Status Report

NASA Arctic Mars Analog Svalbard Expedition Field Report: The First Hours – 5 August 2006

By SpaceRef Editor
August 7, 2006
Filed under , , ,
NASA Arctic Mars Analog Svalbard Expedition Field Report: The First Hours – 5 August 2006


We exited the plane in Norway directly onto the tarmac. We were allowed to debark from the front and the tail, which was good considering the rush that ensued. Cameras were clicking left and right as passengers poured off the plane. The terminal was tiny with a small room for baggage claim that barely allowed enough room for all the passengers to pack into, much less get to the rotating baggage claim belt.

By the time everyone from the AMASE crew on our flight had gotten their baggage, many of the other passengers had taken off. Paul Mahaffy who had arrived earlier met us at the airport with his super duper off-roading truck and was able to take Oliver and I to the hotel while the others waited for a Maxi Taxi (one of those long skinny European minivans that looks like an old VW van). We stayed in the Longyearbyen Radisson for the first night because the Spitzbergen Guesthouse was completely booked with tourists. I was surprised, but the flight to Svalbard was packed. There is at least one SAS flight to Longyearbyen every day of the year and at the moment there are about two.

Driving into Longyearbyen (the airport is a bit outside town) I noticed how similar it looked to the photos I’ve seen from ANSMAT trips to McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Oliver confirmed this having been on several ANSMAT trips (meteorite collecting expeditions). All the buildings were square with straight A-line roofs, most looking like sheds or very basic square houses. Bright paint colors differentiated living spaces. Despite how plain the buildings looked from the outside, on the inside they were just as nice and modern and any place on the mainland. (There is even wireless internet!!)

Even though it was 1:30 am the sky was quite light, about like and hour before sunset back in the Washington, DC area. I couldn’t see where exactly the sun was in the sky as it was completely clouded over; a common occurrence here in Longyearbyen. I had to pull the two thick curtains closed to be able to sleep.

In the morning I was awoken by Paul saying we had to be out of the hotel an hour earlier than planned. Once packed we wandered around looking for some food and finally found a really cool place called Kroa that had beautiful hardwood tables and seal skins covering all the stools and benches. It felt very arctic. The chef’s breakfast was sausage, beans and french fries. I opted for a chicken sandwich. After lunch we had our first AMASE crew meeting. Not everyone had arrived yet. Several people were delayed and a few were not scheduled to arrive for another day. The safety guy Ivar and photographer Kjell were the two native Norwegians on the crew and were both fluent in English, very informative and very nice about answering several of our naïve questions such as how we should relieve ourselves in the field. Since there are no trees or rocks to hide behind out here, apparently we are just supposed to ask everyone to turn around for a moment, take care of our business and then let everyone know they can turn back around. Hmm… I think it might still take a little bit to get used to. I guess this is why expeditions are such great bonding experiences….

In the afternoon we unpacked our GCMS and it works!!! Yaay!!! I am very relieved. Much thanks to our shipping department at Goddard who clearly did a great job. We ran a standard sample through the GCMS and can officially say we have successfully detected organics in Svalbard. Now to find organics in the rocks around here….

For dinner we went to a restaurant (there are about four restaurants in Svalbard) up the valley from town situated against a valley wall. I and several other folks decided to try the whale beef with mushrooms and onions. It was pretty good, nothing like chicken. The whale was a dark red meat, each steak was a slightly different shape and size. It was very chewy with the occasional sinewy string and tasted most like venison. Next time perhaps I’ll try the seal stew.

Kirsten Fristad
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

About Kirsten Fristad in her own words…

My name is Kirsten Fristad. I am a budding planetary scientist working in the highly talented Sample Analysis of Mars (SAM) Lab at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. I graduated from Macalester College in 2005 with a major in geology and core in astronomy knowing I wanted to pursue a research career in planetary science. Through summer internships with several planetary scientists, I developed a background in analyzing martian and lunar planetary remote sensing data and Mars analog field work in Alaska. Since starting at Goddard in May, I have been organizing the Goddard/SAM Team contribution to AMASE 2006. I will continue working in the SAM lab until fall 2007 when I will commence graduate studies in a yet to be decided location to pursue a PhD in planetary science.

Before starting at Goddard in May 2006, I worked and traveled around Australia, coached high school hurdlers, and pondered the mysteries of the universe. Aside from pondering, I love to laugh, dance, listen to music from the ’80s, and travel to remote locations. I’m really hoping I can make a career of this expedition thing.

SpaceRef staff editor.