Sunsets on sMars

We are fortunate to have a western view out our only window here at HI-SEAS. This gives us the opportunity to view spectacular sunsets on simulated Mars. The slopes of Mauna Loa are desolate lava fields as far as the eye can see, and although the view is always the same, it never gets boring.

Olympus OM-D EM-5 with Triggertrap Mobile connected.
Olympus OM-D EM-5 with Triggertrap Mobile connected.

To capture the splendour of a Martian sunset, I set up my Olympus OM-D EM-5 with a Triggertrap Mobile connected to an iPad to capture a high-resolution image every half a second. The resulting 7,200 images were composed into a time-lapse video with GoPro Studio, and the resulting movie was sped up 120% with iMovie to make it the same length as the song Calm Down by Souvs.

Here’s the final result, I hope you like it as much as I do:

Extra Vehicular Activities

The HI-SEAS crew has been busy getting into routines here in the habitat, but one thing doesn’t feel routine yet: leaving the dome. We’ve only been here for 18 days, and already we’ve completed 10 sorties, accomplishing a number of tasks on our Martian to-do list.

Preparing Commander Stedman for an EVA
Preparing Commander Stedman for an EVA in an MX-C suit.

Extra Vehicular Activities, or EVAs for short, take a lot of preparation. Before we even get into our suits, we first need to send in an EVA plan to mission control and wait for their approval. Whether we are checking the water level in our storage tanks, or doing a photographic survey of the nearby terrain, we must have permission from our ground controllers first. Luckily, all of our plans have been approved.

On a recent EVA, we surveyed the terrain around the HI-SEAS habitat so that we could plan some longer explorations. You can see the GigaPan Image we created. You can also see the YouTube video I made:

The view from the top of a nearby cinder cone towards Mauna Kea.
The view from the top of a nearby cinder cone towards Mauna Kea.

Each of the EVA suits weights upwards of 50 lbs. There are two main types of suits that we are using, modified hazmat suits, and my favourites, University of Maryland’s MX-C suits. Internally, there are fans that blow fresh air throughout the suit, simulating a life support system, and on the MX-C there is a liquid cooling garment that we pump ice water through to keep the occupant cool.

Commander Stedman examines a sample in the MX-C suit.
Commander Stedman examines a sample in the MX-C suit.

Exploration will play a large role in future EVAs, but we also plan EVAs that don’t involve a lot of travel. Astronomy EVAs, for example, have been a great opportunity for the crew to test their skill at capturing astronomical events such as the recent lunar eclipse.

Beginning of the lunar eclipse of April 14th, 2014.
Beginning of the lunar eclipse of April 14th, 2014.

Of course, real Martian astronauts wouldn’t be able to take a picture of Earth’s moon the way we can, but they might try their luck at taking a photo of Phobos when it eclipsed the Sun!

The moon shortly after totality, April 14th, 2014.
The moon shortly after totality, April 14th, 2014.

That doesn’t stop us from doing some real Martian astronomy though. In the next image, you can see the moon during the recent eclipse, and if you look just above the moon you’ll see a red dot: Mars!

The Moon and Mars outside of the HI-SEAS habitat.
The Moon and Mars outside of the HI-SEAS habitat.

There is a particular challenge to amateur astronomy on Mars, and it’s all because of the spacesuits! We can’t see clearly through the domes of our spacesuits, which makes aiming our cameras a challenge. Additionally, we are wearing heavy gloves that make manipulation of the camera controls very difficult! Of course, I have come up with a solution to that problem, but I will save that for another day.

Martian astronomers pose for a photograph in front of the HI-SEAS habitat.
Martian astronomers pose for a photograph in front of the HI-SEAS habitat. Can you spot the tiny meteor in the image?

Despite the poor visibility, the astronomy EVA was the most strikingly beautiful for me. With a lower atmospheric pressure, the clarity of the night sky is astounding.

Orion walks along the curvature of the dome.
Orion walks along the curvature of the dome.

I will be planning future nighttime EVAs to capture the Milky Way, and as a little teaser, I’ll leave you with this image:

The HI-SEAS dome underneath the Milky Way.
The HI-SEAS dome underneath the Milky Way.


First Week on sMars

It’s now T+10 days since we first arrived on the surface of sMars* and there is a lot to fill you in on.  If you are following me on Facebook and Twitter, you may have seen the geological training we received T-7 days before the start of the mission. I have more to say about that, but it will have to wait for a future post. (*simulated Mars)

The crew settles in for their first night on sMars.

Our “launch” to the HI-SEAS habitat consisted of a bumpy ride up the slopes of Mauna Loa. The terrain changed rapidly from city, to forest, to barren lava fields over the course of the drive. Although there is evidence for rain on Mars, we were greeted by a veritable torrent as we pulled up in front of the habitat. We hastily stowed our wet gear and set about drying and organizing our personal luggage.

Making an inventory of our entire food supply.
Making an inventory of our entire food supply.

The first few days we completed an inventory of our food stores and divided the goods into monthly bins. All of the food we have here is shelf stable, including all the meats and fruits, and should last us the entire trip.

Lucie tries on the University of Maryland MX-C suit.
Lucie tries on the University of Maryland MX-C suit.

 One of the other goals was establishing communications with our ground controllers and support teams. Although our simulation takes place on the slopes of Mauna Loa, we encountered a number of communication problems that we have slowly been fixing over the course of the week. Our internet connectivity is delayed through a specially configured network server, along with our e-mail, to simulate the speed-of-light delay that real astronauts on Mars would face. This makes communications an order of magnitude more difficult than the low-latency communications we are used to on Earth. Compounding this problem was a very low throughput in our internet signal, meaning that photos and support documentation took minutes to hours to upload to ground control.

Luckily, we now have a fast internet connection, and our file transmission is only limited now by the delay server.

Tiffany and Lucie help me into the MX-C.
Tiffany and Lucie help me into the MX-C.

The habitat is built to simulate actually living on Mars. Our power is generated from a solar array and stored in batteries to get us through the night. Our toilets are self-contained composting units, which surprisingly don’t smell! We consider the entire habitat a pressurized environment, which means we can’t open a window or crack a door if things aren’t comfortable. If we step foot outside, we need to be inside of a spacesuit.

Ron uses his 2 meter antenna as a lightsabre.
Ron uses his 2 meter antenna as a lightsabre.

The primary goal of the HI-SEAS study is to evaluate the group dynamics and crew cohesion in a high-fidelity Martian environment. Of course, we can’t simulate a lot of the real aspects of Mars, but the steps that have been taken make the habitat really feel like it’s sitting on the slope of Olympus Mons, detached and isolated from Earth. So far, so good. Over and out.

The crew takes a selfie on EVA-5.
The crew takes a selfie on EVA-5.

HI-SEAS Media Coverage

After yesterday’s interview on Daybreak South, it seems like Pandora’s box has been opened. So if you’d like to keep track of where I’ve spoken and where I’ll appear, check here first for the most up to date information. Please feel free to follow my public posts on Facebook and Twitter.

Official University of Hawaii Press Release: Team performance factors the focus of new Mars simulation.

Daybreak South (Feb 26th – 9:15 MST): Lake Country man heads for Mars simulation mission.

Kelowna Daily Courier (Feb 27th): Local scientist going on NASA Mars mission.

The Canadian Press (Feb 27th):

Global Edmonton (Feb 27th – 6pm and 11pm MST):  (Video) U of A student joins simulated Mars mission.

Alberta Primetime – CTV News at 6 Edmonton (Feb 28th – 6pm and 11pm MST): Simulated mission to Mars.

CKNW Radio in Vancouver AM980 (Feb 27th – 6:40 pm PST): The World Today (skip to 11m30s).

Global BC – BC 1 – (Feb 28th – 2:00 pm PST): NASA project simulates life on Mars.

CBC Radio West – (March 28th): Ross Lockwood on Radio West.

Kelowna Daily Courier (April 9th): Life on ‘Mars’ working out smoothly so far for KSS grad.

Kelowna Capital News (May 2nd) : Understanding what life might be like on Mars.

Time (June 3rd): Best Space Photos of the Month: May 2014

University of Alberta New Trail – A Quick Trip to Mars

Alberta Primetime – CTV News at 6 Edmonton (6 and 11 pm, July 15th) – Simulated Life on Mars

Instagram Blog (July 20th) – Simulating Life on Mars on a Hawaiian Volcano with @casey_stedman and @spincrisis

Reddit /r/space AMA (July 20th) – We are the HI-SEAS Crew and Mission Support Team – Ask Us Anything!

Buzzfeed (July 20th) – Amazing Photos From Hawaii Reveal What It’s Like On A Simulated Mars Mission “It’s basically BioDome without Pauli Shore… Thankfully.”

Universetoday (July 21st): Insta-Mars: Crew Wraps Up Mock Mission With Pictures Of Their Hawaiian Adventure.

Hawaii Public Radio (July 31st): Mars Research

New Scientist (July 31st): When NASA space crews play make believe

Banff Centre Radio (August 1st, 8:30 am HST)

People First Radio (Columbian Centre) (August 7th): HI-SEAS Mars Mission

Alberta Primetime (August 12th): Simulated Mars Mission wraps up

University of Alberta Physics (August 15th): Physics grad student discusses life after Mars 

The Gateway (August 20th): PhD candidate returns from mock voyage to Mars

Triggertrap (September 3rd): Is there Triggertrap on Mars?

Space Safety Magazine (September 25th): HI-SEAS Study Measures Social and Emotional Dynamics of Crew Cohesion

What is HI-SEAS?

On the last day of 2013, Dr. Kim Binsted announced that I would be participating in the next 4-month HI-SEAS mission. HI-SEAS stands for the Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, which is a research study focussed on discovering strategies for future astronauts travelling to Mars.

Here is a description of the upcoming HI-SEAS mission from the HI-SEAS application page:

The upcoming missions are focused on evaluating the social, interpersonal, and cognitive factors that affect team performance over time. Researchers from outside of the space analog habitat will monitor each mission to evaluate the communications strategies, crew work load and job sharing, and conflict resolution / conflict management approaches that contribute to the success of a long-duration mission.

Like the astronaut mission specialists they will represent, each participant will be expected to bring a significant research project or other scholarly work of his or her own to complete while inside the space analog habitat – for instance, biological or geological field research, engineering design and technology evaluation, scholarly writing, or artistic endeavors compatible with the limitations of small living quarters in an isolated location with limited internet bandwidth.

Subjects will be compensated for their participation and for associated travel and housing costs. Successful applicants will be placed into a pool from which researchers will assemble three well-balanced teams for the various study periods.

For the last two weeks I’ve been looking at the world with an entirely different perspective. What will I bring with me? What will I do in my spare time? How will I digest the news from the outside world?

I will be updating this page with more news as it arrives, so if you’re interested in the project, check out the HI-SEAS website and some of the articles written during last year’s mission.

(Photo credit: Angelo Vermeulen)