Status Report

Keith Cowing’s Devon Island Journal- 10 Jul 2002: Mars Carpentry

By SpaceRef Editor
July 10, 2002
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NASA HMP-2002/SpaceRef

Greenhouse parts sit waiting for assembly

Insulation and support skeleton parts awaiting assembly

Greenhouse skeleton arches assembled and waiting installation

Greenhouse footer under assembly

Another nice day. This weather is easy to handle!

We picked up with greenhouse assembly where we left off yesterday. By the end of the day we managed to get the basic structure of the support platform in place.

The support platform was being built out of commercially available lumber using hammers, saws, drills, nails, and screws. Footings were placed directly on the surface in accordance with accepted principles of building on permafrost such as have been used on other platforms on Devon Island.

This was carpentry, not space hardware assembly.

The initial design of the support platform had called for something a bit more spacecraft-like: steel studs and joists (used in commercial construction). We eventually decided against this approach in favor of traditional lumber. The use of lumber construction is much more practical in this environment. We made this decision based on the advice of Base Camp Manager John Schutt and A.C Hitch, both of who have decades of expertise in arctic construction.

Our intent here was not to simulate the construction of a greenhouse on Mars – or the way it was constructed – but rather to assemble a structure on Earth – one that would work on Earth – in an extreme terrestrial environment where we could simulate some of the operational aspects of what a greenhouse would require on Mars. In other words, we were preparing a “Mars analog”.

Perhaps one day this initial work could lead to the deployment of a greenhouse (here or elsewhere) with design features similar to one that you might want to build on Mars with the expressed purpose of testing out Martian greenhouse architecture and operations. But that remains in the future for now.

Again, we were assembling a modified, commercially available greenhouse in the arctic. However, what goes in – and around – the greenhouse can be performed under conditions analogous to what would be found on Mars. These include: remote, isolated environment operations, the constant need to maintain a stable growing environment, the need to remotely monitor and control activities within the greenhouse, and integrating all of this into a larger operational construct found in an expeditionary environment.

While weather conditions on Mars would be different, it is likely that anyone assembling a structure such as our greenhouse would encounter difficulties during the assembly process. While advances are certain to be made in spacesuit design – and the dexterity of spacesuit gloves – it is still likely to be a slow and somewhat cumbersome process to assemble things.

As such, an optimum should be placed upon designing structures that have easy to assemble parts – perhaps even structures (such as inflatable ones) that are capable of a certain amount of self-assembly. Again, this is something that may lie in the future. Meanwhile, we hope that the operation of this greenhouse will help flesh out the operational requirements of such a structure on Mars – regardless of what construction modality is eventually used.

See “Earth on Mars: Greenhouses on the Red Planet” for more thoughts on what it would take to build a greenhouse on Mars.

So far, all was going quite smoothly with the greenhouse. But I have other responsibilities back in the real world. I was now more or less settled in electronically as well. One of the major activities at HMP is the testing of advanced communications with an eye on how they’d be used for both robotic and human exploration. After some bugs were worked out, we had a rather nice Internet link to the rest of Earth.

I was soon able to re-establish by Internet lifestyle – including Instant Messenger communication with my wife. I was pleased to discover that she had decided to avoid the heat wave that had besieged the Washington DC area where we live and stay inside and pull down the hideous wallpaper in one of the bathrooms. We bought our house 2 years ago and are about two thirds done with de-papering and re-painting.

By now I had adapted completely to the lifestyle on Devon Island. You were friends with everyone immediately. Everyone put their shoulder to whatever task was at hand – be it their own or someone else’s.

I had already witnessed a dozen or so people walk up and start working on the greenhouse. Their skills ranged from high school classes in Resolute to advanced geology degrees. Yet everyone just merged into one happy cooperative bunch.

We were all in a very special place and we were determined to have as much fun as possible while we were here. As I would discover in the coming weeks, interpersonal conflicts were very rare and, when they happened, were of almost trivial nature – the sort of thing that blew over in no time. Motivation and commonality of purpose have an amazing ability to bring people together – especially in a harsh, dangerous environment.

Despite my hectic schedule, I managed to finish reading the last hundred or so pages of the book I had been dragging around with me: Ben Bova’s “Return to Mars”. This is a sequel to his book “Mars”. I enjoyed the first book. I enjoyed this one even more.

Ben Bova really has a knack for crafting protagonists and antagonist, placing them against alien backdrops, and infiltrating everything with rock solid science and great drama. The fact that I had been reading this (a deliberate choice on my part) had me thinking about how I (or anyone else) would operate in a team in a remote, hostile location.

I am somewhat acquainted with Mr. Bova having sat on several panels with him over the past 20 years – the most recent being at the Second Astrobiology Science Conference in April. I dropped him an email – and a picture of his book against a local backdrop. He seemed to get quite a kick out of this. His book is now a permanent part of the HMP library.

This evening I managed to get a nice, restful night’s sleep. Hereafter, every night would be restful.

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