Keith Cowing's Devon Island Journal - 12 July 2002: Building and exploring


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After several days of nice weather we awoke to this

A.C. Hitch and Gordon "Oz' Osinski at work

A.C. Hitch checking the support platform in stinging snow

The weather just got worse

Greenhouse skeleton assembly begins: ribs attached to footing

Greenhouse skeleton complete

Alain Berinstain (L) and Keegan Boyd (R) adjust LIDAR hardware to image The Fortress

Our ATV's driven - and parked along an ATV "road" to minimize terrain degradation
Today was a perfect example of just how fickle the weather is in the Arctic: I awoke to a blizzard of horizontal snow and sleet and frigid temperatures. This would continue - with some clear spells - throughout the day.

Undeterred, we pressed ahead with building the support platform and foundation for the greenhouse. Gloves, multiple layers of clothes and generally crappy weather not withstanding we managed to more or less complete the greenhouse support platform.

The weather cleared up a bit in the afternoon. This allowed us to assemble the metal skeleton of the greenhouse. My business partner Marc Boucher and I had already done this once when we test assembled the greenhouse inside Hangar 1 at NASA ARC. In so doing we made most of the mistakes in the comparable luxury of sunny California.

When we disassembled the structure, we left some pieces joined together so as to reduce the number of nuts and bolts that would need to be used. With the especially cold weather on the exact day that we assembled this structure, every bolt that did not need to be installed was a welcome relief.

This activity went rather fast. Once the 7 ribs were up a half dozen or so of us got the rest of the cross members attached in less than an hour. By this point virtually everyone in base camp had managed to lend at least a few hours to the task. Their help would be needed on many occasions in the days to come.

At last, after several days of hard work - and months of planning - we had a recognizable structure - one that looked like a greenhouse. It was, in some ways utterly incongruous to see this familiar structure arise in such a bizarre place. On the other hand, this served as powerful inspiration for me that we had managed to get this thing up here and assembled.

Indeed, just as we were finishing up the last touches on the greenhouse's skeleton, the sun came out, temperatures went up, and conditions became comfortable. This just added to the sense of satisfaction - as if nature was giving as little reward.

Later in the day we assembled a dozen or so folks so as to lift the greenhouse superstructure up a foot or so and allow the footing to be set firmly atop the support platform underneath. This only took a few minutes. Everything fit like a charm.

After dinner I went on my first "traverse". While everyone has different tasks here, an effort is made to get everyone out on several traverses out of Base Camp so as to experience the alien wonder of this place. My first foray was actually rather local - to a large rock structure called "The Fortress" which stands adjacent to Base Camp overlooking the runway.

I went out on an ATV with Alain Berinstain from the Canadian Space Agency and Keegan Boyd an intern of Alain's from McGill University. The purpose was to do a first systems test - in the field - of a LIDAR unit. This LIDAR unit generates a 3-dimensional image of a desired target scene. The Fortress was an obvious choice to 'shoot' from several angles.

CSA is developing LIDAR technology for Mars applications by working with Canadian companies such as Optech Inc. and MDRobotics. Optech Inc., Ontario Drive and Gear, Crestech, and CSA are sponsors of this particular project.

As we went out, we endeavored to follow the ATV in front of us - in the established tracks- so as to keep terrain degradation to a minimum. Later, when we needed to swing around the Fortress -and set a new trail in the process- we did so in single file. As we did this, I couldn't help but be reminded of Apollo astronauts moving across the lunar surface in their buggies and setting up equipment on the way.

The three of us also experienced one of the arctic's odd features. There are small pockets of ground that can only be described as slow motion jello quicksand. My guess is that they were colloidal suspensions of sorts - a mixture of soil and water - all set above a permafrost base several feet down. The experience was rather odd as you walked across these patches and watched the ground shake. I have to say that I have never seen anything like this.

That night I got a much better sleep having managed to rearrange my sleeping arrangements to match the topography underneath my tent - augmented with the fatigue that accompanies a full day of arctic construction work.



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