun went down. Cooking in the dark! I hadn’t done that in, well, 41 days.

So we cooked and cleaned and ran in the dark until we were —> Read More