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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Exploring the New Year

On the first day of the year, I treated a new page in my journal as if it were a blank canvas of highest quality, writing each word carefully because I wanted to preserve the purity of a new beginning; but instead of a perfect start to the new year, jumbled thoughts came tumbling down. In shaky penmanship I wrote something about making this new year better by not eating so many cookies ;) No matter how many cookies I will gluttonously consume, I have a feeling that this year will be a special one. There’s no place like the dome!

We still have five months of the mission to go, but I’m already starting to plan some vacation time with my family. I look forward to golfing, scuba-diving, tandem jumping from a helicopter, ordering from restaurants (what a treat that will be after eight months of cooking everything homemade), beach time, etc. etc. However, I'm mindful that in life after the dome I won't be able to wear slippers to work anymore, and I will certainly miss days like yesterday where instead of sitting at a desk writing code, I was outside all day exploring!

While on the EVA yesterday, my senses could have fooled me into believing that I was scuba-diving in saltwater. I sipped on my camelbak and my lips tasted salty as my eyes burned from the sweat dripping down my face. Exploring lava tubes gave me the illusion of cave exploring in ocean water.  

Altogether, we explored eight lava tubes, which are cave-like channels where lava once flowed during an eruption. Our task was to collect data about lava tube size, condition, and formation in order to assess their feasibility as human shelters. We targeted skylights which are basically pits where lava once pooled. Some of these skylights were too steep and inaccessible, so we couldn't actually see the lava tube openings, but we were able to climb down into other skylights and check out the lava tube openings.

Top left: deep, inaccessible skylight, Top right: view from inside an accessible skylight, Bottom: lava tube opening in the interior wall of an accessible skylight

For this task, we made a tool that we have nicknamed “TAD” for telescoping airflow detector. Airflow at the opening of a lava tube serves as an indication that the channel is open and connected to other openings. TAD also has markings on the line to enable depth measurement. It looks like a fishing pole, we're living the saltwater life on simulated Mars!

Reeling the TAD down to measure the depth of the pit, while watching the lightweight paper at the end of my line flutter from airflow in the lava tube.

We hiked about 3km in rocky, sloping terrain, the planned path is on the left, and the actual path our teams took through the lava field is on the right.

EVA #31 was strenuous, exciting, and a great success. This was the first geology task EVA in which we were able to collect all data in one sweep, without needing a follow-up EVA on the next day. I am also proud of the fact that we still did our P90x workout later in the afternoon! In a few days, we will be P90x grads, a big thanks to Tony for getting us in the best shape of our lives!

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