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

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


I got to go out again today after three days in the Hab. One of the the three was our self imposed day of rest on Sunday, but we were also waiting for the weather to let up a bit. Since Saturday it has been blowing snow and winds that probably gusted to 30 knots and we measured at a sustained 20+ on several occasions. Although sometimes it was sunny and looked nice, as soon as you went out the door and the wind hit, you knew better instantly.

Today that all changed for my one month anniversary on the island. We went to Lake Orbiter, or Orbiter Lake, depending on which map you look at, on what has been and probably will stay the furthest EVA site from the Hab. On the way we got to go by the big inukshuk, one of seven built to honor the fallen Columbia astronauts by the researchers of the Haughton Mars Project, including our XO Matt Bamsey.

Here are some photos from today:

Some very fresh wolf tracks

Arctic Spider Man?

Matt returns to the scene

Spider Man examines the avalanche

Crew, after dinner (photo by Kim, not pictured)

Saturday, May 19, 2007


Just so everyone here can be in the know, we got the webcams up yesterday.

Here is the link:

We may be moving them around a bit over the next few days so check back often for different views. Also expect special messages on the floating camera every once in a while. If the message confuses you feel free to ask for clarification in the comments.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Well after the last dark post I would like to let everyone know that all is well. The last few days it has really gotten rolling. The weather is very unpredictable, but in all the trend in the temperature is up. Most of the day today it was sunny and warm (a balmy -10 Celsius or 14 Fahrenheit) so we were able to get a flight in with some more of our food, not that we are low, just that it was there and it filled out the plane along with the two additional snowmobiles and the epifluorescent microscope and balance we needed to get some real science done. Although as I write this it is snowing hard and the visibility has dropped to less than 500 meters. Good thing we got the plane in earlier because they would wave off the landing now.

Here are some more pictures from late last and earlier this week:

Crew drill training

Thawing out a cold generator

Crew Meeting

Arctic wolf tracks

My first EVA

Sunday, May 13, 2007


Specifically the "self" kind can be insidious, but is also part of our humanity. That humanity is the same thing that wants us to understand, explore, be creative, love, and have fun. The last couple of days I've had some of all those in one way or another. So I guess I'm human too. Big surprise, right? Well not to me. Although at times I've been accused of being arrogant (and I'm sure I have been too) I hardly ever feel like it. It seems like I humble myself in one way or another just about every day. Today was one of the days where I felt really humble and I think I need to tell the story.

We started the simulation part of our mission yesterday, and with that comes a certain level of suspension of disbelief. I learned this phrase in high school drama from Mr. Krostal. Some of that art stuff comes in handy sometimes, even to a computer nerd and field engineer. Suspension of disbelief is the same thing you have to do at a sci-fi movie or with any work that is fiction. Basically you choose to not believe what you know to be true for the duration of the story. In our case we do it to try to understand what it will be like for our mission counterparts on Mars. With this, if you are good at it, or if you are in a location like Devon or Hanksville where it is easy, comes all the feelings you would experience if the case were true. In my case the strongest feeling I experience is a loneliness that is hard to describe. I've done this Mars simulation two times before and I felt it then too, so now I expect it. I don't completely dislike the feeling either, and I know it gives me a bond with my crewmates that I don't think I would form otherwise. However the downside is this loneliness heightens my own personal feeling of inadequacy to face the coming challenge.

This was reflected in my attitude starting early in the work day. The whole time planning what was to be the first EVA, a pedestrian trek to Cornell Lake 1.2km from the Hab, I was feeling like something was wrong and I was not up to the task. I couldn't place the blame, so I didn't speak up directly other than to voice a few vague objections. This is really not usually me. First the EVA was being planned, then the crew was prepping, and still I couldn't get right with the situation. Something was just wrong.

About that time one of the Hab carbon monoxide alarms went off on the upper deck. I was standing right beside it. This detector is known to be a little flaky and has gone off before just for the principal, but immediately goes back to normal after a reset. This time it didn't. The first reading was 990ppm, after reset it still showed above 830ppm. Both of those are deadly levels. All this happened in about 10 seconds. At this point the simulation is over, all the evacuation training I have kicked in, and just like it is supposed to work I immediately called the exit order, "Everyone listen, open both sets of airlock doors on both sides of the Hab, prop them open and evacuate! This is not a drill!" Mel, Kim, and I were up-stairs and as I followed them down the stairs I checked the other CO alarm at the bottom of the ladder. It too had a non-zero reading. In this case it was 240 or so. At the time I wasn't sure why it wasn't alarming either, 'cause that is in the deadly range too. Matt was downstairs leading the rest of the crew out and readying the survival equipment. He hands me his parka as I put on my boots and we exit the back airlock as the last two out. Total evacuation time was probably less than one minute; and in the world of suspended disbelief we just died on our second day on Mars before we could even make footprints and say cool stuff.

I was absolutely devastated. Here I was, lonely and full of self doubt, and I had just had to order the crew to their metaphorical deaths to save all our lives. Not a good day already, but the evacuation of an Arctic habitat is just the beginning. You still have to really live through being outside and figure out how to get back inside to stay warm. Luckily the day was not too cold, and after a bit of hyperventilating by Matt and I, we were ready to figure out how to get back in. We decided that we were allowed to go in for five minutes to check the detectors and start the fan. Both detectors were at zero reading, but we opened the sample airlock too and started the vent fan Paul and I jury rigged a couple of weeks back, grabbed a few more supplies and went back out. We decided to wait 30mins outside then go check the detectors again. If all was well we would reenter the Hab and figure out what had happened. At the time the main suspect was one of the kerosene heaters, but why was the question and how would we fix it. All the readings were again zero on the detectors and at this point we finally thought to check the other two newer CO detectors which record highs and alarms in recallable memory. Neither of them had detected a thing. To make a longer story short, a dual failure had occurred. We had just had two simultaneous false alarms. That was a really bad day.

Today, after a few more meetings and some more planning based on what we learned yesterday Simon and Kathy conducted our first of what will be many EVAs. It was a huge success. Today was a really good day.

Friday, May 11, 2007


As I mentioned in the note to my last post the FXI LDM crew is finally together! Wednesday night Kathy flew in and Paul left for his return to the real world. We are going to miss Paul. The man is a machine with ADD and a force of nature. Some how with very little in the way of materials and the help of most the crew who came early we were able to get the Hab livable and safe.

Our plan is to start the simulation tomorrow. We will run through the 20th of August. Today the crew will go over our Sim rules and constraints and do some final work cleaning up and training on the snow machines and with the firearms in winter clothes. We think we have a good protocol in place for the core drilling now too. Chris McKay also sent us some more NASA sensors to deploy and I'll be inventorying those in the next few hours.

Now on to the main attraction, more pics:

Life clings in the cold

Hab and Footprints

Kathy's plane comes in for another pass

Austin, we have a microbiologist

The glamorous life!

The gaff tape SATA enclosure

Paul fixes the flag before he leaves, Marines eat anything too

Ry, Simon, Kim and Matt (Hab in the background)

Hey Preston, Lars, and Anaka, I told you I would see Santa's elves

Tuesday, May 8, 2007


(Authors note: I actually started this post two nights ago, and intended to upload pics and everything. That didn't happen, so I need to get this out so I can write more tomorrow. Sorry Papa Geo only text this time... like you have time to read now anyway!)

As you might be able to tell from the title I've moved back into my current element. This is in contrast to the last couple of weeks spent as an electrician. I was doing that in the late 80's too, so it kinda fits with the modem stuff... While I did do my time in building trades as an electrician, what I do now is much more fun - computers and data communication. We have actually gotten to the point that we need and can set up the Hab data systems. Kim (Dr. Kim Binsted, our crew's chief scientist, and very probably the reason my sabbatical was approved, BTW - Happy Birthday Kim!) has worked a bit planning the webcams and fine tuning the crew's collaboration system, while I got to set up the Hab server and data storage array. As soon as it is stable I'll discuss with the commander the "sim'ness" of making parts of it available on the open Internet for things other than database RSYNC. I had a bit of a setback there today though. I came in from discussing drills, bits, and possible core sample protocols with Simon and found the server had the infamous Windows BSOD. I'm working that out right now by running OnTrack on the boot drive which seems to have failed, with a dozen or so bad sectors in inopportune places like the administrator's profile. Considering how old the drive is and that this server is actually my old Compaq laptop coerced into running Windows 2003 Enterprise Server it is not too surprising that we are having issues like this. What can I say? I would love to have the budget or gotten donations for server hardware but it didn't happen. Also apologies to my geek friends, but much as I would prefer to run Linux, or even Novel, on this server, right now the PCMCIA SATA RAID5 card and port multipliers are Win only and just barely out of prototype. While low budget, it is high tech!

Paul spent most of the day up the Hab tower re-securing radio antennas for both our Polar Contental Shelf Project(PCSP) radio, which we use to maintain emergency comms with them, and also the Georgia Tech Mars Society hand-held VHF/UHF radio system and base station. With the GT system (thanks for that too Emily!) we should be able to get out real-time ARPS geolocation data for our EVA's. As soon as we have that, and the webcams on-line I'll post the link.

We got a bit of a freak-out moment and an early start for the crew this morning with the scheduled check in with PCSP (known as the "sked", if we miss two in a row they send out the SAR teams...). They need to send their Twin Otters north to Alert for a few days (at least 5...) to catch up on flights pulling research crews off the Arctic Ocean pack ice. Flights there have been grounded due to bad weather for the last few weeks and they need the Resolute planes to catch up. What that means for us is that they needed to bump up our flight which was scheduled for late tomorrow to early today. As much as we would like to get the whole crew including Kathy here ASAP, we needed to wait on cargo that is supposed to arrive today and/or tomorrow. If the flight had come this morning we would have had to wait until June to get the necessary gear and science equipment. Now I'm sure you see the problem. We had to work that out on the fly and the result is that our flight tomorrow will be a true charter from Kenn Borek Air, the well known Arctic and Antarctic air charter service.

(another note: flight tonight made it, Paul is gone and Kathy is here, much more on these in the next entry, along with pics of them, the storage array, and other stuff. But for now, good night from Devon.)

Sunday, May 6, 2007


Matt and Paul outside yesterday

After the cold and wind yesterday it warmed up a bit today to -16 or so and the wind dropped back to a stately 7 knots. That meant we got to go outside to test some of the drilling equipment. Matt, Simon, and I went about 1.2 kilometers from the Hab to a place our science advisory geologist (the great and powerful Oz, Gordon Osinski, NSERC Visiting Fellow at the Canadian Space Agency) identified as the closest surface permafrost. I was included, rather than another scientist, because of my construction background. Coincidently I am the only crewmember who has used a Hilti roto-hammer before this mission, therefore I had to train both Matt, one of our other two engineers and the crew XO; and Simon, the lead crew geologist on the permafrost experiments, on the drill before we can begin the simulation. We were out for about two hours, and drilled permafrost and ice with both the core and full-face bits. For any of my construction friends reading this, drilling permafrost feels just like drilling barely set concrete, and well, drilling ice is like drilling butter.

This precluded me from working on the storage array and well doing anything else engineering or computer wise, but it was worth it. Jason, our last Inuit guide before we were left on our on, kept trying to get me to go outside more with him to relax and now I know why. This place is beautiful once you get used to the cold. I was too busy then, but I'm glad my crew role allows it now and for the rest of the mission.

So here are some photos from today first, and later the promised photo from Steve of the tracks from the bear he and the other James chased away from our vicinity, and some other stuff:

Simon's drill

James demonstrates proper use of the drill

The ice hole

Pressure fractured ice over Lake Cornell

Other stuff-

Bear sign, what we don't want to see on EVA

Pretty main box, BA electron manager

Just to show what we really wear out on a day like yesterday (yes, Mom that is me) - Papa Smurf meets the Michelin Man

Friday, May 4, 2007


After almost two weeks visiting back in 1987, we have returned to 2007! Not that '87 was that bad, I graduated from high school and went to college for the first time. However the screaming 2400baud data rate we have been using for the past almost two weeks, just sucked. I had to remember technical stuff that was best forgotten, like AT commands and modem init strings. Enough of that subject... we are back in the here and now!

We are getting the Hab in shape, slowly but surely. Our electricity is stable, the heat is on, and the plumbing only freezes when you close the wrong door. I should also explain that for the last few days it has been warm by Arctic standards, -10 or -15 Centigrade. We were starting to get a bit complacent. This all changed this morning. Overnight the wind shifted from the north and it got a bit colder. This morning while Matt and Simon were filling the generator it was -22 with a wind near what I estimate as almost tropical storm strength. Also we had left the EVA prep room door closed last night and it got a bit cold in there. We won't make that mistake again. The temporary sat mount Paul and Ryan got up yesterday went sideways in the wind for most of the day until they were able to firm it up late this afternoon. The plan was to use the permafrost drill to mount the pole, but with today's wind chill that much time outside was not possible. Today I worked on our snow melter which has a few leaks, and examined the autoclave that was damaged in shipping. Also it appears that our commander's laptop has become the first casualty of the Arctic. I'm working to recover the data from her failed hard drive and have my fingers crossed. Tomorrow I will have to start getting the data array on-line so that we can take backup images of the more important Hab systems.

For now, all my thanks to Emily for not costing me all my readers (at least the family is still here!), and here are some more pics:

Paul, working on the sat dish

Matt, watching Paul mount the sat dish

The Internet, the most beautiful sight I've seen here (just kidding...)

Chillin', after unloading a plane by snowmobile and kamatik

Kim and Mel, snow princesses!

Filling the generator

A Twin Otter landing

Making a list, checking it twice

The last sunrise of the summer

Wednesday, May 2, 2007


Yesterday was a busy day. Most of the FMARS 11 LDM team arrived, minus Kathy who has stayed in Resolute to finish coordinating the final shipping. This is a bummer, but we have found that having a logistics support person in Resolute helps dramatically. Hopefully she can join us soon. In the meantime, have fun with the puppies Kathy! We also said goodbye to Jason, who left to go back home. He was a big help, letting Paul and I focus on getting the comms, electricity, and plumbing going

The plan was to unload the gear and then just settle in for a bit. Well, “the best laid plans…” and all that. It ended up being an engineering fest, with shelves getting built, a temporary solution for the stateroom electricity which is a mess, and lots of organizing. We have a lot of gear to stow, and very little Hab left to store it in. Creativity and organization is going to be a must here and on Mars.

According to Ryan we are already behind on our human factors stuff. Did I also mention that it will require the Internet to catch up? Well I suspect that will be the main objective for Paul and I today after the new satellite finder is charged. With any luck this will be the last entry Emily has to post for me and none of the rest of the crew will have to experience the severe internet withdrawal Paul and I went through last week. I work with the ‘net every day, but honestly never realized how important it really is to the way I work now and how isolated I would feel (and still feel at 4800baud) without it.

Time now for some personal notes - I see my family is still reading after my week long hiatus, so that is good. Thanks guys, at least I still have some readers. Paul, this is a family blog, and in this case “sign” meant tracks, very fresh tracks. I will show you some awesome pictures that Steve took when I get home, but he did give me permission to post a couple so you might see a few sooner. Dad, I’m planning to stay as far away form the bears as possible, but I do want to see one. Honestly, you sound like Mom, but I do appreciate the concern.

[Got this post this morning, but couldn't post it immediately because of finals. -Emily]