> > > 8-month mission on "Mars": Then, Now, When?

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!


  1. This is a really fascinating blog post. I wonder though with all your work and isolation how you are feeling mentally? Do you feel supported enough to carry out what you need to do? Is anyone looking after you and your emotional well-being?

    I can imagine how difficult it is being away from everyone and everything you know BUT what an amazing achievement both personally and academically.

    Refugia Stein @ Container Domes