Status Report

Keith Cowing’s Devon Island Journal 21 July 2003: Departure – and One Last Dedication

By SpaceRef Editor
October 13, 2003
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Click on Image for larger view. Images Copyright
NASA HMP-2003/SpaceRef

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The newly dedicated Del Weathers Arctic Aviation Weather Station (DELWAAS)
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HMP Base Camp seen from the air upon my departure. Click for larger, labeled image
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Sea ice between Devon and Cornwallis Islands
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Cornwallis Island terrain moments after crossing onshore
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The arctic hamlet of Resolute seen from the air
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The Co-op. All of our communications (TV, Internet etc.) are routed through the large satellite dish. Note the angle of the dish – Geosynchronous satellties are very close to the horizon at this latitude.

I had one last thing to do before I left Devon Island. I stood on the runway and watched the Twin Otter, on which I would soon depart, swoop in and drop onto the runway. Within a few minutes it taxied to where we were all standing and cut its engines. The usual flurry of people and things moving on and off the plane ensued.

As was his tradition with each and every Twin Otter arrival, Quimmiq, or polar bear guard Huskie, urinated on one of the plane’s tires. Every now and then he’ll pee on both. A curious echo of a tradition of what all cosmonauts do before their flights from Baikonur cosmodrome. Yuri Gagarin started the tradition by urinating on the back tire of the bus that drove him to the launch pad.

Brian Glass from NASA ARC was one of the arriving team members. Curiously the last time I had seen Brian was a year before as he waved farewell to my flight from this same location as it was leaving. I would have all of 10 minutes with him before I left again. Brian and I, plus Pascal Lee, the HMP PI, and Larry Young and Bill Clancey, both from NASA ARC walked over to the Weather station that sits at tend of the runway. We had dedication to make.

Earlier this year, Del Weathers from NASA ARC died suddenly. I worked with Del at the Space Station Freedom Program Office. Brian had worked with him at ARC as well. The wind was howling as Larry operated my video camera. I had not had the chance to unpack the external microphone so we winged it as the winds howled.

We dedicated this weather station as the Del Weathers Arctic Aviation Weather Station – DELWAAS. Del had a wicked sense of humor. He also spent years working with the FAA. I made mote of the fact that he now has his very own acronym as a memorial – one that plays off of his last name as well as his background. There is a cooler at the base of the weather station that contains batteries for the weather station. I placed a photo of Del, a HMP patch, and a dedication letter inside the cooler and closed the lid.

Between Del’s memorial and those we were erecting to the crew of C0lumbia there were far too many deaths this past year. Far too many.

I then made my farewells and ran over to the plane. My luggage had already been thrown aboard, so I only had several dozen hands to shake, and I climbed up inside and strapped myself in.

The ride back to Resolute was entertaining. The skies were very clear, so we could all just look out the windows at the landscape as it passed by. Soon, the barren dirt, rock, and snow of Devon Island gave way to a varied, every changing vista of water and sea ice as we headed for Cornwallis Island – and the Resolute Airport.


50 minutes and we were there. As we pulled our gear off of the plane, another team arrived to hop onto our plane for the ride over to Devon Island. Some hellos and more hand shakes and they were gone.

How long I was going to be in Resolute was uncertain. Bad weather had prompted me and the others to leave a few days earlier than our original plan. This bad weather had caused First Air to cancel flights elsewhere in the arctic. Given that they are more or less the only show in town when it comes to flying between Ottawa and Resolute Bay, you have to deal with this and “be flexible”.

There was a chance that I could get a plane this day (Monday 21 July). Alas that jet had already left as we were departing Devon Island. The next chance was Wednesday – my original departure date. As such I had several days in Resolute to look forward to.

Once I got to the Co-op the first order of business was to haul my gear to my room and take a shower. After that I had the first real meal in several weeks. After Raman noodles, miso soup, trail mix, tang, cookies and MREs, the selection in the cafeteria looked sumptuous by comparison. I made certain to stuff myself.

There was not much else to do other than sit and wait to see if we had a seat on the Wednesday flight. If there was no room I could be stuck here until Saturday – the next scheduled flight south. So, I watched TV, caught up on my website updates, and ate. Sleeping in a real bed, sitting in real chairs, and existing inside clement temperatures was a welcome luxury.

There ain’t much happening in Resolute. Resolute is a hamlet of several hundred people composed of heavily insulated homes with satellite dishes sitting atop a landscape devoid of all plant life. Derelict snowmobiles and animal hides decorate the homes and the landscape. The people are open, friendly, and honest but there is no opera houses or nightclubs nearby.

TV up here is satellite only. We’re so far north that the Co-op’s large 3 meter dish is pointed at the horizon. Some of the dishes on the houses point at the ground to get signal backscatter. And the program selection is weird. In addition to familiar Canadian selections such as CTV, CBC, and City TV, there is KTLA (Los Angeles), a TV station in Detroit, and one in Nova Scotia. And there is Star Trek – all the time. It seems that I could sit in front of the TV and wait no less than an hour and there will be one of the Star Trek shows on the air. When I am not watching Star Trek, I watch car chases on the freeways in LA (and recognizing some interchanges – you see I used to live there) and Lotto numbers in Detroit. Very odd.

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