Clarity of Vision

Clarity of Vision

Our one real view of the outside includes the Mauna Kea Volcano and a landscape that alternates its form between several smaller mountains and a sea of clouds.

For miles, there is little to see but rock of varying shades of browns and reds. Slightly darker or lighter tones tell stories of different lava flows and eruptions.

The window in front of me pulses with the wind, and only a few meters ahead of my view are several stones piled on one another. Their geometry is just neat enough to project that its existence is the result of human presence, serving as a reminder that we are here.

We look over Mauna Kea often, admiring the sky’s warm hues behind it during sunset, or the way the thick clouds hug its base in the early morning. On rare occasion, we may find a rainbow poking through the mist.

The longer I look, the more I notice the playful trickery of the natural environment. It teases with beautiful views cast upon landscapes formed from past powerful, dangerous eruptions.

The fog and vog here roll in quickly.

In one moment, Mauna Kea can be seen clear as day, revealing whatever its summit currently holds, such as a snowfall-covered cap, or lonely observatories.

Within minutes, that clarity can be pilfered.

The rolling force of obscurity sneaks up. Its calm waves crawl deceptively fast over the land, one pebble at a time. Varying elevations of rock become layered, seemingly turning to strokes of a paintbrush before disappearing altogether. The fog’s movements are mesmerizing and deceitful, often managing to blind your view before you notice it’s happening.

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And that’s how it happens, isn’t it?

In one moment, you can see the top of the mountain clearly. You are able to visualize its the clear paths and trails leading to the summit.

Your mind dances with options of how to climb,

not whether you’re able.

It’s only moments later that your path suddenly feels unclear. No longer can you see your destination, nor any path that may lead to it.

If you were already moving towards it, you may question your footing and doubt your ability to make it. You might even consider turning back altogether. Question your step long enough, and you may just lose your direction entirely, or forget where you were headed in the first place.

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What’s easy to forget is that the fog clears just as fast as it rolls in.

And the top of the mountain always seems to be the first place to clear.

As I write this, I can’t help but have a phrase resonate:

“Have a clarity of vision, and a flexibility of process.”

Perhaps all we need to do, no matter the fog, vog, false insecurities, or temporary discouragements, is to remember that we can always picture the mountain top in minds. We can imagine its peaks, rolling hills and curves. We can visualize its grooves, each of which become increasingly ingrained with every sight. The observatories become bold, looking up to the sky along with us.

From our little bubble, I can’t see a clear road or trail leading to it the summit. I am certain there is no easy path at all. And though it feels unreachable from here, I need only to know it’s there, waiting.

I don’t know the path and will never learn the secrets of its twists and turns from all the way out here. Only when I tread it, step by step, will I understand its intricate subtleties, a necessary leap here, or a sidestep there.

And right now I’ve got my crew, here and now to be a part of. One step in the path.

I feel good as I sip tea by the only window I’ve been dealt, scratching a few words onto a pad.

Watching the fog roll in and hide the mountain top that now,

I am sure,

Is still there.

Hab Tour

Hab Tour

Welcome to the HI-SEAS habitat!

I’d like to show you around. Think of it like a blog version of MTV cribs, but with compost toilets instead of Ferraris modified for Shaq’s height.

The Airlock

We’ll start at our only entrance in, which leads directly inside the airlock. Here is where most of our suits and EVA tools are stored, including radios, flashlights, and helmets. When we need to go outside to do some research, personal project work, or repairs, it’s here that we suit up and ‘decompress’.

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Airlock complete with EVA suits
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Noggin protection is important when entering lava tubes!

Sea Can – Food Storage, Power Storage, and Workshop

Ahead of that is the sea can. It’s a cold, multipurpose canister of joy. To the left are shelves lined with dehydrated and shelf-stable food stuff. This comprises our entire food stock between resupplies.

To the right is our workshop, complete with tools for building, checking electrical systems, and of course, my wonderful 3D printer. I’m up for naming suggestions, but for now let’s call him Carl.

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The Sea Can

Astronauts on future planetary missions (and future settlers) will need to be self-sufficient. With no fast track back to Earth, or even immediate communication with support on Earth , they will need to be autonomous during times of medical emergencies, technical repairs, and other contingencies. In some cased, they may need to manufacture their own parts. Carl here can take a model that I create or mission support acquires for me, and make it in real life.

Good work, Carl!

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Carl.

Behind the workshop bench are three very large batteries and power monitoring systems. These keep our power running throughout our day. If we are lucky and have a clear day with good sunlight, our solar panels charge these to full power during the day when our usage is highest. They will provide us the energy to cook and run our electronics for the afternoon and night.

If it’s been a cloudy day and we don’t get enough charge, we run a risk of losing power. When this happens or if we can forecast it happening, we restrict our power usage to just the essentials, like video games and Dr. Who-themed lights (kidding).

In reality, we unplug all unessential items and change our dinner plans require little to no appliance usage. In some cases, we need to use our outside backup systems. One is the generator whose power can be routed to charge the batteries some. The other emergency system is a Hydrogen fuel cell system that will kick in when the batteries reach a certain critical percentage.

Main Work Area

To your right is the work area in the Hab. This is where us nerds spend most of our day on laptops, doing work for the mission. This includes fulfilling mission objectives and projects, working on personal research, exercising our rock hard abs, or hosting special events.

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Main area where the “biniss” get handled.

Around the corner, “UILA”, the watcher, can be found. She shows us all kinds of information about our habitat, including water, power, and temperature levels.

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UILA knows all.

Dining Room and Kitchen

Connected to this area is our Dining Room and Kitchen Area. The dining room is where we sit down for a meal at the end of the day and shut off our work brains, where we have team meetings, and where rare movie nights are screened.

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Dining area messy from a weekend day’s work

Naturally, our dining room also includes a treadmill, stationary bike, and workout equipment storage.

It also holds one of our only two windows in the whole habitat. On a clear day, you can see Mauna Kea in the distance. This is the only place I’ve lived where if I wanted to see clouds, I look forward.

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View from the dining port window

The kitchen looks pretty standard, complete with a pantry and cooking utensils. The biggest difference is in the food ingredients. Chicken and eggs, for example, look a bit more like this:

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Which came first? Dehydrated chicken, for freeze-dried eggs?
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Kitchen area

You’d be surprised what you could cook in here!

The Outback

Behind the dining area is a skinny space. At one end is a laundry machine which doesn’t get much use due to their high water needs. At the other is a system of integrated sensors which monitor the habitat. Our crew has re-purposed the center section to be our “Garden”, complete with fresh growing veggies and spices.

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Outback area, complete with garden

 

On the other side of the main area is our bathroom and lab, and yes, I did include a picture of the toilet.

You’re welcome.

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Bathroom complete with compost toilet. Emptying this one out is a blast!

No hab bathroom is complete without a compost toilet. This lovely machine, I can only imagine, is state of the art, complete with a poop-removal drawer that I must empty out in about an hour with a fellow crew member.

Jealous yet?

General use is standard, except for needing to throw in a mixture of peat moss and sawdust after every use.

This bathroom also has a shower. We’ve decided as a crew we can take 8 minutes of showering. (Per week!) It’s plenty, believe it or not.

The Lab

Right next to the bathroom is the other potentially -but-not-yet-stinky room: the lab. This room serves as both the lab for research as well as the area that I’m responsible for – all the medical supplies!

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Lab to the left, Med bay to the right

Almost Done…

Now we head upstairs to the crew quarters to find two things:

Another bathroom and of course, our bedrooms.

Here’s mine:

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Where the Health and Performance Officer rests for good health and performance
The rooms are shaped in a way that only two bed configurations are possible (I tested this theory). You’ll see the slanted ceiling over my bed. Though not confirmed, I imagine this is an ingenious test space researchers are working on. It makes it so that when you wake up, you smack your head or elbows directly into the ceiling, jolting you into a state of alertness, and thus, preparing you for the day.

Clothes are stored in drawers and multi-purpose furniture. It’s also a good idea to use wall space here.

Goodbye

AAAAnd that’s it for the hab tour! You’ll need to leave quietly (We’re supposed to be isolated, remember?!)

This is our home.

I’ll walk you guys out now. You’ll just need to head out that door.

Oh, Wait!

First you’ll need to seal yourself in a suit, check your radio is working properly, and wait for decompression time and permission to exit the airlock.

Welcome to Mars!

Habby Birthday

Habby Birthday

Wow, thank you all for the  birthday wishes! (Mission Support included!)

It’s hard to feel ‘isolated’ when there’s so much love being shown.

I share a room with my crew for basically 90% of the day. Still, they somehow managed to pull off a birthday surprise, even planning a cake a week in advance. Given shelf-stable and freeze dried ingredients, tell me this isn’t an impressive space cake:

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In the afternoon, the commander asked if I’d like to help make a video for our friend.

I should have been suspicious then.

Knowing the goofball our buddy is, I was excited to jump on board. We  started making our hab tour, making sure to point out vital parts of our shelter. This quickly turned odd as we began to spend a bit too much time things such as the contents of our compost toilets and the individual packets of dehydrated food. Meanwhile, in other areas, several crew members were ninja-running downstairs, hunched over with balloons packed against their stomachs.

Towards the end of our fake tour, I was led over to the kitchen to be surprised by my crew mates, kazoos and all, and a properly decorated dining area. At the same time, one rushed over and bombard me with a lei and hat which I was not allowed to remove.

While we ate, they all explained how they managed to bake and hide a cake inside a habitat. They secretly took care of baking while I was out on EVA in the suit, doing a task and they stored it in an unexpected place.

We ended the night with (research of course), but also a bit of clue and a lot of laughter.

What a thoughtful crew.

It’s early on in the mission, so the challenges haven’t truly begun, but I can’t help but think back to a friend’s presentation. She studies psychology of spaceflight and gave a great presentation on isolation once. Isolation doesn’t have to be in space, she pointed out, nor in a habitat locked on a volcano, in Antarctica, or under the sea.

Feelings of isolation happen every day- right on Earth. Maybe from friends, family, society.

Although we are on an analogue Mars mission, miles away from other people with no phone, google, or the ability to hug friends and family,

my birthday wasn’t very isolated.

Seacan Slipjig

Seacan Slipjig

There was someone new in the habitat last night.

Through my travels, I’ve met some incredible people that have opened my heart to parts of life I didn’t know existed.

It’s a fact that traveling is a no-brainer way to discovery and clarity.

Traveling in the habitat,however, means walking from one end of the room to the other. A solo trip means going to the bathroom, and those are limited in length if you’re lucky. International travel might be akin to walking to the second floor, complete with hostel-sized rooms.

So far, our time in the habitat has been busy, productive, and limiting in mobility. It’s been a joyous experience but certainly holds its challenges.

With a lack of diversity in our environment, and the absence of some of my favorite pondering spots such as coffee shops, driving, or taking long hot showers, it’s been more difficult than usual to have that feeling of discovery or creative sparks.

Fortunately, that changed last night.

Walking over to what we call the ‘seacan’, a part of the habitat which holds our batteries for running all our systems, stores dehydrated foods, and holds the workshop all-in-one, I stumbled onto another crewmember’s musical practice session. I apologized for the interruption, but they insisted that they did not mind, so I asked to stay and listen instead.

Before long, I found myself having lost track of time, sitting on a workshop bench, eyes closed, listening to the gorgeous Celtic tunes being cast out by the hands of a violin player.

Here, our physical exploration capability is limited, at least within the habitat. We have times to go out on ‘EVA’, leaving the hab suits, but it’s still in an enclosed environment. We are limited within a range by things like mobility and communication.

Instead, what I realized is that a lot of discovery here is internal. It will come from learning about our crewmembers, and from ourselves. Last night, I spent most of my day with the crewmembers I’ve been working with the last two weeks.

But I also met and spent time with a musician that I did not know lived with us.

The ballads transformed with each sequential song, some playful, others more serious, while I closed my eyes.

And for a few moments, I was not in a dusty old seacan surrounded by freeze dried vegetables, canned spam, and tang.

Instead, I was in Ireland.

Or I was in a good memory from my past.

Or I was having a creative clarity I haven’t felt strongly in a while.

I raced to write down thoughts as they poured out of my mind, a state of mind that felt natural and foreign at the same time, having come so often before but suppressed by a crammed schedule. I was overjoyed to have it back.

I imagine this is just the first discovery of many, and I’m looking forward to meeting the rest of my crewmates hidden under their layers.

There was a possibility of my being in Ireland, ‘back on Earth’, this year. I’m happy that I decided to be part of Mission V, and I couldn’t help but thank the Universe for deciding to bring the Irish culture to me instead.

Bonus: I’ve included one of the recordings, complete with 3D printing and fan sounds. I recommend a listen.

Enjoy!

https://soundcloud.com/user-682102202/sitting-bull

A New Hope

A New Hope

Imagine walking through a door to find a sleek device filled with metrics about the contents of the air you’re breathing, C02 levels, water usage including every singular faucet or flush of water, temperature changes, voltage usage of every socket. From that same screen, you can derive years of data on that same information for that area. You learn that all the power is self-generated from solar radiation.

The system is affectionately named ‘UILA’, or ‘watcher’ in Hawaiian.

Then, see yourself walking down a corridor until you reach a room filled with 3D printers, drones, seismic activity sensors, sound absorption pads, facial recognition systems, prosthetic hands, augmented reality headsets, and more.

Where are you?

Not in a spaceship, or a home of the future.

You are in a school. You are in a freaking HIGH SCHOOL.

More specifically, Hawaii Preparatory Academy.

Before the start of the mission, the crew and I visited one of the most impressive institutions I have seen. In fact, some of the systems that I described here are running our very own simulated Mars habitat, and we rely on them to keep things running smoothly.

After being given a tour of the facility, the students ran through their impressive projects which ranged from using RFID tags for registering class attendance to warning systems for drivers to save locally threatened bird populations.

So fascinated with these students was I that I was surprised that they wanted to ask us questions. We moved over into the next room in a proper pretend-astronaut panel, complete with a small NY Times crew running around us with mics and cameras. Each of us talked about our personal projects in the habitat, and then answered questions from the students.

As I looked around and listened to my crewmates, I realized I would be in good hands on this team for the next 8 Months. We have a Google programmer, someone who worked to optimize Indy 500 Racecars, a former SpaceX employing working on growing plants in space, a man who goes into deep mines that stretch 14 km into the Northern Sea, and a commander working on synthetic biology. The caliber of individuals I’d be working with sets the bar high.

The students here are equally impressive, and come from all different countries around the world. Seeing such a young diverse international group fired up about technology and wanting to use it to improve life rather than to detract from it was inspiring to say the least.

The whole experience brought two consistent thoughts:

  • What the heck was I doing in High School?
  • The future doesn’t seem so grim when you see the potential for international cooperation and just how intelligent the next generations can be.

Another former head of a department at Google who worked with the students sat in the back of the class. At one point, someone joked about altering test equipment that, well, should not be altered. “We can engineer that,” someone attested. Without hesitation and in complete confidence he replied, “No question.”

It was all delightfully geeky, surrounded by people who could take control of the world they live in with nothing but insatiable curiosity and a bit of knowledge.

I could have sat talking to those students for hours, but just like the rest of the week, we were quickly rushed off into our next stop and task.

We all exited the building together, stepping out of our sci-fi shelter and into view of the beautiful rolling hills adorned with trees and farm animals in the distance.

“The students are really impressed with you guys.”

I corrected him, “We’re all really impressed with them.”

The future is bright.

 

Day 0

Day 0

The morning of the first day of the mission, everything felt just a little bit different. For the first time in training week we were given a few hours of free time. Most of us decided to continue running around anyway, this time trying to complete last minute tasks that would require regular connections to the outside world.

As I dipped in and out of our various rooms and houses, my ears would catch a few words of conversations with friends and family. Kind sentiments and emotions filled the room, occasionally sprinkled with the attempt to explain what it was that we are doing.

Most of these conversations didn’t register for me, since I was having my own. I called not only family, but friends who had been there for me in big and small ways alike (often the same thing), and I wondered why I don’t do this type of thing more often.

It all reminded me of a familiar sweet sting of some temporary goodbyes and their ability to remind you of just how much people mean to you, have invested in you, and how easy it is to express it in these times.

In the meantime, the researchers and team leads were busy making us a delicious breakfast.

Admittedly, my last drink on Earth was a mimosa. My only regret.

Eventually we received our ‘final call’, loaded our things into the van, and headed towards what would be our volcanic home for the next 8 months. I fought the urge to close my eyes in exhaustion, but was still unable to take in the scenery the way I wanted.

With each passing mile was a new scene that I would not witness for the better part of this next year: Gardens, forests, sparse desert-like areas. Even paved roads, homes, and ugly shopping malls seemed to have some aesthetic value on this drive.

Around me, people read out news articles that had been sent out around the world. No pressure.

In the meantime, urban landscapes turned to tropical ones with ocean waves in the far distance. These morphed into open farmland and hilly terrain that eventually became nothing but volcanic dust and rock. We drove along the increasingly bumpy road, which seemed to match the feelings in my gut at the time.

We distracted ourselves as children would, playing backseat car games. We utilized our new knowledge from training and tried to identify types of lava flows around us.

The ground was no longer just an amalgamation of different colored rocks, but a long history of eruptions. Each patch of minerals was as story waiting to be translated.

We finally arrive to the habitat. The large white dome was bustling with people getting last minute systems in place. The crew and I joined in, occasionally running out for interviews with journalists that had flown to the island. Then as tasks and filming were completed, people began to trickle out. And eventually it came again, a final call.

It was time to go in and close the door.

It felt odd even to say goodbye to the people we had been training with. Even though it had been a short time, they were kind and intelligent individuals. Additionally, they were the last people we would see outside of our own crew until the end of the mission in September.

We all walked outside to take in the fresh air in our lungs and beautiful view of Mauna Kea without a visor one last time, and reminded ourselves of why we are doing this.

Then came the official walk in. We shook hands with our support team, stepped over the threshold, and waved goodbye as we close the door behind us.

Cheers and energy overwhelmed, and we savored our first moment alone.

Now what?

I looked around the room. The 5 people around me would play nearly every role in my life for a while.

They would be colleagues, friends, and family.

The afternoon was oddly like any other afternoon in a new place. We got our rooms and common areas set up, and had a nice dinner. You’d be surprised the meals you can make with dehydrated and freeze dried meats and veggies (More on this later).

5 nights have now passed in the habitat. The busyness hasn’t slowed much, and we’ve all been working hard to get everything up and running. Thus far, it’s been a great experience.

There hasn’t been much time for emotions outside of joy, and of course the frustration over computer issues. It’s no different from Earth, really, except without the Apple ‘geniuses’.

So far, every night has ended the same – with a crew member sending a final communications check, calling out to ground support:

“All is ok.”

ʻEli ʻeli kau mai (Let awe possess me)

ʻEli ʻeli kau mai (Let awe possess me)

Go ahead and take a listen:

This was an aloha chant sung to us by Koa, our guide, who greeted us with a lei before taking us through a beautiful ritual. We began by creating offerings as a team. Symbolic of working together as one, each of us took turns placing foods of importance in Hawaiian history and culture in large leaves laid out on the table. Once the offerings were all properly placed, the leaves were folded together and tied.

The six of us brought these three offerings to the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater.

We stood there at the edge of a crater as Koa sung a traditional chant. She gave thanks for our welcome as the volcanoes smoke continued to flow, before calling to our ancestors to be with us then and throughout the mission.

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Most of that morning before this was spent studying the geological activity and history of the volcanoes, something we’ll be continuing to do these coming days. We looked at rock formations, mapping, and even explored a lava tube.

But coinciding with each scientific bit of information was a rich history.

I learned of Pelehonuamea (Pele), a goddess and creator of the Hawaiian Islands. The volcanoes here are sacred, including Mauna Kea whose summit is treated as such and has been protected throughout the years. Koa shared with us that it is said, due to its peak, that it’s the closest point here between Earth to the Heavens and to Wākea, the Sky Father.

We learned of origin stories and heard personal accounts of experiencing the tales first-hand. I hope to share those with you soon.

In all of this was an increased appreciation of our host culture, one that we (ho’ihi) respect and will strive to better understand.

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Standing there, on the craters edge, the team took a moment to reflect on the challenge that lay ahead, about those who came before us, and our guides.

We were then asked to place the offerings wherever we felt they should be.

Once the offerings were placed, the team stood side by side, staring into the crater, reflecting in the first silent time we had experienced together since the start of the last 5 busy days.