Last days on Mars

The FMARS crew is back in the relative metropolis of Resolute Bay now after having spent nearly a month in near-isolation in the Mars analog environment of Devon Island. We spent our final two days at FMARS going through the Hab shutdown procedures, mainly inventory and winterizing. That includes cleaning, organizing, flushing the water lines, wrapping the generators, burning the trash, taking exit photos, and a million other tasks. The majority of my time those days was consumed burning trash in our incinerator and ferrying loads of stuff to the air strip.

We ended our formal simulation period after EVA 16 on the evening of July 26 just in time to have dinner with our neighbors at the HMP camp. It rained on us as we drove over, and two of our ATVs died due to the water. We arrived at HMP soaked and hungry. I was amused by how we all put on our best clothes and combed our hair to "go out" on our first meeting with outsiders in a month. The food and company couldn't have been better, and we even stayed to hear two talks by visiting scientists on some geology and paleontology work going on in the crater. Being out of sim meant we could now go outside freely without suffering any ill effects.

We planned three Twin Otter flights for July 28 to give people plenty of time to get back to Resolute before their scheduled July 31 departure south and appearance at the Mars Society Convention. Knowing how fickle the weather conditions can be in the Arctic, this gave us a few days padding in case the flights couldn't all go out that day. I was scheduled for the final flight since I didn't need to go south until August 1. As it turned out, we did manage to all (barely) get off Devon on July 28.

The first flight was nominally going to be at 9am, but thick fog delayed it until around 2pm, which is good because we needed everyone at the Hab to contribute to shutting it down. The girls were on the first flight along with two ATVs and other gear.

  


I set up my camera timer to take a group shot just as the Twin Otter broke through the clouds on its final approach. This is probably our best group photo from the mission. The plane even managed to get in the shot. Can you spot it?



I also managed to capture a video of the first Twin Otter landing:



Joe, Vernon, and I then had to rush back to the Hab and work fast because the next flight would be back in about one and a half hours. We took barrels of fuel and lots of trash to the air strip for the next flight. I vacuumed the Hab while Joe and Vernon flushed the water lines. I managed to sneak outside at some point and snap the last picture of me at FMARS. Before long, the flight was back, and we hurried to the runway to load our gear onto the plane. There were no passengers on this flight. The three of us would go on the final flight.



The weather progressively worsened throughout the afternoon. It was still fairly warm by Devon Island standards, but the temperature started to drop, and the fog rolled in. I took down the satellite dish so it could be stored inside over the winter. Joe and I dumped the water reservoir outside. We covered the windows with plywood and wrapped the generators with tarps. Meanwhile, Vernon took more loads of gear to the air strip.

By the time we'd finished, all of our stuff was at the runway awaiting the plane, including our satellite phones! The visibility was terrible outside, and the ceilings were much too low for flying. There was no way we'd fly out in those conditions. Vernon left on our last remaining ATV to go retrieve our sat phone and personal gear from the air strip. We had just resigned ourselves to the fact that we'd be spending a few more days in the Hab to wait out the bad weather (and would have to get more water, hook up the generator again, set up the satellite dish, etc.), when we heard the familiar roar of the powerful Twin Otter engine. I caught a glimpse of the red and white plane through the fog about half a mile away. Vernon saw it too and turned around to come get us. We both hopped on the ATV with him and rode to the airport. I snapped this photo of Joe riding in the ATV trailer as the Hab faded into the distance.

When we got to the runway, the pilot told us we were very lucky because if it had been 10 minutes later he would have turned around and decided not to land. This was about as bad as it could get for even an intrepid Twin Otter pilot. For anyone who knows anything about Twin Otter pilots, that's really saying something! Somehow, we managed to get everything on the plane and leave room for three seats. Then, we were airborne on our way back to Resolute!

     


Most of the flight all we saw were clouds, but by the time we got to Cornwallis Island, conditions improved. We were treated to a great view of Resolute Bay (now ice-free) from the plane as we were on our final approach.

  


The girls met us at the airport in Resolute and helped us unload the plane. South Camp Inn food never tasted so good. The Inn was completely booked, so we all had to share rooms, with the 3 men in one and 3 ladies in another. I don't think any of us cared because we at least had real beds and showers. To my horror, I discovered that I had forgotten my laptop power cable in the Hab back on Devon Island! I needed to catch up on my blogging but couldn't without my computer. It turned out to be a good thing, though, as it forced me to finish writing my postcards and catch up on reading. Luckily, I found someone from HMP willing to go retrieve my power adapter for me, which is how I'm able to write this post now.

We slept in the next day and spent all afternoon and evening working on our final mission summary and press release. With my laptop battery reserve ticking down, I also finished Stacy's and my videos for the Mars Society Convention since we wouldn't be there in person.

Vernon, Joe, and I did a little sightseeing today near Resolute at a nearby Thule village archaeological site. The Thule are the prehistoric ancestors of the Inuit who inhabit northern Canada. They hunted large whales and built houses out of whale bones. This particular site is thought to date from about A.D. 1400.

  


We also checked out a plane wreck near the Thule site and some ships and icebergs floating in Resolute Bay.

     


Everyone except me will fly out early tomorrow morning, but I don't leave until Saturday, August 1. I'll spend my time catching up on blogging, washing space suits, and reflecting upon the expedition (You can expect an upcoming blog post next week reflecting upon what I learned on the mission.). Plus, I heard through the grapevine that there will be a community polar bear swim on the day I leave. I've done that twice before in Alaska (once north of the Arctic Circle), but I'm always up for another adventure!

This is Brian Shiro signing off. I'll be returning to Earth shortly.
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