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The Social Tsunami

2/28/2010 03:30:00 PM

The past day and a half has passed in a blur of activity responding to the Chile earthquake and Pacific tsunami. I was awake for 40 hours working almost nonstop at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) and only took a small break for about two hours on Saturday afternoon. The total elapsed time from our first to last tsunami bulletins was 27 hours - a record long event for us. It may have been exhausting, but it was rewarding work knowing that something I was doing was making a difference. This was, after all, the first Pacific-wide tsunami warning since 1964!  Below is a photo of one of our displays in the operations center showing estimated tsunami travel time contours just before the tsunami was due to strike Japan:


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Location: Ewa, HI, USA

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Russia shortlists 11 for 520-day simulation of Mars mission

2/26/2010 05:40:00 PM

If you think my 30- and 14-day simulated Mars missions were interesting, you should check out the Mars500 program, which is a collaboration between Russia and Europe to study the physiological and psychological issues associated with a long duration spaceflight mission to Mars. They had a 105-day mission with a crew last year and are narrowing down their crew selection for a 520-day mission. The latest press release is below. Note that one of the finalists Diego Urbina is a fellow ISU graduate and MDRS participant. He was on MDRS Crew 88 just prior to my mission there, so I got to meet him when I arrived at MDRS. Good luck to Diego and all of the other finalists!

Russia's Institute of Medical and Biological Problems announced on Thursday the names of 11 volunteers on the shortlist to take part in a 520-day simulation of an expedition to Mars, a spokesman said.

The 11 candidates will complete basic spaceflight training and in spring six of them will be chosen to take part in the experiment, which will simulate all aspects of a journey to the Red Planet, with a 250-day outward trip, a 30-day stay on its surface, and a 240-day return flight.

The basic requirements for volunteers were that they be aged 25-50, have a higher education, and speak Russian and English.

During nearly two years of isolation, the crew members will experience many of the conditions likely to be encountered by astronauts on a real space flight, except for radiation and weightlessness.

The mission simulation is scheduled to begin in late April.

The shortlist includes five Russian engineers: 44-year-old Boris Yegorov, 30-year-old Andrei Zhirnov, 32-year-old Alexander Sukhov, 37-year-old Mikhail Sidelnikov and 38-year-old Alexei Sitev. Two Russian doctors, surgeon Sukhrob Kamolov, 32, and general practitioner Alexander Smolevsky, 33, were also chosen.

The foreign candidates are 34-year-old Archanmael Gaillard from France, Belgian Jerome Clevers, 30, Italian Diego Urbina, 27, and 27-year-old Wang Yue from China.

The institute has already held a 105-day experiment to simulate a flight to Mars, which ended last July. Six people - four Russians and two Europeans - spent over three months in a lab that simulated life on board a spaceship.

MOSCOW, February 25 (RIA Novosti)


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Location: Moscow, Russia

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A Traveler's Guide to the Planets

2/13/2010 12:39:00 AM

What are you doing for Valentine's Day? How about a romantic getaway to breathtaking canyons on Mars? You won't even need your passport.

The National Geographic Channel's 3-day, 6-part mini series A Traveler's Guide to the Planets starts tomorrow February 14. Each one hour episode will feature stunning images and the latest animations up close and personal with our planetary neighbors.  Below is the schedule for the NGC mini series event and a video clip from the Mars episode:




The series also includes interviews with NASA experts in planetary analog environments that provide valuable insights into what a trip to another planet might be like. For example, here is what Steve Squyres has to say about Mars:

"Would I like to go to Mars? Oh in a heart beat. Absolutely. If there was any way for me to go to Mars I wouldn’t be screwing around with robots, I would want to go myself … The visual experience that you get from looking at the rovers’ pictures is intentionally like what you would get if you were looking out the visor of your helmet and a space suit on Mars."

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MDRS Summary

2/06/2010 10:17:00 PM

My second mission to "Mars" is now history. I think my first command experience went well, and it was truly a privilege to serve with such a fine crew. Below is the Executive Summary from our mission summary report. It'll also be a Mars Society press release later this week.

MDRS MISSION 89 REACHES SUCCESSFUL CONCLUSION

The 89th expedition to the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) returned to Earth today having successfully completed a two-week mission in a Mars analog environment. MDRS is located in a visually stunning, geologically rich area of the Utah desert that affords an excellent opportunity to learn how science investigations can be conducted by an isolated, self-sufficient human crew.

Through the 14-day mission, the international crew transitioned from an assortment of near strangers to an efficient, compatible, coherent team. They learned not only how to conduct operations in the remote setting but also how to live and work in the very cramped quarters of MDRS. Their research goals spanned a gamut of areas, and they discovered almost immediately that their diverse skills and backgrounds formed a complementary union. Crew 89 tackled a diverse collection of projects including astronomy, biology, geophysics, geology, image geolocation, engineering, and public outreach.

Over the course of the formal Mars mission simulation, the crew completed 20 extra vehicular activities (EVAs) in a total elapsed EVA time of 40 hrs, traveling a total distance of 130 km. This translates into a cumulative in simulation crew time of 113 man-hours and a distance of 326 km. On each MDRS Crew 89 EVA, a crewmember wore a Garmin Forerunner GPS and heart rate monitor system to gather concurrent geographic and physiological data. Crewmembers also captured geotagged photos using a Nikon Coolpix P6000 GPS-enabled camera. These technologies allowed the crew to easily combine their EVA ground tracks and photos and share the EVA experiences with the public as georeferenced slideshows via the website EveryTrail.com.

Multiple snowfalls impinged on outdoor EVA operations and limited the visibility and accessibility of features of interest. However, the crew adapted ably to this challenge, devoting a series of EVAs to building confidence for operating in the snowy field conditions. This effort culminated in a simulated rescue operation that employed a home-built sled to successfully tow an “injured” crewmember back to the Hab.

Commander Brian Shiro led two EVAs to complete a seismic refraction profile to image a putative buried inverted channel on Mid Ridge Planitia using equipment generously on loan from Exploration Instruments, LLC. He was also a subject in a study to gauge knee fabric abrasion on the prototype NDX-2 Mars spacesuit developed by the University of North Dakota’s Space Suit Laboratory.

Crew Astronomer Mike Moran led three EVAs that served to double the height of the radio telescope, increasing its sensitivity for observing radio emissions from Jupiter. After hours of listening to the radio hum from the telescope, he confirmed a positive detection radio bursts from the gas giant.

Crew Biologist Luís Saraiva collected endolithic algae samples from a variety of different locations and studied the organisms in the MDRS lab. Similar extremophile organisms could exist in endolithic environments on Mars. He also collaborated with Crew Engineer Darrel Robertson in a water quality study of the Hab’s gray water recycling system.

Crew Geologist Kiri Wagstaff explored sedimentary structures in Olympus Mons and Valles Marineris, and measured a stratigraphic section at the Lowell North Sedimentary Outcrop. She also investigated the use of statistical image analysis methods to automatically assign latitude and longitude coordinates to digital images by comparing them to a database of previously geolocated images.

Crew Engineer Darrel Robertson built upon the accomplishments of Crew 88 and was able to bring the remaining MDRS Hab systems up to a fully operational state. He also designed, built, and tested an efficient water recycling shower aimed at reducing water consumption. With Crew Biologist Saraiva, he analyzed bacteria counts in water samples at every stage of the process to assure the water met safe bathing standards.

Executive Officer Carla Haroz coordinated and tracked the crew’s daily activities and participated in all of the other crewmembers’ research studies. She also worked feats of culinary magic with the restricted food options available, inventing several new meals and some especially innovative, delectable, desserts.

Despite their busy research schedule, the crew found time for recreation too. Since Mars explorers must exercise to combat the physiological deconditioning associated with low gravity conditions, Crew 89 also scheduled and executed several group exercise sessions (stretching calisthenics, Jazzercise and Capoeira) led by crewmembers Wagstaff and Saraiva. On several occasions, they watched movies and played games too. Crew Engineer Robertson used his artistic skills to create a MDRS version of the Clue board game, which is now available at the Hab for future crews to enjoy. By laughing and joking together, the crew’s partaking in these activities served as both stress relievers and means to improve group cohesiveness.

Throughout the mission, Crew 89 maintained a vibrant, active public presence via a dynamic website that include daily blog posts, Twitter updates, YouTube videos, and a Facebook group. The website also included summary maps and links to georeferenced photos for all EVAs (1-10, 11-20). Their website serves as a shining example of what is possible when a crew devotes itself to quality public outreach despite limitations of time and bandwidth. Although the mission is now over, the crew will continue to post updates as they analyze and present results from their MDRS research endeavors. Please follow the adventure at:

http://www.wkiri.com/mdrs_crew89/

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Location: Mars Desert Research Station, Hanksville, UT 84775, USA

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EVA Experience

2/05/2010 11:15:00 PM

NASA's future plans may be in flux, but the MDRS Crew 89 expedition's future is a certainty.  We'll return to Earth tomorrow.

After our morning crew briefing, Mike and I drove the pressurized rover to Hanksville to pick up three temporary crewmembers.  Amnon Govrin and his twin sons spent the morning at MDRS learning about it and our mission.  They got to witness all of EVA 19's pre- and post- EVA procedures and in between, Amnom inverviewed us about life on analog Mars.  It was a busy day showing our visitors around, conducting two EVAs, and preparing for the end of our mission.  We stuck to the day's planned timeline extremely well, which is a testament to our efficiency as a crew.  In fact, it feels like just as we're getting used to life at MDRS we have to leave.  Two weeks just isn't enough.

You can read a summary of our last full martian day on our crew blog.


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Location: Mars Desert Research Station, Hanksville, UT 84775, USA

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Seismic Success at MDRS

2/04/2010 10:59:00 PM

Today was a good day because we finally completed my seismic experiment. As I reported last time, we had problems on the first seismic EVA.  However, we learned from our mistakes and were able to successfully take 120 shots of data at 40 locations with 6 geophone spreads covering 109 meters (358 feet).  At just over 6 hours, it was our longest EVA of the mission.  Thanks to Luís, Kiri, and Darrel for their generous help with these two EVAs.  You can read Kiri's account of today's EVA on our crew blog (part 1 and part 2).

As I've described previously, I chose this site because ground penetrating radar (GPR) data suggest that the Kissing Camel Range (aka: "Dragon Head") is an inverted channel that continues beneath Radio Ridge a few kilometers southwest of MDRS.  The Google Earth screenshot shown to the right illustrates where we conducted the seismic survey.  The GPS waypoints spanning the survey are shown in red, and the blue line indicates the approximate position of the dipping reflector seen with GPR.  In the photo below, you can see me gazing out at the Kissing Camel Range from the vantage point atop Radio Ridge.


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Location: Mars Desert Research Station, Hanksville, UT 84775, USA

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A Seismic Undertaking

2/03/2010 10:51:00 PM

After abdicating some tantalizing EVAs for the past three days on account of my not feeling well, I was looking forward to getting outside today and finally starting my seismic research project. I had originally planned to do the first seismic EVA yesterday, but I just wasn't ready, so Kiri led the geology section EVA yesterday instead.  Below is my crew blog post describing today's EVA:

My morning was occupied with preparations for the seismic experiment. This included finalizing the survey coordinates and entering waypoints into the GPS, printing and laminating a survey plan, and fashioning several survey flags out of wire clothes hangers and flagging tape. I also strapped the big, heavy pelican cases containing the seismic equipment to the back rack of the Viking I and Spirit rovers. I affixed the sledgehammer, strikeplate, and two bright red buckets to the third rover Opportunity. At 11:30 am, I briefed Luís and Darrel on the EVA plan. It clicked with Darrel right away, but Luís looked a little confused. We ate a quick lunch of leftovers from previous meals and were in the airlock at 1:07 pm.

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Location: Mars Desert Research Station, Hanksville, UT 84775, USA

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Sick on Mars

2/01/2010 10:42:00 PM

As our mission began its second week, I started feeling under the weather. I have a sore throat and low energy level. I think I caught a bug from a fellow crewmember who had similar symptoms for a few of days last week. Living in close quarters with a group of people, this is to be expected.

Since yesterday was Sunday, we opted to go light on the science and do a recreational EVA to summit Olympus Mons. That's a big hill not far from the Hab. The real Olympus Mons is on Mars and is the biggest volcano in the solar system. There's even an award for the first person to climb it. Normally I wouldn't have missed an EVA like this, but due to my not feeling well, I skipped it and stayed in the Hab as the field party's CapCom (which we call "HabCom"). Kiri and Mike did great jobs describing the EVA in their blog posts. Check out the highlight video from the EVA below:



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Location: Mars Desert Research Station, Hanksville, UT 84775, USA

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