Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Yuris's Night, a celebration of Yuri Gagarin's (and humanity's) first flight into space, is on April 12.That's also about ten days before I leave for the Arctic. There's only one conclusion to draw:


I'd like to point out to those of my dear friends who just groaned that, although there will be space-related geekiness, there will be no haggis or poetry reading in Scots. So, relatively speaking, you're getting off lightly. Plus, I'm thinking of putting a lamb in the pig box.

If you're reading this blog and you know where I live1, you're invited!

1A total of approximately three people.

Monday, February 26, 2007

I've got nothing against freeze-dried food as such. What I hate is freeze-dried meals. Give a gal freeze-dried teriyaki chicken and rice, and she'll eat for a day; give a gal the freeze-dried ingredients for teriyaki chicken and rice, and she'll make something much nicer.

So, I'm getting a dehydrator. And a cheese-making set. Any other recommendations?

Check out the military version. You know you're a tough ass when M&Ms are the gastronomical highlight of your week. Oh, and chicken stew shouldn't be rectangular. I'm just saying.

We've been 'in sim' for three days now. The main consequence here at MDRS is that we can't go outside without our spacesuits on. Although our suits are not real life support systems, they do mimic the bulk, weight and general awkwardness of a real suit. Figuring out how to do field research in a heavy suit with thick gloves and little peripheral vision is no picnic, but that's exactly what we're here to do.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

OK, support crew, here's the deal: one of the best things you can do to prevent me being duct-taped to the wall is to respond to these posts. It makes me feel loved. :) Besides, the simulation constraints on communication (mimicking the delay due to the time it takes for a radio signal to travel to and from Mars) mean that I won't be able to use chat, Skype, or any other real-time ways of talking with you. So, step up, people!!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Today was all about lists: personal gear to bring, team gear to ship, food to buy, things to do in case of an emergency, or a personal crisis, or a crewmember gone crazy... In the case of the latter, we will be following the NASA protocol for an "acute behavioral emergency", which calls for duct-taping said crewmember to something solid.

We have added duct tape to the emergency supplies list.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

So far, our training has been more redneck than red planet. Guns, ATVs, starting big fires (then putting them out, mind), general survival know-how... still, it'll all serve us well in the Arctic.

This evening, we sat down with a few bottles of Polygamy Porter to review video of our firearms training. It probably wasn't a coincidence that the accompanying playlist included the Dixie Chicks' song that starts "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition", as well as "America, Fuck Yeah!" from Team America. You can probably guess the tone of the event.

Oh, and we've decided to name the ATVs, or "unpressurized rovers" as they will be called when we're in simulation, our "Sim Wagons". Thanks, Chicks!

More firearms practice today. We decided some posing was in order.
I just took the most delightful shower. OK, it was just a navy shower - turn shower on, get wet, turn shower off, suds up, turn shower on, rinse off - but after a week on nothing but baby wipes, it felt fantastic. We're trying to use as little water as possible, because water on Mars will be a scarce and precious resource. The flip side is that water is essential for health, cleanliness and (last but not least) crew morale. One of the main goals of our mission is to find that critical quantity: just enough water, and not a drop more.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The crew (less Matt). I'm the one on the right, showing off my neck tendons. Robert Zubrin, in the center with the cap, is the president of the Mars Society.

Hab, sweet hab.
I'll just dive right in...

We're in the middle of nowhere, Utah, at the Mars Desert Research Station, training for an expedition to the FMARS station at the rim of Haughton Crater on Devon Island in the Canadian High Arctic, where we're going to pretend to be astronauts for four long months. Think of it as a dress rehearsal for a real manned mission to Mars, in which we can test out equipment, logistics, methods, protocols and, of course, human psychology.

I met my crewmates just a few short days ago, and am delighted - and relieved. They're all sound folk: level-headed, smart and fun. Four months in a very small (about 1000 square feet) habitat in a hostile environment, never going outside without a spacesuit, will require strong inter-personal skills and a steady personality. I hope I'm up to the standard.

We're going to Haughton Crater because it is a great Mars analog. It is dry, cold, barren of vegetation, and is an old impact crater of the kind that are common on the red planet. However, one of the ways in which it is very un-Mars-like is the large fauna - that is, polar bears. It turns out that they tend to hang out around the hab on Devon Island. Now, I like polar bears, and wish them all the best in dealing with human encroachment and climate change, but I'd rather not help them out directly as bear food. So, we're getting weapons training, just in case.

We spent the afternoon learning how to handle various kinds of firearms, and strategizing about how to avoid bears in the first instance, how to scare them off if that fails, and, as a last resort, how to shoot them. The kick from the pump-action shotgun left me with a bruised shoulder, but I do now feel like, at a pinch, I might be able to convince a polar bear to look for food elsewhere.

Then, we played with the ATVs which will serve as Mars exploration vehicles, and practiced putting out fires with extinguishers. Now we're back in the hab, listening to country music and drinking beer. It's been that kind of day.

Check out the webcams!