> > > 8-month mission on "Mars": 2016

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Magic Carpet Ride (Part Two)

Riding from the Delhi airport to Ghaziabad provided a concise view of diverse ways of life in India. The unity of seemingly coordinated chaos was demonstrated by the togetherness on the road. Such diverse modes of transportation, bikes, small cars, work trucks, luxury cars, 'tuktuks', horses, motorcycles, each with varying threats and risk vulnerabilities on the road, weaving in turn together, without regard for what westerners would call "lanes" or distance of separation, staying within inches from one another at all angles.

Rewinding to my layover, on my way to India, as it was good preparation for my journey. I prepared in the solitude of Helsinki airport during a day-long layover. The airport in Finland was the most peaceful crowded place I've ever visited. The Finnish are respectful of independence and do not make forced conversation. I felt that without the obligation to engage in idle chit-chat, it had the feeling of a short retreat. It was a much needed retreat before joining the crowds and fast pace of life in Delhi, India. Highly recommended stopover!

Day 1 of India, arrived just in time to see the sunrise! The ride from the airport was an exhilarating experience. Bouncing along in the back seat, stop and go through the traffic. The accelerating and decelerating led my respiration in self-regulation to naturally engage in yogi fire breaths! Now I see how this place naturally gave birth to these practices that we view as yogi secrets! 


I felt that this place is another planet, Mars-like in fashion, but obviously much less harmful to human health! The dust in the air of India is mitigated by simply wearing silken fabric around your head and face, to mask your mouth and nostrils. No spacesuit required, and this reminds me of a skype interview I had recently with the artist Alex Lucas, check out her futuristic spacesuit concepts and beautiful weaving: http://www.alexandralucas.net/#/tmo-the-mars-odyssey-1/ Wearing the sari around in India actually made me feel a pleasant privacy as a result, not dissimilar from the freedom that I felt from wearing a mock spacesuit and exploring Mauna Loa. In earlier posts, I analogized it with how people sing in the shower like no one can hear them, the privacy of enclosures. 

Despite the fabric around my face, in some places the stench of open sewage lines and garbage dumps among the villages was still evident. It is most difficult for me to imagine doing the work of trash sorting, in which the trash sorters go around the city to gather garbage into their carts, then back at their village they are literally recycling by hand, going through truckloads of garbage to find reusable materials that can be sold, salvaging bits of metal, removing the coating on copper wires by hand for $2 per dayWithout running water, the water-conservation strategies used in India are exemplary and could benefit future Mars explorers and sustainable efforts in this world.

Amidst a hot and dusty environment, an experience full of color and treasure. Opposing impressions, healthy food in the richest of spiced curries, served along with the risk of water contaminates. Through humble villages, bustling markets, and five star resorts, we were getting acquainted to both hazards and luxuries in India.

Quickly we also learned that everything happens 2.5 hours behind schedule! haha not kidding, most every event that we attended began about 2.5 hours late. But we were on an 11.5-hour time differential with "home" with circadian rhythms completely out of whack it's like the time of day really didn't matter. To the point of the band Chicago, "Does anyone really know what time it is? does anyone really care?" Just let my magic carpet ride go-with-the-flow.

Day 2. What an amazing and fun engagement celebration! Home is where the heart is. Love my family and friends, and so happy to have connected to more sweet friends!


Day 3. Here's Shailesh and Snigdha, "Aladdin and Jasmine" and wow, they are true to the fairy tale! Congratulations to the beautiful couple! We had a blast celebrating with you!


Day 4. Visiting Taj Mahal.. The bus ride to Agra was a long ride without air conditioning and lacking a bit of safety precautions in the transit. Upon arrival, we were met with an intense crowd of local salesman, trying to make us buy statues of the Taj or carved elephants. We were relieved that our van and belongings were still there when we got back from the tour. 


Day 5. Going to the so-called "slums" near Delhi in a 'tuk tuk' was a much needed exploration day. After being shuttled from one event to another, it was time for my carpet to fly and see more of the surrounding world.


In these villages, I found some of the happiest people I have ever met. Despite not having some of America's must-have amenities, such as running water and reliable forms of energy generation, the psychosocial health and level of contentment that I observed there is one that is much beyond average, seemingly happier than most privileged Americans. And certainly much happier than the individuals I meet in so-called ghettos here in the US. 

They are living more sustainably as a culture, developing slowly but in a sensible way. If there is a ticking clock of living unsustainability, it's no wonder that we do not have happiness, because we actually do not have much of anything to rely on! In India, even though the sewage lines along unpaved roads require people to do the dirty job of shoveling human waste, but then again at least it's simple and working reliably, and the people have acceptance of their jobs and the satisfaction of fulfilling their responsibilities. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

A Tale of 3 Cities: Barcelona, Delhi, and Stockholm (Part One)



My trip to India was like taking a magic carpet ride! 

-Jocelyn T. Dunn



Part One. Delivering a friend's pet to Barcelona! (ciudad numero uno!)

Rather than going straight to India, I planned to take a stopover in Europe for a few days to time adjust before leaping onward. And that ended up being fortunate timing to help a friend by couriering her exceptionally well-behaved dog Cosmo. Our magic carpet (operated by Air Europa) took Cosmo dearest and I across the pond to Barcelona. Honestly it felt like a magic trick when we finally found an airline with pet-friendly policies for transatlantic flights.

There are very few airlines that allow pets to fly in-cabin for transatlantic flights. But if you have an angel of a pet like Cosmo who will be content during such a long flight across the pond, besides Air Europa, United is another option to try. You'll have to call customer service to check if they are planning to allow in-cabin pets for the route you're planning to take. And even if pets are allowed on your route, still there is a limit on the total number of pets for each flight. So sadly, it is unlikely that we will ever walk onto a 757 full of adorable puppies, but if you reserve a month or two in advance, then you'll likely score a place on the short list for your pet!

Then about 10 days before the flight, be prepared to do some back and forth with your veterinarian to get the necessary paperwork issued. For example we needed paperwork in both English and Spanish as well as chip readers for the US and Europe. Kim also suggested that we have someone staying in the area (Thanks Kat!) join us at the airport for check-in, as a plan B just in case the airline does not allow you to bring your pet aboard for one reason or another.. for us, they only glanced over the paperwork and checked that the pet fee had been paid.

So once the details were all set, flying with Cosmo was a breeze! For going through airport security, I was advised to take Cosmo out of the carrying case and simply carry him in my arms. It actually made going through airport security a bit fun! Security personnel in Florida and Spain were happy to see Cosmo, greeting us with joy, one of the agents even gave Cosmo a pat on the head and wished us both safe travels!
After all this, Cosmo has proven his astronaut-like qualities of being able to handle isolated, confined, extreme environments with ease, other reasons why he is basically an astronaut: 1) he is named COSMO, 2) He is the pet of HI-SEAS Mission Director Kim Binsted who will probably go to space someday and is one of the most knowledgeable people on the planet about what it takes to be an astronaut, and 3) Cosmo successfully completed (and maybe even enjoyed) his journey from Hawaii to Florida to Spain to Russia!! He's more traveled than most people!

We said good-byes as Saint Kim departed from Port of Miami for a transatlantic cruise, or what I imagine as the first episode of her own space cruising talk show! Cosmo is pictured here looking satisfied by the accomplishment of marking his territory in Miami! I love that he had no idea that he would soon be marking territory in yet another continent! Before the flight from Miami, we spent our afternoon with the infamous Kat and Mark, soon-to-be Mr. and Mrs. Andrews (in this photo you can even see this newly engaged couple sharing a kiss, too cute!!). 

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Soon I was reclined in my magic carpet with Cosmo at my feet. He was such an angel, never barking nor whining, and not even releasing the feared dog fart haha he was a perfect gentleman! When we arrived to Barcelona, about 12 hours later.. or however long it ended up taking after a delay on our connection from Madrid, it was a big relief to finally let Cosmo go outside! And I was pretty happy to be free too :)


Day 1 in Barcelona: Needing some R&R after the long flight, but still living the dream, I woke up in a beautiful cottage in Costa Brava! Life is so good.

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And then continued to day dream at the Salvador Dali museum in Figueres. Big check on the bucket list. Ever since I started visiting the Dali museum in St. Pete Beach, Florida, I've had a fascination with the idea of going to see all of his art. He is a genius who combines religion and sexuality, dream and reality, anything is possible!
I must say that I feel at peace in Barcelona, the city of nature, architecture, beaches, papas bravas, the Catalan independence movement, Dali lovers, Sagrada Familia gawkers, and Barca futbol worshippers! Thanks to Bea the Brava for arranging everything! Come visit chi!

After one last cortado (espresso macchiato), it was time to travel to India for my friend Shailesh's wedding! Though I was excited to visit India for the first time, it's still hard to say good-bye to such a magical place! 

   
I first visited Barcelona last summer after my TEDx presentation. Shailesh joined that journey as well and that's when we met Bea actually! Shailesh and I met in undergrad at Embry-Riddle in Daytona Beach, and we're fellow Midwesterners these days - I think Shailesh loves Chicago more than anyone I know!! :) Anyway, stay tuned for part two.. about arriving to India and experiencing Shailesh and Snigdha's traditional Indian wedding!


Sunday, March 20, 2016

Connecting the dots

Here's an excerpt from one of my journal entries while living in the dome in Hawaii last year: "Even here in the isolated and confined environment of the dome, each day is a unique path or sequence of events that is difficult to predict, with weather patterns affecting our energy production and frequent interactions with each other impacting our thoughts and actions. But daily occurrences in the "real world" are even more unpredictable with the randomness in who you meet on the way to work, what you end up reading while you browse online, or where your friend takes you for lunch. All of these interactions with people, information, food, even the lighting or sounds in an environment can have an effect on your thoughts, actions, mood, and health. Our days may seem routine, and our options may be limited. But in reality, each day has an infinite number of possibilities." 

Given that our lives have such randomness and unlimited choices, it's noteworthy when a sequence of events are all pointing in the same direction. In my case, all roads lead to Gary, Indiana. With a heavy heart, over the years I have visited Gary to see my friend Michael and his daughter Laura, who are great inspirations to me. I revisited the Gary community again recently on my way to Chicago, wandering around abandoned homes, unfinished railroads, and vacant commercial spaces, slowly decaying until a day of demolition will come. 




In 2010 when I met a Gary native named Michael in downtown Lafayette on a Sunday afternoon. Both of us were feeling down and needing a friend, and we believe that God introduced us. I began to see Michael around more often and started to learn more about his life and the Gary community. Brewing in my mind and heart for a couple of years now has been this desire to develop educational outreach projects for students in Gary, Indiana.

About two weeks ago, the rumbling of this desire to make a difference in Gary was reawakened.. when I was part of the "Busy Students Retreat" at St. Tom's at Purdue. It may have also been provoked by my activities on the weekend prior, as I was reunited with some of the HI-SEAS crew facilitating outreach activities for young students in Fishers, Indiana at the Passport to Hi-Tech at Conner Prairie. We taught students about how resourcefulness is required on a Mars mission to make limited resources last for the long duration of 3 years! 




Outreach Event in Fishers, Indiana: http://www.indystar.com/story/news/2016/03/05/girls-become-scientists-day-conner-prairie/81267766/ photos of the crew and the two activities we facilitated about water filtration methods and how to study craters on the Moon!

When we were living in the dome, I had already mentioned to Commander Martha some of my ideas for the Gary project, since she's the expert on indoor gardening and renewable energy! My idea for Gary is transitioning some abandoned homes into sustainable food production facilities, since Gary is also known as a "food desert" with a lack of nearby grocery stores. This endeavor will require community support and technical help. While Martha was still visiting, I felt encouraged by my spiritual director Eileen to get better at communicating and reiterating my ideas to people. I had explained to Eileen that I feel God asking me to move forward with this, but I cannot do this project alone. Both Eileen and Martha helped me brainstorm and got the juices flowing again. And since then, it has been one improbable event after another.. I'm meeting all the right folks and connecting the dots!

Here's a list of some of the recent "aha" moments!  
1) Martha and Eilleen nurturing the vision for a Gary outreach project
2) Meeting Katie at Dorothy Day lecture, who described it as a "God moment"
3) My Jeep broke in Indy, so I needed to stay the night and wait for repairs. I stayed at my friend Linda's home, the fresh food haven of a master gardener!
4) Felt the need to deliver fresh foods to Michael in Gary on my way to Chicago
5) Wandered around Gary, felt alarmed by someone following me, so I pulled into a school's parking lot, then I walked inside and to my surprise I found the superintendent's office and the office for innovative outreach development!! 
6) Went to Fort Wayne for my flight to Florida and bumped into an old friend, who is an amazing witness to Christ, felt moved by the ideas I shared, and has started to make the connections to develop industry partnership for the project. 
7) Sat with a 6-year-old girl and her grandmother on the flight to Florida, a beautiful experience that showed me just how much I love interacting with young students and her grandmother knows some city officials in Gary.
8) Revisited the industry partners in Fort Wayne after my return flight, took a tour of their aquaponics facilities, building a team and working on the proposal!

God's providence is alive and orchestrating some beautiful teamwork. 
Gary, here we come! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary,_Indiana

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Right Time

Over the past few months, I've been discerning what's next for me. Instead of making any swift moves or entering a slow turn, I have gathered confidence that I'm moving in the right direction and should just keep on keeping-on! My primary focus is my PhD research, health and stress monitoring. Part of the time, I'm writing code to analyze wearables data, and then I'm also spending time in the lab analyzing hair and urine samples. While conducting more in-depth analysis of my data products from HI-SEAS missions, I'm beginning to write journal articles for publications and presenting my findings at conferences. 

A couple weeks ago, I went back to my alma mater, Embry-Riddle in Daytona Beach, for the first time in six years! There I had the joy of spending time with my past coaches and professors and meeting an energetic group of students. I gave a presentation about my research and felt impressed by a group of students who stayed after the talk for almost two hours of extra discussion! The following week, I attended the Human Research Program (HRP) annual meeting in Galveston, Texas. At the HRP meeting, it was inspiring to meet and spend time with some of the NASA researchers who are the equivalent of superheroes to me! Then, last week during the 3rd annual Bio and Ag research symposium here at Purdue, through addressing some thought-provoking questions from my colleagues, I made strides in understanding my data that wouldn't have occurred while sitting alone at a desk. Big thanks to my academic community!



Check out my slides from recent presentations!

More exciting news, I submitted my application for NASA's astronaut call along with 18,300 other astronaut wannabes! This is the first year that I have met the basic qualifications of bachelor's plus three years of experience, which includes my master's thesis in biomedical engineering, PhD program, and the work with HI-SEAS. On one hand, applying to be an astronaut candidate was an obvious thing to do, as it's a career for which I've been aspiring for more than 20 years! But I did spend time considering if I'm ready to apply or not. Ideally, I wished I was applying as Dr. Dunn! But as I learned more, I realized it's such a long application process that actually I will have my PhD by the time that NASA announces the 2017 class of astronaut candidates.

Aggregating past selection data, the median age at the time of NASA astronaut selection is 35 years old. I'm only going on 29 years old this June; however, it is plausible that NASA may be looking to accept younger candidates who could someday be part of an aged crew for Mars exploration. Feeling like a young buck in terms of astronaut years may be a good thing! By the time NASA plans to conduct human missions to Mars, I will be around 40-50 years old. Experts suggest that choosing older, veteran astronauts for a mission to Mars would lessen the detrimental health impacts of long-duration spaceflight. The logic is that older humans have higher risks of cancer and osteoporosis anyway, so basically, a mission to Mars will take less quality of life years off an older astronaut's life compared to exposing younger astronauts to those problems. 

After many weeks of thinking on it, talking with my mentors, and working on the application materials, I am 100% positive that it was the right time to apply. This is a chance for NASA to get to know me and my aspirations to be part of the space program. Also I will certainly be getting more acquainted with NASA this summer, as I am participating in a research apprenticeship at Johnson Space Center with the National Space Biomedical Research Institute. Glad to have some clarity in the next steps for this year! Texas here I come!