Friday, April 27, 2007


While writing this entry I’m trying to decide how much of the last few days is really important to relay. Since I’ve been disconnected from the ‘Net I’ve realized how important a communication medium it is. I just hope I still have any readers left. In fact, I may still not be the one actually posting this. Emily our crew alternate may actually be the one doing it, if she agrees. Right now we have a 2400 baud connection that works sometimes, so I may have to email this to Em and have her post it. Emily, if you are reading this via email first, please remove the password and log-in information before you post it. ;) Paul has been really diligent about writing every day, even though he couldn’t post it, so I may just give y’all a link in my next entry to his blog so you
can catch up there.

OK, this is day six on Devon. I used the phrase “couple of days” in my last post, which in the Texas vernacular means at minimum two and at most many days. In my last I said I was leaving for the island for the rest of the summer. Well, we made it, and things have been rolling. Since we got here Sunday morning it has been mostly non-stop, except for sleep and meals. Tonight will be night six. We have had challenges and triumphs, but it has gone well overall. Things are taking shape, albeit slowly. The Hab is a mostly warm 50-60F, and some of the plumbing works, but the high speed net connect is still not up. Paul and I fried my sat-finder on Sunday and any manual alignment is all but impossible according to the Netkaster tech we talked to, basically the same as hitting at keno in ‘Vegas. The tech actually used more colorful language to describe it. We have a better suited sat-finder and fine adjustment rods coming with the crew. We think that will be Tuesday of next week.

I used even more colorful language while configuring the MSAT backup link. It seems that while we have gone back in time to 1989, 2400 baud modems with raw AT commands in serial terminal windows, the rest of the world has not. We went through 3 ISP’s before we could get one that worked at that slow rate. Everyone claims they can do it when you ask the salesperson, yet when you try it fails, and the techs don’t even want to go there. I did get one good tech at the first place we tried. He refreshed me on the Hayes AT command set, but was quickly removed from the case and replaced by a tier 2 tech who would have nothing to do with it. Thanks for trying Wane, I do appreciate it. Paul and I did finally succeed with, of all ISP’s, Earthlink. They can do a 2400 baud link when their DNS doesn’t time out. Not much of a selling point unless you are on an Arctic desert island. We may have the newer 4800 baud MSAT later tonight. We’ll be stylin’ then, just like 1990!

Otherwise all has gone well; Paul and I made a couple of new friends in our “guides” James 2 and Steve. They told us they found a little bit of bear sign yesterday about 10km from the Hab. Just like “a couple of days” means more in Texas, apparently “bear sign” means more to the Inuit. They actually got pictures of the bear when they followed the tracks. As it turns out the bear was also looking for them too. Steve said was a young male, “only 8-9 feet” (yikes!), and it ran from them when they went after it. Steve said it was too small for him to want to shoot and waste the bear tag. They just chased it off. The pics belong to Steve so I won’t post them without his permission (even when we do get the high speed up), but I will have them to show off privately when I get home, just in case I don’t get to see any bears of my own. I’m not sure if that is a good or bad wish, maybe a little of both - good and bad, just like most of this week.

[Yup, this was posted by Emily. Their web still isn't fast enough to allow for anything but text.]

Sunday, April 22, 2007


It looks like today is the day! After a couple of extra days in Res working on generators and coordinating parts orders we are scheduled for two more flights today. There may not be internet for a day or so... In the meantime here are a couple of pictures from the last few days:

Paul gets a fuel filter

Rode hard and put up wet

Tuk Tuk


Thursday, April 19, 2007


We made it out to the Hab yesterday. We hitched a ride on one of the supply flights to try and get an idea of the challenges we are facing in getting the station ready for four months of habitation. It was a nice warm day by Arctic standards, about 20 Fahrenheit or -6 Celsius. My first ride on a DeHavilland Twin Otter was awesome.

When we got to the station we were immediately challenged. All the doors were frozen shut. Around here, given time, the snow blows into any crack and all the door seals were solidly welded with ice. To deal with this, and save the recon mission, we set up a large portable heater that we had brought to warm the Hab. We set it to blow all 90,000 BTU's right on the door, which we fixed with a makeshift tent. An hour or so later the door was open and we were able to do our recon. It was colder in the Hab than it was outside. The steam in my breath actually froze in mid-air for the first few minutes I was inside, until the heaters finally took over. This is going to be a challenging environment for computer electronics.

In all the hab was in good shape. We did find all the problems reported by the last crew as we expected, but there weren't any big surprises. We did find a couple of bottles of frozen olive oil in the cupboard. I'll have to look up the freezing temp on that one, but at least the bottles didn't break. We will have our work cut out for us, especially now that the schedule has slipped by a week, but we still hope to get it mostly up to spec by the time the crew arrives.

We brought the two Yanmar generators back with us from the hab to get running here in Res. Now we wait on tools and supplies... in the meantime, some more pix:

Hab on Ice


We will have our work cut out for us

Norman, the man tasked to, "not let us do anything stupid"

Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot, Oscar

Norman and Paul load the sled

It's the monster from Star Trek!
Not really, it is just my breath freezing in mid-air in one of the staterooms...

Marines really can sleep anywhere

Leaving the Hab in the snow

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Well today is mostly beautiful, mostly. Intermittent bouts of overcast and snow, but Polar Shelf says they are catching up on their behind flights. We should be able to go out to Devon for the day tomorrow. Since Paul and I are new to the Arctic Ozzie is sending us out with an Inuit guide to act as our advisor and teach us Arctic safety. Now its not like Paul is any slouch in this area, he has US Marine alpine survival school and I have some general knowledge picked up back when I used to be in shape, but this place is a totally alien environment to a boy from Texas. I'm glad we have good advisers.

We have been doing our best to make friends with the Polar Challenge 2007 organizers and survival instructors for the last few days and it is paying big dividends. They gave us some of their spare food and are letting us sit in on some of their Arctic training lectures too.

OK, OK, Geo, here are some more pics from Res from yesterday and today. Snowmobile stuff and the arrival of the Polar Challenge contestants:

Those two dots on the bay (yes , that is a frozen Resolute Bay) are me and Mark

My first closeup of a Twin Otter

Paul and the fire brigade baggage unloading for the Polar Challenge contestants

The favorite kilt of the Arctic!

Delivering gear to Polar Shelf

Home Sweet Home in the Arctic, and Tuk Tuk Ozzie's back door dog

Our friend Mark, the survival bloke with Polar Challenge

Paul, ready for some snowmobile action

Me, after crossing the bay on one of the Polar Challenge snowmobiles

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Man I got some readers today! Wonder what happened? Oh, one of my posts which I copied to the FMARS blog site got completely misinterpreted at NASA Watch. Thanks Keith! I'm sure you will post a correction once you figure out what I was actually saying. Given your anti-Mars Society slant, I won't hold my breath. Since you missed some of the things NASA is doing with TMS, look at this site for NASA's Spaceward Bound Program. Maybe you want to talk to Chris McKay next time you bump into him at the NASA-Ames Yuri's Night party. Chris told the FMARS crew it was cool too. Sorry I had to miss it. Oh, wait, no I'm not.

In other news, Paul and I are coordinating our flight support and putting together a logistical plan to get to Devon and find out what we need to do to make the FMARS station run. We are trying to get to Devon on Tuesday with the first supply flight. What we hope to do is get in Tuesday AM, do some initial recon, and get back out to Res in the PM. This is iffy in the Arctic, but we are prepared to stay a couple of nights if we have to. Then once we get back to Ozzie's South Camp Inn in Res we will put in our materials order, make the final plans, get some sleep, and then fly back out to Devon late in the week for good.

I had hoped to get some time on a snowmobile today before we get to Devon. It might still happen, but it is looking like it will be tomorrow. The up-side is with the added down-time I was able to get my Google Earth cache loaded and play with the GPS tracks I got from the flights out. Here is my current location, one of those tracks, and a pic of me with my first 'stash-cicle - enjoy:

Saturday, April 14, 2007


Time is a little short tonight (Saturday), so I'll try just posting some pictures from the flight up and Res and see if that will save me any time.

Well it didn't... 'net is real slow tonight. I'll have to resize the pics first, but now it is bed time.

Ok, Sunday morning. Trying again now that the weather is a bit better... Internet in Resolute is very dependant on how much snow and blowing snow there is at the moment.

Paul in Nanisivik (pronounced just like spelled)

Here is that beach shot for you Patti (yes, that is solid pack-ice)

Welcome to Resolute!

Some days you get da bar

And some days da bar, she get you.

Just kidding Mom, don't freak out.


From 4-13-07:

Well Paul and I made it out of Ottawa. We even have almost all of our bags. Right now, according to GPS we are at 9252.5m altitude at 57h 24mN by 71h 45mW on First Air 680. I’m kinda cheating a bit to get this info, I have my GPS on and Google Earth with Earth Bridge fired up. I was attempting to track the flight with the real time display, but will have to settle for updating the track by kml when we get to Res. I forgot to update the Google Earth cache before we left Ottawa. Glad we are on a non-modern 737, and later a Hawker Sydney 748 turboprop or I might worry about the Bluetooth. ;)

Now I have to apologize to Mr. Story, my high school geography teacher at Huffman-Hargrave. I can still point out Cuba and Afghanistan on a globe without looking for even a second thanks to him, but at this moment I cannot remember the latitude of the Arctic Circle. Neither can Paul, or the flight attendants, or even the pilot. I guess I shouldn’t feel so dumb. As Paul said, maybe we can blame it on sleep deprivation courtesy of Air Canada’s lost baggage staff. (Hawker driver knew it though…66h33mN, should have known that from Calc too…)

On that note let me say that Paul is pissed off, not at our bags getting lost, that [stuff] happens. We both know how humans operate. This is at AC not doing anything about it until we started talking about how much money it was costing us not to have our Arctic gear. They literally sat on the data we gave them until it was too late to get Paul’s bag by any possible method before we HAD to leave Ottawa. More on those reasons later. We both knew where our bags were. United gave us that data yesterday. Mine were in Chicago as predicted and Paul’s still in Denver.

Until we started talking torts (Canadian for lawsuit), and $$$, Air Canada wouldn’t even make a call to make sure they were on the next plane to us. Once we said “MONEY!” we had my bags in two hours. Coincidentally, this is about the exact length of a flight from Chicago by an Embraier, plus just a bit for some phone calls. Paul’s lost bag containing his sleeping bag, pad, blanket, the MDRS camera, the LP leak detectors and regulators, and a bunch of other stuff is still MIA. We decided that as long as I had my gun, which is the only mission critical piece of survival gear we have that cannot be legally acquired by us in Canada at any price, we would catch the flight this morning.

Why we had to make that consolation was that if we missed this plane today, First Air could not get us out of Iqualuit (pronounced like e-cal-a-wit for us Texans), even on standby, until next Thursday. They could get us to the Nunavut capital, but no further north. That means we were looking at more than a week gone from the schedule and quite an expense to stay in Ottawa or arrange another flight. We had more than half the FMARS crew (well, by mass anyway), our Canadian support team of Lealem and Grant, with Randy’s number ready on speed-dial too in case Edmonton was in the equation; everyone involved in the effort to find us any other way north later than today but before we broke the bank. It wasn’t happening. This made necessary a serious discussion about what gear we had to have to fly today. We decided my gun was it. If it got to Ottawa, and Customs approved my firearms declaration; we would go north without the rest. Luckily, about 8 last night I got a call. This happened as I was discussing the possibility of jump seats on a Saturday cargo flight with Matt. A guy from Air Canada called saying, “Your bags are here in Ottawa Mr. Harris. Customs would like to speak with you before we can release them.” Sounds ominous, eh?

Paul has a different story to tell about that trip to the airport, but for me it wasn’t ominous at all. Canadian Customs was just as professional and courteous as the night before, mostly same folks in fact. They remembered me, checked my gun as required, issued me my temporary weapons license, I paid the $25cdn fee, and they waved me through. My other bags were x-rayed but never touched. I walked out with my gear, legal and in Canada, whistling, “don’t touch my bags if you please Mr. Customs Man…”

I thought I wanted to leave off there with that line from Comin' into Los Angeles by Arlo Guthrie, but it is a little later and I changed my mind. We are on the second leg of the flight north, after a plane change in Iqualuit. One more thing on my big list is about to be done. We are about to cross the Arctic Circle - and just did.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


As I write this I'm sitting in a hotel room in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Predictably (at least to a Texan like me...) it is snowing outside. This is my first trip to Canada and so far I like it. Here is a picture out the hotel window.

The good part is I'm in Canada, the bad part is my checked bags, including my survival gear and gun are still in Chicago. As anyone who has been watching the Weather Channel knows, yesterday there was some snow and ice in the northern mid-west yesterday. Flights out of Chicago into Ottawa were canceled. I found out about this while sitting at my gate in Denver waiting to catch a flight to Chicago to later catch a connect to Ottawa. Through some quick work on the part of Maria, my travel agent at Accent Travel in Austin, Paul Graham and I were able to get on another connecting flight to Washington - Dulles then on to Ottawa. My airline was virtually no help. They sent me to stand in a line that was 100meters long and would have caused me to miss both flights had I not called Maria. Unfortunately while I made the DC connection, my bags went on to Chicago to spend the night.

We got to Ottawa last night at 11pm local time. Then I got to do Canadian Customs. In all it wasn't too bad. They just grilled me for about 30 minutes in Immigration since I'm staying so long. In the end I had good documents to vouch for my reasons to be in Canada for 4 months, and they gave me this cool immigration document which is stapled to my passport. It is all official looking, has seals, the multi-color security paper, and a hologram. It says that I'm authorized to be in Canada until October 10th and says "MEMBER OF ARCTIC RESEARCH TEAM FOR FLASHLINE MARS ARCTIC RESEARCH STATION. JOINT VENTURE OF NASA/[and an agency in Canada that I can't mention because their PR people have not cleared it, but they have three initials and build arms for Space Shuttles and ISS's]" Maybe this will help me get my gun through customs when it gets here? Here is a pic of the cool part:
We'll see how it goes from here. The current plan is to spend today in Ottawa and wait on the bags. Then I have to go back to the airport to retrieve my baggage and go through screening. Hopefully at the end of which I'll get my gun and license and all my gear. We have rebooked flights north to Resolute tomorrow. This means we miss our own Yuri's Night party in Res, but such is life -"C'est la vie", as the Quebecers say.

Saturday, April 7, 2007


In this note I'd like to bring the 73 folks that have visited my blog since I installed the counter up to date. I got the supplies order in to Paul so he can add his plumbing stuff (gas and water) then we can get it expedited to Resolute. I still have one more shipment to send too which includes the SATA RAID I mentioned in the to-do list. Then it is all to packing. I'm trying to get down to just one extra bag on the flight up. That would be my gun. If anyone doesn't realize why we need a gun on a scientific expedition I have two words for you - Polar Bear.

One last note and a genuflection to my almost non-existent (at least that I know of...) sponsors. I'm writing this on my Dell hardened ATG laptop using my PalmOne Treo 650 as a modem. I'm on the way back from Liberty, TX (where my fam lives) and saying bye to Mom, Bro, MeMom, and Preston. One of my friends at Dell hooked me up with this sweet machine at a very reduced price in exchange for some notes on how it performs in the Arctic for their engineers. The only reason I mention the Treo 650 is that I love it. However if anyone at Palm is reading this I could use some sponsor $$$. Just a thought.