Status Report

Keith Cowing’s Devon Island Journal – 1 Aug 2002: Departure into darkness

By SpaceRef Editor
August 1, 2002
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Click on Image for larger view. Images Copyright
NASA HMP-2002/SpaceRef

Our jet arrives

Heading over Baffin Island to Nanisivik

On final approach to Nanisivik

Mars-like terrain

Further south, the shadows get longer

My first sunset in a month

Today began like yesterday: the plane may come in to Resolute – it may not. As the morning progressed we got news that it had left Ottawa and was heading our way. Later we got word that weather conditions would force some delays. A while later, word arrived that the flight was inbound from Iqualut to Resolute.

We piled all of our luggage into one of the Co-op’s trucks and got, what we hoped, was our last ride up. As we arrived at the airport, we could see fog hanging low overhead. The cloud deck was certainly no more than a hundred meters up. After some nervousness on our part about some lingering fog at the airport, conditions cleared and our jet arrived.

The arriving passengers, including the HMP Principal Investigator, Pascal Lee, walked across the gravel runway and into the terminal. After a few minutes of hellos and goodbyes we were walking up the rear ramp of the Boeing 727. Only large jets with rear-mounted engines such as the 727 and the DC-9/MD-80 family are allowed to land on these rough gravel runways.

The plane had more room and empty seats than the one we flew in on. The flight we came in on was more crammed – and the forward cabin (rows 1-7) had been converted to carrying cargo. Within a few short minutes we were airborne.

After a short stop at Nanisivik on the northern end of Baffin Island, to pick up a few more passengers, we headed down to Iqualut, the capital of Nunavut. Nanisivik is a mining town with Zinc and lead being its prime products. This year, the mining will stop after 26 years of operations according to the latest edition of “The Nunatsiaq News” I picked up in Resolute. The biggest concern among local inhabitants in the region is how the area will be cleaned up as mining operations cease.

The landscape was barren but riddled with fascinating canyons, and polygonal features, frozen and melted lakes, and a rich variety of brown, red, and bluish hues. Once every few minutes I’d look down at a feature and recall something similar in a Mars Global Surveyor image, On Devon Island this happens a lot – except you find yourself thinking of Mars Pathfinder or Viking surface images. All that is missing is the reddish/orange tint.

One of the most prominent things about Iqualut is its bright yellow airport terminal. Perched upon stilts and made of round-edged modular parts, it wouldn’t be out of place as part of a spaceport in a SciFi film. The inside of the terminal was bustling with the entire plane’s complement – plus local folks, crammed inside the terminal. It was at this point that we truly re-entered the post 9-11 world.

We were put through a traditional airport search procedure. There was nothing of the kind involved in boarding at Resolute. Given that most of the folks boarding the plane at Iqualut were from remote parts north of here, they tended to be carrying lots of gear. A number of knives and other tools were confiscated or repacked into checked luggage. Also, it seemed that virtually everyone took off their boots after an alert went off in the metal detector. All of us apparently had steel toes.

9:30 pm CDT. About an hour ago, as we were heading out of Iqualut, I noticed the shadows on the ground were much longer than anything I had seen in quite a while. As we flew south the shadows got longer – and longer. Since we are still flying over remote territory there are no cities below. As such, it is now pitch black outside: the first night I have seen in a month. Indeed, this is the first darkness of any kind I have seen in a month.

Seeing darkness is actually a little stranger than I thought it would be. It would seem that I have gotten quite used to always seeing something when my eyes were open. Indeed, I keep looking at my watch to see what time it is – otherwise I would not really have a clue.

Darkness still does not have a time context for me. If this wasn’t so fascinating, it would be rather unsettling. Alas, as was the case with my prompt readaptation to television, this novelty will soon pass.

A few hours later, just before midnight, I was walking around the airport in Ottawa in temperatures only possible on Devon Island within our greenhouse. My clothing was now a hindrance. As soon as I got my luggage I took half of my clothes off and stuffed them in a bag.

And all these people! I had spent a month in close proximity to a number of people – but I knew them all. Now all of these anonymous faces were coming in and out of view. Bit by bit I am being drawn back into civilization.

A quick taxi ride through dark, rainy weather and I was at my hotel. This will be a short stay since my flight for the States leaves at 6:30 am and I will have to leave before 5:00 am so as to reserve enough time to go through customs with all of my electronic gear..

Tomorrow morning I’m certain to get the biggest shock of all: green.

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