Keith Cowing's Devon Island Journal - 10 July 2007: Back to the Arctic


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Once again I am headed north to Devon Island, the home of the Haughton-Mars Project. This is a place many have come to call "Mars on Earth" for its similarity to terrain on Mars. Due to this similarity - and a number of other factors (including its isolation) a wide range of scientific and engineering activities are conducted here in an effort learn how to live on other world such as the Moon - and Mars - and perhaps elsewhere.

For me this is my third trip to Devon Island - my third mission, if you will. My first trip in 2002 involved the establishment of a greenhouse that my company donated to the Haughton-Mars Project. The second trip involved follow-up activities for that greenhouse's operations. Both of those trips were a few days shy of a month in length. As such, I got a nice healthy dose of what life was like in a remote and extreme location.

Yet there had to be more than just these two trips.

In this regard I often found myself beset with a slight variation on the latter part of the old sailor's lament: when he's at sea, he wishes to be home and when he's at home he wishes to be at sea. My first trip was a life altering experience. The second trip was more of a routine activity. That was inevitable, of course.

Yet thoughts of Devon Island continued to resonate in the back - and often the forefront of my mind. Moreover I found myself increasingly interested in the thinking and planning that goes into all sorts of exploration - and expeditions.

This interest in terrestrial and extraterrestrial exploration led me to suggest an idea which eventually became a conference that John Grunsfeld and I organized for NASA - "Risk and Exploration: Earth, Sea, and the Stars". We sought to fuse a variety of earthly exploration venues with what is being done in space - by people and their machines. This was done with the hope that a new synthesis wherein the similarities and differences became more understandable - not only to the general public who finances these ventures - but also to the participants themselves who often know a lot less about other people's research than you'd think.

While the event was a success, I felt that topic was not fully covered in 2004. As such Sean O'Keefe and I came up with a plan to hold a second symposium titled "Risk and Exploration: Earth as Classroom" which will be held at Louisiana State University in October 2007. This event is meant to complement and expand up the topics raised in the first event. My co-chair for this event is astronaut (and LSU professor) Leroy Chiao. Northrop Grumman Corporation has graciously agreed to serve as the prime corporate sponsor for this event.

This year I am traveling north to mount a weeklong series of educational webcasts in conjunction with the Mars Institute and the Challenger Center for Space Science Education. A dozen Challenger Centers across the U.S. will participate. In addition, we will be carrying a numbered flag from the Explorers Club (Leroy and I are Fellows of the Club) and reporting back to the Club on our activities.

The name of this event bears deliberate similarity to the LSU conference later this year and is called simply "Earth as a Classroom".

My team is an interesting one. Traveling with me up to Devon Island are Matthew Reyes and (a few days later) Leroy Chiao. Matt works for Zero Gravity corporation as Director of Operations. In addition to supervising the maintenance and operation of Zero Gravity Corp's jets, he also gets weightless, often several times a month, for a living. Matt has both an operational background and training in Biology and Horticulture and was a graduate of NASA's Astrobiology Academy.

Although retired from NASA, Leroy Chiao is still very much a professional astronaut i.e. you get the clear impression that he has every intent of flying in space again. Like Matt, he too used to get weightless for a living - albeit for weeks, or in the case when he commanded the International Space Station, months at a time.

At the last minute a medical issue has forced former astronaut Bill Readdy to drop out rather than potentially risk compromising our mission to Devon Island given its remote location. Bill was instrumental in arranging the participation of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education in our activities on Devon Island. Bill will be participating from the Challenger Center in Alexandria, Virginia and will also assist with post-mission outreach after we return from our trip.

In the four years sine I last made this journey I have often thought of coming back. When I did return I needed to have a clear, firm purpose for coming. I also needed to be ready to re-experience the place - as a veteran, to be sure, but also as someone who has had 4 years to incorporate the experience. By virtue of having several traveling companions who are seeing this for the first time, I hope to get a vicarious refresher course in just how unusual and yet special this place is.

So with regard to my team, I am on one hand a seasoned veteran while Matt and Leroy are newbies. Yet in terms of operational space and aerospace flight, I am only a dilettante whereas Matt and Leroy lived that life 24/7. Taken together I think we make an interesting team.

While we are on Devon Island we will be planning and executing 5 webcasts focused on students at Challenger Learning centers. Our task is to try and take what people are doing in the field - often live or near-live and convey the importance and the excitement to these students. We will be answering questions posed by our audience and hopefully getting all of them to think about what could lie ahead of them as we continue to explore space.

Most importantly, we hope to instill a sense of what has been recently coined at NASA Ames Research Center as "participatory exploration" i.e. allowing students to look over the shoulders of the people who are conducting research as that research is actually going on.

The topics we will cover include how base camps and research stations work, impact craters, life support systems, and living the life of an explorer - on Earth and in space. We'll only be on the island for 8 days - we won't see everything that goes on during this year's field season at the Haughton Mars Project Research Station, but we'll do our best to capture every thing we possibly can during our time here.

Matt, Leroy and I will be blogging from Devon Island and posting photos. After we get back we will begin to post much, much more - plus provide commentary on what the experience meant to all of us.

Between the events we cover on Devon Island this summer, and the symposium at LSU this Fall, Leroy, Matt, Bill, and I all hope to surface topics that are as relevant to the people who currently explore this world and others - as well as those people who will one day assume those responsibilities.


About Devon Island, The Haughton-Mars Project, and the Mars Institute

The Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) is an international interdisciplinary field research project centered on the scientific study of the Haughton impact structure and surrounding terrain, Devon Island, high arctic, viewed as a terrestrial analog for Mars. The rocky polar desert setting, geologic features and biological attributes of the site offer unique insights into the possible evolution of Mars - in particular the history of water and of past climates on Mars, the effects of impacts on Earth and on other planets, and the possibilities and limits of life in extreme environments. In parallel with its science program, the HMP supports an exploration program aimed at developing new technologies, strategies, humans factors experience, and field-based operational know-how key to planning the future exploration of the Moon, Mars and other planets by robots and humans. The HMP managed jointly by the Mars Instituteand by the SETI Institute.

Keith Cowing's 2007 Devon Island Journals

10 July 2007: Back to the Arctic
11 July 2007: Heading North
12 July 2007: Dropping Onto Devon Island
13 July 2007: Teaching About Roses on Mars
14 July 2007: Using an iPhone on Mars
15 July 2007: Surreal Landscapes and Late Evening Thoughts
16-17 July 2007: Webcasts, Robots, Astronauts, and Dogs
18 July 2007: Ancient Memorials for Modern Space Explorers
19 July 2007: Sheer Audacity
20-22 July 2007: The Persistence of Memory
27 July 2007: Polar Deserts and Global TV

Keith Cowing's 2003 Devon Island Journals

17 Jun 2003: Preface: Moving from Green to Grey
3 Jul 2003: Waiting in Resolute
3-5 July 2003: Arrival and Getting to Work
6 July 2003: Getting in the Groove
7 July 2003: Part 1: Being here - and being there.
7 July 2003: Part 2: Getting Out of Base Camp
8 July 2003: Infrastructure
9 July 2003: Re-connected; Planting Seeds
17 July 2003: Rover Arrival
18 July 2003: Wind
19 July 2003: Illness, Good Food, and Morale
20 July 2003: Arctic Memorials and Starship Yearnings
20 July 2003: Going Home
21 July 2003: Departure - and One Last Dedication
24 July 2003: 24 July 2003: Homeward Bound - In Slow Motion
26 August 2003: Home +30

Keith Cowing's 2002 Devon Island Journals

8 Jul 2002: Arrival
9 Jul 2002: Getting acquainted - and down to work
10 Jul 2002: Mars carpentry
11 Jul 2002: Lexan Kites, shotguns, and Driver's Ed
12 Jul 2002: Building and exploring
13-15 Jul 2002: Building a Mars greenhouse on Earth
16 Jul 2002: Sealing Greenhouses on Earth - and Mars; 6 Wheeled Rovers
17 Jul 2002: Greenhouse Dedication, Fishing, and Mystery Food
18 Jul 2002: Giving Blood, Eternal Light, and an Evening Commute
19 Jul 2002: The Hottest Place on Devon Island, T-shirts, a Star Trek hello
20 Jul 2002: Mars Airplanes and Communicating With Earth
21 Jul 2002: Visiting ministers, missing 'green', and crater tours
22 Jul 2002: The hottest place on Devon Island
23 Jul 2002: Farewells, Birthdays, and Bartering
24 Jul 2002: EVAs, movies - and 'being here'
25 Jul 2002: Russian TV, webcam privacy, and being on Mars for a few minutes
26 Jul 2002: Cold Feet, Chocolate, and Home Cooking
27 Jul 2002: Anchors and anemometers
28 Jul 2002: Drilling into permafrost; leaving footprints for eternity
29 Jul 2002: Showering near the North Pole; one last look around
30 Jul 2002: Departure and arrival
31 Jul 2002: Culture shock and flight delays
1 Aug 2002: Departure into darkness
2 Aug 2002: Green overdose; home at last
2 Sep 2002: Home +30

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