Friday, June 29, 2007

House/pet sitting in Hawaii??

I'm in sudden and urgent need of someone to house and dog sit for me, in Hawaii, from July 6th. Please let me know if you're interested!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Life is just like hair...

...nasty, reddish and short.

Way back in March at MDRS, Kathy enthusiastically volunteered to cut my hair this summer. I said it wouldn't happen until the words "Get this f******* thing off my head" passed my lips.

Well, that day came today.



OK, the first picture is cuter, but that's my attitude, not Kathy's handiwork. Thanks, Kathy!

Monday, June 25, 2007

There has been some clamoring for Mars Ho specific goodies. Enjoy.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Buy our stuff. You know you want to. There's even a cute little logo-wearing polar teddy bear. Who can resist that??

Friday, June 22, 2007


Yesterday was summer solstice which, below the Arctic Circle, is the longest day of the year. Here, we're in the middle of a four-month long day, so let's just call it "noon". We celebrated by leaving the window-shades off all night long, so that we could feel the full effect of the bright, bright midnight sun.

It's a transition period in many ways. Although there are still patches and occasional deep drifts of snow, there is now more brown than white in the landscape, and starting Monday, we're taking ATVs rather than snowmobiles to our sites. Our science is changing, too, from projects that were focussed on the snow and the permafrost to those that are interested in the now-uncovered rocks and the crater itself.

We're also embarking on a unique experiment: Mars time. The Martian day (or 'sol') is about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day. For the month of July, we'll be working on Mars time, so will gradually drift out of synch with all you Earthlings. Each sol, we will take several cognitive tests and keep a sleep diary, so that any physiological or psychological disruption can be detected. Because we have fairly constant daylight (clouds passing over the sun cause more light variation than the time of day), we don't have any natural cues to tell us what time it is, so any discombobulation we feel will be due to the shift itself. I expect we will feel better, if anything, thanks to the 'extra' 40 minutes in our daily schedule, but it's an important question to answer before we send astronauts to Mars to cope with it for real.

Here's the view from the hab at 10pm on the night of June 21st:

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Food News

Simon got all nostalgic for the Quebec sugar shack experience, and made maple syrup taffy in the snow:

Damn yummy. We've also figured out how to make beef stew from beef jerky, and decent scrambled eggs from dehydrated egg powder (the trick is to add enough veggies and cheese that the eggs themselves are only about 50% of the resulting mix). Last night: cheese fondue. Next up: a turkey feast for our halfway point. Mashed potatoes and gravy are no problem, stuffing and pumpkin pie should be fine, but the turkey itself... molded canned turkey? Turkey loaf? Any ideas??

Thursday, June 14, 2007

In any endeavor like ours, there will be attention from the press. Hell, we seek it. A major part of our mission is to get people to imagine, vividly, the exploration of Mars by human beings, and we’re eager to put up webcams, post blogs, and invite reporters into our lives, in the hopes that the exposure will turn minds towards that vision.

With this attention comes criticism – fair enough. How much do analog missions contribute to the goal of exploring Mars? To what extent do simulation conditions mirror those of a long term space mission? Aren’t unmanned missions to other planets just as productive as proposed manned missions, and much less risky? If not, why not? We’re asked these questions every day, and the answers are the subjects of intensive investigations, both here and at research institutions around the world.

What’s more difficult to deal with is ridicule. We’re wearing fake spacesuits and pretending to be on another planet – it’s not hard for a hack to make fun of that. Luckily, most of the journalists who spend time with us understand that we simply can’t answer the important questions about long duration space missions – what is tolerable? what isn’t? what works? what doesn’t? – without some of us looking like fools some of the time. I’m willing to sacrifice a bit of personal dignity to find the answers, but that does means laughing it off every now and then.

Oh, and my friends? You can mock me as much as you want - I'd feel neglected if you didn't!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Polar bear prints. 'nuff said.

Monday, June 11, 2007

News from the North

Since you asked... my efforts to buy a house while living at the North Pole have taken a step forward. My offer was accepted! There are still a lot of hoops to jump through (or rather, for Jen to jump through in my stead), but it's progress. It also looks like Paul, one of the advance engineering team who made the hab livable before we arrived, might help me fix up my new place, when he stops in Hawaii for a couple of weeks en route to Antarctica. Yep, he's going to both poles in one year. Nutjob.

Exciting food this week: thai 'chicken' curry with pumpkin and coconut milk, maple syrup snow taffy, and an omelet made entirely of dried or powdered ingredients, including the eggs, butter and cheese. Just add water! The only problem was that the bottom was cooked long before the top, and the oven wasn't behaving, so I finished it off with the blowtorch:

Finally, the ongoing thaw means that some of our drilling sites are becoming pretty damn muddy. For the record, mud and spacesuits don't play well together:

Thursday, June 07, 2007

I'm mmmeeeellltinnnnnngggg....

It was a sweltering eight degrees Celsius (that's 46 degrees Fahrenheit) outside yesterday morning, well above freezing. Two of the five lakes we visit regularly have melted, and there are brown patches all over the landscape. We even saw a flock of ducks flying over the crater rim - the only animal life I've seen on Devon Island, aside from the odd speck of a bird in the distance. Spring has most definitely sprung.

This isn't entirely good news. Several of our science projects are about observing changes in the permafrost during the seasonal transition, and the seasons have gotten a bit ahead of us here. We have been in a mad rush to get pre-thaw samples, and will be very busy for the next few weeks, now that the thaw is well under way. To make matters worse, the snowmobiles will be useless when the brown patches outnumber the white - but the ATVs won't be able to replace them as long as there are deep snow areas between the hab and our sample sites. We're hoping the vehicular transition period will be short.

Here's a snapshot of the temperatures so far. These are 16cm and 32cm deep in the ground, so generally colder than the air temperature. Note the very regular daily fluctuation, up until a few days ago - then everything gets messy, as the upper layers start to thaw. If you're wondering about the jump in the Trinity Lake data, we had to move the sensors there a couple of times.

It's getting toasty!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

FMARS, the movie

Several of you have pointed out that a group of seven people in enforced isolation is the standard set-up for a thriller - the kind in which the cast members get picked off, one by one, by a mysterious and terrifying menace. So, my challenge to you, friends, is to determine the order in which we will be killed, how, and why. To help you, a cast list and rough character descriptions are given below. Bonus question: who or what is the sympathy animal (i.e. the innocent creature that is threatened about a third of the way through the film to show that the danger is serious), and does he/she/it survive?

The Cast, in alphabetical order
Simon Auclair, Geologist. Unofficial titles: Water Boy, Junior. Strengths: Can handle a permafrost coring drill with aplomb, speaks French (albeit Quebecois) fluently. Weaknesses: Puppies, peanut butter, sleeping in.

Melissa Battler, Commander. Unofficial title: Skipper. Strengths: Steely gaze, looks cute in hats, can climb anything. Weaknesses: Technology tends to crash in her presence.

Matt Bamsey, Executive Officer (2nd in command). Unofficial titles: Captain Safety, Bam-Bam, Clark Kent. Strengths: Strength. Weaknesses: Too polite by half, has to burn the poo.

Kim Binsted, Chief Scientist. Unofficial titles: Chef, Simmy Kimmy. Strengths: Can make wine, cheese, bread, wireless environmental sensors. Weaknesses: LOST spoilers, Humboldt Fog (a lovely Californian ashed chevre - you should try it).

Kathryn Bywaters, Biologist. Unofficial title: Nunavut's Sweetheart. Strengths: Is actually a machine. Weaknesses: Inability to tell any of her suitors to get lost.

Ryan Kobrick, Engineer and Human Factors Researcher. Unofficial title: Comic Relief. Strengths: MacGuyver skills. Weaknesses: Never has any chewing gum.

James Harris, Chief Engineer. Unofficial title: Space Janitor. Strengths: Computers like him. Can make beer. Enjoys blowing things up. Weaknesses: Computers, beer and blowing things up don't always mix well.