From: Haughton-Mars Project (HMP)
Posted: Monday, August 6, 2001
By: Dr. Pascal Lee
Yesterday, we went on our phase's (Phase 5) first EVA. The target site was "Site 10", a location selected last week by the Science Operations team gathered at NASA Ames Research Center. They picked an interesting location, a banana-shaped pond the length of a football field with some intriguing little gullies on the side valley walls. The Sci Ops team ranked "Site 10" among the highest priority ones they had. It seemed interesting not only for geology but also for biology. We would have to sample water from the small lake.
After some morning station keeping activities and a final EVA planning meeting, Charlie, Kelly, Samson and I set off to "Site 10" in mid- afternoon while Jaret stayed behind in the Hab to serve as IVA officer supporting the EVA. Meanwhile, Steve kept busy testing out our new generation wearable computers donated to the Haughton-Mars Project by Xybernaut Solutions Inc. They will be tested out operationally over the next several days in the context of field studies with the concept suit upper torso contributed by the aerospace firm Hamilton-Sundstrand.
Site 10 being over 4 km away and substantial field work being anticipated at the site, we conducted an EVA which included positioning an imaginary cache of supplies (4 backpacks affording 2.5 hours of usable oxygen each), in this case at Red Peak, a local hilltop located halfway between the FMARS Hab and the field site. To avoid getting bogged down in mud we chose a route that would maximize the distance to be covered on high grounds.
We reached Site 10 within an hour of departing from the Hab and began field surveys and sample collection activities immediately. To tackle the geology questions from Sci Ops separately from their biology ones (the questions were indeed unrelated in this case), we decided to split up into two buddy teams, each team remaining within line of sight of the other. Samson and I would focus on geology while Charlie and Kelly would handle the biology. In addition, Samson was our designated safety officer and kept close track of our oxygen situation. Kelly also provided overall photographic support for the panoramas Charlie and I might want to acquire.
The characterization of Site 10 turned out to be relatively surprise-free and we considered that we were done with our work after spending about 50 minutes at the site. At that point we agreed to implement an optional plan we had: push our reconnaissance one extra kilometer to the north and explore a narrow, short (1 km-long) east-west trending valley which seemed to shallow out on either end. Aerial photographs had suggested that this might be a ancient glacial trough valley. Our field observations of massive blocky bars on either end of the valley, of spire-like rocky tors along the valley's ridge lines, and the absence of any substantial channel on the valley floor all lent support to this interpretation.
The exploration of this canyon turned out to be the scenic highlight of the EVA. In all likelihood, we were the first human beings ever to visit the valley (and along with us the Discovery Channel crew and Joe Amarualik, our polar bear expert and field safety ranger from Resolute Bay). We informally named the beautiful canyon Discovery Channel Valley. It was a mineral world of mostly rock, water and ice, with evidence for life only in the form of tenuous microbial mats in meltwater ponds and pale green lithic communities living in or under rocks.
As we continued exploring, the clock was ticking. Soon we had to head back to avoid risking running out of oxygen. At all times however we remained within walking distance and time to our cache, and from there within walking distance and time to the Hab. On the way back we drove up another narrow valley. ALong its bottom we encountered several scattered fragments of an orange-red sandstone, a relatively rare occurrence in these parts of Devon Island. Perhaps the fragments are the remains of an erratic block carried in by ice from other distant reaches of the island ; perhaps we had stumbled on one of the rare beds of sandstone in the palezoic sequence of carbonate-dominated marine seabeds at Haughton. We plan to examine the samples in the next few days. We will in particular be on the look out for sandstone-hosted endolithic (rock-inhabiting) microbial colonies.
As we rejoined in the Hab, a Twin Otter had just landed at Haughton bringing in another wave of field participants for this summer's research program. Among them, Michael Boucher and Sean Murray of Hamilton-Sundstrand Space Systems Inc., Dr Dale Stokes of the Scripps Institute for Oceanography (together with Charlie Cockell we are designing a balloon-robot rover with possible application to Mars surface exploration), Dr Tam Czarnik, M.D. (our new camp doctor), Rocky Persaud (an engineering student from the University of Toronto and one of the selected volunteeers of the Mars Society), and Jim McAvin, a microbiologist with the USAF.
The skies this evening are blue but the sense is that foul weather may still be lurking. Banks of thick fog are again filling the crater. As the crew of Phase 5 begins to settle into a routine, the landscape out our windows alternates between inviting and threatening. We dream of EVAs to greater and greater distances but the Hab is our haven and indeed our link to home.
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