Status Report

Keith Cowing’s Devon Island Journal – 21 July 2002: Visiting ministers, missing ‘green’, and crater tours

By SpaceRef Editor
July 21, 2002
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Click on Image for larger view. Images Copyright
NASA HMP-2002/SpaceRef


Walking into Base Camp

(L to R) The Honorable David Anderson, P.C., M.P., and Marc Boucher, SpaceRef Interactive

(L to R) Brian Crucian, Emily Lakdawalla, and Marc Boucher prepare for a traverse into Haughton Crater

Keith on an ATV about to head into Haughton Crater. Mars Society Hab in the background

Haughton Crater

Saxifrage located amidst a small micro-oasis

Lichen atop a rock in the middle of Haughton Crater

Keith walking at the base of Breccia Hill

Today we had a special group of visitors. A dozen or so environmental ministers from Denmark, the U.K. and Canada. They were on a tour of several locations throughout the Canadian arctic and chose Devon Island as a stop on their tour.

After circling the island several times so as to allow the group to see the crater and other features, they set down on our airstrip. A small contingent of HMP members greeted them at the airport and escorted them into camp. We were all put into service as tour guides. I served as the camp photographer.

Our visitors included the Right Honorable David Anderson, Minister of the Environment, Canada, Jim Vollmershausen, Environment Canada, Henry Hengeveld, Senior Science Advisor, Climate Change, Environment Canada, Jonathan Waddell, Office of the Minister of the Environment, Kevin McCormick, Chief, Northern Conservation Division, Environmental Conservation Branch, PNR, Environment Canada and the Minister’s guests: Sir (Robert) Andrew Burns, United Kingdom’s High Commissioner to Canada, the Right Honorable Michael Meacher, Minister of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, United Kingdom, Honorable Borge Brende, Minister of Environment, Norway, His Excellency Svend Roed Nielsen, Ambassador from the Royal Danish Embassy in Ottawa, His Excellency Ingvard Havnen, and the Ambassador from the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Ottawa.

HMP team members gave our distinguished guests a tour of Base Camp including a stop in the greenhouse. By coincidence, the Honorable David Anderson, P.C., M.P., the Canada’s Minister of the Environment, just happens to be my business partner Marc Boucher’s representative in Parliament (Marc lives in Victoria, British Columbia). As such, they had a lot to talk about – including a stop to pose for photos next to the greenhouse.

We all assembled inside the Mess Tent. Short presentations were given to our guests by representatives of the major HMP projects. An hour or so later, as we were about to start walking them to the airstrip, the NASA Ames Research center airplane zoomed overhead. After a bathroom break, our visitors bid us farewell and took off for their next stop further north.

Later in the day I had a chance to make my first real trip outside of Base Camp. Marc, Emily Lakdawalla (a geologist from the Planetary Society), and Brian Crucian (a medical researcher from Wylie Laboratories at NASA’s Johnson Space Center), and I set off for a traverse into Haughton Crater. Despite having been on the island for well over a week, I had yet to travel further than the airstrip – less than a kilometer from Base Camp.

We checked our gear, radios, etc., hopped onto our ATVs, and set off to the east. After entering and then exiting a small canyon we arrived on the rim of Haughton Crater. To our right was the Mars Society’s Hab. The rest of the horizon was a vast expanse of jumbled terrain several hundred meters below where we stood. After pausing for pictures we headed down an established ATV road into the crater.

Quicktime panorama: Haughton Crater Rim 21 July 2002. 270 degree pan. R-L: Mars Society Hab, Haughton crater. We traveled down the trail in the center of the pan into the crater.[Download]

[Get Quicktime]

After 10 minutes or so we arrived at Lake Cornell and “Breccia Hill” – an outcropping of shattered light grey rock. Breccia is shattered rock created by the impact event. Close examination of the rock fragments revealed many with a pattern of radiating lines. These are “shatter cones” The lines reflect stress marks in the rock created as a direct result of the Haughton impact event itself.

While it is barren to the eye, this island is not without life – but it can be damned hard to find. Not so here. Marc showed us a small oasis of sorts he had noticed here two years ago. Either some animal had died here and left a concentrated deposit of nutrients (the soil here is low in Nitrogen) or there was a focused accumulation of water such that life could flourish during the brief clement periods on this island.

As we all looked closely at the surface, sharp-eyed Emily called out excitedly “an inch worm!” Cameras in hand, we all rushed over. Sure enough a small black inch worm was working its way across small rocks. There was only one. With the exception of several flies in Base Camp, these are the only insects I have seen here.

The plants were short and close to the ground and sported a variety of deep colorful flowers. Given the way things grow here, these plants may well be a many, many years in age. Hit was hard to tell from just a cursory examination. We took or care not to disturb any of these small communities. It is important not to trample on things here. Damage can take a very long time to repair itself.

I am realizing how much I miss green. I am a biologist. I taught botany classes in grad school and fiddle in my yard daily. I am used to interacting with plants. I did not realize this fully until today. The same goes for space travelers.

Mir cosmonaut Yuri Romanenko was asked to describe the little things that made his life bearable during his 326 day mission. “The green sprout of a plant grown in space” he replied.

Our ride out of the crater took a different route than the ride in. At one point, a large rock outcropping stood out amidst the otherwise flat terrain inside the crater. We stopped to have a look – and to pose for some photos. As I fumbled for my nice new digital camera it fell out of my pack and hit the ground. No major damage except a small scratch in the casing. “Something to remind me of this place when I am home” I thought.

All too soon we were out of the crater and on our way back home for dinner and to share some tales of our trip. After dinner, and my nightly Internet chores, I went up to my tent to grab my sleeping bag and air mattress. Tonight I was going to sleep in the greenhouse.

Quicktime panorama: Base Camp 21 July 2002. 180 degree pan. Taken atop a rise next to a gully east of Base Camp. R-L Greenhouse, Base Camp, Maynard Hill. [Download]

[Get Quicktime]

In preparing for this trip – and all the tasks we had to accomplish – one of the things I had become determined to do was to actually sleep in the greenhouse. I am not sure why this idea stuck on me. I have slept in some odd places: atop an 800-foot cliff (after climbing it); in the dentist’s chair (without any anesthesia); and on a boat during a near-hurricane force gale. So it wasn’t a stunt sleepover. I guess I just wanted to make the place home – if only for one night.

My sleeping bag was intended to keep me warm in sub-freezing temperatures. Tonight I would be sleeping on top of it since the temperature was mid 20’s C (mid 70’s F). As was the case with sleeping in my tent, I wore my eye mask. During the course of any night I’d wake up for a moment, glance at the clock in the orange glow of my tent and go back to sleep.

Unlike my previous ‘nights’ here, I awoke to bright light – light magnified by the lenticular pattern of the greenhouse’s outer Lexan. For the first time I saw what had to be the most beautiful light of all on Devon Island. At around 2:00 AM the sun shines from the northeast. The colors it brings out in the surrounding landscape are the most vibrant I have yet seen. This is all amplified by the fact that the sky is drop-dead blue without a single cloud.

Now, as I finally get sleepy enough to actually sleep, does the crazy reality of building a greenhouse less than a thousand miles from the North Pole kick in.

It was one of those moments of accomplishment life is all about.

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