Friday, August 24, 2007


Weather is good this morning, looks like we'll be in Res tonight. This is Devon Crater signing off.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


Pictures first this time, words at the end. Stick around.

This is the best picture I've taken this summer

James making "engine degreaser"

Me working the runway

Kim and Kathy Pose for their Amazing Race Entry

A Twin Landing
(And just FYI, I've changed my mind. If I ever get wealthy, screw the Lear or the Gulf. I want one of these!)

My "room"

Ryan on EVA

Kathy does limnology

Kathy finished with limno

Matt the Zombie Engineer

Count, as in countdown. August for us is the countdown to reentry into the real world. At the rate I've been posting to this blog lately this might well be my last post from Devon. I am at least as busy now as when Paul and I were heading out in April. I was able to post then in my few breaks. I hope I can get out a few more, but we will have to see. We are scheduled to leave the island in the 22nd - 24th time frame. Some will leave early, Mel, Ryan and Simon on the 22nd or 23rd. Then Kim and Kathy on the first flight on the 24th and Matt and I as the final two. As always the engineers are first in and last out. Hopefully the last two flights will be same day, but as we have seen the weather here rules all and August is supposed to be especially tricky.

Sometime between now and then (actually the 13th...) will be the first sunset of the winter. Paul Graham and I celebrated the last sunrise. The rest of the crew and I will celebrate the first sunset in almost four months. I think when we leave I will have been on Devon longer than any human this field season. I already, according to Robert, hold the Mars Society record for the longest stay in the FMARS habitat. I will be just short of the overall record for time spent in a Mars Society Hab. That record will be transfered to our commander Mel. She will have me in that metric by virtue of a couple of weeks at MDRS. Hopefully I'll get to present her the Tuna Can Award since both of us passed the previous holder this season.

On the subject of the crew, let me just say the cliche and get it over with: "This is absolutely the finest group I have ever worked with." There I said it, now seriously, I do expect we have at least two future astronauts here, maybe as many as four or five. I'm sad to say I probably won't be one of those, even though I did meet my goal of at least making the weight. For those that can't see from the photos, I lost 30 lbs this summer and am in the best shape I've been in for 15 or 20 years.

We were also just talking about what it takes to live with each other for this long in such tight quarters. This one is for y'all, Mom, Pat, and Patti, one of the biggies - selective hearing. Who'd of thought, even my lack of hearing potentially makes me a better astronaut candidate. Now I just need the graduate degree from MIT to go with it... I might have found the fortitude here that I need for that part too. I've also reacquainted myself with some of the important figures from my past who taught me so much. I've tried to highlight some of those, as I was able, in this blog. Maybe when I write this up for my chapter in the FMARS 2007 book I'll list them and what exactly they taught me that helped make me ready for this. That makes it worth missing my 20 year high school reunion.

As for our travel plans, the crew will head back home via Resolute of course and eventually to LA where we will be the guests of honor at this year's Mars Society Convention. I'm sacrificing my usual trip to DKR Texas Memorial Stadium this year for the 'Horns home opener, but sometimes you have to make sacrifices for the bigger goal. (Privately, if anyone knows somewhere in LA to catch the game on PPV let me know! I'm looking at the LA TexasExes website, but it has the schedule from 2005 up right now).

Friday, July 27, 2007


These are areas that receive less than 10 inches (250mm) of precipitation per year. The Haughton Crater on Devon Island is one. So where did all that snow that I talked about come from? The answer is the wind. have no doubt we are in a desert here, just like West Texas, Southern Utah, Gobi, Sahara and even Mars. Also just like those places water is at a premium. We collect it and study how we use it, but we are in a desert. Today the creek we've been using for drinking water stopped flowing, so tomorrow we get to go farther to a nearby lake to get our water to drink, wash, and cook. For those that have been following the science reports on the FMARS2007 website the two we have chosen are Laval and Cornell. Both are close and tested clean for coliform bacteria so tomorrow we will take a little longer to get the water, but get it we will. For now some more pictures , and again apologies for it taking me so long to post, these are for Georgi and Paul (both of them this time):

Clouds Over Gemini Hills


Me Looking at Bird Tracks

Engineering samples

James at Laval

Like, Whoa Dude

Mars Girls in New Shirts

Friday, July 13, 2007


One facet of the science work around here is "extra-vehicular activity". This is an Apollo era term for anytime astronauts are working outside the spacecraft. Some argue that "surface excursion" is a better term to use for exploring Mars since the hab is no longer a spacecraft per se, but more of a permanent structure and not a vehicle any more. I don't really fall to either side of the argument, but just call it EVA 'cause I always have.

EVA is not strictly in my job description on this trip, but it is our goal to do science in a Mars analogue way. That means that I do get to go outside in a spacesuit from time to time when someone else is not feeling well, the server is just too stable, or other needs arise. Here are some of those photos, as promised; some more of me in my usual role on EVA as safety dude, and other miscellaneous stuff:

Drilling out the core samples

Working the little drill in the field

Sterilizing the core bit

Oh, look a Martian

The remains of a musk ox in the distance

My usual pose on EVA

Since I'm usually taking the photos, this is a lot of what you see of me in most of the photos

Trinity Lake
(named by someone else for that school I went to a few years back...)

(It is hot in the Arctic this summer,
Al G. might just be right with his Global Climate Change thing?)

Sunday, July 1, 2007


More precisely Mars Time. For those of you who may not know all about astrophysics, planets rotate at different rates. What this means is that each planet has a day of a different length. For instance Earth's day is 24 hours long. It takes 24 hours for the spinning earth to make one rotation. Everybody knows that, and as it turns out human physiology is uniquely suited to a 24hr day. Doctors call this circadian rhythm. Now what does this have to do with Mars? Well as it turns out Mars has a day that is slightly longer than the day on Earth. Longer by about 40 minutes. So the big question for human exploration of Mars is will this mess up the human circadian rhythm and what will it do to the astronauts on a long term mission to Mars.

To begin to find out the answer is actually kind of complex. You have to have an environment where there are few, if any, visual cues for the body to follow. Low earth orbit is good for that. There they have 20 minute days and nights. This is too fast for the body to adjust so basically it stops trying. The problem is getting stuff into LEO is expensive. Conveniently it also turns out that the Arctic in summer and winter is good too. Either the sun doesn't set like now in the summer, or it is night all the time like in the winter. The next thing you have to do is throw your calendar out the window, because with an extra 40 minutes per day, days and nights get out of whack with the rest of the world real quick. This is also possible in the Arctic since we are so remote and communications are delayed anyway.

In short my crewmates and I make the perfect lab rats, so we've agreed to try a study for the next 30 days into what it will be like to be on Mars Time. We actually started last night at midnight and today was our first sol. "Sol" is Martian for a "day". Today is sol 1 and you can keep up with our time at our engineering website. Here you can see how out of phase we are with you at any given time. The website is: I hope with the extra 40 minutes I can get some more blogging done and maybe get some pictures up next time. I've got some good one stashed from my last in-sim EVA. I'll try and get them up in the next couple of days.

Friday, June 22, 2007


Yesterday was the summer solstice, the first day of summer by the astronomical calendar. Matt, Ryan and I celebrated by digging out a stuck ATV (stuck in snow not mud, very unsummer) and finished off by digging the rest of the snow out (about 50meters worth, some 1-2meters deep) to make a path along the road to the creek to get fresh water. Later that afternoon Matt and I trekked by ATV and foot to Trinity Lake to retrieve the ATV we had cached there for use when snowmobiles were still in vogue on Devon but some of our science sites had melted. This trip home for the ATV involved almost as much lifting and pushing and dragging through snow as driving, but we got the ATV and trailer back to the Hab. For all this effort (and for me sore muscles, but Matt is a superman for those that haven't seen his photo) the island rewarded us with shattercones, which are very cool rocks that only form from meteorite impacts and nuclear explosions. I have a particularly nice one for my desk back at work. It will join the selenite from Utah and the stromatolite from Montana that Medicine Wolf gave me on C22 as the prides of my engineering sample collection. I hope to find some more stromatolite on Devon too, for both Richard and Elaine. Also the solstice rings in my two month anniversary on Devon.

At this point I would like to thank my Mom and Dad not only for the book on rocks and minerals, but for allowing us to have ATV's as a child and young adult. Growing up in sub-suburban and rural Texas really prepared me for this adventure and taught me a lot of what you can, can't, and shouldn't do on an ATV. In addition to the surly IT guy on this gig, I'm also the sometimes surly ATV mechanic and the kind and forgiving ATV trainer.

But I know why you are all really here. After one last note - Paul (again my genetic brother, not pauloutwest) just FYI, the crew will be throwing you a birthday party next week, happy 37! Send me some email bro and let me know how P's ball team did/is doing. It sucks that the 'Horns lost out in the NCAA regionals this year too!

Haughton River in melt looking north
(this is where the "Santa" photo was taken a couple of months back)

Looking South

Arctic gull on a dive bomb mission over James (he missed...)

The gull after it realizes that James packs 30-06 AAA

OK Paul, here is that bear sign
(very old and far away Mom)

The last snowmobile ride

12:12am (this is as dark as it gets folks)

The "road" to Trinity Creek

Arctic bluebonnets on brechia (another impactite)

(last two photos courtesy Matt Bamsey)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Or should that be Habkeeping? I'm not sure why, but typing that title I'm reminded of a line from Apollo 13. I don't want to subscribe any special significance to that, other than it is one of my favorite movies of all time...

This post was really about the thing I forgot to on Sunday which was wish my father a happy Father's Day. It wasn't so much that I forgot but just that I ran out of time. We did record a fathers day greeting from the crew for all our fathers. It is on-line at I guess I've done worse in the 37 I've been here for so far, so maybe this is not so bad. Oh, and Paul (my genetic brother), that is for you too. Photos later if I get a chance to actually copy them off my camera.

Monday, June 11, 2007


Sanjiv, if by any chance you are reading this I need to get a hold of you. Send me an email.

Traditionally when doctors go through residency they work 36hr shifts and put in 100 or more hours per week at the hospital. The idea is to train the mind to deal with stressful situations in extreme conditions. Sleep deprivation is used to accomplish this. It also benefits the hospital since when a position is salaried, long hours mean good business. In recent years the trend has been to reduce this to more reasonable hours, with 80hr work week limits and 10hrs off mandated between shifts that don't last more than 24hrs. Will this result in better doctors, well studies say yes and also that there will be less hospital accidents. This is a good thing for patients.

The question is how does this relate to life and work on Devon? Well we live where we work and have been doing something like 100hr weeks for the last two or three. I think everyone has now realized that this is not possible to do for the long term and hopefully we will fall into a more manageable schedule. Here we also have the blessing/curse of 24hr sunlight so there are not any real cues that it is time to sleep and this too has an effect. We even have one study, Project C.A.S.P.E.R. , run by Dr. Marc O'griofa of the University of Limerick (Marc is also one of our Flight Surgeons), that is looking at us for just this kind of information. CASPER flew for the first time on the ISS last year.

To give everyone a break we take every Sunday off and also today was designated a sleep-in day when we will start at noon. I hope this will be enough of a break for everyone. That combined with a new schedule that should allow for more time to do reports and take care of personal correspondence should get us back to peak output. Of course there is still a lot of work to do, we just need to manage our time and try to get back to a more normal schedule. None of us here want to be MD's and we all feel for them too. Sleep tight readers, but before you do take a look at these:

Another Columbia inukskuk

Nadav, our intrepid swimming photographer

Playa Patti on FMARS Fjord

James enjoys the bikini clad sunbathers at Playa Patti,
they are hidden by the fog rolling in across the fjord

Sunday, June 3, 2007


I know, I know, I don't get a chance to write enough. I really do try, but we are working here a lot. I've literally been trying to finish this post since Sunday (its now Tuesday night...). I'm almost ready to go back to my day job at ACC now just to be able to get some rest. But since I can't do that yet, I think it is time to geek out for a bit and talk about all the cool technology we have here and what exactly my role is in making this stuff work.

First, as I've mentioned a few times are the sensors. I had a good description of them in my last post. For the most part, they are all Hobo brand and take readings and download them via infrared and/or USB links. If anyone wants to know exactly what data we can collect let me know and I'll get the info to you. That is too geek even for a "geek" post, btu we will get there. Oh and I almost forgot the web cams, where Ryan and I have been having a little Canada vs. USA tech war over the Stanley Cup. I could totally nuke him, just like Anaheim is going to do to Ottawa tomorrow, but I like to cut him some slack, sometime.

To protect the data the sensors collect, that we generate via reports and sample processing, to store all the research data we brought with us, and all the photo and video documentation we generate in an easily accessible location, we have a Windows 2003 R2 server. I have already mentioned this too and apologized then to my geek friends for not using Linux in this role. Again if you want to know my reasons let me know and I'll geek-out with you for a while on my philosophy on operating system deployment and the reasons to use Win vs. Linux vs Netware. For now I'll save that for the advanced networking classes. I also mentioned that all this runs on my old Compaq Presario 2100 laptop.

To actually protect that data I had devised a plan to use ten 80gig SATA drives in a RAID 5 configuration. (How many of your eyes glazed over at that sentence, huh? I told you this was a geek post...) Unfortunately I ran out of time to test the setup as well as I would have liked in the lab back home. Largely this was due to the brand new nature of the hardware I had to find to make this work. It was all back ordered or in beta test. That meant that the deployment here was the first time I had it all set up in one place, and well, it is a little unstable. Like someone walks by, or jumps off the bike downstairs, or even breathes in its direction it drops drives out of the array for just long enough to start a rebuild. RAID rebuilds and inits on that old Compaq take a long time, like days; so now we just have individual SATA drives connected to the two port PCMCIA SATA RAID controller. Every time a drive starts to fill up I archive its contents to DVD then compress the data and put another on-line. Its a PITA but it works and with a near and off-line backup I feel safe that the data is not going away, even here in one of the worst environments on the planet.

Well that is a start on what we have deployed now. What we still have to play with are the self reparable sensor networks, the Georgia Tech APRS system, the radiation detector that Emily sent us, and a few surprises that I'll keep to myself for now. I will say that we have a full scientific database with audio, photo, and video components that should be on-line soon. Stay tuned geek readers. There will be a follow up to this post with more; but for now the pictures, geek stuff first, cool-kid stuff later:

Our DC power supply
not high tech, but something I've been tinkering with.

PH test on the biology samples, very high tech

My "office"
Server on the left, my machine in the middle, and Kim's donation to the web cams on the right

OK, cool stuff now.

Kathy, Simon, and James posing before EVA
(yes Mom, the rosy cheeks are windburn)

Sunday, May 27, 2007


Wow, just looked at the date and realized almost a week has passed since my last post. Sorry about that dear readers. Time really does fly here and there is so much to do. In the last week I've done a lot and gone on several EVA's. The weather for the last week has been uniformly beautiful. Highs near freezing (and a little above for yesterday and today), blue sky, unlimited visibility, and light winds. This has allowed us to deploy our sensors in the permafrost and start our drilling for the geology and biology studies.

Our sensor suite (provided by NASA's Chris McKay) includes remote units that measure temperature, humidity, light, methane, and we hope in the coming days to have some that measure CO2. We are deploying them above and below ground level and under snow. We hope they can tell us when life starts to bloom and in what conditions in the various types of permafrost and geological formations near the Haughton Crater. We also have a few prototype sensors that form a self reparable network. These are courtesy of Kim and some of her grad students at UH (that is Hawaii, not Houston folks...). I hope we can break those out soon too, along with the Georga Tech APRS radio setup.

In other news, we have a stable server, even if its storage subsystem (which I was so proud of...) is not. I'm working on my backup plan there which will require a bit more administrator intervention but still protect the data until I can sort out the storage array.

Here are some totally unrelated pictures:
Kim, Kim Binsted

James, James...


Ryan, Ryan Kobric

Can you see the Arctic gull?

Biology, and more biology

No caption needed

Fallen soldiers