> > > 8-month mission on "Mars": 2014

Monday, December 29, 2014

Dome's First Christmas

We're the first HI-SEAS crew to experience Christmas in the dome. Since previous missions were in the summertime for four months, it seems we're doubling the time and quadrupling the holidays! 

For some of us, this was also our first Christmas apart from our families. We tried to carry on Christmas traditions from home, played board games, watched movies, and made delicious treats. We actually used the rest of our sugar supply on cinnamon rolls, cookies, and icing. This should make my New Year's resolution of "no cookies" quite easy until February's resupply!

From left to right in first row: Allen, Sophie, Martha, Jocelyn (Me!)
and in the back row from left to right: Zak and Neil

Christmas in the dome might be as close as it gets to living in a snow globe! Rather than cute puppies and snow-covered fir trees, the contents of our globe includes an indoor garden, six adults in space pajamas, and gadgets galore. Sadly, snow does not fall when NASA gives our world a shake or twirl ;) but magically, we did have a white Christmas with snowfall on the peak of nearby Mauna Kea, as shown in the photo below.

Snow-covered top of Mauna Kea in the background with my radio call sign "Fancy" on display, this was a Christmas gift from Neil Scheibelhut aka "Rex"

Over the holidays, instead of shopping to the tune of classic Christmas songs, we laughed along to “Hung for the Holidays” album.. true story, the Christmas music selection here is rather limited. For gifts, I wrote poems, Martha was knitting, Sophie sewed stockings, Zak baked us treats, Allen made mnemonics in Russian out of our names to describe each personality, and Neil took beautiful photos for us! Thanks and photo credits to Neil Scheibelhut!

Two-Step is Sophie's call sign, her blog is http://domesoph.siterubix.com/

Foxy is Martha's call sign, her blog is http://martianadventures.wordpress.com/

Stitch is Zak's call sign, his blog is http://almostmars.com/

Sasha (Cawa in Russian) is Allen's call sign

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM "MARS" :) See you in 2015!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"It's all data!"

After two months of Mars-living, I’m starting to crave some food items from Earth, namely peaches and some type of pork (carnitas or bbq would be awesome), but still I am feeling satisfied thanks to some steady research progress and the desserts galore!  Tonight to celebrate our two-month milestone, our lasagna dinner was followed by brownies with homemade ice cream and fudge topping!  

It was nice to relax and celebrate, since lately I’ve been slaving over some code for getting data from our Jawbone activity monitors.  We are all wearing Jawbone UP wristbands 24-7, enabling constant data collection about our lives here.  However, from the Jawbone website, only simplified summaries of daily aggregate data are readily downloadable.  So, I recently finished a Python project that digs into the Jawbone UP app for a wealth of full and detailed data.

Check it out on GitHub and pass it along to your friends who use Jawbone:

For my research in data analytics, I am collecting and analyzing all kinds of data from the crew, ranging from data about our sleep and activity to recording our meals to logging our entertainment and media usage to identifying physiological markers of stress to tracking the jokes and memes that emerge and fade away!

Speaking of memes, the title of this blog post is one of our earliest jokes that still pops up and amuses us.  During training week, one of the NASA researchers, Pete, initiated this meme by commenting "it's all data" after we were being silly and ridiculous.  It's a bit sarcastic, but also points to a deeper truth that all data has value, even our quirky jokes! 

Living in this semi-controlled environment presents the opportunity to analyze social, physiological, and psychological impacts that are often too variable and unpredictable in our daily lives on Earth.  With limited factors on our lives here, it’s all relatively easy to track.  We are not going out to eat, meeting with new people, or catching flights across the US.  There’s a predictability that gives promise of good data quality.

I'm tackling projects that would have been overwhelming previously.  This big move to "Mars” has been a powerful transition for my personality as well, feeling stronger, happier, and more determined.  Change is good, but at this two-month mark, I am glad that I still have six months to live with this amazing crew and continue the research of my dreams! 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Turkey Day on "Mars"

For Thanksgiving last year, I was at the family compound in North Carolina, we had three kitchens going as we prepared all the side dishes in the universe and cooked three turkeys, fried one, baked one, and smoked one!  It was quite the contrast to be cooking on “Mars” with two induction plates and one toaster oven!

Here in the dome, we made a list of the dishes that we traditionally have with our families, then brainstormed on how to make them with shelf-stable and freeze-dried ingredients.  We also discussed cooking plans in the context of our limited energy supply.  Typically, we prepare our dinners at around 2pm then reheat later, so that we do most of the cooking during peak sunlight hours when our solar panels are generating the most power.  

On thanksgiving we just started even earlier to squeeze in more kitchen time!  I woke up extremely exhausted because I was up until 5am coding. It was totally worth it, had a breakthrough with acquiring data from Jawbone API that made me feel like a python programming wizard ;) I felt very thankful, and, despite being tired, had a fantastic Thanksgiving!  (PS - stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on my research progress)

Sleepyhead making peanut butter- banana - chocolate chip cookies, delicious! 

We cooked all morning, then had a mid-day yoga break, which boosted my energy and helped me make it through the rest of the day!  We watched a couple recordings of football games, thanks to our amazing mission support team, while also treating ourselves to pedicures. Later we enjoyed our feast, played scrabble, and danced the night away!

Our Commander Martha watching football and getting a pedicure from Sophie!

As for the feast, amazingly it all turned out as hoped :) even our experiments like homemade marshmallows!  We have freeze-dried meats and veggies that are pre-cooked and diced.  On our EVAs, we didn’t see any turkeys to hunt ;) instead, we rehydrated some diced turkey and made a skillet with potatoes, onion, and carrots.  As for the fixins, we had sweet potato casserole with homemade marshmallow topping, green bean casserole, succotash, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes.  Zak followed his mama’s recipe for crescent rolls.  Martha made fresh bread for one delicious stuffing!  And our gluten-free crew members, Sophie and Neil, made a cornbread stuffing that blew my mind!

Our Thanksgiving spread on "Mars" did not disappoint!

After dinner, the crew decided to dance off the calories :) Here’s a little montage of our festivities, ’twas a happy thanksgiving in the dome!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Battling against the clock!

When envisioning life in a dome, my research ambition was inspired by the valuable data to collect and analyze from this experience, and a big part of me was excited for leaving distractions of the real world behind.  I looked forward to reading a long list of books and imagined these eight months of living in a dome as an intellectual and spiritual retreat.

We've reached the milestone of completing one month of the mission.  In this month, I can say I’ve read exactly one book, and it’s a short one, Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger. The battle for personal time that is fought in our great big worlds on Earth, still blazes from a tiny dome in Hawaii.

In daily surveys for the NASA study, we are asked if our day has gone by abnormally slow, fast, or just normal.  Thus far, I have repeatedly indicated that time is moving more quickly than normal.  I decided to investigate our hurried pace by outlining my schedule with some detail.  Now I can see why the days are flying by so quickly!  The schedule here is intense!  

We all have different responsibilities here in the dome in addition to lingering commitments to our lives back home.  Despite our numerous and varying tasks, as a crew, we all sync our schedules to do P90x workout each night, have dinner together, and often play a game or watch a show afterwards.  In dome life, I am free of social media distractions, but I’m probably more prone to the phenomenon of peer pressure.  

Last night provided the example that inspired this blog post.  I planned to do some coding for my analysis of our jawbone wristband data. That plan began to derail when we decided to watch an episode of the Firefly TV series while having dinner.  Prior to this, we had already declared that we will only watch Firefly when all crew members are present, so that no one misses out.  Are you seeing the pressure point?!  If I would have opted out, then no one would get to watch Firefly.  

After one episode, the crew applied some pressure for another, and even more pressure subsequently, until we watched four episodes of Firefly together!!  I definitely lost this battle.  Sorry research, forgive my gluttony, I promise to find extra time for you soon!  It is crucial that we keep a balance of team and individual goals.  If I choose my research all of the time, then our team dynamic will suffer.  But mission success will also degrade if I am not mindful of my personal responsibilities. 

Though the binge-watching felt sinful, I have to say I’m thankful that the crew has introduced me to the Firefly TV series and the concept of a “Space Western”.. yep, cowboys and space exploration!!  It took a couple episodes for me to warm up to the lead character in particular, but only because I saw him first as Captain Hammer, the annoying arch nemesis from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.  So far, my favorite episode is called Mrs. Reynolds, I was so surprised and delighted to see Joan from Mad Men as a sly space cowgirl, check it out!

Monday, November 10, 2014

On the transition to dome life

As a crew, we're often asked how we prepared for this mission, and my answer to this question has a glaring contradiction. To prepare for life as a simulated astronaut, I worked on my physical fitness, while also eating as much pizza and sushi as I could find! I was worried that I would not like the food on “Mars.” I thought I would have trouble adjusting to the 2-min showers. I predicted that I might feel cramped, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to have this dome life focused on research and teamwork.

HI-SEAS habitat on Mauna Loa, there's no place like the dome!

Now that 25 days have just flown by, I’m thinking the transition back to “Earth” might be harder than our transition to “Mars.” It’s a challenging, busy schedule here, but it's worth every minute, since we are doing stuff I love: research, fitness, satisfying meals, and teamwork. I’m a fourth-year PhD student, so I’ve been immersed in research environments for a while now. The major difference is that the nature of my prior graduate student life was quite solitary. Learning processes are satisfying and fun on their own, but now I realize how much I've missed working together as part of a team.

Here, I'm interacting with crew members to accomplish our mission goals and to maintain a healthy team chemistry, while also gaining confidence in applied engineering and insights for proposing novel research. This past week, we worked on the first Geology task of the mission. Our task was to estimate the volume of a nearby ridge-like feature that is composed of a type of lava called spatter, which is a possible insulating material for building surface shelters on Mars. So, the question was basically how much spatter is deposited in this geological feature.

An aerial photograph of the geological feature 

We divided the task into two separate EVAs. On Monday, Sophie and Allen suited up and headed out with the goal of determining the location of the ridge-like feature relative to the habitat and gathering information about where to start measuring and about the difficulty of exploring the terrain. From this information, we decided to tackle measurements with a three-person crew. On Tuesday, Martha, Neil, and I went out to track the feature and completed the longest EVA we’ve had so far. It’s hot and sweaty in those suits, but we kept going up and down the slopes of the 575-meter ridge to measure angles, input GPS waypoints, and to wave hand signals when radio communication failed.

Steep slope of the ridge with loose surface rocks, tread lightly...

At times, it felt as though I was skiing, when on the way down rocks would start slipping and rolling away. If it was not too steep, sometimes I would decide to just slide along with the lava rocks, in my clumsy hazmat suit holding a trekking pole! My golf experience also came in handy as I was pacing yardages to verify GPS calculations. The 1-yard stride I have ingrained on manicured golf course fairways still ended up being quite accurate on the rough terrain of a lava field.

Suited up for hiking (or skiing) through the lava field.. and staying hydrated!

What a great day, experiencing awe and wonder as if we really were exploring another planet! We faced challenges, stayed positive, and pulled together to successfully complete the task (estimated 155,500 cubic meters of spatter).

Monday, November 3, 2014

Domestication in progress

Resourcefulness is one of the traits I’ve always admired about Momma Dunn, a mix of creativity and a positive attitude.  She can make a bad day into a lovely one, and she can whip together a hearty meal out of seemingly random, lacking ingredients.  It’s easy to fill up a grocery basket with fresh ingredients, take it home, and toss it together like a master chef.  But putting together a meal from a limited pantry is the sign of a true kitchen master!

The HI-SEAS kitchen is well-equipped with a mini-fridge / freezer combo, a toaster oven, induction burners, microwave, dishwasher, bread maker, coffee maker and an electric kettle.

Cooking on “Mars” requires some gambling and imagination.  Before I served my first meal, and actually it was the first meal of the mission, I recited a quote by John Wayne, “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway!” The dehydrated ingredients seemed so foreign to me.  The first step in cooking here is always add water and wait for the ingredient to rehydrate, which can take several hours.  Though the ingredients are mostly pre-cooked, cooking here takes a similar length of time due to the preparation and experimentation.

The shelf-stable ingredients include freeze-dried meats, veggies, fruits, and powdered dairy.

Initially it was quite intimidating to cook with shelf-stable ingredients, so I was keeping it simple.  Last week, however, I made what the crew dubbed a “taco extravaganza” that included chicken and steak taco options with a traditional spicy salsa and a sweet pineapple slaw.  For some inspiration, I had mission support download and email me the menu for Taco Joint in Chicago.  Here’s a photo of the spread; there were leftovers, still working on the ideal portioning for this group, but at least I am confident with the cooking methods now!

Chicken, steak, yellow rice with black beans, tomato salsa, pineapple slaw, and fried tortillas

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Burning the candle

Throughout my life, I’ve often heard the saying “Don’t burn the candle at both ends."  It's useful to have reminders to make tough choices about how to spend your limited time and energy.

Even though joining this mission did feel rushed and similar to the "burning both ends" phenomena, I don’t think this transition deserves the negative connotation of that saying.  I am now much closer to the goal of living simply and passionately.  Instead of worrying about burning the candle at both ends, I’ll make "burning the candle in the right places” my mantra.  I've made it to the right place and feel so thankful for this opportunity.

On a lighter note ;) here at the dome, we are burning tons of calories by committing ourselves to a daily fitness program!  This is our first week of the workout regimen.  My Jawbone UP data shows evidence of how sore my muscles are feeling, since outside of workouts, I've had about 60% less activity today.. I walked around much less because my hip flexors are killing me!  
But no pain, no gain!  Tomorrow is yoga, definitely looking forward to a good stretch!  Here’s some photos of fitness-related engineering from the past week:

Zak duct-taping some steps and a bucket together for our tabata workout, okay, so this is not exactly engineering..

But Martha and Sophie repairing our treadmill motor definitely is!

Our kitchen-made incense holder is important too, keeps the dome from smelling like a gym!  There's a glimpse of our Martian kitchen in the background.

Next post, I'll give you a tour of the place.  We are slowly getting organized.  It takes time just like moving into a new house on Earth!  My sister and brother-in-law can testify as they are moving into their new home this week, congrats Kayla and Lee, can't wait to see your new place too, xoxo!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Training Wheels

This past week has been a series of crash-courses in power systems, geology, EVAs, inventory, and IT networks.  Our dome habitat is powered by photovoltaics (10kW solar array) with hydrogen fuel reactors as a secondary energy source.  We are surrounded by basaltic lava and living in isolation on the slopes of Mauna Loa where there is little evidence of plant or animal life.  

Today was our first full day of the mission.  We have been diagnosing network problems and doing inventory on our shelf-stable food supplies.  The majority of our food is freeze-dried, including fruits, vegetables, eggs, and meats.  We also have a large supply of cereals, rice, flour, spices, pasta, and snacks.  From the start, a thorough inventory is critical, since we must divide our massive food supply into rations for the long-duration mission.

One of the goals for HI-SEAS is exploring how to effectively promote crew autonomy.  With a mission to Mars, the wide distance makes communication difficult.  Depending on the current positions of Mars and Earth in their orbits, information packets from Earth take between 10-25 minutes to reach Mars.  Therefore, a crew on Mars should be able to operate autonomously, rather than waiting for orders from mission control. During the HI-SEAS mission, instead of "Mission Control," we have a "Mission Support" team.

(Illustration by NASA)

The only communication we can have with the outside world, including mission support, is through email on a NASA network that is delayed 20 minutes to simulate the distance from Earth.  Our cell phone services have been turned off and our internet access is limited to static web pages.  There will be no chatting or webcam conversations.  I am still able to post to social media through my delayed email, but I cannot participate fully, since newsfeeds are dynamic and infeasible over the wide distance to Mars.

Of course, this is a simulation, so if emergencies arise, then we do have an emergency phone to call for help.  In fact, we are monitoring a potential emergency situation as Tropical Storm Ana is making her way to the Hawaiian islands.  During training, we practiced evacuations and learned about the weather conditions that our vinyl dome is able to withstand.  If the winds get too strong, then we will hunker down in the supply container until the storm passes.  The training wheels are coming off as our new reality is setting in!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Mahalo for the gadgets!

The crew has made it to Hawaii along with NASA researchers and mission support.  Traveling to Hawaii was especially exciting for me because it was my first time leaving North America.  I caught some great views of LA as we started flying over the Pacific.  

During this week of training, we are staying at a beautiful ranch on the Big Island.  As glamorous as it may sound, in reality, our days in training have been filled with powerpoint presentations and questionnaires.. but this has been augmented by the fun of training with high-tech gadgets!

During this 8-month Mars analog mission, we will facilitate research studies of biological samples, social interactions, as well as psychological and cognitive testing with the goal of learning how health and performance change throughout our time in this isolated, confined, extreme environment.

It’s sometimes difficult to be unbiased when answering survey questions about how you are feeling and performin
g.  So, we are working to develop methods that can automatically infer our mental and physical states in an objective, quantitative manner.

My favorite device in the toy chest is Hexoskin biometrics, which are physiological sensors and data processors built into athletic shirts.  Data collected include respiratory and cardiac activity along with movement and sleep monitoring. The Hexoskin application for mobile devices has really amazed the crew with it's beauty and responsiveness.

In the Hexoskin app, the lungs on the screen inflate to match every breath you are taking, and a real-time electrocardiogram scrolls across the screen to show how your heart is beating.  We will be wearing these devices during exercise inside the dome and when we go outside the dome in our spacesuits to explore the slopes of Mauna Loa volcano.

One of the main tasks of our mission will be exploring and surveying the geology of Mauna Loa, which is the largest active volcano on Earth. The crew will be evaluated based on our performance during these assigned extra-vehicular activities (EVAs).  So, up next, we will be traveling to Hawai’i Volcano National Park. There, we will learn techniques for geological surveying that we will need for completing our EVAs throughout the 8-month mission.  

Can’t wait to see the glow of lava!!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Playing Tetris

It's been a whirlwind! Managing my time has felt like a game of Tetris, where the pieces seem to be falling faster and faster. But rather than ending up with a wall of bricks and a game over, the pieces have aligned and tasks are being completed.

The HI-SEAS crew selection took place in the wilderness of Wyoming while backpacking through the Wind River mountain range. It was a harsh transition going from the solace of the mountains to the honking streets of Chicago and from no access to phone, email, or paperwork to being completely immersed in modern world tasks.

My first week back from selection was focused on administrative details and organizing hundreds of files in order to hand-off my current research project. Then this past week, I packed up my apartment and literally played a game of Tetris in fitting diversely-shaped and obnoxiously-heavy boxes of belongings into my Jeep. 

When I started driving away from Chicago, I felt so thankful for a pizza party with my friends the night before. So many changes had happened so quickly. It was great to relax and soak it all in. The pizza pies were delicious and the conversations helped me realize that the pieces are coming together in the Tetris game of life!

I'm on my way to Hawaiian Mars! But first, it's time to play some golf with my Dad and co :) 

Monday, September 22, 2014

The countdown begins

Counting down until October 15th, when I will enter the 1000-square-foot dome where I will be living and working with five other crew members for 8 months!  Still, I haven't completely decided if this is a countdown to a party or a prison sentence. But all I know is that, lately, every day feels like Christmas!  

It is sad to know that I will be missing out on traditional Christmas festivities this holiday season. However, in feeling the support of my family and friends, I've been experiencing Christmas now for almost a week! Thank you folks for making my heart happy and my eyes eager! This new journey will certainly require community support. I am so appreciative for all of your ideas, curiosity, and consideration!

Also, here's a link to the HI-SEAS announcement with crew biographies: http://hi-seas.org/?p=3275

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Meet the blogger

My name is Jocelyn Dunn, often called Jocey or Joce by friends and family. I grew up in Sebring, Florida surrounded by the rural landscape of orange groves, swamp land, cattle ranches, lakes, and golf courses. Without the distraction of city lights, my hometown is perfect for star-gazing and that's where I started dreaming about space exploration. I am so thankful for those five-star views of the heavens and for the immense support of my family, teachers, and coaches!

After high school, I landed academic and athletic scholarships at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, FL. I was fortunate to find a supportive environment for academics and athletics, a place where I could both study aerospace engineering and compete in golf at a collegiate-level.  This is also where I was first exposed to academic research.  I had wonderful mentorship from faculty in physics and aerospace medicine that helped me pursue my academic interests.

Over the course of my undergraduate studies, my dreaming about space exploration became attuned to the challenges that astronauts face while living and working in space, such as bone and muscle loss from being without gravity and radiation damage from being outside Earth's protective atmosphere. I was thinking broader and began studying biology, chemistry, and psychology in addition to engineering sciences. Human performance in the extreme environment of space is really what fueled my desire to go to graduate school to study biomedical engineering.

After graduation from Embry-Riddle, I moved to Indiana to begin studying biomedical engineering at Purdue University. Graduate coursework deepened my understanding of the engineering sciences and sharpened my ability to apply engineering principles to new contexts, specifically the biomechanics of human physiology. For my master's thesis, I furthered the development of a patented biomaterial for replacing damaged soft tissues, specifically liver tissue and blood vessels.

During this time, I found myself thinking "big picture" and wanting to address healthcare problems from a systems perspective. In studying chronic diseases I realized that better policies and methods for system improvement are as vitally needed as medical solutions. I started reading more and more scientific articles from the field of industrial engineering, and so began my PhD program in Operations Research at Purdue.

I am now working at the interface between humans and technology. My dissertation focuses on 1) developing intuitive and reliable methods for harnessing knowledge from real world data, and 2) implementing these methods to aide system improvement. The overall goal is generating data-driven knowledge that will help improve systems design, operations, and policies. These methods are general and can be applied to analyze data from wide-ranging domains, such as education, finance, and healthcare. My goal after graduation is to join a team in applied research that is focused on improving systems in order to positively impact people's lives; whether it be the lives of astronauts, patients, or young students, I want our work to have a positive impact on society.

Outside of research, I enjoy participating in K12 outreach programs for local communities. I've worked with teams of graduate students to organize tours of research labs, design activities for classrooms, and setup hands-on demonstrations at local fairs. The goal is to encourage young students to be interested in science and engineering. Inspiring young students is a great accomplishment, and I think we've had a lot of success on topics ranging from renewable energy to the scientific method to orthopedics.

As for hobbies, my golf game is not as sharp as it was in college, but I hope that after graduate school, I will have more time to practice. My long-term goal is qualifying for a US women's amateur championship. I stay active by running, weight-lifting, and practicing yoga each week. Then, recreationally, I like to play softball and volleyball, go biking, or take a swim. If you ask me to choose a restaurant, know that I have become a connoisseur of Neapolitan wood-fired pizza, so bring an appetite and curiosity for trying pizza pies!