Status Report

NASA AMASE 2008: Day 1: Marilyn’s entry

By SpaceRef Editor
August 11, 2008
Filed under , ,
NASA AMASE 2008: Day 1: Marilyn’s entry

August 4, 2008 / Written by: Marilyn Fogel

Andrew Steele is my colleague at the Geophysical Laboratory of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, a brother staff scientist for the past 7 or 8 years, and a member of our small, influential geobiology group. But, he is more than that-we are co-conspirators at the Lab, drumming up ways to infuse a strong dose of fun into our work, thinking up elaborate pranks (and often carrying them out) all the while creating an atmosphere of scientific and intellectual accomplishment. He may not like to admit this, but his first field trip was in the summer of 2002, when we went with the younger folks in our labs to Maryland’s Eastern shore on an ecological field trip to determine the extent and nature of environmental perturbation from chicken farming. At our first stop, Steelie waded into a pond with his sandals on and promptly lost one to the bottom muck! From that time until 2007, he traveled a great deal further-not just in miles, but in ability and accomplishment.

In 2003, owing to last minute cancellations, Steelie was bound for Spitsbergen, Norway, with a group of international scientists led by Hans Amundsen. Preparations were very last minute. It was not clear what this group would actually be doing other than strolling around the Arctic looking at lichens on rocks. When Steelie returned, first thing he came by my office, closed the door, and said, “Now I know what this field work is all about!”

Myself, I have field areas around the world (and even in local Maryland) and spend as much time as I can in the natural world. Personally, I was thrilled with Steelie’s revelation and over the years our relationship as mentioned above grew from being professional to one of great friendship, not just colleague but a confident with each other serving as psychological therapist, human resource manager, and world travelers.

When Steelie’s knee was taken out this summer during the first 2 minutes of our Lab’s “friendly” soccer game, I was on the sidelines organizing the women’s part of the coed team. I saw the injury happen, administered first aid, and hauled him to the local sports doctor. First thing on our minds (other than the knee) was AMASE. He especially looks forward to this expedition each year and has worked his way up in the importance and management structure from eccentric microbiologist to Science Leader of AMASE and Principal Investigator of a multi-million dollar NASA funded project. We were optimistic as we sat in the doctor’s office, realized his ACL (an interior knee ligament) was torn. Both of us have suffered this particular injury before, underwent the surgery and the long rehabilitation that is required to regain normal physical range.

The following week, his doctor called him at home, opened up a one-hour appointment specifically for him, and stressed (underline that word!), that Steelie needed immediate surgery or he potentially would lose future functioning of his knee. Understandably, he was low. Knowing how he feels about AMASE, but also knowing the seriousness of the injury, I advised him as co-AMASer, colleague, and friend that he needed to stay home, get the surgery over with, and thus, pass up AMASE 2008.

It was my job to call Hans Amundsen. Steelie and Hans have developed a deep friendship over the years since they first participated on AMASE in 2003. We were all aware that AMASE 2008 would be different. Steelie, nervous about giving up scientific leadership, asked me to take over. In a period of two days, after numerous calls and soul searching, Steelie made the decision for immediate surgery and promptly fell into a blue funk.

The rapid change in scientific perspective weighed heavily on me for a couple of days. My plans for quiet collection and curation of Svalbard’s flora and the testing of an upgraded instrument in the field grew blurry. Steelie and I worked together on finalizing the Science Plan for 2008. Science planning has always been loosely organized on board ship, but since AMASers have been bringing complex instrumentation for the past three years, this planning has to be more formal.

To tell the truth, I had some concerns. The AMASE team for 2008 consists of over 30 scientists and engineers. The management team consists of Hans (of course), Steelie, Liane Benning, Pan Conrad, and myself-the self anointed Babes of Science, and our Safety specialist Ivar. Midtkandal. To fill the void this year we invited Steve Squyres of MER fame to join our small team. The Babes of Science provide balance to AMASE leadership: AMASE is a complex, interdisciplinary scientific family. Every good family needs strong female leadership to function as it does. Traditionally, I have taken the role of the Mother of the expedition. Taking a more senior leadership role amidst strong males can be tricky.

My leadership style is different from Steelie’s, naturally, although our scientific goals are pretty well aligned. The first few days in Longyearbyen were packed with dealing with small logistical problems. We also have on board 12 “newbies” some of who have never been in the field, much less the high Arctic. Fog delayed the arrival of some AMASers. It also compounded the arrival of some key boxes of equipment critical for the functioning of our scientific instruments. At the 11th hour, all AMASers made it on board ship and we sailed within 6 hours of original plan.

Arriving in Bockfjorden is always a thrill. We stand on the deck and say, “We are home now!” Home? How can part of Sptisbergen, Norway, be “Home” to us when we spend a scant 1-2 weeks a year in this magical environment? It was tough to call Steelie via Satellite phone to tell him we were here. I could literally hear the longing, resentment, and yes, encouragement in his voice. He asked how I was doing, was I getting enough sleep? On our first big trip out to Troll Springs, we called him at 3 am. He was excited for his students, and I was personally relieved.

At the start of day 4, I can see AMASE 2008 taking shape and form. We still have our minor problems (more later), have resolved many issues, and I look forward today to climbing Sverrefjellet to study Planetary Habitability with the Babes of Science!

SpaceRef staff editor.