Updates! Updates!

First: the Phoenix Lander is descending on Mars this evening, a little before 8pm (Eastern). Watch it and learn more here.

Second: I’m going adventuring from the Arctic to the Antarctic for the next nine months. Read about it at xyzena.com


This amused me maybe more than it should’ve last night. Here are the TV channels currently working in my room:

6 – NASA channel

7 – NASA channel

8 – NASA channel

9 – NASA channel

10 – NASA channel

13 – CSPAN

30 – Weather Channel

58 – PBS

68 – Comedy Central

70 – Discovery Channel

74 – National Geographic

79 – SciFi

98 – NASA channel

It’s like they’ve customized television, just for me! The best part? There is something different on every single one of those NASA channels. This is possibly the best cable package I’ve ever seen.

I’m off to explore Ames for an hour before my meetings start. GIFT SHOP, HERE I COME.

I feel obliged to write in this blog for the first time in more than three months … because I’m hanging out at NASA right now! I am in California, at NASA Ames. They flew me out to meet the folks I’ll be working with this summer. There’s not too much to say yet, since I just got here. I’m staying at the NASA Lodge, in Bldg. 19, which is this weird dorm/barracks thing. As far as I can tell, the Lodge hasn’t been redecorated since the 1970s.  The guy at the front desk was wearing a NASA baseball hat and playing World of Warcraft.  No surprises there, I guess.   I can’t wait to go exploring in the daylight. For now, all I can tell is that my window looks out on an enormous blimp hangar (NASA’s famous “Hangar One” … which, incidentally, has been used a few times in episodes of MythBusters).

historic airship hangar at NASA Ames

Goodbye Hab

Late last night Crew 64 arrived: an Australian, two Americans, a Canadian, a Jamaican, and a Norwegian (all a good bit older than my crew).  I felt uncontrollably defensive.  After seeing only the same five people all day, every day, for two weeks, having anyone else there felt very wrong.  The fact that they would be taking our hab from us didn’t help matters, either. 

This morning we awoke before dawn to the theme from 2001:  A Space Odyssey, just like we did on our first morning.  The next three hours were spent frantically training Crew 64 on all the operations of the hab before taking the crew changeover photo out front.  We packed up and headed out for Salt Lake City (though not after saying goodbye to The Don).  Not long after we left the desert, we hit a serious snowstorm in the mountains.

I am skipping the part where I said goodbye to my crew.

My flight is early tomorrow morning.  I’m at my hotel in Salt Lake, and looking forward to a hot shower (which I expect will equate to more water than I’ve used, total, in the last two weeks).

This has been the best two weeks I can remember.

Travel is a strange feeling.  This time yesterday I was watching the last episode of Firefly with my crew.  Tomorrow I’ll be with my family, and about 36 hours from now I’ll be back at school in Chapel Hill.

Thanks to all of you for sharing this experience with me. 

To my crew:  You are what made these two weeks so incredible.  In case bawling my eyes out three times today wasn’t enough of a clue, I’ll miss you all like crazy.  See you again soon, and always remember what she said…

Goodbye, Mars.  I’ll be back.

Over My Head

Nobody likes to feel useless or inexpert. I have a long way to go before I am neither … an insight I have most certainly gained from my experience at MDRS. Some of my crew mates have proven to be prodigious engineers and multidisciplinary whizzes. I’ve always advocated having a wide range of skills. I can hold my own in a genetics laboratory or on the athletic field, and I’ve accrued a respectable level of ability in music and poetry. When it comes to “real life skills,” though, I’m pretty far behind, considering I want to be an astronaut.

Engineering, for example, is something I’ve never gotten into, and something I really ought to get into. Computers, basic construction, engines, and the likes are still foreign territory to me. My list of useful things to do before I graduate college also includes getting a ham (amateur) radio license and a private pilot’s license. It probably wouldn’t hurt for me to learn some more geology, physics, astronomy ….

I’ve enjoyed getting a feel for how the hab runs, and I’m glad I abandoned my trivial biology endeavors here to follow around some of the engineers. I’d never so much as touched a generator before this adventure, or even checked the oil of any engine, for that matter. Last night I spent some time with the toilet (which is still not quite fixed), and today I had some close encounters with the grey water system. “Grey water” is basically the stuff that goes down the kitchen drain, which is then pumped into the GreenHab (our greenhouse) and then cycled through a number of filters before being used to flush the toilet (if the poor little thing ever gets the chance to flush again). Pretty cool, actually.

Long story short, I’ll be coming back to school revamped and ready to dump more information than ever into my tiny little skull.

Tomorrow is our last full day here. After scrambling to finish up a couple projects, we might take a field trip out into the wilderness. Crew 64 should be arriving sometime after 5pm, and we’ll get until noon-ish the next day to train them and say goodbye to our pod-home in the desert. I’m not ready to part with this place, or with these people.

I probably won’t be updating this blog tomorrow, for the sake of enjoying the last hours with my crew. Stay tuned for the final chapter of my trip to Mars, and a heap of photos. (See you soon, Mom and Dad … let’s hope my plane takes off this time!)

Hab Habits

Today the whole crew donned the suits for a six-person EVA. It was mostly just a desert frolic-turned-photo shoot. I’m hoping before the end of my stay here the group will have a chance to head out to the fossil fields about a kilometer to the east.mdrs

With the spacesuit on, it’s easy to trick myself into thinking I’m actually on Mars. Not that the suits are particularly high-tech, but they do their job. As awesome as it would be to run around Utah wearing a legitimate suit, they’re a tad expensive (thousands of bucks)! After all, we are (though I hate to admit it) still on Earth, so there’s no need for pressurized suits with fancy-pants regulatory systems. At MDRS, the idea is more to simulate how cumbersome normal tasks can be in a suit, and these suits certainly accomplish that.

We are all beginning to get very tired. As a crew, we have to be completely self-sufficient, which means there’s a lot to do besides the science and engineering projects we came for. Every four hours the generator has to be refueled (even in the middle of the night), we have to make our own bread, fix our own toilet, etc. … Thank goodness for my crew mates, or I would not have made it. Between them, they’ve built an impressive resume of cookin’ and fixin’.

It’s hard to believe I only have four days left here. I’ve just gotten it figured out.

New Year’s Eve, I thought about counting down to midnight like this:

10… 9… 8… 7… 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… BLASTOFF!

But then I decided that’d be a little too corny. Even for me.

Here is a blog post full of non sequitur:

We got up this morning to watch the first sunrise of the year from Radio Ridge, but managed to miss it. We’ll try again tomorrow … get outside extra early. The ISS will be passing overhead again, too, this time when the sky is still dark.

We have almost finished the skirt around the hab, to keep the wind out from underneath it. I got to play with saws today.

Jeff has only one lung.

The crew has really bonded by now. MDRS has been, at least for me, even more of a social experiment than scientific. Group dynamics are critical in any long-duration mission … imagine being stuck on a spaceship for six months en route to Mars! Ten days is hardly a drop in the six-month bucket, but I’ve been amazed how well complete strangers have not only gotten along, but really worked as a team, and enjoyed doing it.

I’ve sort-of abandoned biology here for the time being. I collected some soil samples on an EVA, which will be analyzed in the lab, but I’ve been much more interested in doing practical things around the hab. Being around these engineers has been an inescapable reminder of how much I don’t know.

The Don came to visit us today. It’s supposed to be close to 0 degrees F … and he was wearing short sleeves!

For fun, we’ve been watching Firefly, and having bad pun tournaments. Tonight we’ve opened a new can of worms: rewriting Chuck Norris jokes, replacing Chuck with “The Don” …