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.


Dad said...

Jim, Well, you learned that strange things happen in the Far North very fast.But, you also learned that the human brain reacts very fast, also, so your adventure is also a learning tool and you did the correct things that you were trained to do. WELL DONE ONE AND ALL . Thank goodness that no one was injuried. But, just as you learned that these things can happen in trial runs, just remember what that would have been, had it been on MARS. Good reflexes one an all. Continue to have a good and fun time, but remember just where you are. You also mentioned the Lonely word,which I had remembered that you and I had not talked about this, It,also will hit you when you least think about it. Try to always have a good attitude and good throughs about your fellow adventurers. Don't have bad throughs,etc,and always to be happy , really, have a good time and your reactions will always be the correct ones to take, trust your intelligence. Again, even though I do not want to relive my time in the North, I am really envious of yu'lls adventure. Have a good time and I'm thinking of all of you continuously. Always, DAD

Paul said...

WOW, exciting day huh? Sounds like you did a good job following all your training and such. Being from an electronic field, I can, most certainly, tell you that simulatneous failures DO happen...unfortunately they scare the living crap out of us or in my case, force us to work bunches of hours on OT diagnosing and repairing the problems so they don't happen again. Glad you guys had the back-up monitors'd have banged your head against the wall trying to figure out why y'all weren't all

Oh well, I just got in from work and I'm beat...just wanted to check in on ya and see how the great white north was.


sharron said...

Just read the Sunday notes..almost glad I did not read it any sooner. I understand the truth and fiction concept of what you are doing but also realize that there can be dangers in it. Reality tells me there are dangers every day regardless where we are and what we are doing. I know too you always have had very good foresight and it has kept you safe many times sounds as though it did once again. You are well prepared for this and for that I am thankful. I am very glad too the next day things went as they should. Continue to have a good time and a wonderful experience and all of you stay safe.
Love U, Mom