Keith Cowing's Devon Island Journal - 13-15 July 2002: Building a Mars Greenhouse on Earth


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NASA HMP-2002/SpaceRef



Quimmiq (L) and Keltey (R) relax on the pink board

The first sheet of Lexan goes on

Half of the Lexan installed

Remaining 4 sheets of Lexan installed

Tom Graham demonstates advanced arctic Lexan installation technique

Keith Cowing (L) and Tom Graham (R) installing closed foam strips
13 July 2002

The weather was cold again today. We managed to get 1/2-inch plywood and pink foam insulation installed on the greenhouse support platform. Over that we laid 3/4-inch plywood to serve as the greenhouse's floor.

Of course, whenever people gather, so do the dogs. More than once we had to shoo the camp dogs Keltey (black) and Quimmiq (light brown) off of the pink board. Keltey's daughter "Black Dog" provided the same guard service last year. "Quimmiq" (which also means 'dog' in Inuit) was returning for his second season of polar bear duty. The two of them were often seen trailing behind Base Camp Manager John Schutt like satellites whenever he walks around.

As the day progressed we started to get some rather pleasant weather. The skies were soon blue, and the temperature reached 10C (50F). People started to un-zip their tents a little so as to let some fresh air in.

As the day progressed further into evening (according to the clock) the sky started to become a rather pretty blue and was soon loaded with large puffy white clouds. We accepted this as a reward for our labor and enjoyed it as much as we could.

14 July 2002

The push was on to get all of the Lexan panels attached today. These sheets can be a bit awkward to work with. Even the slightest wind causes them to jump around and become "fliers". Moreover, once put in place, a process of screwing them to the metal skeleton is required. At one point or another A.C. Hitch, Tom Graham, and myself found ourselves spread eagle atop the greenhouse with a cordless drill.

We managed to get most of the panels attached before dinnertime. After dinner we went outside and finished putting the 4 or so remaining panels on the greenhouse. Although there was still Lexan to be added to both ends, you could clearly notice a difference standing inside the greenhouse - even at 8 in the evening. Being shielded from the wind, the sun's rays clearly warmed your flesh. We took this as a good omen that our greenhouse could generate enough warmth.

With regard to the ability of the greenhouse to generate and retain heat, there are two alternatives you could expect here: either you have too much heat - or not enough. Having too much heat is clearly the preferred outcome since you can either dump it outside - or, as we are now considering - you can store it for use during colder times of the day.

Not having enough heat requires that you generate it - and that requires an external power source. We are certainly going to have to provide some heat during the course of greenhouse operations. Knowing that we have the ability to use passive solar to substitute for a lot of this is comforting.

Would passive solar work on Mars? So long as materials with the right transmission and insulation properties are used - materials that can function in Mars' high UV, low temperature and pressure environment - there is no reason why it can't. Indeed, the amount of light our greenhouse gets during summer is not all that different from what one might get if placed on Mars. See "Earth on Mars: Greenhouses on the Red Planet " for more information.

15 July 2002

We got another Twin Otter flight in today. I was sitting in the work tent cutting more blue foam replacement pieces to seal the Lexan sheet joints when Marc Boucher came in. "I have a Christmas present for you" he said with a smile.

Some of our team had found our missing closed cell foam parts in the Polar Shelf warehouse in Resolute. I looked down at the pile of blue strips at my feet with some relief. These strips I had been making would work as a temporary substitute but would certainly have deteriorated in a year or so under the onslaught of arctic UV light from the sun.

We continued adding the aluminum straps that helped hold and seal the Lexan sheets into place. These strips were rather difficult to work with and usually required a group of people to get them on right. While several people held the strip in place someone else would drill.

Later, I climbed up on top pf the greenhouse and began to remove the temporary foam strips I had inserted and replaced them with the recently found foam strips. These strips fit much better and were clearly designed for the task to which they were being put.

I have been in this amazing place for a week now. I have long since adapted to the pace of life here. With greenhouse assembly proceeding at a healthy pace, I can soon look forward to more free time to accomplish my other main task: to see, experience, and document as much as I can - so as to share this with people online.


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