Water Filtration Outreach Project

We worked with some kids in Nevada on a water filtration project, to try and clean up our used dishwater so it can be used again. They sent us a video of one of their solutions that worked for them, and we replicated it here on Mars*. We made a video of our work on it, and sent it back to the kids. Check out our video here:

https://youtu.be/0WzRqcrRYqk

Thanks to Neil for the recording, and Sophie for putting it all together. We of course took it a step further and built our own “spectrophotometer”, as Sophie was calling it, to measure the opacity of the filtered water.

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Playing With A Mars Handicap

We may shoot a couple strokes higher because of our suits.

Joce teeing off on Mars. Photo credit to Zak Wilson.

Joce teeing off on Mars. Photo credit to Zak Wilson.

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Harvest Season

We got our first tomato and first mushroom yesterday! Along with some basil, made for a very tiny, very tasty appetizer before dinner yesterday.

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Water Recycling on Mars

We started up 6 major outreach projects with a number of schools in the Clark County School District in Nevada, as you recall, and one of them was a water recycling project. I think that was the one with the link I didn’t quite get up, so here it is now.

Water Recycling: http://youtu.be/wOYycEraS_U

A couple of weeks ago the kids sent us their video of their first attempt at making us a water filtration system. It was super cute, and involved them collecting pebbles from their garden and making dirty water by mixing water with chocolate pudding.

Last week when there was a break in the weather, Neil and I went out and collected some Martian* rocks that we could use to copy them and make our own water recycling filter. Here I am, collecting some rocks for us on Mars*:

Martha Dug A Hole

Sophie and I then spent about 3 days sifting the rocks by coarseness, using our colander and some strainers. It took us about 3 days, but we got some bins of large, medium, and small rocks, and a fair bit of sand for fine filtration.

Photo Mar 19, 2 08 09 PM

We finished the sifting today, and started on making our filter. We used an old juice bottle, and drilled a hole in the lid into which we fit a drywall screw anchor. We can fit a tube onto this, in case we want the filtered water to go somewhere in particular later. The kids used a coffee filter to make sure the sand wouldn’t go into their clean water, but we don’t have coffee filters, so we had to improvise. We cut open a couple of tea bags, dumped out the tea, and repurposed the tea bags for our filter. We also used a bit of cheese cloth doubled-over.

We screwed the cheese cloth and tea bag filters onto the the bottle. We cut off the end of the bottle, so we could fill it with the sand and rocks and water, and then set the filter up on an old pickle jar. We used some gross old dishwasher water (on the right) and dumped it into the filter. It came out MUCH clearer! It was super exciting, and there were high fives, very similar to the reaction that the elementary school kids had when their chocolate pudding water came out clear.

IMG_3284

Our water isn’t quite as clear as we want it yet, but a second run through the filter helped a bit, and we have plans to make a secondary, all-sand filter as well now.

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Happy Pi Day!

It’s a few days late, but here’s the French silk pie that I made for pie day. Gluten-free graham cracker crust courtesy of Neil, and recipe from the Jane Bond.

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Running Out of Gas on Mars*

It has been dark, cold and rainy up here on fake Mars for nearly two weeks now. Saturday night we hit energy crisis mode. In general we run off solar power, but with so little sun we have been relying on our back-up systems quite a bit. Our back-up systems are hydrogen fuel cells (which were nearly out of hydrogen, our last shipment had been in January), and a gasoline generator (which we had two jerry cans of gas for at the start of the week, but were down to our last half-can by Saturday).

Our PI’s truck was in the shop all last week, and she couldn’t come to bring us more gas until Monday. Doing some careful calculations, and banking on the weather report being correct for Saturday we expected that we would be able to make it through to Monday morning. We got a bit of solar charging of the batteries on Saturday, but needed a top-up with the generator if we were going to get the base loads through the night. Neil turned on the generator, and it was fine for about an hour. After dinner I checked the charging curve, and the battery SOC was going down and not up. “That is a crazy charging curve. We’re not charging”. I got Zak to look at it too, we went to check the batteries, and sure enough they were discharging instead of charging. We shut down the generator since we were just burning fuel for no reason.

Team meeting – something is wrong with the energy systems, it could be the generator connection, someone would have to go out and check. Neil and Sophie suited up, Zak and I supported from in the Hab and continued trouble-shooting and brainstorming. We contacted STS (second-tier support), to get them involved. Sophie and Neil┬ácame back in, not having found anything obviously wrong with the generator.

We had to keep power to our critical systems. Our list of critical systems:

#1 – The Toilets. If we lose power to the toilets, the entire Hab would end up smelling rank.

#2 – The Lab Freezer. If we let the samples in the lab freezer thaw we lose over 4 months of human data (saliva, urine, feces) that have been collected for NASA, Joce, and Neil’s research.

#3 – Communications. We don’t want to lose power to the internet, and therefore FTS (first-tier support).

We had 20% charge left on the batteries, and a generator that seemed to be working fine but not charging the batteries. And the gas that was in the generator plus another 3 gallons.

The generator has a plug on it for a 110 V extension cord, so Sophie and Neil went out on EVA to plug in some extension cords to the generator and run them back to the Hab so that we could bypass the batteries for the critical loads. The toilets themselves use about 500 W of power for the fans and heaters inside them. To get them through the night would have required more energy than we had in the batteries. The lab freezer was also hooked up directly to the generator. The telemetry and communications were left on the batteries, as they only use about 100 W, and the battery charge would be enough. Joce and Allen went around unplugging everything else in the Hab, and then we shut down complete electrical circuits at the breaker, just to make sure there was no more draw on the batteries.

In the meantime, first Zak and I, then Neil and I were trouble shooting the batteries and inverters with our STS contacts. We checked to see if we were getting AC power from the generator – we were, and the voltage was in spec. Next we tried rebooting the inverters, rebooting the batteries, rebooting the controls – nothing worked. After a couple hours, our support knew they would have to come up and continue trouble-shooting the generator in the morning. In the meantime, we were to run down the last of our hydrogen to try keeping the batteries charged, and continue as we were with the essential systems connected to the generator.

We didn’t think we had enough fuel left in the generator to make it through the night, so Sophie and Neil went on one last EVA just after midnight to top up the generator with the very last of our fuel.

Zak, Neil and I woke up early, and the cavalry arrived just after 7am. We switched the critical loads back to the batteries so that if Aleks (our super STS) had to turn off the generator to trouble-shoot or fix anything, we’d retain power to the toilets and freezer. Aleks found an issue with the generator – a fuel line pressing up against a lever that regulates the generator’s frequency and voltage – that was causing the frequency of the generated electricity to be unstable. The inverters would not connect to an unstable energy source, and as a result would not accept the energy to charge the batteries. It was good enough for some fans and heaters and freezers, but not for the batteries. Aleks secured the fuel line out of the way, the batteries started to charge again, and we were back in business. He topped up the generator for us, and another member of STS, Paul, brought us a couple new bottles of H2 for the fuel cells later in the morning (Paul and Aleks built the Hab, and just finished off an electrolyzer so we have a solar-powered source of H2 now).

So Aleks and Paul saved us from imminent smelliness, and I was super proud of the crews resourcefulness in coming up with solutions to keep everything going until help could arrive.

It was cold and dark, but it was also kind of fun to have a real challenge to step up to. In parting, here’s a screen shot of one of the EVA videos from that night. Gives you a sense of the cold dark energy-poor mode we were running in, and also everyone’s sense of humour and good nature through it all.

EVA 52

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Sense of Accomplishment

A few days ago we finally finished off a puzzle my mom had sent us for Christmas. Check it out:

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We’d set it up on Sophie’s desk, thinking it wouldn’t take more than a week. I think it was closer to a month. Neil and I finished it off one morning over breakfast, and considered it our success for the day (at least I did).

We also just weathered some energy issues successfully, maintaining power to the critical systems – toilet fans, lab freezer, and comms, with emphasis mostly on the toilet fans. That was a bit hectic, but highly satisfying, and I’ll write up a nice big post on that later, but it’ll take a bit more time. Stay tuned!

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