Dr. Mihaela Musilova is Director of Space Research Analogy and Simulation in Hawaii (HI-SEAS), which conducts analogue missions to the Moon and Mars for research in the habitat of the volcano Mauna Loa. She currently commands the two-week lunar mission Selene III and has provided this report to Space.com Expert votes: Op-Ed & Insights.
Report of the Selene III lunar mission commander at HI-SEAS
Lunar Day 8 (March 1, 2021)
Gray and gray. That̵
Day by day, more hope began to flow from each member of the crew. At first, they would look out the main window of the habitat every few minutes, hoping for a different view. He got up slowly to look out the window every few hours. When someone noticed that they could see some new topographic features appearing in the gray dust, the entire crew rushed to the window, full of hope. Now some crew members would prefer the window to be covered so that the gray outside does not depress us further.
Connected: Selene III: Launch of an analog lunar mission with exploding bombs – Commander’s report: sol 3
The inability to go outside to do research experiments and explore the lunar surface is only part of the problem. On bad weather, we cannot recharge the batteries in our habitat properly because they are powered by the sun. During dust storms, very little solar energy reaches the solar panels outside the habitat. This means that we have to live in the so-called low-power mode in order to survive every day. One of the first things we do is turn off all devices that are not vital to our survival and drastically turn off the heating (up to about 55 degrees Fahrenheit or 13 degrees Celsius).
Cold and discouraged, the Selene III crew had their first day with a very low spirit today. They are trying hard to find the silver lining in our situation and have fun with various fun activities. However, another gray day seems to have worked. Even the crew members of the Valoria 1 crew addressed us with words of encouragement and privately exclaimed to me, “not again!” They themselves suffered from a series of days with very low power and endless rescheduling of the lunar path.
Connected: Valoria 1 crew struggles to survive the night – Commander’s report: sol 8
Another negative aspect of this situation is that the crew began to distrust our mission support team and CAPCOM (capsule communicator, who is the main person communicating with the crew from the Earth Mission Management Center). We have a large team of volunteers who carry out mission support duties and CAPCOM during each HI-SEAS mission. One of their many roles is to provide daily weather reports and crew forecasts or even more often on request.
Their predictions have not been very accurate in the last week, so my crew members have become very skeptical of any information provided to them about the weather. This kind of disconnection between the crew and the ground is a kind of uprising, which is not uncommon in both analog and real space missions. It can develop for a number of reasons, for example, when personnel on Earth have too many requirements for the crew in space, or in this case, when Mission Support provides the crew with inaccurate information. Therefore, I need to remind the crew that this discrepancy in the information is caused by incomplete data from our location on the moon, and not by the bad will of our mission support team.
It was time for a change before my crew became dirtier and more depressed. We all need to practice for at least 30 minutes every day, so I suggested we organize a dance party as an exercise for today. In this way we fulfilled our quota for exercises for the day and had fun. I made each crew member choose their favorite song to dance to, and I started with some techno music from the ’90s. The next thing I knew, there were smiles on my team’s faces again and we all felt much warmer too.
Filled with more positive energy, we decided to continue with fun and creative activities to keep our mood high. Most of the crew are big fans of Star Wars movies, so we decided to introduce them to the others who still didn’t think so. Soon enough, the crew will exchange internal jokes about the Dark Vader and Skywalker’s “wonderful” family tradition of cutting off their hands with lightsabers. We even posed for a fun photo of the crew with simulated lightsabers. Given my past jokes, preferably on the dark side, based on my experience with the Valoria 2 crew, I chose a red lightsaber.
These challenging times in the Selene III mission were a great source of inspiration for Brooke Edwards’ information communications project. Brooke recorded her experience as an analog astronaut to analyze what she thought would be an important factor in the mental well-being of future space travelers. Her experience shows that good crew relations and positive thinking are vital to the success of a simulated space mission.
In the same way, our operative Ebony Brown was able to gather very interesting data about his study of chronic stress and human connectivity through anonymous survey questions. The results of her research will help determine the impact of chronic stress, such as the global pandemic, on the Selene III crew and their ability to connect with each other.
However, the rest of the crew faced additional negative news during the mission, as their projects were not going as well as they had hoped. The reduction of perchlorate and nitrates by bioengineer Zoe Maxwell with the help of bacteria and aquaponics started well and showed signs of initial success. However, one of the fish in the aquaponics in the experiment died, and the plants she was trying to grow never adapted to the challenging environment in the habitat and eventually withered.
Crew engineer Oscar Ojeda’s project, focused on characterizing communications and hazards during an analog space mission, is constantly advancing. However, he was unable to assess anything related to lunar walks, as the crew was confined to the interior of the habitat due to dust storms. Instead, it focuses on new projects, such as the operation and testing of the Slovak company RoboTech Vision Androver, which we have at HI-SEAS.
At least part of Jason Fisher’s biology project is going well. He is trying to determine the effectiveness of a simulated permeate for wastewater as a food source for growing microgreens. Jason compares it to an industrial standard hydroponic nutrient solution. For the time being, the penetration of wastewater is not conducive to the cultivation of microgreens and will need to be treated with nutrient modification to succeed in this endeavor.
Commander Musilova signed, hoping that the forces would be with us and that tomorrow we would see not only gray in front of the window.
Follow Mihaela Musilova on Twitter @astro_Michaela. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.