Getting Ready for Devon Island – An excerpt from Katy Quinn’s Journal

By SpaceRef Editor
July 8, 2001
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Note: Text and photos republished from Katy Quinn’s FMARS page by permission of the author.

Author’s Disclaimer: the opinions and views in this article are solely my
own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Mars Society, MIT, or

Me (Katy Quinn) in the Pioneer Astronautics car park looking quite the astronaut.

This past May I went to Denver to participate in a variety of training sessions in preparation for my stint as a crew member within the Mars Society’s FMARS (Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station) during the Summer 2001 field season.

What a great weekend. I feel much better prepared to go to the Arctic now. Quick highlights of the trip: the amazing Rocky Mountain Mars Society Chapter
people, very cool looking analog space suits, and stromatolites.

10 May 2001 – Thursday:

I flew into Denver International Airport tonight from Boston. I met up with Charles Frankel who flew in from France and
who will be the geologist in the crew rotation after mine. Dewey Anderson
from the Rocky Mountain Mars Society chapter was there to pick us up to
spend the night at his house. Dewey is one of the main designers
of the space suits – and he let Charles and I get a sneak peak that night.
Bits and pieces of suit are everywhere and Dewey is planning on staying
up all night to finish things up for tomorrow’s crew briefing on the suits.
Can I say again how amazing these local chapter guys are?

Me at the Boulder reservoir giving the suit and myself a workout.

11 May 2001 – Friday:

We started early this morning at Pioneer Astronautics, Robert Zubrin’s
company, the location of mission control for this weekend. This will also be the location for Mission Control during actual field season this summer. We spent most of the morning getting briefed on- and practicing suiting up in the space suits.

The suits look fantastic! The suits are made of canvas with ribbing sewn in, backpacks with a water supply, air fans and batteries (which are necessary with the helmets on), and beautiful acrylic helmets. As realistic as they look, the intent of these suits is to provide an operational simulation of what it would be like to work inside a spacesuit – not to actually try and design a suit that would work on Mars. They certainly wouldn’t use canvas on Mars! There are four suits ready this weekend and we’ll have a few more before the summer field season in the Arctic.

The gloves and helmets are designed to mimic how a real astronaut would
be encumbered by their suit so we can practice how hard it is to do field
work on Mars. There is also the issue of practicing field communications. During our simulation we used all the time we were in the suits. You really need someone to help you get everything on. There is a check
list so you don’t forget anything.

After a quickie lunch of pizza and soda we had some informational briefings.
Robert Zubrin filled us in on the plan for the weekend, which would be mostly
short practice EVA’s in the suits and interactions with mission control to work
out the bugs before Devon Island. He also went over goals and priorities for
the upcoming field season in the Arctic. Pascal Lee then gave some background
on the project and Devon Island, mostly for the benefit of rookies like me, as
well as some logistics issues. Then Tony Muscatello, the head of FMARS (Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station) mission control, went over the EVA reporting requirements we would be practicing this weekend.

Whew, information overload! I’m glad Robert Zubrin and other Devon Island veterans will be on my crew rotation.

The main message coming through is to strive for the best field
science possible within the simulation constraints. We’ll be trying to make the
FMARS habitat and our field procedures as realistic as possible. This means no going outside without suits on, a built-in communications time delay between the hab and mission control, etc.

Hero shot of the four lads, looking quite the part. I believe it’s Brent,
Bill, Charles Frankel, and Charlie Cockell (L-R).

It’s now mid-afternoon on Friday and we all headed up to Nederland in
the mountains above Boulder to squeeze in our first practice EVA’s before the
sun went down. Upon arrival, we regrouped at the Boulder reservoir and split into two teams. Each team had two people suit up and practice tromping around the flood plain at the head of the reservoir while the other people in our group observed and took notes. This area reminded me a lot of the Pathfinder site on Mars: lots of transported rocks and water-formed features. It was especially evocative as the sun was going down and the light became redder. And there I was in a space suit, feeling the air flow from the suit fans on my face, hearing nothing but my own breathing and the occasional crackle of the radio headset.
I had goose bumps.

The suits worked really well and only fogged up a little when I was really
exerting at the end of the simulation. The acrylic face plate worked a bit too well: I put a big scratch on mine when I brought a rock up to my face for a closer look – Oops! I haven’t figured out how I’ll use a rock lens yet! Getting up and down in the suit is manageable and you definitely feel the isolation from
your environment in terms of sound and touch. I think the use of these suits in the field will be a very good test of what an astronaut will have to go through on Mars. The suits are really quite fantastic.

Checking out the stromatolite finding …

After the Boulder reservoir EVA we went back to Brian Enke’s house in
Nederland (just up the road). Brian basically let us take over the house
this weekend. What a swell guy. His wife has made herself scarce. Smart
girl! We spent hours debriefing mission control and writing all our reports.
Some valuable lessons learned. I’ve got to keep up on the paper work and budget
enough time.

As part of the overall simulation we’re testing out some promising audio file techniques as well.

The final debriefing at the end of the weekend with mission control was very enlightening. We got to hear their point of view – and their thirst for information. As such, I think the weekend’s most important lesson was the value of communication. We had a late dinner and wrapped up. After the day’s events it was difficult to get to sleep with all the exciting things to talk about and new people to get to know.

12 May 2001 – Saturday:

Saturday’s events were planned as being an extended version of Friday afternoon with both teams doing longer EVA’s. The other team went off first and took all four suits.
The plan was to have them do their EVA. Then my team would get the suits and
do an EVA while the other team wrote up their reports. My team didn’t go
out until midday so we had a chance to go over communications with mission control from yesterday. We also took the opportunity to pick Robert Zubrin’s brain about life on Devon Island.

… and recording it for posterity.

We headed out on EVA around midday. Bob Poole from the local chapter
picked the EVA area and acted as the guide. Since I suited up yesterday, I would
act as an observer and note taker today. It was pretty hot that afternoon
but the suits worked well. The guys didn’t get too overheated. The
people suited up from my team where Charles Frankel, Charlie Cockell, Bill
Clancey, and Brent Bos. Christine Jayarajah (who also suited
up yesterday) and I pretended we were back in the hab on the radio taking notes.

Interacting with the EVA team and trying to take notes at the same time is like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time: you really need two people back at the hab monitoring things when folks are on EVA. The EVA exercises were great for working out the kinks. You take a lot of things for
granted when you’re not in a suit and you have to re-adjust all your field
procedures and interactions. The guys did a great job in the suits, although
some folks were radio bandwidth hogs (I’m not naming names, let’s just say
geologists can be quite excitable).

The highlight of the EVA was a lovely stromatolite outcrop, which is a fossilized algal mat – one of the oldest types of fossils on Earth. Just the sort of thing you’ve love to find on Mars. Perhaps love is too fine a word – try rapture. Try a re-setting of our place in the Universe …

Back to the Nederland “Hab” Saturday evening to write our reports to mission control. I am getting better at it with practice. After that, we spent the rest of the evening chatting about the upcoming field season and getting to know folks better. Charles Frankel took on dinner duty for the second night in a row and whipped up a yummy chicken, veggie, and rice combo. Jokes are being made about swapping around crew assignments to get Frenchie (Charles’ temporary nickname) on one’s rotation.

Later, Bill Clancey showed us some video he took from last year and some images showing the FMARS habitat layout. I can now start to imagine myself there. That evening Robert Zubrin also did a teleconference with an Australian Mars Society conference. He is one busy man! As part of the telecon I had a chance to answer some questions, being the Aussie representative. My first PR duties! I was glad that I got to practice on a safe crowd! I went to bed late again – I’m beginning to see the pattern for the field season.

13 May 2001 – Sunday:

Today we headed back down to Boulder and Pioneer Astronautics for a final
debriefing and info dump. Pascal gave a good slide show chock full of
science background. Then we moved on to the logistics of getting up to Devon Island and what personal equipment we’d need to take with us. The weekend was a huge success and the Rocky Mountain chapter should be congratulated for their large part in it.

We wrapped up and headed out to the airport. As we arrived I was already high on anticipation. I can’t wait to head up to the Arctic!

On to Mars!

Copyright © 2001 Katy Quinn – All rights reserved. The text and images within
this web document may not be used or reproduced in any form or by any means,
or stored in a public database retrieval system, without prior written or
electronic permission of the author. Reproduced on SpaceRef with the permission of the author.

SpaceRef staff editor.