Home Back New search Date Min Max Aeronautics Automotive Corporate Cybersecurity Defense and Security Financial Healthcare Industry Intelligent Transportation Systems Digital Public Services Services Space Blog Space On a mission to Mars 29/09/2023 Print Share The first time I put on a spacesuit was in the early autumn of 2020, when planet Earth was spinning to the beat of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, I was studying at the Polytechnic Institute of Advanced Sciences (IPSA) at the School of Aeronautical and Space Engineering in Ivry-sur-Seine, France. I was also part of the EuroMoonMars research group, whose mission is to prepare for a human landing on the Moon or Mars. To that end, simulation exercises are carried out at a preparation center in Poland. Although the lockdowns had affected my student life, I was ready to lock myself up again, this time with more fellow students. The team consisted of Théo, Mickael, Kristian, and myself. The doctor on board was Amanda, a Canadian, and our captain was Roxana, the team veteran. We opened the solid metal door of our base. The walls were lined with aluminum insulation and there were a few posters up in various places, remnants of previous missions. The main room was the laboratory, which had several stations for each of us to carry out our research. We had equipment for biological studies, microscopes, a 3D printer, and so on. A corridor led to the corner that would be my workstation. An essential aquaponics system allowed us to feed ourselves and remain self-sufficient. There was also a small gym with a treadmill, a rowing machine, and a bike. We also had a bathroom, lavatories (the only place with privacy), a common area with a portable stove, and finally sleeping quarters with bunk beds. In total we had about 40 square meters. I wasn’t surprised; I knew the layout of the base by heart long before I went in. Monitoring our physiological data We each had our own mission, as well as shared missions. The main one was to monitor our health. Every two hours we had to check our physiological data by taking our blood pressure and temperature and weighing ourselves. My first moments on Mars were frustrating, as caffeine was not allowed on board. The workday started without an espresso. I spent long hours studying. The ground control center regularly sent us individual to-do lists. The schedule called for 12 hours of work per day, plus one hour of exercise and our physiological data checks. We also had to eat, and our diet was determined by an artificial intelligence. The digital genius’ first meal consisted of salad greens, raw peppers, and black bread. A rather unpalatable meal. But it didn’t matter. We were spurred on by the opportunity of this mission. The problem was the time it took to communicate with Earth, despite our tight schedule. It took 15 minutes to send a message from Mars to Earth, and therefore at least 30 minutes to receive a reply. That’s a long time, and we were often on our own. We tried to ask questions as precisely as possible in order to carry out experiments that had taken months to prepare. But they never came in time and we spent our evenings, sometimes even our nights, trying to make up for the time lost due to slow communication. Life on the outside suddenly interfered with our mission: the COVID-19 pandemic was spreading and Canada was preparing to close its borders. So Amanda had to be pulled out urgently. The mission writers went with cardiac arrest, and we were ordered to evacuate her body through the extravehicular hatch. The team was shaken, but the military-like nature of our schedule forced me to carry on. Back to work. Amanda’s experiments were divided among the rest of the crew. I was awakened by a siren I had no shortage of work to do. My days were full and my nights restless. I couldn’t sleep. The lack of daylight disrupted my sleep cycle. An artificial lighting system replicated the solar cycle of a day on Earth. It would run from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM and then switch off. But I would wake up in the middle of the cycles, I was tired every morning, and the light gave me headaches. I was exhausted... and so was the rest of the crew. One night, after managing to get a few minutes’ sleep, I was awakened by a siren. In the sleeping quarters we stared at each other, dazed, our brains still in slow motion. It was an emergency, but what was going on? We didn’t like what the onboard computer was saying: “Loss of pressure in the common area module.” There was a hole in our home, our breathable air escaping into the toxic Martian atmosphere. Everyone’s help was needed because the contamination would be toxic, deadly. We managed to isolate the area from the rest of the base. Then we located the leak, plugged it, and repaired it. Every day was a new test, a new unexpected event to add to our research missions. Against all odds, and despite my nerves, I felt good. On the morning of the seventh day, there was a knock at the door. It opened: delicious fresh air poured into my lungs. Outside, the vibrant colors of a Polish forest and the sweet warmth of the sun washed over me. I took a small step towards my biggest dream: to one day join NASA. Since then, I’ve become an aerospace engineer, specializing in spacecraft control systems. I’m still on my journey to space. Authors: Emma Forgues-Mayet and Hugo Castaing *This article was first published in the online edition of Le Monde on July 23 2023. Print Share Comments Your name Subject Comment About text formats Restricted HTML Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang target> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id> Lines and paragraphs break automatically. 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