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Haughton-Mars Project (HMP-2001 REPORT: 010709)

Status Report From: Haughton-Mars Project (HMP)
Posted: Monday, July 9, 2001

By: Dr. Pascal Lee

We had a great busy day, with hab upkeep and improvement activities, and two simulated EVAs.

The hab itself is currently safe and comfortable enough to live in, but it will continue to require work and finishing touches for some time. Steve is still very busy setting up our comms and IT research and support systems and has been allowed the flexibility to break from sim as required.

This morning, Sam and Darlene egressed the airlock at 11:30 am to go on a walking EVA. They retrieved a passive air sampler experiment set up on Haynes Ridge last summer by Darlene and HMP Co-Investigator Marianne Douglas to collect airborne persistent organic pollutants. The instrument is part of a network of monitors established in the Arctic to help measure how atmospheric pollutants are transported around our planet. Charlie served as IVA Officer for the EVA, keeping track of Darlene and Sam's status and needs. This simulated EVA lasted 1.5 hours and went very well.

Around 5:30 pm, we departed on the second EVA of the day. Charlie, Rainer, Frank and I took off on what will be the first and only scientific exploration traverse of this short Phase 1. We had two target sites to visit: 1) "Devo Rock" valley to look for possible Mars-like gullies along the valley walls and also possible impact-induced ancient hydrothermal pipe structures ; and 2) a small impact breccia outcrop to look for impact- shocked rocks (gneisses and granites) excavated from the basement of Devon Island in order to characterize their ability to host microbes.

We started by driving out first to the farthest objective, Devo Rock Valley, located 3.5 miles away from the Hab. The sky was blue with a few scattered clouds. The light on the land was beautiful. For the first time in days, we had fine weather.

We assumed we had 3 hours of oxygen in our packs and 3 additional hours each on our ATV. When we rode our ATVs, we assumed we were using the ATV's supplies. When we got off to walk, the clock for our backpack supplies would tick. Rainer was in charge of keeping track of our oxygen supplies. He allowed us to make sure that we remained within walking distance from the hab at all times.

At Devo Rock Valley, we did not see any of the Mars-like gullies seen elsewhere on Devon Island nor any sign of ancient hydrothermal activity as seen in other valleys around Haughton Crater. Devo Rock, however, which Frank and I had visited just three months ago in April was now completely free of snow.

From there we headed towards the southwest into Haughton Crater in search of an accessible breccia outcrop. The terrain became more and more wet. Soon, our ATVs got bogged down in mud. Mud patches are usually best crossed by speeding up. But we were intent on keeping our vehicle speed below 20 kph, a pace one would probably not want to exceed while exploring Mars. Once trapped in mud, we had to resort to team work to haul each other's vehicle out of the sludge. At one point, all four of us had to get together to pull just one ATV out of the mud. Had we been only three on the traverse, we might have had to abandon the one vehicle and would have faced an emergency in our simulation. On Mars we wouldn't have mud, but we might get bogged down in sand. The exploration strategies we are developing on Devon Island might one day come in handy...

The breccia outcrop was reached after 3 hours of EVA. Although appearing as a conspicuous light-colored patch on airphotos, the outcrop turned out to be a very thin veneer of weathered breccia. We were nevertheless able to pick up a few nice pieces of the concrete-like rock. Charlie even found a chunk of basement gneiss (a rock originally located at a depth of over one mile before it was excavated by the impact event) partly colonized by lithic (rock-loving) microorganisms, just what we had been looking for.

But the clock was ticking. Rainer and I checked our EVA status. We had 1 hour of oxygen left on our ATVs (including 30 minutes of "don't count on it" reserve) and 2 hours in our suit backpacks (also including the 30 minutes of contingency reserve). The Hab was in sight but would probably require 1.5 hours to reach on foot. By ATV, we were about 15-20 minutes from home. It was time to head back.

The way back went smoothly. We reached the Hab as the sun was nearing its lowest point on the horizon towards the North. Our EVA had lasted 4.5 hours. It was now 10 pm...

Once back in the hab, we all met to debrief on the EVA. We also prepared dinner. On Phase 1 we have been dining everyday on reheated prepared meals stored in individual ziploc bags filled at the HMP Base Camp by Mark Webb, our camp cook (Mark is a biology teacher from Pflugerville High School near Austin, TX and is also the HMP's Education Program Manager). Food prepared in such a way is essentially analogous to the preprepared thermostabilized "space station food" (canned food stored in soft-walled pouches) we consumed last summer on the HMP as part of a study conducted with Vicki Kloeris at NASA Johnson Space Center. Mark did a great job at making our space food.

Tomorrow will be our last day in the Hab. We don't intend to EVA again, as we'll need time to analyze some of the photographs and samples we've acquired today. Also, we'll need to finish setting up the lab and cleaning up the Hab.

Tonight, we are exhausted but we have big smiles. We are happy. Afterall, here we are on Devon Island, inside a Hab, simulating how humans might one day live and work on Mars. If what we are experiencing is any indication, the real journey will be incredible.

// end //

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