Status Report

July 3-6, 2001 – Sam Burbank Personal Journal | The Mars Society Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station

By SpaceRef Editor
July 9, 2001
Filed under , ,

This is the journal of Sam Burbank. Sam is a filmmaker based out of San Francisco. His
company is Inverse Square Films. Sam is one of the volunteers chosen to be a part of the
2001 FMARS crew. He will be in the crew for the first rotation. The journal is copyright
Inverse Square Films.

I woke in Resolute yesterday at around 9:00AM, had coffee, and then heard
that the first group had made it into the crater. Then everything happened very quickly; be
ready in half an hour. I was on the second plane, along with Andy Schuerger, a biologist
who is attempting to determine to what extent the HMP bacteria are able to survive
at this site through the winter; he had to be the first one to the camp to get fresh
samples of the soil before the others came in. I wanted to get that on tape.

It was thrilling to come back in on the twin otter, seeing patches of
clearing in the clouds below. They flew low when we arrived at the island,
buzzing the landscape for about ten minutes. And then we were here, and
there was the hab. It was really something to see. Of course I’ve seen the
photos, but it’s much more impressive, Mars-like, in person, even across the
valley from base camp. There was still much snow everywhere, and sleet falling, really

I followed Andy around for an hour, then found Frank Schubert, the builder
of the hab, and followed him to the it, as this would probably be my only chance to
interview him outside of there. We had to cross a river on the way. I had rubber boots,
but Frank wore Sorrels, which wouldn’t have kept the foot and a half of water out. He went
across this swiftly flowing ice runoff river barefoot!

We climbed the hill on the other side, the hab finally showing itself again,
much bigger now, but still a ways away. It’s big, considerably larger that I had
imagined. And in the middle of nowhere. You know that, but it’s impossible to understand it fully
without seeing it; it doesn’t come across with a photograph. It’s just un intuitive
to be in this remote a location and see this island of technology. We walked carefully, as the
plateau the research station is located on is covered in jagged rocks, plenty of places
to twist and ankle.

Frank was inside quickly, little fanfare, immediately grabbing tools and
wood, and getting to work with Joe Amaraluq. Frank put me to work too, first moving wood out
of the hab, which I agreed I could do for an hour or so, then I would head back to camp
to set up the tent and film more. But soon he had another job for me, wiring up some
outlets on the second floor. It was 2:00 PM then. The hours flew by, I didn’t get to bed
until 4:00AM, and then only for an hour, before waking up freezing. We had turned off all the power and heaters when we went to
sleep; it was remarkable how fast the hab cooled down. No one slept well.
All were up and about by 6:30- a cup of instant coffee- then back to work. I
finished the last of my project and left, back to base camp.

Two days later, 07 05 01: What hecticness. The camp is built now, though
really we have still just those who made it in on those few flights on the 3rd. Frank
has been in the hab, working 21 or 22 hours per day, non stop, since we hit
the ground. No breaks, no sight seeing. A similar, if slightly less
marathon-like, schedule for AC, John, Samson, Mark, and Oz around base camp,
setting up all of the things the rest will take for granted in the coming
weeks: drains for water around the big tents, heaters, alternating current,
a restroom, a kitchen: a town. And everyone else has done at least some
painting in the hab, some have done days worth. And one after another, we
have found a place for our tents, finally setting up a temporary home during
a little break from the chaos.

It’s been raining or snowing continuously, sometimes letting up for an hour,
but then coming in strong again. Fog too. Miserable weather. And
Haughton has not been an easy place to walk, whether in mud like
quick sand, or deep or icy snow, or wading through rivers. The water
affects everything. The most obvious is incoming flights: the pilots have a
criteria we have had trouble reaching in the past days. Next is personal
comfort; everything gets wet, cameras, socks, boots, hair, backpacks,
gloves. It gets to the point where you’re looking for what’s not wet. As I
look around this tent, the answer must be, not much: my video tapes, first
aid kit, a pair of socks. Those will be nice in the morning. They’re dry.
Oh, and the inside of my tent, minus, the things I bring into it from the
wet world outside. There’s nothing as comforting as being in a tent that’s
not leaking during a rainstorm.

Oz says this is as bad as he’s ever seen Haughton. That’s something, as he’s
spent months and months in this crater. Actually, it gives a feeling of real satisfaction
as well; getting through the worst of it. How miserable we would be if with wet feet and
coats and faces we were told: this? This is nothing.

It’s been an interesting mix for me, attempting to put a full day in with
setting up the hab, and making sure to do the work I need to do to fulfill my commitments. So
it’s wiring around the hab, bloody fingers and all, then doing an interview with, say,
the Carnagie Melon robotics guys, then a little food, and back to the hab, another
interview, etc…

Morning 07 06 01: Cold. Cold, cold, cold. It’s difficult to see the keyboard
sometimes because of my breath. Mark made up pancakes for all, and they were
unbelievable good, like eating a personal heater; warm syrup; coffee.
Warmth: good. Wow, you can blow smoke rings with your breath here. Amazing.

We’d had heat in the main tent last night for a couple of hours, everyone
gathered around, telling stories, getting dry for the first time in a while;
gloves hanging above on an impromptu clothes line, a bottle of scotch
making its way around as well. Just a little for each, but under these
circumstances, a bounty. That quiet conversation will be a rare find around
here in the coming weeks; there will be many more people soon, then more the next day,
and then internet soon, and this sort of moment, where the entire camp, everyone’s
name and role is easily definable, will be rarer.

Then our scheduled 11:30 Twin Otter arrived, carrying many needed supplies,
but not the expected propane. And so the warmth was short lived. A few
hours of complete comfort. Incredible how quickly the big tent was back to
ambient temperature outside again. Nature works fast. Mark thinks he has
enough propane for another couple of meals. And we have MREs if there is a delay, Andy
Schuerger just pointed out.

The word is that Frank is getting the carpet put in today, and that the
first crew may be moving into the hab soon, maybe tonight. He and Joe have
worked unbelievably hard on that thing. If you ever meet Frank Schubert,
shake his hand; tell him I recommended you do it. You met Frank Schubert,
the guy who, really, singlehandedly changed a high concept Humans-to-Mars
project from being potentially embarrassing, to being a wonder. Yes, of
course, many others have helped as well, and have worked very hard to
complete the thing. But no one like Frank; it’s his place, his signature
everywhere you look. I have some footage of him using a circular saw on a piece of
plywood; the lights of the hab are blinking crazily throughout the cut, as this
was all the generator could take, and that’s what florescent lights do when
low on power. The scene really looks like Frankenstein, lightning
flashing, the monster being created- in this case, the monster of a hab- the
genius at work! Have you seen that video piece?

I feel guilty as I write, knowing things still need work at the hab. It’s
been that way for nearly everyone. There’s a sense of duty to work on the
thing, science, or filmmaking, or writing be damned. Hab. So I’ll head over
now, do what I can to help, look over with amazement how much Frank was able
to do while we slept. When we arrived on the 3rd, someone asked how long I
thought it would take to complete the thing, move in. If it was my house, 5,
6 weeks. It’s not my place, it’s Frank’s, and we’ll move in tonight.

SpaceRef staff editor.