Dr Michaela Musilova is the director of Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HIGH SEA), which conducts analog missions to the Moon and Mars for scientific research in a habitat of the Mauna Loa volcano. Currently, she is in command of the two-week Selene IV lunar mission and contributed to this report to Space.com. Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
Lunar Mission Commander Selene IV’s Report to HI-SEAS
Lunar day 10 (March 22, 2021)
Caught in a time loop off the planet – this is how the Selene IV crew felt throughout our analog lunar mission at HI-SEAS. Our vicious cycle of “hope, hope for more, give up and repeat” has reduced our resilience to the ground. It reminds me in many ways of the first episode, titled 33, of the “Battlestar Galactica” series remake. The military ship Galactica and its civilian fleet are attacked by Cylons, an android race, every 33 minutes. After a few days of these relentless attacks, the entire fleet is exhausted and ready to give up.
In our case, the evil “aliens” on the moon use “dust machines” to create “dust storms” and force us to stay locked in our lunar habitat. Dust storms (aka haze and showers in Hawaii) disappear from a few minutes to an hour, several times a day, before coming back in full force. At first, my crew members waited and gazed anticipatively out the habitat window, hopeful that the dust storms would stay away long enough that we could moonwalk. Then, over time, looking out the window became a chore. Much like in “Battlestar Galactica”, the repetition of hope, anxiety and hopelessness several times a day has drained us both physically and mentally.
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While the jury is still out on whether dust storms are caused by aliens or unusual atmospheric anomalies, it was imperative that we find a way to break our unhealthy cycle. During the day, my crew members kept busy with their research projects and hands-on “home economics” activities, as we call them. They include sewing, revamping our fitness equipment, and testing our analog space suits. Some of my team have taken on new projects, such as performing detailed analyzes of local volcanic rocks using an electron microscope and soil analysis kits. Others decided to experiment with cooking and baking using our freeze-dried foods for the enthusiasm of the whole team.
My favorite moments together on this mission so far have been during our “Campfire” story. Fires of any kind are prohibited inside the HI-SEAS habitat. It is a small enclosed space, so any potential fire and chemical risk is prohibited. Instead, we decided to put tiny electronic candles in a paper factory made in a habitat in a metal box. As bizarre as it sounds, this faux plant-box-candle combo ended up creating the right kind of cozy campfire vibe inside our lunar house. We all huddled around him, covered with blankets and listened to each other’s personal stories.
I always encourage my crew members to open up and tell us more about themselves so that we can get to know each other better. We can learn a lot from the ups and downs of each person in life, their lessons learned and their passions. The crew of Selene IV became more and more connected with each story told. I was very impressed with the details my crew members were willing to share, as well as how quickly they bonded with each other. The level of trust that has formed between us has really made us a family on the moon, which I always strive to achieve as a Commander.
Just when we were entertaining enough to forget about the dust storms, they were gone. The crew were ready to undertake an extravehicular activity (EVA) or moonwalk within minutes. Finally, the crew was able to explore the analog lunar terrain around the HI-SEAS habitat and I was able to give the crew some geology training in the field, as I couldn’t give them much hands-on training before. EVA. The entire EVA team collected geological samples and technological data for some of their research projects.
Crew Systems Engineer Bill O’Hara has tested the equipment he will need to map some of the lava cave systems we plan to explore in future EVAs. Hopefully he will have the opportunity to assess local lava tubes for habitability purposes. Bill also performed nearly all of the data collection tasks for his HI-SEAS Habitat Design and Operation Protocols case study.
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Cameron Crowell, in situ resource utilization mission specialist (ISRU), developed a method to pulverize the lunar-like regolith samples he collected during the EVA. It was difficult to find ways to do this safely in the habitat, so Cameron had to experiment with different methodologies until he was able to shatter volcanic rocks into particles smaller than a quarter of an inch. . This included using various elements of the waste from our habitat to create a confined environment for pounding lava rocks. Cameron discovered that the iron particles could be extracted by attaching a magnet to the outside of the metal lid of a mason jar and shaking the contents, allowing any magnetic object to stick to the lid.
The only other time my crew members were able to use the EVA was right when they had given up hope a few days later. A few of them went for naps or did a “regeneration cycle” as they called it. The gloomy weather and the inability to perform more EVA had affected them. As happens in life, just as they were resting, the dust storms dissipated and we had no choice but to wake them up. Fortunately, being awakened on a mission to go on an EVA usually leads to smiles on faces, not frowns, especially since this was the first EVA for crew engineer Jack Bryan and the person in charge of scientific communication Monica Parks.
Until then, Jack has been forced to use remnants of Cameron’s experience for his research project. Therefore, he was initially able to produce only a small batch of composite material samples using in situ resources collected by Cameron and low density polyethylene (LDPE) habitat waste. Faced with health and safety constraints similar to Cameron’s, he encountered challenges when trying to create the right types of molds for his plastic-rock composites. Jack will focus on improving processing conditions and mixing ratios throughout the remainder of the mission.
For Monica, our confinement in the habitat and sharing stories has led her to collect a lot of interesting research data. After hearing the life story of each crew member, she discovered that there are many parallels and similar circumstances that each of us have encountered. Monica will continue to have similar conversations with individuals on Earth who are not in space or in the space industry to see how they stack up. She has a theory about the differences between the two types and she is eager to process all of this data.
Crew Operations Officer Lori Waters found her experience on microgreens added nutrients and flavor to dinner on harvest days. In this extremely confined and isolated environment, plant research undoubtedly provided a psychological and physiological boost to the crew, especially during our low energy days. Lori’s clovers, which she grows for the ExoLab experiment, thrive under these conditions and show early signs of root nodulation nine days after planting.
Commander Musilova’s signature relieved that we survived the attacks of our lunar aliens. The crew hope we’ve broken our own 33-minute cycle, but you never know what the next day on the moon will bring. We will continue to hang on to whatever hope we can muster and keep each other’s spirits up with the endless cars that my crew continue to drop.
Follow Michaela Musilova on Twitter @astro_Michaela. follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.