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Mars Surface Report #4

The following is part four of a series of five emails I sent to a local middle school during my visit to the Mars Desert Research Station as the crew geologist.

MDRS: Kerry teaching

Good morning!

Lots of people enjoy a good breakfast in the morning, and that doesn’t change for astronauts. The problem is that it costs a lot of money to send things into space, and if you get new supplies every few months (or not at all) you have to make sure the food doesn’t go bad. Freeze-dried food is great because it can stay on a shelf for seven years, they’re so light (~100g), they’re pretty small and they can still be nutritious.

MDRS: Food 1

MDRS: Food 2

The usual way of eating food in space is by adding water to freeze-dried food, waiting a few minutes, and then chowing down. We’re trying to simulate the Mars astronaut experience, so we eat freeze-dried food too. Our meals include scrambled eggs and bacon, beef stew, noodles and chicken, lasagna, mexican style rice & chicken, macaroni & cheese, and others. We often eat the right out of the package too, saving us from doing so many dishes for 8 people!

If we’re really lucky, our greenhouse named “GreenHab” is doing well enough that we can eat some fresh food. This greenhouse is the smaller building beside our main “Hab,” and it filters and reuses a lot of our water as well as letting us grow some vegetables.

MDRS: Greenhouse

The water from our sinks drain into the greenhouse where it gets filtered, exposed to ultraviolet light to kill any bacteria, filtered again, and then filtered again. This “grey water” is then used to flush toilets so that we don’t use up our precious clean water. Real space missions will have to recycle almost all their water — every single drop — since there’s nowhere to get more of it in space.

MDRS: Growing food 1

MDRS: Growing food 2

MDRS: Growing food 3

But we do use a bit of fresh water to grow some vegetables. Our best crop so far has been radishes, and we had one with our salad a few nights ago (we did bring some lettuce and tomatoes with us, but real astronauts wouldn’t — they’d have to grow everything themselves). The greenhouse needs soil too, and there are some experiments running to see if we can grow plants in “Mars” (Utah) soil. They’re not doing too well though, we’re still having to use potting soil from a nursery so it’s a work in progress.

Next time I’ll tell you all about the special science experiments we’re working on!

From Mars,
Kerry, Crew Geologist
Mars Desert Research Station – Crew 66

MDRS: Arm wrestling

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