Status Report

Sam Burbank’s Journal Entry July 8, 2001 – The hab, Haughton Crater

By SpaceRef Editor
July 8, 2001
Filed under , ,

This is the journal of Sam Burbank. Sam is a filmmaker based out of San Francisco. His
company is Inverse Square Films. Sam is one of the volunteers chosen to be a part of the
2001 FMARS crew. He will be in the crew for the first rotation. The journal is copyright
Inverse Square Films.

EVA – We’re in the hab now, night number three, and settling in now, everyone
with a spot for their laptop, a rationing container for their water, a
little room, and now a spacesuit as well. The simulation (sim) started
roughly because there was still lots of cleaning, and a fair amount of
building to do around here. Some of the crew didn’t arrive until very late
on the first night, and other people, non crew were still coming through,
pulling out garbage, sawing and so on. It didn’t feel like we were on Mars.

But the morning was different. We woke up here and drank coffee together as
one after another woke, the little doors of the little rooms opening, and
sleepy eyed Martians appearing. More coffee. And slowly a conversation
developed, and before you knew it, this group had a round table discussion
going: ethics of terraforming, what to do with waste on Mars, power systems.
Now we had a sim, though it was another rough day, with people still coming
and going and more work to do around the hab; moving the generator, cleaning
up, bringing in gear. That has been trailing off since then, until today we
finally had what felt like a full day sim with all of the crew members here,
eating each meal together, and then working together for the first Extra
Vehicular Activity (EVA).

The idea was to have Frank and me do a short EVA to install a sump pump for
our waste water and an emergency exit ladder for the upper deck of the hab,
then do a longer EVA on the All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs). But it took much
longer to get the suits delivered and sorted and fitted than we had
imagined, so this would be the EVA today.

It’s not going to be easy to tell you about this, because you understand the
playing astronaut, dress up, aspects of this, but you have to understand
that as we began to don the suits, checking the radios, going down the
checklist, readying the air packs, it began to feel real. And why not? Frank
and I were being monitored by one of NASA’s shuttle physicians, having our
radios wired by one of the world premiere communication experts, and having
our gear readied by some of the best space scientists on Earth, Pascal Lee
himself checking things off the list one by one, as serious as I’ve ever
seen him. And we’re on Devon island, on one of the most Mars-like areas of
this Mars-like place, in a habitat build to NASA reference Mars mission

Frank and I gathered our tools together, Who is going to carry what? What’s
the least amount of gear we could take? Which pocket will hold my small
camera, which is best for the radio? And then there was the media, the half
dozen Discovery guys, wiring us for sound, cameras everywhere. I’ve done
SCUBA for a number of years. It’s always a shock to get the gear back on, so
much heavier and bulkier than you remember. This was like that but more
intense, and all so that we could get this research station running better,
install a sump pump, a simple task that would have taken 5 or 10 minutes

Finally we were geared up, all radio checks working, the fans on the suits
humming, packs strapped on tight. Frank looked awesome. He was going to take
an EVA from the ship he built. Isn’t this what life was supposed to be like?
Do you remember that, as a kid, thinking, why don’t adults just build
spaceships and do the things that are so obviously exciting and worth doing?
There he was, surrounded and supported by some of the sharpest minds on
Earth, preparing to walk on Mars. The first prints! And so this was it, we
were ready; time to walk to the airlock, to leave the others. Time to go

It had been decided a few days before that we would follow the prebreathing
protocols followed by NASA, used to avoid the bends on spacewalks. This
meant a 30 minute wait in the airlock. We hadn’t talked about this much,
what this time would be like, or if we had, it was always in the context of
it being a nuisance. But it wasn’t that at all. Frank and I have both really
been working hard since arriving at Devon, he maybe twice as hard as me (I’m
not kidding), but both very hard, with very little downtime, and that
busyness, franticness, peaked with our suiting up. Now we were in an
airlock, nothing to do. It was heaven: quiet, peaceful. Yes, there were some
continued radio checks, but that was it.

And so we shot the breeze; I asked Frank questions about his life after
having worked so hard together these past few days when there was very
little time for any small talk, totally forgetting about the work of the
previous days. What was his wife’s name again? And what a shame that my old
pop band didn’t play with his band, Devo, years ago when we were offered a
gig with them at the Oasis club in San Jose. And wasn’t that a funny club,
with the swimming pool right in the middle, he reminded me. How much time
left, hab? 17 minutes of prebreathe. Roger that.

And so there was this cool down, this recalibration, mission control
sometimes cutting in with thoughts: 10 minutes of prebreathe left. Copy
that, hab.

No anticipation or anxiety. You have anything you want to say when you go
out? Yeah, I’ve been thinking of something. You? I’m not sure. Who’s going
first? You are, Frank.

And he did. We were given the green light to leave the airlock and begin the
EVA and repairs. My friend cranked on the massive door handle and pushed it
outward and we were blinded by the scene, and Frank hesitated, just
slightly, and looked out there, and that moment began a two hour long
epiphany for me. He descended down the ladder, deliberately pacing each
step, until he was on the surface, and then he spoke, though I’m not sure
what he said. I’m not sure I could hear anything at that point; I admit it,
I was stupefied. I’ll have to ask him what he said later. I know what I
said; as I followed him to the surface, I paraphrased Stan Robinson’s John
Boone of Red Mars: Well, Frank, here we are.

Here we were. The weather had changed while we were in the airlock. We had
seen that through the small window in the door. What had been a relatively
clear day had now fogged in some, creating more of a sense of isolation; or
remoteness, I should say. The visibility of a very clear day of SCUBA. We
had a problem immediately; the hose we had planned to use for the sump was
gone. There was another, much more rigid hose that would work, but when we
relayed that possibility to the hab we were told to wait for an answer. That
hose was designated for something else.

So we decided to take a little walk to one of the satellite dishes behind
the hab overlooking the crater. We got in a little trouble for that. It may
have been two hundred feet away, but this is not how the controllers in the
hab wanted us to spend our limited time. But it was too late; we were
already there. We both wanted to see the place before getting to work,
especially if there was going to be this break in the action. And so we
walked around the ridge, peering into the crater, feeling our footing, and
air supply and the weight of the packs, and getting used to the sound of
your companions voice in one ear.

Yes, you guys can use the other hose; how on that? Copy, will continue on
sump installation, over…

Just getting the tape off the hose took minutes. Where was the exacto knife?
That pocket. Okay, you’ve got it steady? Yup. It was hard, with the
faceplates fogging up so much, just to see the work, to make sure the blade
was staying away from the hose.

Once the hose was freed, Frank went to work, dragging the thing across the
rocky ground to the edge of the crater where the water will be sent
downward, away from the hab. We returned to the container where the sump
would be placed, and grabbed the pump and hose clamp, then began to fit the
pieces together.

There was a problem: the hose we were now using was the correct diameter,
but it was so rigid the hose clamp wouldn’t crank down hard enough to hold
it on the sump. We both knew what to do; we would cut ridges maybe an inch
down the hose, creating a gap where the hose could be compressed with the

Okay, so we knew what to do, but it took so long to do it. Everything did.
At one point we each had one hand on the pump and I would hold the clamp,
and Frank would crank on it with a screwdriver. Then as it got cinched down,
we would find a larger screwdriver- another couple of minutes- and switch
who was cranking on it, and so on. It all took a while, but we finally had
it, and Frank dropped the pump underwater, plugged it in, and we walked to
the ridge again to see it working, pumping well, and the two men gave each
other a high five and believed for a moment that we had just repaired a ship
on Mars.

This easy little job, a few minutes any other time, was tough, a real
struggle with the bulky gloves on and such hindered visibility. It clearly
showed how much more effort will be needed to do even simple tasks in

We then did our next task, placing an emergency ladder on the side of the
hab and tying it off. That was more precarious, but easier overall. Again
though, everything harder than you’d guess.

We returned to the airlock for our re-pressurization. A few minutes later we
were greeted by the other crew members and had a briefing upstairs, and told
them all about what Mars is like, and what it’s like to work out there;
you’ll see tomorrow, we said; this planet is beautiful. You’ll see.

SpaceRef staff editor.