1000 Days at Sea: The Mars Ocean Odyssey
Stowe's record-breaking voyage roughly simulated the duration of an opposition-class mission to Mars, which is the most favored scenario for most Mars mission planners. After 244 days in isolation, the Mars500 crew went into virtual orbit around Mars this week, which signifies the near halfway point of their simulated conjunction-class Mars mission. They will "land" on the surface on February 12 in what is sure to be an exciting event. Both the Stowe and Mars500 missions can teach us a great deal about the psychological factors crews will face when undergoing long-duration deep space missions.
Today we are treated to a post written by guest author Dennis Chamberland of the Atlantica Undersea Colony Expeditions, which I will join in 2012. Chamberland, who is a NASA bioengineer and aquanaut, tells us about the significance of his friend Reid Stowe's extraordinary journey:
Reid Stowe has just recently returned from an extraordinary and historic voyage that has received very little fanfare. It’s strange how our culture treats these kinds of things. The tiniest nuances of the lives and misadventures of a popular television variety star will dominate the headlines day after day as we truly seem perpetually fixed on things that are destined for instant and well earned obscurity. But the accomplishment of an historic event with extraordinary magnitude will easily slip through our culture virtually unnoticed. 1,000 years from today, Reid Stowe’s record will still probably remain unbroken, and in all the years before, no mariner has even come close to what he has just accomplished save by the misfortune of some fates, and it is unlikely that any will ever do it again in this millennium.
Reid Stowe and I were introduced by correspondence in 1990 by Dr. Stewart Whitney, then the Department Chair of Sociology at Niagara University. Dr. Whitney had empaneled a group of experts in micro social settings such as space and ocean colonies and his group was oriented around Space Settlement studies. When Dr. Whitney heard of the Atlantica Expeditions, he knew right away that Reid and I had a great deal in common. We were both explorers, neither of us were desk jockeys or academics and we had something in common: the passion of our plans and the energy of our dreams. We finally met together at the University of Houston in 1991 at a NASA Advanced Life Support System conference. Both of us had prepared papers to present to the group about our proposed expeditions.
Reid and I shared a room together off campus the evening before the presentations. I will never forget those hours as Reid shared with me his life and passion. As he spoke, I could feel the passion pour out from his plan spoken with words, but highlighted by the energy in his eyes and the sweeping, expressive hands of a painter’s temperament. His long auburn hair touched his shoulders and before me stood an artist who lived in a Manhattan loft, whose livelihood was secured by his paintings and his art shows to wealthy patrons of New York City. And yet he was also the Captain of the schooner Anne – a 60 ton, 70 foot ferro-cement, single masted sailboat that he had built in his late teens with his own hands. I spoke face to face with one who was very much the master of the brush – and yet a young man whose first adventure on the Anne was to sail to the dangerous wastelands of the Antarctic on her maiden voyage of exploration and discovery. But it was Reid’s truly audacious plan that had brought us here together at the University of Houston and whose paths had crossed in this most unlikely place, for we were here together on a common mission and desire – to press the human presence forward into deep and uncertain waters for which there existed no plans, charts or experience at all.
Reid was proposing that he and perhaps a small crew would push off the docks and sail for 1,000 unbroken days totally out of sight of any land. The idea was that Reid and his tiny world defined by the walls of the Anne would duplicate a Mars voyage where men may one day cast off the shored of the earth and sail out to a distant planet, explore it and return home – in a world defined strictly by the walls of their spacecraft. It was an audacious plan that many said bordered on insanity. No human had ever embarked on such an ocean voyage before. If Reid was successful, he would have broken the nearest record easily. As I continued to stay in touch with Reid over the years, it would define the central passion and core of Reid’s life to come, and Reid never gave up on his dream.
Eventually, despite countless set-backs and unrealized funding, Reid prevailed despite everything that steadfastly worked against him. On the morning of April 21, 2007, Reid and his girlfriend Soanya Ahmad departed a pier from New Jersey and by nightfall had put land behind them. The 1000 Days at Sea: The Mars Ocean Odyssey had officially begun. For Reid, it would be the last sight of land for more than three years. On February 22, 2008, Soanya departed the Ann and Reid continued to sail alone, determined to finish the voyage. At the time of her departure, she was pregnant with their son who was born to Soanya while Reid was still at sea. On June 17, 2010, Reid sailed into New York Harbor and met his wife and new son at the pier, along with hundreds of assembled well-wishers. Reid sailed into the harbor after 1,152 days at sea out of sight of any land formations – most of it alone.
Today, the Anne sits at her pier in New York Harbor covered in a new blanket of snow. Reid, Soanya and their son live below decks – thoroughly satisfied and comfortable by the wood stove installed inside. There inside the warm, inviting bowels of this rugged, hand-built schooner resides Reid Stowe – explorer extraordinaire. And inside Reid’s head lies one of the most incredible adventures of any century and lessons that future Mars voyages and ocean colonists desperately need. If any official scientist or engineer really wants to know what is outside the frame of any textbook or theory, if they really want to know what it will be like to isolate themselves for more than three years, all they have to do is ask Reid. Of all the seven billion people of planet earth - he alone knows. He has been there and returned – no one else has that experience on earth.
- Dennis Chamberland
For more on Stowe's expedition, see articles in the New York Times, Huffington Post, New York Magazine, and Boats.com.