"Resolute is not the end of the world, but you can see it from here."

That's how the saying goes in Canada's second most northern community Resolute Bay. The town of approximately 260 people rests on the south coast of Cornwallis Island, just to the west of Devon Island, where FMARS is located. It takes its names from the ship HMS Resolute, which was stranded in the ice here in 1854. Later, an American whaling ship found the Resolute adrift near Baffin Island and towed it back to Queen Victoria in England. She then had a desk fashioned from the ship's timbers and gave it to President Hayes in 1880, and to this day most US Presidents have used that desk in the Oval Office or their private study.

Today, Resolute is a jumping-off point for expeditions to the north pole, and it harbors a Canadian government scientific research station called the Polar Continental Shelf Program. It boasts one school and one co-op store. The Inuit people here are called Qausuittuq, and they make their living supporting various expeditions, airport operations, construction projects, hunting, and fishing. The name of the settlement in their language Inuktitut is Qausuittuq, which means “the place with no dawn.”
The wait is finally over. NASA has announced a new crop of nine astronaut candidates ("ascans") to join the astronaut corps in Houston. Among them is friend of this blog Captain Jack Fischer, who has twice written guest blog posts on his astronaut interview experience and his passion for space. Congratulations to Jack and the other eight deserving selectees. I've excerpted descriptions of the new ascans from NASA's press release below:

Serena M. Auñón, 33, of League City, Texas; University of Texas Medical Branch-Wyle flight surgeon for NASA’s Space Shuttle, International Space Station and Constellation Programs; born in Indianapolis, Ind. Auñón holds degrees from The George Washington University, University of Texas Health Sciences Center in Houston, and UTMB. (Auñón's JSC bio.)

Jeanette J. Epps, 38, of Fairfax, Va.; technical intelligence officer with the Central Intelligence Agency; born in Syracuse, N.Y. Epps holds degrees from LeMoyne College and the University of Maryland. (Epps' JSC bio.)

Jack D. Fischer, Major U.S. Air Force, 35, of Reston, Va.; test pilot; U.S. Air Force Strategic Policy intern (Joint Chiefs of Staff) at the Pentagon; born in Boulder, Colo. Fischer is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (Fischer's JSC bio.)

Michael S. Hopkins, Lt. Colonel U.S. Air Force, 40, of Alexandria, Va.; special assistant to the Vice Chairman (Joint Chiefs of Staff) at the Pentagon; born in Lebanon, Mo. Hopkins holds degrees from the University of Illinois and Stanford University. (Hopkins' JSC bio.)

Kjell N. Lindgren, 36, of League City, Texas; University of Texas Medical Branch-Wyle flight surgeon for NASA’s Space Shuttle, International Space Station and Constellation Programs; born in Taipei, Taiwan. Lindgren has degrees from the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado State University, University of Colorado, the University of Minnesota, and UTMB. (Lindgren's JSC bio.)

Kathleen (Kate) Rubins, 30, of Cambridge, Mass.; born in Farmington, Conn.; principal investigator and fellow, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at MIT and conducts research trips to the Congo. Rubins has degrees from the University of California-San Diego and Stanford University. (Rubins' JSC bio.)

Scott D. Tingle, Commander U.S. Navy, 43, of Hollywood, Md.; born in Attleboro, Mass.; test pilot and Assistant Program Manager-Systems Engineering at Naval Air Station Patuxent River. Tingle holds degrees from Southeastern Massachusetts University (now University of Massachusetts Dartmouth) and Purdue University. (Tingle's JSC bio.)

Mark T. Vande Hei, Lt. Colonel U.S. Army, 42, of El Lago, Texas; born in Falls Church, Va.; flight controller for the International Space Station at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, as part of U.S. Army NASA Detachment. Vande Hei is a graduate of Saint John’s University and Stanford University. (Vande Hei's JSC bio.)

Gregory R. (Reid) Wiseman, Lt. Commander U.S. Navy, 33, of Virginia Beach, Va.; born in Baltimore; test pilot; Department Head, Strike Fighter Squadron 103, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, based out of Oceana Virginia. Wiseman is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Johns Hopkins University. (Wiseman's JSC bio.)

Buzz Aldrin wrote a very moving commentary today on CNN.com that I just had to reproduce for this blog's readers. It's all about how our space program, while achieving great things in the 40 years since Apollo, has failed to inspire the public with a worthy goal. Aldrin argues convincingly that the space program's focus should be "homesteading Mars," and I wholeheartedly agree. How we can get to Mars using existing technology and a scant few tens of billions of dollars is the subject of Robert Zubrin's seminal book The Case for Mars, which also happens to be the guiding inspiration to all of The Mars Society's activities, including FMARS. I'll let Aldrin's words speak for themselves below:

I've made it to Resolute Bay, but the journey up here was a small adventure itself.

When I entered Calgary, my passport was flagged, and I had to go speak with an immigration agent who subsequently asked me all kinds of questions about my previous trips to Canada. (Having a name change on my passport only confuses matters more.) He wanted to know why I had been denied entry once back in 2001. I explained it was due to a scientific experiment paperwork misunderstanding that was cleared up the next day (although I think the real reason was because one member of our group was an Iraqi-American). The agent also wanted to know why I still had a piece of paper stapled to my passport from my 2-month 2005 stay in Vancouver for ISU. I said I just left it there because an immigration agent had put it there. He removed it. I didn’t dare tell him about my crossing into BC and Yukon without any passport whatsoever during the 1999 JIRP expedition.

From Edmonton northward, one of the most major airlines is First Air, and I was really blown away by their service and amenities. Stepping on the 737 in Edmonton, I knew right away it was going to be an atypical flying experience.
In a few hours I'll leave sunny Hawaii and start my northward journey to Devon Island. First, I'll stop over with family in Oregon for a couple of days and then head up to Resolute Bay via Edmonton-Yellowknife. I'll be in Resolute for two days before the rest of the crew will join me. In that time, I'll check equipment and prepare for the mission, with particular emphases on testing our satellite internet dish and test-driving the ATVs we will take to FMARS. The map below illustrates my path and the easterly route my crew mates will take. Earlier in the mission planning, we had explored the option of chartering one plane to take all of the crew and gear from Denver to Resolute Bay, but that proved impractical, so we'll be flying on commercial airlines.

The first group to inhabit FMARS for a 4-week-long mission was the 2003 crew. They were the eighth crew to call FMARS home; Crew 7 had been there in 2002, and Crews 1-6 built the simulated Mars habitat in 2001. The following is a 34-minute documentary on the FMARS-8 Mission in 2003. It is reproduced in four segments of approximately 8-9 minutes each with the permission of the mission's commander Dr. Steve McDaniel. The video gives a very good overview of what a FMARS mission is all about.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my FMARS training activities such as shotgun and ATV practice. Since then, it's been a nonstop marathon to prepare for the arctic adventure. This includes not only all of the logistical planning but also fund raising and purchasing gear. The preparations are building to a crescendo now in the final days before we all depart.

Last weekend was the first opportunity for all six crew members to meet each other, Dr. Zubrin, and The Mars Society volunteers who will serve as our mission support. We also met with a representative of the production company that plans on filming our arctic adventure. The FMARS crew spent Saturday and Sunday at Pioneer Astronautics near Denver to discuss critical issues related to our expedition. The picture to the right shows myself, Joe Palaia (Executive Officer), and Vernon Kramer (Commander) posing with a prototype Mars aircraft ("gas hopper") in the Pioneer Astronautics lab. A press release outlining this meeting, which will be soon be on The Mars Society website, is reproduced below:

FMARS 2009 crew attends pre-mission briefing at Pioneer Astronautics

Lured by the call of arctic adventure, the six crew members of FMARS Expedition XII met in Denver over the weekend of June 13-14. Robert Zubrin conducted their pre-mission briefing, which also included discussions with an incredible staff of Mars Society volunteers who will provide critical mission support. Several crew members described this first face-to-face meeting as “inspiring.” As they delved into planning and operational aspects of the upcoming expedition and the many intricate details needed to make it a success, they also laid the groundwork for the most critical component: teamwork. Zubrin addressed questions and discussed details about Devon Island, mission safety, habitat operations, EVA procedures, and other mission constraints. The crew also shopped for critical supplies, shared their first meals together, and compared notes on their experiences thus far. All attendees left the Denver meeting looking forward to the challenges of conducting their research this July under strict Mars-simulated conditions.

Pictured from left to right: Robert Zubrin, Vernon Kramer, Brian Shiro, Stacy Cusack, Brian Enke, Kristine Ferrone, Joseph Palaia, Christy Garvin

The 2009 FMARS crew will bring many exciting research projects to Devon Island, including the Tandem Aerial and Ground Geological Survey (TAGGS), the Portable All-in-one Seismic Station Testing for Astronauts (PASSTA), Time-domain Electromagnetic Groundwater Survey (TEGS), Class IV Laser Therapy, DEtection of Water with COsmic Rays (DEWCOR), and a LIDAR investigation. Other activities include simulating the emergency response of a Mars base crew and field testing various GPS instruments, cameras, MIT Mission Planner software and the Omega Envoy prototype lunar rover. Media and outreach activities will include a series of video Q&A sessions with student groups in Florida and Georgia.

The FMARS website at www.fmars.org will soon contain a full description of these projects, along with a list of generous sponsors.

I'll write more on the research projects in future posts. Some of the acronyms shown above are just place holders, so if you have better ideas, please let me know.

One of the other things I did while in the Denver area was receive training for the geoelectrical portion of my FMARS research. I met with someone from the USGS who showed me the ropes on the Geonics PROTEM-TEM47 system, which is what I'll be using to search for groundwater while on Devon Island. Low frequency electromagnetic exploration methods such as this have been targeted for use on Mars, so this work will help answer how well astronauts could perform such surveys. The picture here shows me with the PROTEM receiver.

When I got back home to Hawaii, the Nanometrics Trillium Compact seismic system was waiting for me, so I've been learning how it works over the past week.
Today we are privileged to have an inspiring post from guest blogger Major Jack Fischer, who also happens to be one of the astronaut finalists eagerly awaiting word from NASA on his selection. Enjoy!
The Japanese lunar orbiter with the impressive HDTV camera has met its end as mission controllers guided it to the surface for a planned impact in a shaded region near Gill Crater at approximately 89°S, 266°E (In a June 11 press release, JAXA showed the impact site location.). As it approached the moon, Kaguya took a series of still images, which are available in the June 19 JAXA press release or in the animated sequence I created from them below:

The LTVT wiki has collected a lot of information on the impact itself. Jeremy Baily and Steve Lee observed the impact from the Anglo-Australian 3.9m Telescope at Siding Spring, New South Wales, Australia. You can learn more on their webpage, or take a look at their image showing the impact in a sequence of four frames:

More stunning lunar images from Kaguya are available in the mission's image archive.

In other lunar news, the Lunar Reconnassiance Orbitor (LRO) had a successful launch yesterday from Cape Canaveral aboard an Atlas V. The LRO objectives are to finding safe landing sites, locate potential resources, characterize the radiation environment, and demonstrate new technology. It is the first in a series of new lunar missions NASA has planned to pave the way for its return to the Moon.

On the astronaut front, readers may be interested in a recent The Launch Pad post on one of ESA's new astronauts Samantha Cristoforetti.

I've been keeping very busy preparing for my trip to FMARS. I leave in five days. Last weekend, the crew met each other for the first time in Denver for a marathon mission planning weekend. Once the press release from that comes out, you can expect another post here. If anyone wants to help me pay for the expedition to an analog Mars, please surf on over to my chipin page.

The question we're all eager to have answered is when will NASA announce the 2009 class of astronaut candidates. The Astronaut Selection Office's timeline has listed "April 2009" as the timeframe for the announcement since it was originally posted in October 2007. Since about mid-2008, all indications from NASA were that the announcement would be in May rather than April 2009, and that is how I reported it in the updated timeline that I compiled.

June 8 update: NASA has updated its timeline and now says the new astronauts will be announced in June 2009. This likely supercedes the speculation presented below that the announcement may take longer. Note that I fixed a typographical error in the paragraph above that said August but was supposed to say April.

Until recently, I thought May was going to be the big month for new astronaut announcements, with Europe, Canada, and NASA releasing their picks. Indications now are that the names of the selectees will be released later. How much later is open to some speculation. Over the past couple of weeks, rumors have surfaced that NASA plans to make the big announcement sometime in June. I hope this is the case, but some recent developments lead me to question whether the big news will slip even further behind schedule.
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