Pictures are funny things. Despised in some cultures and adored in others, pictures are an incredible invention that’s taken for granted. We have the ability at any moment, to capture that moment simply by understanding the physical laws of our world.

I’ve gone through several phases with taking images as I’ve grown up. At certain points of my life, I refused to take any, convinced that being in the moment was impossible without it. At others, I viewed the world mostly through a lens, desperately trying to keep a moment forever. I’ve even gone on a completely photo-free trip, wanting it to solely be shared by myself and my companion.

Recently, I gave myself a small writing assignment. I sat in each room in the habitat and wrote freely about everything I saw. Unsurprisingly, stories, memories, and moments began making their way to the surface of my mind. Still, some details caught my eye. Even after a nearly a year spent in a single building, there were details to be discovered.

This exercise caused me to photograph everything I could. This time, I didn’t nicely frame the images or worry about lighting. It didn’t matter if my ‘subjects’ were centered. Instead, I wanted comprehensive coverage – photographing every nook and cranny of the habitat I possibly could.

And what both of these exercises taught me was that when your whole world – work, family, friends, hobbies- is crammed into one location, every item is tied to a network of neurons. Each snapped photo came with a complementary platter of thoughts and memories:

*snap* – a photo of the pantry reveals a bag of whey protein. Attached to it are memories of the crew doing p90x, jumping up and down synchronously while trying to fight the urge to rest and the urge to laugh at a funny exclamation someone made in desperation. A song plays loudly in my head: “This ___ is Bananas! B-A-N-A-N-A-S”. I remember hearing its bass through the hab canvas and watching the crew dancing around on the other side of our small port window. Their excitement was fueled by the receipt of bananas in a resupply – enough to make protein shake smoothies for the rest of the mission.

*snap* – A photograph of our labeled helmets in the airlock reminds me of army crawling through a tight space in a lava tube cave, eventually leading me to a long undiscovered tunnel system. Its scratches are marks of the tumbles taken in the name of adventuring through untouched spaces.

*snap* – A picture of a router with inconvenient sound effects. One night in the hab a few months in, the crew sat together hanging out after dinner. In a lull of the conversation, a sound pierces through us, seemingly from outside, “YAhooo!!!”. The crew falls silent. Some grab heavy and/or sharp objects. Others froze. We’re a diverse team.

Some silently decide the voice was in their head and effects of isolation are worse than they thought.

Not long after, we begin scanning for signs of people outside. After some more “Yahoo!” and some investigation, we come to find out that one of our routers has an alarm that some genius set to sound like people yelling out loud. We put down the cutlery and continued our isolated hanging out.

*snap* An ipad with UILA, our ‘watcher’ program that monitors the weather, power levels, C02, water levels etc. I remember early on in the mission when we were short on water. We made a crew decision – we would re-use plates and silverware, limit water use, and not do laundry until we received a water resupply. That resupply would come…..well, that was ambiguous. That was, until we received an email that read, “The water truck is coming”.

A bunch of scientists and engineers considered the options immediately – the tank will be filled either way, so let’s save some water to avoid this situation again. Within minutes, the crew raced around storing water and catching up on water heavy tasks.

That continued until we received a second email (40 minutes later with delay, of course),

“Just to be clear, they’re just coming to look around.”

*snap* – A photo of fold out chairs. These are pulled out every time the crew watches a movie together- half of the crew lays on a collapsible couch and the other half in these egg chairs. The first movie we watched together plays in my head– Alien. It’s loud volume sticks with me – we have no neighbors to speak of to complain. This movie would later become inspiration for our drone, Ripley. The warm memory is immortalized by our “domeawayfromhome” crewmember in a beautiful watercolor painting.

I could go on for a long time. There is barely a single object in the hab that wouldn’t bring up a memory at this point.

Those haphazard pictures, I’ll keep for myself. Instead, here I’ll show you a few photos of some more interesting oddities of the mission:

Lava Bombs

Around the lava fields are areas with cooled lava rocks referred to as ‘lava bombs’. These are chunks of lava that were once ejected from a vent and cooled in the air before hitting the ground. On a long EVA one day, the crew found a different kind of lava bomb.

According to Wikipedia, in 1935, the military here attempted to bomb a lava flow that was heading towards a city to try and divert it. This type of operation would be attempted again in a future eruption that threatened resources.

This isn’t the only time lava has presented an issue. During World War II, another eruption caused issues for the military that feared that the illumination from flowing lava would give Japanese bombers a target.

While I cannot confirm this shell is from those 1930-1940’s bombings, it seems reasonable:


Cursed Rocks?

Taking rocks from the volcano is a forbidden practice. This volcano is heavily tied to Hawaiian culture and the Goddess Pele. Some even believe that doing so will bring a ‘curse’ of bad luck.

How do I know this?

Well, we received a nice package in the mail one afternoon. Excited to see what it was, we sat around the kitchen table and opened it together. I shook the envelope for a moment before pouring out the contents: two rocks and a letter.

“Please return these to the volcano,” it pled.

For at least one person, the curse was real enough.

In respect for both the Volcano and the poor soul whose life was presumably falling apart enough that they felt the need to mail rocks, we obliged:



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