Dr. Michaela Musilova is the director of Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) program, which conducts analog missions to the moon and Mars for scientific research at a habitat on the volcano Mauna Loa. Currently, she is in command of the two-week Valoria 2 mission and contributed this report to Space.com's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
Commander's report for the Valoria 2 Mars mission at HI-SEAS
Sol 10 (Feb. 13, 2021)
"One of you will need to suffocate in the airlock!" Those are words that I certainly never expected to say to my crew. Yet this historic moment happened yesterday. Fortunately, it was for a mockumentary my crew decided to film at the HI-SEAS habitat, not a real order from me as the Valoria 2 mission's commander. The simulated suffocation then took place during the day today.
My Valoria 2 crew is filming this pretty extreme mockumentary as part of an "Easter egg" that they are planning on leaving behind for future crews to find. The Easter egg is a tradition that I started almost three years ago when I became the director of HI-SEAS. I have been encouraging crews to leave something like a legacy behind at HI-SEAS. It should be something useful and/or entertaining that captures the essence of each mission.
This tradition started when the HI-SEAS owner, Henk Rogers, found a small USB drive left behind in a lava cave near HI-SEAS. It had a message from a crew at HI-SEAS from several years ago. He and his team then left their own message inside. I later found the USB drive and decided that I wanted it to become something that all crews pass one to another. At first, each crew would only record a short video or two with some lessons learned and advice for future crews. Then, the content on that USB grew exponentially with each subsequent crew, and I had to replace the USB quickly with a much higher-storage SD card.
Now, the SD card has everything from freeze-dried food cooking recipes to instructions for taking a five-second bucket shower to our space mission-related MEMEs to videos that capture the essence of each mission at HI-SEAS. Some folders on the SD card also contain secret bonus videos of me laughing. Let's just say that I have a pretty distinct and loud laugh that multiple crews decided to capture secretly. Sometimes crewmembers would sneakily film me laughing while they would show me their funny MEMEs. Other times, they would show me videos of me laughing and film me laughing at me laughing. There are currently about a dozen "laughception" videos of me laughing at me laughing at me laughing, and so on.
The mission-specific videos are my favorite parts of the Easter egg SD card. Most crews choose a pop culture theme for their video based on movies that we watched and music that we listened to during our mission. Examples of such themes include videos inspired by "The Matrix," "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "The Office." Many crews also covered songs, rewriting them into songs based on our mission experiences, such as "Dancing in the Moon Hab" (from "Dancing in the Moonlight" by Toploader), "A Whole New Crew" (from "A Whole New World" in Disney's "Aladdin" movie) and "Swiss Miss … The Anthem" (from "Good Riddance" by Green Day). The whole crew would then sing and record these Martian and lunar analog song covers.
Currently, the Easter egg is very much a treasure trove of memories, useful advice, challenges for each crew and endless entertainment for anyone who's able to find it. The crews gradually upgraded what the Easter egg was in itself. It went from being a USB to an SD card in a small Tupperware box (to protect it) all the way to being a big white container with a "coconut milk powder?" label and a number of mysterious items inside it. The crews add LEGO rovers to the kit, as well as unwanted cosmetic products, extra freeze-dried treats they had left over and clues to find more Easter eggs hidden around the HI-SEAS habitat.
Over the past few days, the Valoria 2 crew has both found this famous Easter egg and dedicated their free personal time on mission to preparing rather epic contents for the egg's SD card. Without giving too much away for future crews, the main feature of their contribution to the Easter egg is the aforementioned mockumentary. The crew chose to tease me about the different rules that I have put in place at HI-SEAS for the analog lunar and Martian missions that I run here. They thus filmed essentially a horror movie focused on what I would do if crews didn't follow my guidelines and instructions.
This is why a crewmember ended up faking their death in the airlock, while others met their simulated demise in a wide variety of gruesome ways on analog Mars. Future crews are not only going to have to try hard to find the Easter egg, but also to "up the ante" of the Valoria 2 crew. Filming the mockumentary was a lot of fun for all of us, though I warned them that they are forcing me to unleash the worst in me to go fully into character. With a menacing laugh, I joked that I may not be able to switch back to my normal self, and that the film may not be a mockumentary after all.
Commander Musilova signing off trying not to succumb to the dark side. The crew gave me too much inspiration for how enjoyable it would be for an evil version of me to turn HI-SEAS into Horror-SEAS ;).
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