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On the (Ice) Road

On the (Ice) Road

By Astiles  on July 26, 2010

It seems like all of us are hitting the road these days: I (Will, that is) just got back from a trip to the NASA Lunar Science Forum and the NewSpace 2010 conferences, Amanda is at the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE finals, Chanda is at the Boy Scouts of America National Jamboree, and Nicky will be heading off to Oshkosh soon. But as fun and important as each of those is, our friend Tiffany Montague--our main point of contact at Google, and an occasional guest blogger here at the Launch Pad--has managed to top us all. She's spending this week at the Haughton Mars Project Research Station, high in the Arctic Circle, in Ninavut, Canada.

Tiffany's keeping a blog from there (as best she's able to, at least), and asked us to pass along the best tidbits to you, the readers of the Launch Pad. Without further ado...

From July 20:
I'm in downtown Ottawa, sitting in a comfortable hotel room, and contemplating the expedition ahead of me. Tomorrow morning I leave for the High Arctic; I'm headed for Haughton Crater, on Devon Island, by way of Resolute Bay, Nunavut.

Devon Island has the distinction of being the world's largest uninhabited island, but I can tell you this polar desert does indeed have several inhabitants, and I am about to become one. The fact is, this region is extremely desirable as a terrestrial Mars analog, which essentially means that environment, geology, operations, or some combination of factors are similar to a Martian experience.

The Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) is an international field research program, made possible by NASA, SETI, the Mars Institute, and the Canadian Space Agency. The conditions are ideal for real-world testing of rovers, habitats, and space suit prototypes, which is exactly the reason I packed my Arctic survival gear yesterday, and got on a plane to Canada.

From July 22:
Day 3 of the journey. What happened to Day 2? Well, I experienced a mild setback common to travel in the Arctic: poor weather. From Ottawa to Iqaluit, Nunavut, it was fine (3.5 hrs) but the Iqaluit to Resolute leg was canceled due to poor conditions. Great.

Iqaluit is the capital city of Nunavut, but its most distinguishing characterisic is the number of pterodactyls it has. No! I'm just kidding. Those things that are aggressively trying to kill me are just mosquitoes. And they are not the size of pterodactyls. They're the size of C-130s. Maybe I can ask one of them to airlift me to Resolute...


Well, I made it out of Iqaluit by bribing a large mosquito....(alright, I made that part up.) It was a great relief to get out of there and into the High Arctic. The next leg of the journey took our plane to Hall Beach, where we refueled following the ~3 hour flight. Then it was on to Resolute Bay, which was another few hours, over some impressive sea ice. When we arrived in Resolute, it was cold and snowing, although the landscape was dry, rocky and dusty. The dust is a fine particulate-for all of you burners, it actually reminds me of the the Black Rock City playa. And for the wise guys out there-no, there are no igloos, penguins, or elves from Santa's workshop.

Several of us who are bound for the Haughton Mars Project (HMP) are overnighting in Resolute. The weather conditions at our destination were too treacherous to risk a flight. We'll try again tomorrow morning--such is life in the Arctic.

Its broad daylight outside at 11:30pm-but I bid you all a fond goodnight!


Have I mentioned to you yet that all of our survival equipment, tools, etc, had to fit within an 80 lb budget? Which includes: a tent, tarp, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, mallets, stakes, and various other tools and equipment. That's all stored in the giant brown bag to the right. I don't know if you will find this as funny as I do, (probably not since you are likely not as sleep deprived,) but all of my Arctic survival clothing fits into that tiny bag to the left. Because they are super-futuristic helium-elastomer nano-layers. Really sort of a biofilm.... But no matter how much weight you save in that department, here's the hard truth you need to know when you are carrying things around the Arctic: when you put rock hammers in your luggage, it's heavy.

From July 23:
I'm not a patient person, and waiting for the Arctic weather to clear so we can press on to Devon island is mental torture, so we decided to check out Resolute Bay and old remains of a Thule village. As you can see, most of Resolute is rock and gravel, with very little vegetation. At the village, the only location with scrub vegetation, we saw that the Thule people used whale bones as part of their housing structures. I found a good amount of serpentine on the ground, larger pieces might have been used for the decorative carvings typical to this region. I also saw the arctic poppy, which is a relatively uncommon sight. On the way back, we hugged the coastline in order to see some impressive sea ice formations-I was struck by how porous and cavity-riddled the structures were, as well as the vivid aquamarine color at the base of the largest pieces. Check out what I saw:

From July 24:
We returned to Dynamite Beach at low tide to see the ice drifts, which had been deposited on the rocks. The photos were taken around 9:30PM, in broad daylight. Found a nice ice specimen.

More from Tiffany as we hear it!

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