January 23, 2015
Hello my most faithful and beloved readers, ready your thinking caps and salivary glands because I am about to take you inside my day today.
Okay, thinking caps first.
My Aunty Daren wanted to know what being Chief Engineer entails so first I’ll give you a little background on our roles. At any time in the Hab there is a Chief Engineer, Chief Scientist, Medical Officer, and Executive Officer (XO). That leaves two of us to be assisting engineers/scientists depending on what our areas of expertise are. Every month positions change, although the Chief positions change every other month. Chief Engineer is responsible for maintaining the Hab systems that include power, water, communication, sensors, and toilets.
Power is pretty simple, in theory. We have two stacks of batteries that charge during the day off of our solar panels. Our immediate draws during the day are also fed through the solar panels so that means that on a sunny day from 8 to 5:30 we are charging batteries and have surplus energy for whatever we want, this is when most of the work and cooking gets done. After 5:30 we are pretty much done charging and go into our power draw for the night. Most nights we use between 80% and 90% of the power we “saved” all day in the batteries. If we get below 10% on the battery stacks our back up Hydrogen Fuel Cells (HFC) kick in and bring us back up to ~15%. Should we run out of Hydrogen (not as unlikely as you may think) or experience a long spell of cloudy days (hurricanes do happen in Hawaii) with limited solar energy production we have a gas generator that we can kick on to augment our power draws. During these cloudy days we normally don’t cook because cooking is the main power draw on the day. During sunny days we try to pre-cook dinner so that we just have to reheat everything instead of really cooking at night. So there are our three power systems: solar, Hydrogen, and gas. These systems can break down in several capacities and when they do it is my job to asses the situation, contact the correct people on our support staff, and work with them to fix the problems.
Examples: The servers connecting our batteries to our Hab system dashboard went down and the only way we could check our charge would be to go into our shipping container and physically check the display on the battery. It was super irritating having to do that for three weeks straight and in addition we lost all of the data for charge for that month. My job was to work with the engineers who built the Hab and install a couple different servers into the system to reconnect the batteries to our system dashboard.
Water is one of the most important things in the Hab and as of right now we don’t recycle any of it. We’re currently working with some students in Clark County to develop a water recycling system and our own microbiologist, Neil, is planning on making some kind of bioreactor/water treatment system. There’s lots of chemical formulas involved so you can guess how well I follow that. Our water system consists of 1000 gallons of municipal water delivered to us and stored in two giant tanks outside the Hab. We have four sinks, one shower, one low consumption dishwasher, and a washing machine. We use around 60 gallons of water a day and refill the main storage every 2 to 3 weeks. The sensor that we have for the water tanks is pretty faulty so we double check it with a manual reading (sticking a stick with a measuring tape into the tank until it gets wet) however this is a pretty boring EVA so it usually falls to me and another person who just needs to get out of the Hab for a bit to go do.
Communication involves our network and the radios we use for EVAs. Zak was the Chief Engineer before me and as such he has been stuck with the IT portion of the Hab for his entire stay. This is because by the time he could train someone else in everything that he learned during his initial two month tenure it would be time for another changing of the guard. Doing the radios involves hooking our radios into the new antenna we have up on the ridge by the Hab to extend our radio communication during EVAs.
Sensors involve all the weather and environment sensors we have in and around the Hab. Our weather sensors occasionally go down and need a “bot” to come fix them. I am responsible for making sure that our support team is aware of any such outages and assist with any repairs as they become available.
Toilets… ohhh composting toilets. Things like proper ventilation, proper composting processing, recommending re-sizing when necessary. These things are pretttttty gross.
and now after that delightful description, let me tell you about the dinner that is “as good as anything you could get at an Azerbaijani bus stop” which does not sound like as high of praise as it is. It was a beef dish called Khingal with fresh dill and cilantro (kinzah) and a creamy dill sauce served over noodles.