Postcards from Mars

SAM update: week of April 8

SAM model by Jason Francois

The following is the weekly update written by Kai Staats to his team, as completed each week for the past three years.

SAM Working Group,

Kai, Trent, Matthias, and Bindhu in Fredericksburg, Texas for the total solar eclipse 2024 Matthias, Trent, Bindhu, and Kai (that’s me) found each other in Texas for the eclipse and an ad hoc post-viewing lunch. On the way back to Arizona Trent and Matthias visited the Midland human-rated vacuum chamber with intent to expand the CHaSE offerings for pressure suit and related equipment testing. I worked all day Friday on the drive out and back again Tuesday with phone calls and support of Luna’s research, coordination with Red Hens, and more.

As we are all aware, following the highly successful Imagination I crew at SAM and our well deserved week off, we’ve been focused almost entirely on preparation for the final major construction effort at SAM—the Mars yard crater by Hollywood’s Red Hens. Here at SAM Luna, Matthias, and I have slipped into a modified work program—no longer pushing against an impossible list of TODOs at a breakneck velocity; rather we are moving day to day, hour to hour, focused on a sequential list of projects that need to be done in preparation for the Mars yard crater. Our list of TODOs is maintained more on the black board than in digital form, which is ok given that we are just one month from completion of this major build session and the Analog Astronaut Conference.

Luna has applied her expertise in research (and shopping) to a running list of key elements needed for SAM in the coming month. In particular, she has found the elusive Polybond cement mix required for shotcrete applied to the foam sculpt of the Mars yard crater, and after more a week of research and phone calls secured the required 76 bags, scattered as they are across the state.

Matthias has a solid list of TODOs, from Ops to the Mars yard to electrical work in the lung. Today Matthias and Kai made a Home Depot run to secure another trailer of primary supplies required for the Mars yard construction effort that begins next week. Matthias, Kai, and Luna will tomorrow (Thr) complete primary construction of the synthetic lava tube from rebar and a new, wood super-frame to provide greater stability before the spray foam and cement are applied.

Ezio and Franco made good progress on the new SIMOC Live stand-alone unit, a single Raspberry Pi Zero with sensors that serves both as a data collection point and web server for local or remote web visualization. It’s an impressive, compact unit that could easily be packaged in a case smaller than a deck of cards. First prototypes will be shipped to test agents and the Lunares habitat analog for extensive testing prior to the World’s Biggest Analog, in which each analog will receive a similar stand-alone or (more likely) an ad hoc mesh array (as was in SAM for Imagination I).

HiRISE image and data, Arizona State University Jason has completed a revised and highly accurate 3D model of SAM (see top) following his visit in February. Bryan will tomorrow (Thr) deliver his updated Mars yard 3D model for use by Red Hens for visualization. I am working with Tasha (ASU) to obtain a set of hi-res images, again to guide the Red Hen team.

Bindhu is working on an updated set of procedures for preparing SAM for team arrival, an updated Cuff List, design of the Med Bay, continued effort for the SAM photo book, an umbrella IRB, and more as these efforts carry into the summer between her adventures to Nebraska and Namibia.

Chris continues to support Ezio as they try to determine why the Raspberry Pi at SAM is going down every hour after a power outage (even with the UPS). Very frustration and confusing.

Sean is working with Dr. James Knox (formerly at NASA) for the CO2 scrubber design, preparing to host a 3 days workshop on algae here at B2 and SAM, and arriving to SAM in a week to assist Matthias with replacing the Mars yard poly panels in the midst of the chaos of the Mars yard crater construction.

Sadly, Ezio departs a week from Friday. He has been instrumental in the success of our SIMOC Live air quality monitoring and data collection program at SAM, and diligent in maintaining an organized approach to a highly complex project with many avenues to explore.


By |2024-04-12T06:01:54+00:00April 11th, 2024|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

UA crew of professional artists completes simulated Moon mission

SAM Crew Imagination I, March 2024

University of Arizona crew of professional artists completes simulated Moon mission
By Mikayla Mace Kelley, University of Arizona Communications
March 27, 2024

‘Those first couple steps were magical,’ says a dancer who explored the ways of understanding and sharing the experience of space travel and exploration through art. UA professor and SAM crew member of Imagination 1 Elizabeth George leaped into the air and lingered. When her feet finally touched down, she pushed up and spun three times before returning gently to Earth.

Such ballon – a term in dance meaning light-footedness – would normally be impossible on Earth, she said, especially while donning a roughly 20-pound, pressurized spacesuit. Her near weightlessness was the product of engineering that allowed her to feel what it might be like to pirouette on the moon.

Read the full story …

By |2024-03-28T07:00:09+00:00March 27th, 2024|Categories: In the news|0 Comments

Crew Imagination I at SAM told in film

IMAGINATION I at the Space Analog for the Moon and Mars
by Arlene Islas

UArizona professional artists served as crew members in a simulated moon mission, called Imagination 1. The Space Analog for the Moon and Mars, or SAM, a 1,100-square-foot pressurized and hermetically sealed facility that would be their home for the next six days and five nights. The crew was led by Christopher Cokinos, a nonfiction writer and professor emeritus of English, and also included Julie Swarstad Johnson, a poet and Poetry Center archivist and librarian, and Ivy Wahome, a textile artist and Master of Fine Arts candidate in costume design and production at the School of Theatre, Film & Television. The goal was to explore the value of art in space exploration and produce creative works inspired by the limitations and possibilities of life and culture beyond Earth.

By |2024-03-28T07:19:35+00:00March 26th, 2024|Categories: Videos|0 Comments

Crew Imagination I completes third mission at SAM

Crew Imagination I has concluded the third mission conducted at the Space Analog for the Moon and Mars (SAM) at Biosphere 2. Just before 10:00 AM Mountain Time, March 15, 2024, the crew released the pressure from the habitat, and when the internal pressure equaled the outside, ambient pressure, the gathered crowd of friends, family, and colleagues, including Lindah Leigh (of the original 1991-93 two year Biosphere 2 mission) welcomed the crew as they opened the hatch and stepped onto the airlock landing.

New channels KVOA and KGUN were on-site to capture the story during the press conference held in the Mars yard adjacent to SAM.

KVOA – Chanel 4
UA artists show how a simulation shows what it’s like going to moon

KGUN – Channel 9
Imagination 1 crew “lands on earth” after 6-day simulated moon mission

By |2024-03-17T06:27:02+00:00March 15th, 2024|Categories: In the news, Research Teams|0 Comments

Crew Imagination I – CapCom Day 5 closing

March 14, 2024 – 17:47
Good evening, Imagination 1!

I forgot to mention that today is Pi Day (3/14)! Maybe you found some small way to celebrate. This is your last night at Shackleton Base. In the Sonoran Desert we’ll dip to 44F (6.7C) tonight. When you arrive back on Earth tomorrow, you should expect a cool 55F (12.8C) and a 55% chance of rain.

Every evening I’ve looked forward to reading your reports and seeing SAM through your creative lenses. The art that you create long after the mission ends will continue to enrich our understanding of live could be like on the moon and beyond. I’m so looking forward to it.

Thank you! It’s been a pleasure serving as CapCom for you.

Mikayla Mace Kelley

March 14, 2024 – 18:12

Pressure: 1.45 inches of water
Lung height: 63 inches with blower at 25.50 Hz
CO2 Lung: 583 ppm
CO2 TM: 1083 ppm
CO2 Engineering Bay: 1936 ppm
CO2 CQ: 2117 ppm
Water tank level: 29 gallons of water
Hydroponics: 6.6 pH, 2.2 EC

Notes: There is algae in the water sample test line. The former imbalance was corrected with nutrient solution. And at noon Liz harvested greens and noticed a leak on the floor. Four of the vertical pipes needed to be tightened. Chris did so, swabbed the rack, and [investigated] to determine source of leak … opened one of the spigots on the second tray level to get more water to the plants and that was causing it to overflow. Problem fixed. Julie added 50 ml dilute acid.

We’re feeling serene, in the groove and both looking forward to the Earthlings we left behind and feeling wistful about our house on the Moon. SAM has taken good care—great care—in building this otherworldly house. We’ve tried to repay that by taking care while we live here, where we can see in real time the impacts of our actions—truly the crucial part of sustaining life in space. Visualizing that in a larger system, say, Biosphere 1, that’s more difficult. But this stewardship is a form of tenderness that can help everyone, everywhere, forever.

Morning art: Liz doing editing and reflecting. Ivy working on her unique mission log—the Imagination 1 tapestry. Julie singing in the lung. Chris jammed out to everything from the Dropkick Murphys to the mellow strains of The Decemberists as he organized/chunked sections for the Esquire article. We shared musical recommendations too.

You know, EVAs. Julie and Chris felt really good about their [EVA] excursions.

Julie: Today, before my helmet went on for my EVA, I took a moment to close my eyes and picture the lunar landscape–huge, rounded mountains, dark sky, sunlight angled low. Then the helmet went on and I took careful steps, the lunar landscape set aside as I focused on carefully climbing up the ladder to be attached to the reduced gravity rig. It was all in the body at that point–pushing off the ground feeling buoyant and heavy all at once, simultaneously bouncing and clomping my way to the simulated lunar regolith. Pulling out my stamp and pressing it into the regolith went better than expected despite the bulky gloves and struggle of kneeling.

After a second attempt on the rig with slightly reduced counterweight, I headed over to the rock shelves in Earth gravity for a third attempt at printing, with good outcomes. The stamp was my lunar take on letterpress printing–the “old style” of printing with individual metal or wood letters–using a wood typeface printed by hand, scanned, and turned into 3D words using the 3D printer inside SAM. Part of why I love letterpress printing is the physicality–it’s just you, the type, and the press. I always take a deep breath before I pull a print, and I did so today as well before I pulled up the stamp from the regolith. On the Moon, as on the Earth, we create with both our hands and our minds, our bodies and imaginations.

Chris: I went last and felt calm and centered if a bit aware of the, well, increased awareness. Liz was great in support of Julie and Ivy, who suited me up. (Having the fan on during donning and doffing helped us all.)

I had prepared a cuff list, though I didn’t really need it. A bit of homage to the real Moonwalkers. My first goal was to move deliberately, to be aware of what I was doing in what environment. Trent got me helmeted up, and there was the welcome gift of whooshing air. I was surprised by how all-encompassing the air was—the ultimate white noise. I did find it startling at first when, in bending, the air flow was in my ear. So a bit of “airplane” ear feeling.

But the helmet afforded an excellent view, and I felt stable the whole time. Right now, as I let the experience live in me subconsciously, it felt a bit like wearing my backpack but over all of my body.

The gravity rig was breathtaking, sometimes literally. Well-cared-for by Trent and Matthias, I left the ladder and left Earth gravity behind. The crotch harness reminded me of the system making this illusion possible but I focused on steps, body control, that slightly awkward, sometimes graceful (or, at least, light) touch in the “walking.” The whole body became involved (and I felt that back in the hab).

After two runs, I came back to Julie’s aphorism-in-regolith to take photos with the Lomography Automat Instant camera, a throw-back Instax-film operation. I removed the camera with no problem but pressing the ON button while turning the focus ring (whose small handle is right by the on button) took some time. I cannot replicate which fingers I used—I believe I may have used my next-to-the-pinkie finger to depress the button and push the latch at the same time. In any case, it worked. I felt focused on the tasks and, in between, tried to imagine doing this for 7 to 8 hours on the Moon.

I rotated the focus ring correctly and took pictures without being able to use the viewfinder—close ups for this camera don’t always match the viewfinder. It was no problem removing the small prints and putting them in Ivy’s pouch. Then I came off the rig and walked over to the second regolith deposit and took more photos.

Had I been thinking I would have removed the wide-angle lens before dropping in the prints, because it was difficult to feel the lens in among them. I got it out and carefully separated the lens covers. Again, slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. I did not let brief pings of potential frustration to distract. I just pulled on the rubber caps and removed them. Unscrewing and screwing the lens wasn’t that difficult though the wide-angle lens took a couple of tries to latch in.

Then a couple of selfies and I was able to press the multiple exposure button to get both ends of the Mars, er, Moon Yard. I was not able to easily press the two exposure buttons on the back, which, alas led to many underexposed shots of a poem in dark regolith. One or two I might be able to process-up for visibility. Another shot was out of focus but shows the terraced rocks and regolith, almost like an experimental photo of an experimental set of the weirdly insane East German space sci-fi flick In the Dust of the Stars.

Back on the rig, helmet fogging, trying to feel the body on the Moon and trying to connect with the Moonwalkers, even just a little. Sweaty, relieved, a bit in awe of the experience and the astronauts who do this and will do this, I came back in to friends helping me with Gatorade and doffing. When I went to change in the TM to cool air and dry clothes, I yelled out in victory.

In space, no one can hear your victory cry. But that’s on space, not us.

By |2024-03-15T07:08:12+00:00March 14th, 2024|Categories: Research Teams|0 Comments

Crew Imagination I CapCom: Day 4 closing

March 13, 2024 – 18:15
Greetings Imagination 1,

I bet today’s EVAs were exciting! I look forward to hearing about them.

Tonight, the desert will cool down to 42F (5.6C). And as you’ve probably already noticed from your vantage, the Earth is becoming less illuminated in your sky, while the moon grows in ours every evening.

I hope you’re all finding the space to become immersed in your creative flows while away.

I’ll be around if you need me,
Mikayla Mace Kelley, CapCom

March 13, 2024 – 18:36

Pressure: 1.49 inches of water with blower at 25.50 Hz
Lung height: 55 inches
CO2: nominal [~2500 ppm] throughout the day
Water tank level: 39 gallons
Hydroponics: 6.8 pH, 2.0 EC

Woke up in good spirits. See our morning report. Settled into more housekeeping and work. Julie put the projector for lunar imagery in the lung as by evening we are finding that we are too focused on work/getting rest to watch the imagery or even a show in the TM. That said, all but Chris have used the VR for watching lunar imagery. Chris plans on doing it interactively later today or tomorrow after the EVA. Ivy has perfected the multiple stirring of rehydrated eggs in the microwave, which Chris put to use with eggs twice today. Systems are running nominally throughout the day. To minimize distractions we are keeping the airlock curtain closed, and Ivy has placed some dark cloth on the CQ hatch window and a sheer-ish tapestry over the lung window.

Mid-morning excitement mounted for EVAs…

After lunch—leftover southwestern rice and beans—Liz got ready for her EVA. Julie and Ivy assisted with the suit while I stayed on com till moving to the compressor. After pumping too much air into the pressure suit, with Trent’s expert guidance, I think my touch got more subtle. The procedures went well, and Liz was in good shape and spirits, happy to have done one move in particular. She did say that she might have need a bit more counterweight. Then Ivy was next after swabbing out the not-very-sweaty suit. I think we did a good job on the suit checklist, coms and compressor. Ivy came back in good shape and good spirts. Both post-EVA astronauts had welcome sponge baths. Both artonauts (couldn’t resist) went back to work, Liz on visuals and Ivy on sewing. She reported needing Trent’s assistance with the first stich outside and did three of her own.

Both Liz and Ivy have EVA reports and visuals, which I will forward separately as they are ample. Meanwhile, Julie reprinted an aphorism stamp with better results while Chris focused on photographs, soaking up the experience of being in the hab (being-mode as pre-writing) and reading some of Al Worden’s last book. Apollo 15 has been on our minds, and Ivy suggested watching a show to unwind this afternoon. We watched “Galileo was Right,” the Apollo 15 episode of From Earth to the Moon. It does a compelling job, with some historical compression, of showing how Apollo geology training evolved over time. Worth remembering that in the early planning stages of Apollo there were some who questioned the value of even picking up Moon rocks! William Phinney’s history of Apollo science training is full of such information. The enthusiasm of the Apollo 15 crew, under the guidance of Farouk El-Baz and Lee Silver, was the perfect foundation for the geology training given by those mentors.

Imagination 1 loved the dramatic portrayal of the Apollo 15 mission.

Here in SAM-world, Julie and Chris drank condensate filter water for the first time in the hab’s history, so, YAY.

If we were at Shackleton Base for real, perhaps we be looking at solar panel arrays along lit crater rims or on the peaks of eternal light. We might be powered by a nuclear reactor as well, of course. We’d see slant light and shadows darker than closed eyes in a cave. Perhaps Ivy would be repairing a colorful spacesuit representing her Kenyan heritage, while Liz demonstrated a dance move to help with removing a core sample. Meanwhile, Chris would be writing a daily mission report, like this, perhaps with some new lunar poetry from Julie, who also would be tinkering with some equipment.

Imagination 1 appreciated hearing the relayed voices from Earth as Mission Control assisted the crew with lunar tasks. As ever, we appreciate the Earth reports from Mikayla and her help.

We are wrapping the mission report up a bit earlier tonight, for everyone’s ease, as we continue to imagine, in the words of the 19th century selenographer James Nasmyth, “to be in thought lunar beings.”

By |2024-03-15T04:47:46+00:00March 13th, 2024|Categories: Research Teams|0 Comments

Crew Imagination I CapCom: Day 3 closing

March 12, 2024, 18:24
Good evening from Earth, Imagination 1 crew!

I’m looking forward to your daily report. This desert evening, temperatures will dip to 44F (6.7C) and the moon will set for us at 8:21 pm. Here if and when you need me, as always!

Looking up from Earth,
Mikayla Mace Kelley, CapCom

March 12, 2024, 18:25

Pressure: 1.5 inches water across the board
Lung height: 68 inches with blower at 25.45 Hz
CO2: All below 2500
Water tank level: 45 gallons
Hydroponics at 14:00: 6.6 pH, 2.0 EC

Note: We have recycled condensate for the first time! It’s in the bucket in the TM waiting to be added to the main water tank.

Ivy has spread her sewing and tapestry in the TM, turning it into the theater of all sewing possibilities. Julie’s aphorism stamp is printing. Liz has been lunging in the lung, preparing possible moves for tomorrow’s EVA. Chris’s Esquire article is already over word count. He continues to take instant photos of the mission. Julie has been singing “sacred heart” hymns in the lung. They echo beautifully, like Gregorian chants.

All systems are nominal. We did more housekeeping. Vac, food scraps and so on, keeping the hab our cozy desert-sun/lunar home. As ever, we feel the most on the Moon after dark, when images are projected on the TM west wall. During the day, we feel connected to all the SAM systems keeping us well. We are treading lightly, to invoke the poet Gray Snyder.

We opened up a package from a German antiques dealer, revealing two pipe connectors built by the slave laborers who assembled the V2, the world’s first modern rocket and basis for the Saturn V. We do so to honor the victims of the V2, both the concentration camp slaves and the civilians killed by the missile. We cannot forget those origins of the technology that allows us to explore space, this time in peace and with justice and vibrant hope. Ivy will include them on her Imagination 1 mission tapestry.

Speaking of hope, this morning Chris found the cress leaves have unfurled in not only the lunar regolith simulant but also in the ground fines of the actual lunar meteorite NWA 10822, which, while having some terrestrial materials given its tenure on Earth, is largely composed of hydrophobic lunar feldspathic basalt. A tiny bit of the Earth but mostly Moon: And the cress seeds for this project have grown! (So far as I know this is the first time plants have been grown in lunar meteorite powder, but I could be wrong.) Regardless, it is very moving to see the green world in the gray Moondust.

Huge thanks to Anna-Lisa Paul and Rob Fehrl at the University of Florida, whose team was the first to grow plants in Apollo regolith samples. They provided the Imagination 1 plant-growth project with materials, enthusiasm and guidance.

Late in the day, we assisted Liz in the blue pressure suit. She danced in the lung. Turning this over to Julie now so all crew voices are heard in these reports over the next three nights. –Commander Christopher Cokinos

Greetings from the Moon! We finally felt settled in today. By 11 a.m. we were each at work on our creative projects. Ivy’s scissors and Chris’s keyboard chimed in the TM, and occasional hints of movement drifted up the Lung, where Liz was dancing on moonlight. We were so focused that we ate lunch late, true sign that we were invested in our work! Yesterday and Sunday, I wrote little to nothing, but the experience of simply being here–crawling through the lung tunnel, monitoring the hydroponics, cooking with dehydrated ingredients–came through in a poem draft. I was thinking about Howard Nemerov’s poem Witnessing the Launch of the Shuttle Atlantis which starts, “So much of life in the world is waiting.” So much of life is simply living the slow moments–doing chores, going to sleep, getting dressed for the day–and that’s true wherever one is, even on the Moon. In the mundane details, we’re alive.

Signing off from Shackleton Base –Julie

By |2024-03-15T04:46:02+00:00March 12th, 2024|Categories: Research Teams|0 Comments
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