Storyline: Colony Reports, A Surprise Discovery

12/24/2012, 13:15 PHX

Missions are entirely completed. I have a full survey of the 500 meters surrounding the COHAB site, and heading through the final preparations for return. I am waiting return instructions and the proposed launch windows. The storms have been increasing in intensity of late, and some minor damage has reduced the solar array’s effectiveness. I have been running at the lightest possible load to ensure enough battery charge before leaving. The return missions here will need to bring additional PV panels, and possibly a replacement battery system.

I hit another snag in the generation of fuel. Running a single pump means carefully metering water to the COHAB and the ERV for fuel. In running the COHAB lean, I have been able to get enough fuel reserved for a safe take off, however oxygen still needs to be capped off. I am planning to divert the ERV rations to the COHAB to store up adequate oxygen and transfer the last requirements tomorrow.

12/25/2012, 18:16 PHX

I found an anomaly in the sampling data earlier. About 56 meters south of the ERV I have found traces of methane. My first assumption was that I had a leak in the EVR fuel system, but it all checked out. My only conclusion is that either there actually is methane or that somehow the samples were contaminated. I resampled around the general area and found a “cluster” of samples – with a very regular dispersion pattern consistent with gas leakage.

There is no protocol for drilling and recovering methane, and I tested the stability of the surface gases with a torch. Not enough oxygen present it seems to make it flammable. So I setup the drill and dropped a 25 meter hole. The hole is venting a visible fog stream into the atmosphere, and I was able to recover some water vapor. While the LIBS cannot test vapor or gas, I managed to mix some of the gas and local sand by condensing the vapor in a plastic tent. The LIBS analysis showed 60% water with about 15 ppm methane. This is exciting, because there are very few geological explanations. While scientists believed to find methane clouds in 2010, few people were willing to entertain the idea of biological determination.

I have sampled and bio-bagged the aggregate mud returned from the drill. I do not have the time or the facilities to do any biological testing here on planet. I will need to modify the rock bin on the ERV to ensure these are properly secured and can survive the trip home.

12/26/2012, 02:15 PHX

Countdown to return is on, however I am more than a little irritated. It seems that a new protocol is rerouting me to the international space station for biological isolation. If I have been exposed to any kind of bacteria, germ or virus, they will need to figure out the danger, as well as begin to analyze the samples.

This delays my return to my family significantly. The good news is that I am also to get credit for the discovery, although actual ownership will remain a corporate asset. The bad news is that I am now a corporate asset if I have been contaminated. I don’t believe there is any real danger, although I was exposed to the exterior of my suit  in the COHAB. I feel fine and doubt that any bacterium would survive outside their own unique extreme environment.

Regardless, this will be my last entry. I am scheduled to lift off at 04:00 PHX and will be starting the life support procedures shortly. It has been exactly 26 days since I landed, and there have been some crazy challenges. All in all I am pleased with my performance. Physiologically, I have lost 12 pounds and my suit is a lot looser  now. Otherwise, no  other medical conditions. I am a bit nervous about the launch, I recall descriptions of these kinds of launches as a bit like riding a bomb. The computers manage the entire procedure, and I will be tightly strapped in, and sedated. I hate needles, and I guess now I am going to see a lot more of them at the space station.

Signing off. By the way, I am looking at my last sunset. The sun is cresting on the edge of the crater, creating deep red and orange shadows. I have worn a path that runs between the wellhead and the COHAB that looks purple in the fading light. Off to the west is a massive dust storm catching the dimming light. I can’t say this has been the most comfortable few weeks, but I am looking forward to coming back. There is a lot to do and a lot to gain. If I am lucky, we will be able to bring an oxygen garden and the diet can expand to something besides freeze dried sludge.

Message to my family: I am looking forward to our reunion. I have a lot to share with you all and miss you very much.