Journalist Report
Melanie Newfield

Could you just water those plants again please?

This morning I took my first shower at MDRS. To try and avoid wasting water, I’ve been keeping clean by having hiker’s showers, using a couple of wet wipes. It’s pretty effective, but it’s not quite as nice as a warm shower. Plus I’m yet to discover a technique for washing my hair with wet wipes.

There was a bit of a run on the shower this morning, leaving Emma filling the tank earlier than usual. The occasion that prompted this sudden bout of hygiene was the arrival of a film crew from Channel Seven Australia. They can cover anything from Hollywood celebrities to war zones, so I’m really not sure what they made of us. But at least we were able to show them that there was a lot more going on at MDRS than people walking around the desert in space suits.
Working in television is a lot like space travel. It’s one of those professions seen as glamorous, but there’s a lot of monotony in there that few people ever see. We quickly became acquainted with the words “can you do that again please” as we walked around the strange landscape in our space suits for the first time. The film crew apologised for making us walk the same little track again and again, but I think I could have done it all day.

While we were supposed to be providing footage for the camera, it was my first chance to really move around in the landscape, since the ground had finally dried out enough that I wasn’t worried about constantly falling over. So half my mind was trying to follow instructions, and the other was thinking, “man, this place is weird”. I’d have to walk over this ground many more times than I did today before the landscape around me became mundane.

Somehow it didn’t quite sink in when I arrived here – the cover of snow and then the flowing meltwater masked the alien harshness of this place. Now it is drying out, it’s suddenly easy to see why MDRS is right here. I know I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating – this place is weird.

There’s something about a landscape without evident life that totally confounds our brains – or at least my brain. It’s the life around us that gives our landscape its scale. We know how big a person is, we have an idea of the scale of a tree, even if they vary rather a lot. But here, when we see a hill, we have no idea whether it’s a small bump in the landscape
or a monolith. And then there’s the colour.

But that’s why we’re here of course.

The filming wasn’t just about walking around in space suits. We fed the crew on dehydrated space food for lunch. Well, I cooked it into fresh bread and a tomato and vegetable soup, and they seemed pretty happy with it. I’m starting to get more familiar with what I can do with the dehydrated vegetables. The tomato is particularly useful – there is both diced tomato and tomato powder and I’ve found that if I use them together I get a good tomato flavour and a reasonable texture too.

After lunch I headed out to the green hab to do a bit of repotting while the crew filmed other things, but they eventually came to film life in the green hab as well.
The collards ended up getting watered three or four times, but I think they’ll survive. We ended up discussing the practicalities of growing food in extreme environments – I’ve visited the
greenhouse at McMurdo station in Antarctica and the challenges of growing food on Mars would be very similar. When asked what I would choose to grow, I nominated strawberries (which we already have) and cherry tomatoes.
They’re easy, and there’s something magic about the smell and taste of those succulent fruit. We may not be able to supply all of an astronaut’s food requirements off a little greenhouse, but surely the tastes of an Earth summer will give them something to smile about.

So it was a definite high point in my day when later I was rummaging around the bags of seed and discovered a packet of cherry tomatoes. I won’t get to eat them, and maybe we won’t have enough time this season to get them to fruiting size, but I’m giving them a go.

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