One of the goals of analog missions is to prepare and conduct scientific and technological experiments that could improve our knowledge on living in a limited habitat space, from the habitat ’s life support systems up to group dynamics of the mission crew. You can consider analog simulations as a test-bed for future, real lunar or martian habitats, in which you can test if things (and people) work together, without taking a space programme risk. This is also the case of our mission, which is especially seen today, when almost all experiments we were able to conduct during last two weeks are finished and final reports are in.
The closed ecosystem
During the LE-1, there were different types of experiments we performed. The biggest group of them were biological experiments conducted by almost all of the crew inside the BioLab. Apart from the hydroponics system maintained by Matt (and we used the grown there herbs for our meals, of course), there were cockroaches which we tried to feed using organic waste we produced. This is a kind of a closed ecosystem, which will be required during long-duration space flights, and Joanna did a fantastic job taking care of all of those insects. Dorota also tried to grow onions and parsleys using different versions of simulant lunar regolith (one of the group of plants was grown using the fertilier based on insects excrements – another example of the closed ecosystem in the habitat). She was truly excited every time she saw the parsleys were getting back to live and grow (and they really didn’t look good at the beginning of the mission, trust me). Sadly, those two weeks were not enough to have a fresh parsley, but we’re happy that the result of this experiment is promising. One day we will have to grown food on our own outside Earth. Such experiments are not only focusing general attention, they are also challenging. The BioLab was also a place for experiments with symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast Kombucha, which were conducted by Grzegorz, as well as microgravity larvae tracking and watercrest growth of sprouts using the RPM (Random Positioning Machine), held by Matt. I was also involved in the environmental experiment trying to find out what is the best place for algae to live in the habitat, as an indicator of pollution. Fortunately, there was none.
Finishing the topic of the biological experiments, we go directly to the kitchen, were we developed own recipies using food rations we have in the habitat. They were included in the habitat handbook for future crews.
Let’s print something
On the other side, in the kingdom of Grzegorz located in the Analytic Lab, 3D printing experiments were performed. This is a very promising technology, especially for space programme. Instead of launching big and heavy manufacturing machines into space, you could take just one compact 3D printer. All you need is CAD (Computer Aided Design) software and you can 3D-print almost anything in a relatively short time. During this mission, we managed to solve several issues, for example by printing strainer for hydroponic system or tweezers for BioLab.
Okay, the nicest thing we have from the 3D printing is Twardowsky, the Witcher, a seventh member of the crew, which is sitting right now with me on the red ecopuff we have in the Atrium.
Let’s go outside. Or walk inside
Part of the Analytic lab, as you already know, was dedicated for conducting medical experiments, such as measuring breathing and ECG signals during the EVAs. Spacewalks are very dangerous and therefore it is extremely important to monitor astronaut’s physiological parameters.
The other measurements regarding the astronaut life were taken almost constantly during the whole mission. We’re almost so sticked right now to monitor our basic health parameters (weight, body temperature, heart rate), amount of daily motion (yes, we do use fitness trackers as well) and to control urine, so that we could not now imagine how it will be after the mission… Well, at least it could improve our lives, especially because we also did some physical training (bike or other fitness activities), which is important for keeping astronauts healthy for the whole period of the mission. And after it.
One really interesting experiment is our in-group interaction measured by the set of sensors (a badge connected with beacons located in different places of the habitat). We call it a social-feedback system, because it tracks not only the position of the person, but also the intensity of his/hers voice. We wear the badges for a whole day… Ok, we try to wear, because we sometimes forget badges somewhere, and then Piotr, who is responsible for that experiment is freezing his eyes… and smiles handling the someone’s badge. We are really interested in the results of this experiment, because having an animation of our motion during the whole mission could be not only nice, but it will answer the key question asked in analog simulations: what is the real crew dynamics and interaction between the crew members?
More light, please
The key experiment however was the Subjective Time Perception, in which we were all involved. In short, we were isolated from the sunlight, so that at some point we didn’t know whether it is a day or night outside the habitat, which took us to a jet-lag feeling. The LED light system were used to simulate different parts of the day, we also use the Lunar Standard Time (you probably are suspicious what is all about this strange date-like thing “Scott, 30th”, aren’t you?). It is a new experience for us, and we tried to be as efficient as possible during the time shift, but sometimes we had to have a nap. Or more than one…
Results of this experiment could be useful not only for astronauts or pilots, but also for shift workers, especially, where increased responsibility during work hours is required.
Ok, this is not an experiment, but an important part of our mornings and evenings were CapCons, between MCC’s CapCom and habitat CapCom. This role in our crew was assigned to Dorota. I will never forget the sound of Skype and sleepy Dorota running for the teleconference… Fortunately, there was always Piotr nearby in the Atrium, who kept the company, while the rest of the crew was somewhere during their third or fourth dream. Keeping one communication channel between the mission control and the crew is important, and it can avoid communication chaos (also dangerous for the mission as a whole). It is a part of our learning curve as well, and in fact, all of us had a short chance to be a CapCom for a minute or two, when Dorota was doing other experiments, or a Habitat/EVA operator during the spacewalks.
A helpful hand. Or two. Or four.
As we read in the mission manual, Commander’s role is to overview the general workflow of the crew during the mission. Piotr’s favourite task was to talk and support us with our activities, while learning with pleasure about tasks we were performing and science & technology behind it. He also took a role of a handy man dealing with all sorts of different repairs and electronics in the habitat.
What is the role of the vice-commander then? From my experience, it is a kind of the right hand of the Commander, a person, who can advise and can help during the decision making. I was trying as well to be a helping hand for other crewmembers, beside I had my own experiments with geology and spectrometry. One last thing I did during this mission was taking photography and writing this diary (ok, these are two things), and I really enjoyed it, although, believe me or not, it was a challenge for me. The crew will hopefully not forget countless times I ask them about a day song, but this time, I think it’s much easier. Enjoy!