> > > 8-month mission on "Mars": February 2015

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Occasional Insect

In my last post, I mentioned that here in the isolation of our home sweet dome, we only have live interactions with each other and an occasional insect. I went for a long run on the treadmill yesterday and had some thoughts sparked by a fruit fly. We setup our treadmill directly in front of the only window in the hab, a small porthole with a view of the lava fields.

 Our only view to the outside is through this small porthole, also pictured is a determined fruit fly attempting to return to the outdoors.

This fruit fly was desperately trying to get outside, bumping into the plastic window, regrouping, then diving back in for endless more attempts. I only spend time peering out the porthole when running. I can feel my pupils restrict from the sunshine and enjoy watching the clouds of fog (or vog) sweep over the generally static, lifeless landscape. We also occasionally glance at beautiful sunsets out this porthole in the evenings. But besides while running, I rarely spend time in front of this window. 

However, I do grasp for the outside world through delayed email and Voxer communications with my friends and family, mostly on a weekly basis. Such a contrast to this poor fly spending all its time and energy in front of this window longing for the outside world.  In order for me to let the poor fly outside, I’d have to catch the bugger, request an EVA, and then go through the airlock before opening the door and letting em fly away. I’m not sure if fruit flies are just bigger in Hawaii, but this one is quite plump!  We keep a tidy dome, though it seems there’s plenty of crumbs around to feed our insect friends. 

As for me, I’ve been cutting out sweet stuffs from my diet lately. My new year’s resolution was “no cookies” but I found all kinds of loopholes, such as vanilla wafers, brownies, etc.  So, for 40 days, I’m not eating any desserts and challenging myself to run 40 miles on the treadmill.  So far, I’m on track with 11 miles in 11 days, and I’ve bypassed my sweet tooth by savoring my daily caramel-flavored calcium chews, peppermint teas, and even lemon-honey cough drops! I want to moderate my diet, so that I can receive the maximum benefit from our workout regimen.

Fitness is a primary goal for our crew, as we need to plan workout activity in order to stay fit while confined to this small space. As you may know from my other posts, in the first few months, we completed Tony Horton’s P90X program. Next, we had one month of a combination of P90X2, Insanity, TurboFire, and yoga. This was our first week of a new schedule, we went back to some of our favorite P90X workouts, and introduced some new Insanity and T25 core workouts. We do 3 weeks of the same schedule, then have one recovery week of mainly yoga. During some of the cross-training and plyo workouts, we often wear Hexoskin shirts to quantify and compare measures such as respiration rate, cadence, and cardiac activity. Here’s a snapshot from Hexoskin during a plyo workout with six circuits:

Output from Hexoskin biometrics during a plyo workout with each circuit labeled

Recently, I put together a video that shows how we are utilizing Hexoskin wearable device technology in tracking our EVA and workout performance, and it also has some amazing time-lapsed footage of our surreal views on simulated Mars:  http://youtu.be/gX8NWmT2ptc

I’m sure my Earthlings are getting pumped for Spring Break. It was always interesting to see how the Purdue gym would become packed in the weeks before Spring Break as students prepare for their swimsuit debuts. For those of you enduring such a bitterly cold winter, I hope you will soon join the Spring Break-ers in an escape to the beach!

In the past few weeks, I’ve been feeling out of touch with the world. Even though we receive daily news headlines and some full articles about what’s happening out there. Still, I have felt out of the loop, wondering what I’m missing, and imagining that I will feel lost in conversation once I rejoin Earthly community. 

Thankfully, upon sharing these thoughts with some friends, namely Albane, Kori, and Maddy, these lovely ladies filled me in on the news that they’ve been hearing about. From these comms, I received a photo of the famous dress that I’ve been seeing in the news headlines. I showed the crew, and it turns out that 4 of us are seeing blue and black, one sees blue and gold, and one sees white and gold! After months of slippers, hiking boots, and athletic wear, I can’t wait to don a dress! Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised that I’ve already at least heard about the topics that my friends mentioned, so in reality, I was not “out of the loop” in terms of knowledge. However, I was lacking the confirmation that comes from interactions with more than just the occasional insect!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Then, Now, When?

Have I really been living in this 1000-square-foot dome for over 130 days?! After surpassing the halfway point of this mission and feeling utter disbelief, I’ve been contemplating why I feel disconnected from time. People say time flies when you’re having fun, or when you’re busy, or when you’re older, or maybe this is an early sign of space dementia ;)

Perhaps time is lost here in the same way that a person becomes entangled in a book or a game that they love for imperceptible hours. With the nature of an isolated and confined environment, we are effectively trapped together. Afterall, besides the six of us, our live interactions with living things are limited to the occasional insect and our pet fish, Blastoff McRocketboots!  Luckily, we have a balanced crew composition that has made the HI-SEAS dome a happy home!

From left to right: Jocelyn (Me), Martha Lenio, Allen Mirkadyrov, Sophie Milam, Zak Wilson, and Neil Scheibelhut (Photo Credit: Neil Scheibelhut)

Today, the 131st day in the dome, began with chatting over a coffee with Commander Martha. While conversing via our delayed email communications with mission support, we were quietly working on personal research in the morning hours. Allen collected our sociometer badges and uploaded data from our past week of interactions to NASA researchers. With the sunny day generating more power than our batteries can store, the oven was fired up, and the creative cooking began. Neil and Sophie masterfully baked a loaf of gluten-free bread (not an easy feat), and I tried my hand at a (gluten-full) rosemary bread recipe. By this time, we’d all completed about three to four surveys about how we’re feeling today. Next, we completely re-organized our storage container, which was much needed since we recently received a massive resupply of food inventory to sustain us for the next two months. 

Newly installed shelves for our food inventory in the storage container

Soon we became eager to start our new workout plan. For the next 3 weeks we will spend Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays with Tony from P90X – Tuesdays and Saturdays with Shaun T from Insanity – Wednesdays with Yogis – and Sundays with Chalene from TurboFire. For dinner, Zak and Allen prepared some bomb-diggity homemade ravioli!  While evading a food coma, we became engrossed in preparing for tomorrow’s EVA task. Later, some crewmembers entered an epic game of Carcassonne with all the available expansion packs, while others opted for catching up on work or writing blog posts ;)

Thinking back to how I spent my time last year, here’s what comes to mind. At the beginning of 2014, I traveled back from Christmas vacation in Florida to be greeted by -11F weather in Chicago. Day-after-day, I woke up, took a long, hot shower, gulped down a glass of Florida's Natural OJ, quickly packed some yogurt, granola bars, maybe a salad or sandwich if time allowed, then hustled to catch one of the L purple line express trains to Evanston. During my commute, I would either be fully absorbed in whatever research progress I needed to finish that day or engrossed in some of my favorite iPhone apps. 

The treacherous hike to my office on some extremely frigid days

One time, I completely wiped out on the sidewalk – my pen and notebook went flying – and a good-natured gal nearby blushed trying not to laugh until she noticed that I was laughing too. I promptly decided to take a road trip to Wisconsin to practice snowboarding on the next snowy weekend in January.  After gaining control of both my heel and toe edges, I made plans to hit the slopes of Vail, CO in February with some great friends.

It is astounding that I traveled 3400 miles in flight and 800 miles commuting in the first couple months of last year when compared to the handful of miles that I have trekked this year! I have only traveled about 12-15 miles in 2015 while exploring the volcanic terrain around our dome, albeit while charting meticulously. I have hundreds of measurements and scientific photos from our explorations of lava fields, tubes, channels, and ramparts here to compare with volumes of text messages, social photos, and bank transactions in 2014.

Some "Earthly" favorites, from top left to bottom right: the beach, pizza, Instagram, Chicago skyline and Lincoln Park, mis amigos Shailesh and Nate, outdoor yoga with my amiga Maddy, and catching up with my soul sista Melissa!

As evidence that I don't have space dementia, I can assure you that I can vividly recall most of my days here at HI-SEAS. I have spent far more time recording my experiences during this mission than any other time period in my life. But still, somehow, while I'm here in the dome, there’s this disconnect of not feeling the tick-tocks as time is barreling away. Perhaps I'm finally feeling what it's like to be living in the moment rather than hurriedly approaching a next plan or desire.

The restraints of the mission requires a dismissal of impulses. There’s no procrastination on social media, spontaneous road trips, fast food, or the option to immediately call a friend for advice when a problem arises. Rather than logging into Instagram, I access Qualtrics survey systems for five or more questionnaires per day, spend time journaling each night, and spend Sunday afternoons in weekly debriefs with the crew. I am thoroughly reflecting on my time spent here. These reflections are not overly analytical, just observational.  I’m recognizing and accepting how I feel, and I’m striving to improve each day. 

This experience of living in an isolated and confined environment has given me the freedom - to learn about myself – to reduce my requirements and live simply – to rule over longings – to focus on developing my intellect. Though confined to a dome, I have more freedom than ever before! I still miss my family and friends immensely, and I want to be there with them for fun events and special occasions.. but I know that they understand that this is an exceptional opportunity. And hey, time is flying by. Now that we've surpassed the halfway point, I'll be back to "Earth" in less than the amount of time that I've been away!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Halfway Home

Guest blog post from Daddio, my first and forever Valentine, Mr. Tommy Dunn!

Jocelyn asked me back in November to write a guest blog post. I told her I would after the holidays and after her sister’s wedding. I am generally a private person especially when it comes to family. But I think writing this will be an easy task, since Jocelyn gave me so much information to help me get started with writing my first blog post. She's an amazing woman.

Aloha is a greeting that I thought was well outside the compounds of Sebring, Florida. But it will stay with me forever now. When people ask what Jocelyn is up to these days. I tell them she is in Hawaii on top of a volcano, doing research for HI-SEAS and NASA. Then questions follow. I advise them to google Jocelyn Dunn and read more about her and the mission. When I mention isolation, they are surprised and wonder if they could do it, most say no. 

Myself being born and raised in Florida, I grew up watching the Apollo program and then the Space Shuttles lifting off from Kennedy Space Center. We could see them from Sebring. In elementary school when Jocelyn was assigned her first formal science project, I suggested that she do something about the space program. By chance an early morning launch was planned for the very next week. So, Erika and I got our four children up before dawn, made them a bed in the floor of the van, and headed out for the 3 hour trip over to Titusville. Once there, we ended up parking next to a TV news truck. Jocelyn pretended to be a news reporter as we recorded the launch for her class project and witnessed her interest and curiosity in the space program blossom.

The four Dunn children growing up in Sebring, FL - Jocelyn in green hat, sister Kayla beside her, and twin brothers Eric and Steven enjoying bottles of milk.

Let’s begin this with some background in how she reached this point. Jocelyn was an exceptional student, even in elementary school. Her mother and I taught her math and reading at a very early age, I remember her enthusiasm for adding and subtracting long columns of numbers before pre-school. Then by high school, she ran out of math classes to take, so she turned to college math classes. Straight A’s her entire grade school career. I used to jokingly tell her that anything above a C is wasting effort, just trying to protect her from being too hard on herself.

Her interests in space led her to Embry-Riddle in Daytona Beach, where she excelled in academics in aerospace engineering and played for the varsity golf team. They did very well also competing in national championship tournaments each year. Then onto Purdue, for graduate school in biomedical engineering and now a PhD candidate in systems engineering. As you can see, she is a very driven and disciplined person, student and athlete. 

When the HI-SEAS project popped up, she called me very excited and wanted to become a part of it. As a parent, I cautioned her that spending time isolated, would change her, and we spoke of missing holidays, friends, family functions, weddings, funerals, and time in university. I tried to take a very objective look at what she was saying and advised her to do her homework, find out the who, what, when, and where of it. She did, then applied, but was disappointed not to get in on the first 4-month mission. I told her if it was meant to be it'd happen. 

It did happen, in record speed, like a 60 day notice to participate in the 8-month mission. For Jocelyn to make arrangements with her PhD program, find a sub-lease, and move all of her belongings out of Chicago, was a feat in itself. Before she went off to Hawaii, we had some one-on-one time with her, enjoying some golf, good food and spirits with neighbors, family, and friends. Everyone tried to give her lots of positive influence prior to going into the habitat. 

The last hoorah before heading to Hawaii for HI-SEAS 8-month mission

As for her Mom and I, we relied on that knowing that she is a smart young woman, and we just need to trust in God and her decision of participating in the project. And just in case, to do our part, her Uncle Billy and I worked out a rescue plan if things didn’t go well in the habitat. Let’s just say he is a helicopter pilot and myself being a firefighter trained in air rescue, it would be a piece of cake in getting her out. 

Jocelyn visiting Dad at Road America, American Le Mans Series Race 

For me, I guess the best way that I can look at this is, that we all could be on a beach somewhere looking out at the ocean and still believing that the Earth is flat. It takes people like these six crewmembers who are willing to sacrifice time away from friends, family and fun events, to move science and research forward. They are pioneers. And Its NASA’s way of doing their homework finding out the who, what, when and where.

Daddy Dunn and young Jocelyn on a beach in Florida 

Thank you to the University of Hawaii for supporting the crew. Thank you to friends, family, and interested readers for encouraging this team. A special note to the six of you, continue taking care of each other, I know it must be difficult, all of you are in my thoughts and prayers. Thank you for your sacrifice. 

And congratulations, you're halfway home!