Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Food Update

Now that the vast blocks of orange cheddar have run out, all of our dairy must be produced by hand. Luckily, some of the easiest recipes are the most satisfying: mozzarella, yogurt, queso blanco, etc.

TVP is a challenging raw ingredient, but at least it's malleable. My most successful meal last week was a Chinese dinner with fried rice, spicy stir fried noodles and sprouts, and sweet-and-sour 'meat' balls with pineapple bits. Not bad, if I may say so myself.

We have now have an oven! It's small, so baking large batches is impossible, but I made a perfectly edible apple pie yesterday, as well as pizza:

I've also figured out ice cream - fresh snow mixed with sweetened condensed milk works very well as a base, to which you can add all sorts of flavors.

Finally, and most excitingly, the Aerogardens are now producing wonderful lettuce. The lettuce is delicious, and when combined with sprouts and sundried tomatoes, makes a fantastic salad. We really should have half a dozen Aerogardens, because a group this size could eat a lot more lettuce than two can possibly produce, but even so, some salad is much better than none!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I've been bullied by my crewmates to finally join Facebook. So, now you all need to join, too. 'Cos that's how it works. So off you go.

Go on.

You know you want to.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Factoring Humans

A large part of why we're here is to be subjects in a number of human factors experiments. The experiments are designed both to find out how humans adapt to isolation, crowding and other conditions relevant to long-term space exploration, and to explore remedies for known problems. So, we're measuring, tracking, introspecting, and filling in questionnaires all the time. It's a pain, but worth it (we hope).

Last night, I started my turn as a subject in the CASPER sleep study, which involves sticking electrodes on your chest, plugging them into the LifeShirt you're wearing, plugging the LifeShirt into a PDA, filling out a questionnaire, then having a relaxing night's sleep. Here's me getting wired before bed:

The gear was actually quite comfortable, but the idea that someone is going to be analyzing your vital signs to determine how good you are at losing consciousness can induce a bit of, well, performance anxiety. I didn't lose any sleep over it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A quick tour of the hab

For those of you who aren't webcam stalkers, here's what the hab looks like from the inside:

My room, as decorated by Kathy. Thanks, Kathy! My bed is on the left. Each room is L-shaped, so that your bed is really either the top or bottom half of a bunk. Mine's the top, which is slightly quieter (poor Kathy hears the squeaks and groans of my air mattress every time I roll over), but there is no graceful way to shimmy up the wall.

The kitchen, in all its glory. Note the excellent Aerogardens on top of the cupboard. Recent cooking successes: TVP burgers, 'beef' curry and tabouli, spaghetti and 'meat' balls, pea soup, crockpot chocolate pudding cake, and coconut/oatmeal/chocolate-chip cookies.

The lettuce is almost ready for harvest!

The view from the kitchen, back across the upstairs work area. The staterooms are on the left. Matt and Ryan are hard at work, posing.

We also have a full shelf of sprouts going (mung beans on the left, broccoli sprouts in the middle, and red clover soaking on the right). Anything for fresh veggies.

Heading downladder:

Facing south, downstairs. Mel is having a Zen moment behind the drying socks, doing yoga after her exercise session on the bike. We're subjects in a human factors study which is looking at how regular exercise affects crew psychological well-being, so we're on a pretty strict exercise program.

The EVA prep room, with suits.

The airlock. Before and after each EVA we spend five minutes in here, 'pressurizing' and 'depressurizing'.

The lab area.

En route to the shower and toilet (described, in graphic detail, in an earlier post).

Saturday, May 19, 2007

News from the North
In no particular order:

- The wind outside is 30 knots. It's eerie, because it's a beautiful sunny day, and there are no trees to bend in the wind. The only clues are the the snow flowing over the ground (the edge of the crater is a snow Niagara), the howling hab, and, of course, the -32C wind chill. Check out the movie.

- It's official: I have tenure! Wish I had some champagne...

- We have now have webcams! THRILL at the sight of me sitting at my computer!! GASP as I pause to make tea!!! WONDER as my hair gets slightly dirtier each day, then clean again on Tuesdays!!!!

- I went on my first Devon EVA yesterday, to a spot a few kilometres south of the hab, called Trinity Creek. The creek itself is frozen and invisible under the snow, but there were patches on the southern bank where we could see the yellowish sediments of the Haughton Formation, where we'll be drilling into the permafrost. The EVA went pretty well. I was nice and warm in my many layers of fleece under the suit, and kept my fingers and toes working with chemical heating pads (thanks, Dad!). The only annoyance was that my helmet kept fogging up then freezing, despite the conscientious application of defogger before heading out, making visibility really poor. The only remedy was to blow on it:

'Future' Shop Rant
So, we arrived at FMARS with $100 of printer ink (i.e. two cartridges), only to find that that both the printers are broken. Not surprising, given that printers these days are given away free with a pack of gum, and designed to last as long as the gum's minty fresh flavor.

Not to worry, there's the Internet! As long as we can get a printer to Resolute by June 1, we can get it on our next resupply flight. I found a $45 printer at the Future Shop's online store, which they were willing to ship to Res for a mere $58, and happily ordered it. Then I got the email saying that the credit card holder (i.e. me) has to call their customer service center from my billing number (i.e. my cell phone, which obviously doesn't have reception here) within three days to confirm the order.

I sent an email explaining that I'm at a remote field station, and do not have a phone. I got a friendly form saying they'd be delighted to assist me with my problem, and that I should just call their customer service center for help. I explained again, in simpler terms, and got the same response. I then sent an email that repeated "I HAVE NO PHONE. I NEED A PRINTER." five times, and got a customized (oooh) email saying sorry, but the phone is the only way to do business with the very poorly named 'Future' Shop (have any of you had to confirm an online order on the phone this millenium? I thought not).

So, we'll get the printer somewhere else. Pain in the butt. In the meantime, if any of you feel like tilting at windmills, the Future Shop's customer service number is 1-800-663-2275. Someone really should explain this Internet thing to them, for their own good.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Mars ho ho ho

According to a comment from my sister-in-law, Gill, my niece Mila has concerns:

"Mila is still wanting more explanation on the Santa angle. She gets that you're not really in space, just pretending, but can't comprehend why you would be so close to Santa and not at least have gone to see him (or his reindeer, or elves..)."

I can't confirm or deny the identity of the people in the photo below, but they certainly look like Santa and one of his elves. They're not in their traditional Christmas outfits, and the beard is a bit too brown (Maybe Santa's fur changes color, like an arctic hare's does), but the similarity is striking:

Gill, if Mila asks about the rifle, you might want to make something up. She's a little young to find out where all those stuffed animals come from...

[Note: the above is a pre-sim image, from a week or so ago.]

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Sim Day 1

Although we have been working under most of the sim constraints since May 1, today was our first day of full sim. Some of the crew spent last night phoning (on Skype) and chatting with with friends and family (sychronous communications aren't allowed under sim rules); others (including myself) decided it was exactly the wrong time to be thinking about the joys of home, and focussed instead on getting mentally ready for an unusual summer. At 11pm, we went out in what felt like a very cold (-16C) overcast afternoon, to sit on the edge of the crater and feel the air on our skin for the last time in a long while. We passed around a bottle of, um, freeze-resistant distilled water and contemplated the future. Then the sledding and snow-wrestling started.

Having got that out of our systems, we set about sim with gusto this morning. Kathy spent a lot of time setting up her lab, the engineering team tidied the rest of downstairs, and we started to plan out the EVAs. We also had a thorough look at the suits, and found a bit of a mold problem in the packs - nothing that bleach and boiling water can't cure!

I also started some more friendly organisms culturing in the yogotherm, which will hopefully give us some lovely sour cream for tomorrow.

Our crew photo, taken yesterday. Yes, it really was that cold. Guess which one is me!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

My new favorite TLA: TVP, for "Textured Vegetable Protein". There is a lot of debate about what foods are sim-kosher (Are canned foods too heavy? Would we be able to bring tilapia, chickens or even miniature goats? etc.), but TVP is as sim as sim gets. It's basically dry processed soy which, when cooked in water, turns into something vaguely meatish, kind of like a cross between shredded wheat and dog food. Today I tackled TVP for the first time, and the crew said the results were not quite as bad as expected.

TVP Curry (serves 7)
4 tbsp duck fat (vegetarians should use something less gorgeously yummy)
1 onion, chopped (this was one of the last of our fresh onions, but I think dried would work almost as well)
2 c beef flavored TVP
1 tbsp beef Bovril
1 c dried broccoli
2 cans whole baby carrots
2 cans mixed vegetables (big chunks if possible)
3 tbsp green curry paste
1/2 c dried coconut
1 can chili (this was leftovers, you could also just add some beans and tomato paste)

Prep the dry stuff: mix the dry ingredients (TVP, broccoli, and coconut) separately with equal amounts of water, and nuke each for five minutes. Meanwhile, saute the onions in the duck fat until translucent. Add the green curry paste and saute for a minute more. Add everything else. Cook until the flavors have blended. Serve with rice, salad and a nice rare steak.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Today is my birthday, so I had a shower! It was a simple process:

1. Gather snow.
2. Fill and light the large propane heater.
3. Melt the snow on the heater.
4. Carry the water up two sets of ladders to the water reservoir.
5. Repeat steps 1-4 until the reservoir is full enough to support the water needs of the hab plus your shower.
6. Turn on the propane tank in the shower room.
7. Turn on the heater that warms the pipes under the shower, so that the drain doesn't get blocked by ice.
8. Turn on the valves on the pipes.
9. Turn on the hot tap in the shower just a little. If you don't, step 10 might cause a steam explosion.
10. Light the propane torch.
11. Light the inline heater.
12. Turn off the propane torch.
13. Get naked, fast.
14. Turn on the shower.
15. Get wet.
16. Turn off the shower, except for that explosion-avoiding trickle.
17. Suds up.
18. Turn on shower.
19. Rinse off.
20. Turn off the inline heater.
21. Turn off the shower.
22. Dry off, fast.
23. Turn off the pipe heater.
24. Turn off the valves.
25. Put on your dirty clothes.

OK, I'll admit that Simon did the bulk of steps 1-5, but it's still quite a process.

Here's me making my share of 'snow soup':

Sunday, May 06, 2007

This intriguing item is the recently constructed 'feminine urinal':

If that doesn't hurt your imagination sufficiently, consider that it is a significant improvement over the previous system, which involved a bucket, a funnel, and a device called a 'Lady Jane'.

All this is in support of our goal of keeping our impact on the Arctic environment to a minimum. Any waste we can't burn, we must collect and take out with us. Hence, the feminine urinal. So now you know.
First injury on Mars! And yes, it was mine.

So, we love the breadmaker. Twice-daily fresh bread goes a long way towards compensating for our culinary deprivations. The only problem is, it is a breadmaker with a one track mind, and if it gets derailed by, say, a power down so that we can change the oil in the generator, we end up with a ball of dough and no oven to cook it in. I've made pan bread with this dough in the past, but today, I decided to try to turn raisin bread dough into jam rolls.

It was all going very well - I had rolled out the dough, spread it with jam, rolled it, cut it, put it in the pan and let it rise again. Problem is, the pan is a plug-in electric skillet, which isn't really ideal for this kind of thing. I did my best, but the bottom of the buns still ended up getting burnt. The tops still tasted fine, so I took a sharp knife and set about cutting of the burnt bits.

And cut off a bit of my finger instead. Sigh.

OK, I'll do my best to stop obsessing about food now. Next topic: toilets!
Check out Ryan's video of the fetching of the snow for the margaritas. Note that there was already a barrel full of snow inside, ready to be melted for fresh water, but the guys felt that that wasn't a manly enough source.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

For Cinco de Mayo, The Devon Island Margarita:

Lime Juice
Fresh snow
No tequila whatsoever, oh no, because we definitely weren't allowed to bring that

The past few days have been sunny and cold, but today was windy and bloody cold: -20 degrees celsius and 20 knot winds, adding up to -35C with wind chill. I decided it was a nice day to think about science indoors. Paul went outside in his utilikilt, because he is certifiable (Matt is sensibly dressed in a fur-lined parka):

Friday, May 04, 2007

I've added some more pictures to earlier posts, so please do scroll down and have a look!
We're still working hard to get everything ready for the start of the simulation, although really, we're mostly 'in sim' already: we're in a small hab in a remote location, dealing with the challenges of living in a hostile environment. We're not wearing the EVA suits yet, but the many layers of insulation necessary in the cold are almost as bulky and restrictive!

I've taken over the kitchen, whether anyone wants me to or not. The meals have been good so far, although our remaining non-sim ingredients (potatoes and onions) have played an important role. Last night, we did our best to make Simon feel at home with a Quebecois meal: pseudo-poutine (fried potatoes with gravy and cheese), Montreal smoked meat, and fried onions with mushrooms. Not exactly low fat, but hey, we need the blubber for insulation.

A challenge for my foodie friends: Potato latkes made with instant mashed potatoes. Recipes please!
May 2nd

Our last night in Resolute, April 30th, was far from restful. In addition to packing and other last-minute scurrying, I had to prepare a presentation for Computer Human Interaction (CHI) 2007, one of the biggest conferences in my field. The original plan had been to stream live video from FMARS, but the advance team says that the bandwidth is currently way too low (4200 baud) to even consider it. They hope to have the higher-speed connection up soon, but I couldn’t count on it being ready in time, so I was up until 4:30am preparing a powerpoint with voiceover, which I sent off before hitting the sack for a brief sleep.

At 7:30am, we were at the Polar Continental Shelf Project facility at the airport, loading up the Twin Otter with as much of our gear as the plane could take. There have already been several flights out to the island carrying supplies and the advance team, and there will be several more, but it’s important to make every flight count.

The flight was only about one hour, over a landscape of nothing but white. The first sight of the hab was very exciting! We buzzed it once, so that Paul and James knew to take the snowmobiles out to meet us, then came in to land. When the skis hit the airstrip, the snow splashed up like water, and we quickly slid to a stop. Here we're unloading 600lbs of boxes onto sleds pulled by snowmobiles:

The rest of the day was spent lugging boxes. The advance team has done a wonderful job getting everything ship-shape, but there was a LOT to move in and set up. By the time hit the sack in the bright light of midnight, we were exhausted. I slept for 13 hours, and wasn’t the last one up by far!

The next day was a bit more relaxed, largely because no one but the advance team was up before noon. I ‘presented’ at CHI, and answered questions via the sat phone – seemed to go well. I also set up the Aerogardens with their lettuce kits, started the sprouts and got the breadmaker working – all essentials for the gastronomic happiness of the crew. I’m particularly excited about the Aerogardens. With any luck, we’ll have lovely fresh salad greens in a few weeks!

Some shots of the area around the hab: