Status Report

Keith Cowing’s Devon Island Journal: 3-5 July 2003: Arrival and Getting to Work

By SpaceRef Editor
July 6, 2003
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Click on Image for larger view. Images Copyright
NASA HMP-2003/SpaceRef

Arthur Clarke Mars Greenhouse as we found it on 3 July 2003 after over wintering on Devon Island with only superficial damage.

HMP Base Camp on 4 July 2003

Communications Tent with the University of Guelph’s Argo ATV “Priscilla”

We awoke this morning to some good news: weather conditions here and at Devon Island, plus the condition of our landing strip on Devon Island, were all within acceptable limits. As such we were going to get at least three flights in today. The first flight left with HMP PI Pascal Lee, Camp Manager John Schutt, and Deputy Camp Manager Joe Amaraulik – plus Quimmiq, our guard dog making yet another trip to Devon Island. The rest of the pane was filled with cargo.

The first group put in without incident mid morning and began to bring Base Camp back to life. I was in the second group to put in. We departed Resolute at 1:12 PM. Aboard the flight with me were Melanie Howell, our camp cook and Adrien Bisset, an ESA-supported student from the University of Paris. As was the case with the first trip, the remainder of our plane was filled with cargo. In our case this included a large electrical generator, food, and tent components.

As our Twin Otter leapt off the runway we turned left and headed up across Cornwallis Island. After 10 minutes or so we reached the Lancaster Sound, the stretch of water and ice that separates Cornwallis Island and Devon Island. The arc of ice bridging the two islands was eerily familiar. Over the past year I have been checking on satellite maps of the region to watch how things changed over time. One constant feature was this broad arcing expanse of sea ice. Now, at a height of only 1600 meters it was curious to see it up close. I did not see much last year owing to cloudy weather on the way out of Resolute.

After crossing Lancaster Sound we reached the shore of Devon Island. Below us, to our right was Point McBain. We were all looking at this promontory with great interest – for atop it was the Mars Institute’s Humvee “Mars-1” rover. In may HMP team members drove the vehicle across the sea ice that covers Lancaster Sound from Resolute Bay. The vehicle was parked on the shore until later this field season when it will be driven across Devon Island to HMP base camp. You can’t miss the Hummer – it is a bright red speck amidst a landscape of brown and white.

After another 15 minutes or so we began to descend slowly. As we did the details of this alien landscape began to reveal themselves. Having made the flight before, I knew what the approach was like and looked for certain landmarks – unlike last year when I suddenly found myself being dropped onto an airstrip.

As was the case last year, HMP Base Camp suddenly jumped into view. A quick arc around and we dropped onto the landing strip. A short taxi up to the weather station and we had arrived.

Last year when I arrived, I did so alone – with the remainder of the plane filled with greenhouse construction materials. This year I had companions. We soon hopped out of the plane. said our hellos and began to get things off of the plane.

I stopped after a few minutes to look over at the greenhouse we had built last year. It looked just as we had left it, glinting in the midday sun. A few minutes later I was in base camp. After dropping my gear I made a quick walk over. No damage as far as I could see. Later, I began a methodical photo survey of the greenhouse – and the terrain surrounding it. I wanted to document not only how the greenhouse had survived the winter, but also what effects, if any, its presence had on the surrounding terrain.

When I arrived I had noticed that one panel on the greenhouse had a glint that was different than all the others. I paid no further attention at that time. Later, when I was taken photos I noticed the cause: a crack in one of the Lexan sheets. It went straight across one panel at the point where it bends from vertical (side) to angled (roof). We don’t know what the cause of the damage is. However, we did get some fresh polar bear damage to our mess tent – and fresh bear prints were fond near base camp. If a bear wee to stand up on its rear legs and comedown on the greenhouse, it would probably do so at the same location of the crack. Alas, there are no scratch marks or any other telltale clues. Luckily, the nature of the Lexan prevented a clear breach and no water leaked in over winter.

All in all, the greenhouse fared very well otherwise. A few cracks between sheets of plywood where caulking was moved during expansion and contraction, but other than that the greenhouse survived in darn near pristine condition. Not bad for a self-heating structure sitting atop permafrost!

Being on the second flight I spent 99% of my time helping to set things up at Base Camp. This included the two toilet tents, the “tool tent”, wiring up one tent for electrical power and burying the supply cable underground. We also had to start to change the mess tent from overall base camp storage to a place where food is prepared and served. We were all rewarded with a hot meal courtesy of Melanie. Later in the evening our third flight came in with 3 more people. Our contingent was now up to 11 humans and one dog.

We all had to pitch our tents as well. The location set aside for this is called “Tent City” and is located west of Base Camp near the entrance to Pete Conrad valley. I chose a location with a bit more scenic view than I had last year. Each morning when I get up I will look out toward the north at a large expanse called von Braun Planitia.

Everyone turned in late tonight – some folks only got to the task of setting up their tents just before midnight. All in all, a rather productive first day on Devon Island.

4 July 2003: Base Camp Comes Alive

After a warm breakfast we all jumped to the tasks at hand. First off, we all went up the hill for mandatory shotgun practice and polar bear training.

After that, I turned sweeping up and tidying the greenhouse. I then re-caulked some seams that had moved over winter. The installation of a variety of mechanical and sensor systems is due to commence in the next day or so. I also shot my location on the front deck of the greenhouse with my GOS device: 75 deg 26.011′ N 89 deg 51.787′ W.

I then helped assemble the communications tent. This involved assembling multiple parts to form a skeleton and then pulling the tent covering over that skeleton. The task was straightforward, but some muscle is required.

As I went about these tasks, some portions of Kim Stanley Robinson’s book “Red Mars” came to mind – most notably the tasks that went with the first colonists as they set about taking the supplies that had been delivered ahead of time – including some supply landers that had made rough landings. Out of the amalgam of perfectly functioning gear and parts they built their base. Well, things here are a bit less extreme than that.
After many years of running this operation, the things needed to run the camp – and keep it running are rather well known. Nonetheless, there is a lot of on the spot improvisation required. The more skills that each participant has – and the overlap of these skills across the entire team – they better we all are in adapting to unforeseen or contingency situations.

This being July 4th the Americans in the camp (3 out of 11) took to displaying our flag. No fireworks – they wouldn’t have been very visible if we had any to begin with. We did have mandatory shotgun practice though – so we got a few substitute firecrackers.

5 July

I awoke to a third gorgeous morning on Devon Island. Achingly blue skies, wisps of clouds, slight breeze, and the sound of an arctic brook in the background. In the distance you could hear our electrical generator located up near the landing strip so as to cut down on noise. This generator also serves as a nice polar bear deterrent. We had a few problems with this unit last night. Now that it is fixed we have power in all of the tents to power computers and other devices.

The temperature this morning is 22C (71F). We have all been walking around wearing t-shirts for the past several days. While this wonderful weather is not unheard of here, having this many days in a row is rather unusual. Indeed, it has been like this for more than just 3 days judging by the weather we were having in nearby Resolute. If I find myself inside the greenhouse for any length of time I may change to shorts. The temperature inside was 36C (92F) yesterday – and the door was open!

We will soon begin installing ventilation and environmental control systems so as to modulate the high temperatures and – with the advent of a propane heating system, smooth out the low temperatures. Today we installed the mounting system for propane tanks along the north side of the greenhouse. We also installed intake vents for the new heating system.

During the middle of the day we received a visit from several officials from Environment Canada. Later in the day we got another flight in with three more team members (our team now totals 14) and the remainder of the supplies needed for greenhouse augmentation. Tomorrow we hope to get another flight in with our communication system.

Routine activities covered ATV training, safety during traverses (trips out from base camp), and a series of short meetings to cover various aspects of the various projects underway.

After a couple of intense workdays getting things operational we’re all going to sleep in tomorrow.

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