Status Report

Keith Cowing’s Devon Island Journal 11 July 2003: Staying in Touch

By SpaceRef Editor
July 14, 2003
Filed under , , ,

Further Information

  • NASA Haughton-Mars Project

  • Mars Institute

  • SpaceRef Mars on Earth coverage

  • Arthur Clarke Mars Greenhouse



  • Keith Cowing’s Devon Island Journal: Summer 2002

  • SpaceRef

  • Once again I awoke to a nice fall day in the Eastern US – with the exception that I am in the Canadian high arctic in July. From what we understand this weather will continue for at least the better part of a week.

    Nice weather – and its temptations not withstanding – the past several days have focused around one of my prime tasks here this summer: getting photos and other materials collected, edited, and posted online. Given that we were out of communications via Internet for a number of days, there was a quite a backlog. A number of us had a large number of emails to wade through.

    I am also responsible for a lot of the gear that is used in this process. Not just computer and cameras, but also webcams, cabling, configuration, etc. Having gone through this I have nothing but the utmost respect for those journalists who covered the War in Iraq and all of the gear they had to use on a daily basis such that they could file an edited report – sometimes on multiple occasions within a single day.

    This year, on my return “mission” I am seeking to capture not only the things that I caught last year in better detail – but also everything I missed or overlooked – plus all that is new. As I said at the onset of these journals, I have been here before, but I may never visit this place again. As such, I feel the need to redouble my efforts to capture as much as I can – in words as well as images.

    In my first journal entry I reflected back on my first trip here – my first mission – and my second mission. In so doing I asked astronaut Bill Readdy (who has flown in space 3 times) what it was like to go back into space a second – and a third time. He told me “the saddest part of any mission for me is those moments that follow the euphoria of having accomplished what you set out to, having experienced (again) the sights, sounds, feeling and weightlessness which all combine into the magic of spaceflight. The thought that you might never return to experience it again hurts extremely.”

    My experiences resonate now, half way into my second visit, with Readdy’s own experiences, than they did upon my arrival.

    While we are all busy and work very long days, there is some down time. Three or four times a week we ‘screen’ a movie in the mess tent using a computer with a DVD drive, a LCD projector, and a small white board (as a screen). Thus far the choices have run the range – based on what the local Inuit kids in camp have with them to what team members brought with them i.e. “8 Mile”, “Blue Crush”, Austin Powers “Goldmember” and “Priscilla Queen of the Desert”.

    We also have lectures on a variety of topics from team members themselves. We’ve been rather busy thus far, and are numbers are still on the low side, so we haven’t had any lectures – yet. But as our complement continues to build this will start to become part of our evening fare in due course. Last year’s lectures covered space medicine, impact events, and the activities of various space agencies.

    Aside from these events, interactions at mealtime, and the inherent fun that can accompany many routine things we do here, people find their own ways to recreate – and relax on their own. Some play chess. Others read or catch upon email. Still others use instant messenger to interact with folks back home – my wife is online for large portions of the day such that we interact constantly.

    Instant messaging also has a real role in the day-to-day operations here on Devon Island.

    Not everyone uses instant messaging. Those who do derive some clear benefits from it. While the time lay or latency” interjected into exchanges is no more than a fraction of a light second (due to the length of Earth/satellite communication systems and the bandwidth they use), there is a lag – and it provide an ad hoc lesson in how someone might interact with home from Mars.

    Those of you who have an instant messenger application running on your desktop know what I am talking about. You are busy – perhaps the person on the other end of the conversation is too. You get distracted – or they do. You have to get up and do something – or they do. The net result is that an interaction can go from near instantaneous to one that can take many minutes to complete.

    Now imagine that those delays are driven by distance and the speed of light (communication) and you end up with something similar to what you might get with someone on Mars with lags anywhere between 15 – 25 minutes or so. This assumes, of course, that routine instant messaging with someone on Mars won’t become routine such that the same delays that slow down terrestrial instant messaging don’t start to work their way into Martina instant messaging. I suppose, however, that it would become quite a human accomplishment if such interactions between humans on different worlds were to become ‘routine”.

    On Friday Steve Braham, HMP Chief Engineer, myself, and my SpaceRef business partner Marc Boucher (located on Vancouver British Columbia) worked together to get three of our web cams operations. Marc had spent a lot of time with Steve in advance of our arrival here to preconfigure the cameras and servers, and provided explicit instructions as to how to set things up. Of course. Regardless of how much you plan, reality always throws you a few curves. And it did. The three of us spent a number of hours working to get tech issues resolved.

    While Steve and I could talk face to face, Marc and I – and Steve and Marc could not. So we used Instant Messaging. Of course, despite the ability to have near instantaneous interaction, we did not. First, it takes me a certain amount of time to do something and then formulate a response. The same goes for Marc. Add in the need to do stuff here (always takes longer) and the fact that Marc’s Internet connection in Vancouver kept dropping out, and we ended up with yet another latency-rich interaction that took far longer than it would have if the 3 of us were in the same place.

    However, we were able to tap Marc’s expertise, and indeed, he was able to personally fiddle with the server and one of the webcams despite our physical separation. Had we needed to we could have had a webcam on each computer to send images of ourselves, and could have swapped documents ad pictures via email.

    If you ever spend some time listening to routine comm chatter between mission control and the International Space Station, or read the marvelously detailed ISS On-orbit Status reports, you will see that such interactions already take place albeit in a much more formal NASA style (since more people and much more complex systems are involved).

    Index of 2003 Journal Entries

    Coming soon.

    Index of 2002 Journal Entries

    Keith Cowing’s Devon Island Journal: Summer 2002

    SpaceRef staff editor.