After an arduous and frankly alarming journey, we have landed on another planet. It looks very much like Earth, but for the moment Mission Control has determined that it is not safe to spend extended periods on the planet surface. Strict decontamination procedures are required following EVAs. Contact between habitation modules is forbidden while the risk is assessed.

For Isonauts Emma and Ryan, this means confinement to Earth-Hab, a reasonably luxurious habitation unit with a Green-Hab module designed to mimic – as closely as possible – a kitchen garden on Earth. Earth-Hab is also equipped with a hydroponic ‘salad machine’; well, Isonaut Emma is the mission’s Astrobotanist! As Chief Engineer, Isonaut Ryan has been provided with a well-equipped Maker-Hab, as well as state-of-the-art 3D printing equipment.

Garden view
A view across the Green-Hab to the Maker-Hab

Both Isonauts have ongoing daily tasks from Mission Control; exercise requirements are fulfilled by a daily EVA to investigate the local flora. Isonaut Emma serves as both Head Chef and Food System Manager. The latter role is currently complicated by uncertainty in the supply chain that means deliveries from Quarantine Earth are erratic and delayed. All contact with Quarantine Earth is virtual; contact with other Isonauts nearby is kept to a minimum.

I need space!

Isonaut Emma’s mission report:

Today is recycling day when the sanitation workers will empty our recycling bin and start the process of reclaiming essential materials for reuse within the colony. As we have a Green-Hab, we send green waste off to a special facility that composts it and passes it to the agricultural hubs to boost colony food production. 

EVA report

Due to the altered Easter weekend schedule, yesterday’s EVA was short.

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The horse chestnut candles are starting to appear.

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Food System Update

We are coordinating food deliveries with Isonaut Ryan’s parents, who live in a nearby Hab. It is their turn to receive a delivery, and we are hoping it will include some fresh milk for us. I try to include something from the Green-Hab in each exchange. Last week there was sprouting broccoli and hydroponic tomatoes. This week there’s rhubarb, a handful of asparagus spears and a bunch of fragrant spearmint.

We are researching the effects of a form of calorie restriction known on Earth as the 5:2 diet. This involves two days restricted to 500-600 calories and five days of regular calorie intake. The typical schedule is for the restricted intake days to be Monday and Friday. Due to the long Easter weekend, the first restricted intake day this week was rescheduled for today (Tuesday). 

This means no breakfast for the Isonauts. Isonaut Ryan will have soup for lunch; I will have my usual breakfast (porridge with dehydrated banana chips) at lunchtime. Our evening meal will be a small portion of beanfeast, designed to use up food items approaching the end of their shelf life (baked beans, Pepperami), a beef burger leftover from Friday’s bbq, and some sprouting broccoli from the Green-Hab.

Over the weekend, I dehydrated the bananas remaining from the last fresh food delivery. And I made wild garlic butter with wild garlic from the Green-Hab, which I have stowed in the freezer.

Green-Hab update

I have emptied and cleaned the hydroponic unit. I sowed seeds for salads and stir-fry vegetables in the hydroponic seed tray. Until they are ready for transplanting, I am using the hydroponic grow lights to raise plants for the Green-Hab. This morning I have weeded the wild asparagus bed and removed dead stems from the spearmint and the Japanese wineberry.

Astrobotany update

Advanced Plant EXperiments 03-2 (APEX-03-2) investigates epigenetic changes in Arabidopsis, or thale cress, in microgravity. Credit: Anna-Lisa Paul, University of Florida

NASA has sent up a fascinating update on Understanding Epigenetics in Space. Epigenetics involves processes that alter gene activity without changing the actual DNA sequence and lead to modifications that can pass to offspring. On the ISS, APEX-03 and APEX-04 studied how Arabidopsis thaliana plants grow in microgravity. The researchers found widespread changes in patterns of gene expression and epigenetic changes in the space-grown plants. 

Entertainment and morale

Isonaut Ryan is listening along to Apollo 13 in Real Time. We wanted to watch the Apollo 13 movie over the weekend, but we didn’t have access to a copy. So we settled for The Dish and The Martian. Yesterday evening we watched Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. As we enjoyed it, I suggested watching the sequel as well. Unfortunately, it was so awful that Isonaut Ryan has revoked my movie-choosing privileges for a week.