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William J. Clancey -- Returning to Base Camp HMP-2001

Status Report From: Mars Society
Posted: Wednesday, July 18, 2001

July 18, 2001
Wednesday morning

We arrived back in base camp at 10pm after a glorious ride through the sunny night. The snow patches have largely receded. We managed to cross the Percival Lowell Canal on our ATVs at our 'normal' place for the first time this year, though it was rushing a bit and still a foot deep in places. Four of us came into camp, Pascal leading with the big trailer, then Charlie, Katy, and me. We crossed over some snow with glistening ice, which is fun on the ATVs. The 15 minute ride felt like a grand journey--broad unbounded expanses of rock and snow around us, a fully illuminated cloudless sky, the drone of our engines, and no one else in sight.

Arriving back in camp, it looked like a summer camp--chairs and lounges were out where people had evidently been enjoying the afternoon. Discovery people were standing around the ATVs eating chocolate cookies and sipping tea. All was bright sun and light winds. We shuffled our gear over to the personal tent area with the ATVs. I had a long conversation with Mark Webb (the camp cook) about our experience, then greeted Marco (Pascal's "ghost double" brother) who's now our expedition MD. I met him in '99 and was happy to see him again. It was 0030 before I pulled my bags into the tent. All was dry except for some condensation under my pads from the still frozen ground below the tent floor. As I rearranged things (finally setting up my chair), I chuckled at how I filled this four person tent, this combination bedroom, office and storage shed.

The snow is gone from around camp and dust is forming. The ravine between base and the personal areas was full of ice and snow 10 days ago, but now just has a narrow stream. Below my tent 20 yards away is a more substantial creek, which makes a pleasant sound. I placed my tent on the extreme edge of the terrace, so nothing lies between me and Resolute 110 miles away. The sight of craggy outcroppings and snow cirques towards the southwest is stunning at midnight--all is deep brown and bright white with sharp blue skies above. This morning it was warm enough (48 degrees F) to wear only a long undershirt and flannel shirt to breakfast, though I had to laugh at carrying my increasingly filled yellow pad out of my tent to breakfast. What kind of camping trip is this?

The camp improvements are amazing. The shower is done, a full stall with a wild shower curtain and wooden floor, storage areas, drain, etc., even a lock on the door with an "occupied" sign in bright orange. With perhaps four more years to go in this expedition, the camp is finally getting established. The kitchen area is equally surprising-- huge bright cans full of utensils, a new place under the counter to put dirty dishes, a sink to rinse off our plates with running water. For breakfast I had a toasted bagel with honey, the first bread in a week.

This morning I'm back in the work tent, sitting next to Charlie, near the door. The door is wide open and creaking back and forth in the light breeze, but we let it go--it gives a humorous charm to the morning. One of the dogs is barking with a friendly howl, like a wolf, probably he's just gotten his breakfast.

Miles O'Brien (science reporter for CNN) is outside talking to Pascal--"Pascal, Pascal, a quick sidebar..." Most likely they're planning the helicopter trip. We'll run excursions from about 11am to 6pm. Two fisherman (Mark from Gilroy and Samson from Pond Inlet) will be dropped off for a day at a lake, hoping to bring in some Arctic char for dinner. Charlie and I will go off with Pascal at 1330 until about 1600, heading to the gullies to the north and Devon's coast. The doors of the helicopter will be open for CNN, so I should get some good video (one doesn't mind being scrunched in the middle seat on such trips).

I have almost a full week here, which has a chance of being good weather. Every year we have had a run of 7-10 days (and nights) of continuous sunshine, perhaps this is the start. I now understand why the kids in Resolute play baseball at 3am on a sunny night. These are very special days for them. All winter it is dark and they are cold. On nights like last night, they can be outdoors and warm (relatively), and have a good time. It looked strange at first, but when you are awake at midnight and have the bright sun in your face, you feel the same way.

The Inuit are perhaps the most friendly people I have met in the world. As I walked around last night, I was greeted by young Matthew, "Hello, Bill, " he said softly and kindly. The first time he said this ten days ago, I felt embarrassed for I recognized him from last year, but couldn't remember his name. Sam Burbank says that in Resolute we are all heroes to the kids.

Sam left yesterday; we saw each other a few times in the hab. He filmed us yesterday as three of our hab crew suited up for a final EVA. We were cutting up all the time, with Charlie leading us in "Ack, Ack, Ack" (the chant from the movie Mars Attacks), followed by a mixture of accents ("You WILL don the helmet!") and Monty Python songs. Sam captured this on film and it will be hilarious when we get home (I hope to arrange a BBQ reunion during the Mars Society convention in late August).

As we came out of the hab last night, Discovery filmed our first impressions back on Earth. Oddly enough, you get used to having a huge camera pointed at you (look directly into the lens), a sound boom overhead, and a guy looking over the cameraman's shoulder prompting you. "Bill, did your group get along well?" (Remember to repeat the question when you answer.) I always say what I feel is true, but like everyone else, I prefer to give the story a positive, upbeat spin. We save the details and subtleties for our publications. But the media got the dirt on us the other day, when we were stuck in the mud. I expect I'll be in Discovery's story, but possibly only for two or three short bits. Often you give an interview and walk away wondering, were any sound bites just right? When did the interviewer and cameraman smile, and when did you say something correct, but it didn't fit their unfolding story? For example, when asked about our teammates on leaving the hab, I said we already missed Vladimir who left yesterday afternoon. They appeared slightly crestfallen; then I realized this fact didn't fit their simple story, "Crew exits the hab together." So that remark probably won't make the final film.

At my request, I'll get a copy of Discovery's video with sound of our "stuck in the mud" episode (the suited EVA from the hab on July 16). I want to analyze it for communication and coordination in an "emergency" situation. Now that I'm back in camp, I feel like I'm part of the filming and storytelling process, which is more fun than just being a subject for the cameras. When I drove in last night, Rick came out of the Discovery tent and energetically introduced himself and shook my hand, "I've been looking at you all week," he said. Each day they review and edit the tapes and redirect the ongoing coverage. There will be an immense amount of tape--two years of the HMP expedition, including 20 people in the hab this year. I'm glad to have had the opportunity in the past week to show how scientists document and model life and work in the hab, and to explain why this will be essential for Mars mission design, crew scheduling, public relations, and training.

Over the radio I now hear Base Camp's interactions with the hab. Bob Zubrin is being told that CNN wants to film a live "motorized EVA" tomorrow. Bob is excited about this, for promotion to inform and excite the public is the Mars Society's first objective in building the hab: "We are launching a movement."

Now Pascal is on the sat phone giving an interview. It's 10am and time to get my own work under way.

// end //

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