Postcards from Mars

Crew Imagination I CapCom: Day 2 closing

March 11, 2024, 18:01
Greetings, Imagination 1 crew!

I’m eager to hear about your mission’s first full day … From here on Earth, only 2% of the Moon will appear illuminated this evening, producing a thin waxing crescent. That means that to you, the Earth appears mostly illuminated.

Overnight temperatures here will dip to 46F (7.7C), obviously significantly warmer than the -262F (-163C) highs of Shackleton Crater. I hope you are all warmer tonight.

Please let me know if I can assist you with anything this evening.

Looking up from Earth,
Mikayla Mace Kelley, CapCom

March 11, 2024, 18:07

Pressure: 1.5 inches of water
Lung height: 76 inches with blower at 25.5 Hz
CO2 Lung: holding steady at ~500 ppm
CO2 TM: 2305 ppm
CO2 Eng Bay: 2469 ppm
CO2 Crew Quarters: 2583
Water tank level: 53 gallons
Hydroponics: 6.4 pH, 2.0 EC

Note: Levels of CO2 dropped when we opened the [second] air vent baffle in the CQ. Consistently 2500, then dropping to ~2400, but I can see the increased activity in the areas—cooking, moving things, talking—is increasing the [CO2] gas. The mini-split running [appears to] lower the levels [TBD].

We have had a productive day. Ivy has sewn a pouch for use during the EVAs for us to place materials, such as Julie’s 3D printed aphorism stamp. Testing the 3D printer, Julie successfully made a carabiner for the pouch. Liz continues to spend time in the lung developing choreography, taking film and photos. Chris has been working on the opening section of his article and includes a passage or two below, along with experimenting with multiple exposures of plants and the MiG-29 helmet that Liz and Ivy will use on the EVA.

We have been house-keeping (dishes, vacuuming, etc.) and monitoring systems. As Kai at Mission Control knows, we had a misunderstanding regarding pressure gauge setting and lung height (see below). All working now. Kai provided a physics lesson on Boyle’s Law, which we appreciated. We suspect this is what The Clash had in mind with their song, “I Fought the Law and the Law Won.” Boyle for the gooooaaalllll!

Throughout the day, Chris tries to sprinkle in more Moon information in order to convey the alien wonder of that world as [we] work individually and take our meals collectively. Ivy set a high standard with yesterday’s dinner! We are aiming to make enough at dinner each night to have, as we did today, leftovers at lunch to save time and energy.

We plan on more imagery and video projection tonight when the desert hides in the darkness and we feel more lunar than not –Commander Christopher Cokinos

By |2024-03-15T04:16:52+00:00March 11th, 2024|Categories: Research Teams|0 Comments

Crew Imagination I CapCom: Day 1 closing

March 10, 2024, 18:11
Good evening, crew! This is CapCom checking in.

It was a delight to see you all off on your mission this morning. I hope your first eight hours in SAM have gone smoothly. The rest of the day was sunny and warm for all of us still here at Mission Control. This evening we’ll see a low of 48F (8.9C). It’s a new moon tonight, a fitting start to the mission, I’d say!

Ad lunam cum arte,
Mikayla Mace Kelley, CapCom

March 10, 2024, 18:40

Pressure: 1.3 inches
Lung height 21 inches with blower at 24 Hz and stable for 6+ hours
CO2 Lung: 774 ppm
CO2 TM: 2167 ppm
CO2 Eng Bay: 2046 ppm
CO2 Crew Quarters: 1726 ppm
Water tank level: ~60 gallons
Hydroponics: 6.3 ph, 2.1 EC

Imagination 1 entered Shackleton Base a few minutes after 10 following a lovely send-off. The base is named for Shackleton Crater in the lunar south pole region—and, of course, Shackleton Crater is named for the great Antarctic explorer. Following a team hug, we entered the Lung and spent a couple of hours perfecting the art of lung height, blower speed and maintaining internal pressure to spec. As we did, we worked up some instant poetry with the wall-mounted poetry kit. So art and air co-exist.

We were grateful for the bread (thank you) which we ate with reconstituted dehy eggs (the secret is to microwave the egg slurry for a few seconds, stir, repeat ’till it looks like scrambled eggs, not (as some did) like a strange foam weather-sealant. We [held] a mission meeting afterwards, discussing monitoring the lung (credit to Julie for taking the lead on trouble-shooting), reviewed house-keeping and safety and plans for the rest of the day.

First order of business was much-needed rest. The later afternoon has been a mixture of setting up equipment, figuring out our personal space, personal tech, where we want this or that on this or that shelf, and some creative work for us.

We are getting used to the whir and trickle of the hydroponics, which for a moment caused the crew commander to jump up to see if a leak had sprung in the TM. We are getting used to the water pump thumping—and we are paying attention to using very little water for dish clean up. –Commander Christopher Cokinos

By |2024-03-15T04:17:58+00:00March 10th, 2024|Categories: Research Teams|0 Comments

Crew Imagination I enters SAM

Crew Imagination I enters SAM at Biosphere 2 for a six days Lunar mission.

The third crew to enter the Space Analog for the Moon and Mars sealed the outer airlock hatch today, March 10, 2024 at 10 AM. Friends, family, and colleagues were welcomed to tour the SAM facility as the crew prepared for their six days and five nights journey to the South Pole of the Moon. Christopher Cokinos, Liz George, Julie Swarstad Johnson, and Ivy Wahome entered SAM carrying their personal bins. They left their street shoes on the airlock landing and donned hab shoes provided by Astral Designs.

This professional and artistic, all-University of Arizona mission crew is comprised of non-fiction writer Christopher Cokinos and professor emeritus of English; dancer/choreographer Elizabeth George, associate professor at the School of Dance; poet Julie Swarstad Johnson, Poetry Center archivist and librarian; and textile artist Ivy Wahome, MFA candidate in costume design and production at the School of Theatre, Film & Television.

Learn more about Imagination I …

Crew members will engage in individual and collaborative projects ranging from choreography for a solo dancer in a pressure suit to poetic exploration of the outdoor surface as an imaginary lunar landscape. As they live and create at SAM, the crew of Imagination 1 aims to help establish the foundational value of the arts in space exploration as humans consider how to cultivate ethical, sustainable and flourishing communities beyond Earth.

The Mission Objectives for Imagination I are as follows:

Christopher Cokinos, “There are ethical questions we must raise about diversity and access to space, even as we celebrate human curiosity and endeavors. The artists on Imagination 1 have a range of viewpoints. We need those to inform everything from public interest to hard policy. It’s an amazing crew. I can’t wait to see what we accomplish.”

Elizabeth George, “I will explore exterior surface dance/body work while in a pressure suit aimed both at expressing body movement on a non-terrestrial surface with different gravity conditions and maximizing the ability to move with grace in a confined suit with limited consumables. This research and creative activity will be used as a pilot that could potentially benefit astronaut training for interior habitat dance exercise routines and for exterior movement on the moon, potentially using dance as a way to train for ease of lunar EVAs.”

Julie Swarstad Johnson, “Understanding place, from the local to the galactic, is vital for respectful relationships between humans and our Earth. This mission offers a unique opportunity to test out how we can engage with the moon as a place.”

Ivy Wahome, “My goal is to recycle, repurpose, reuse all the fabric scraps I have accumulated over the years. The message I want send home is for humanity to be mindful of our carbon footprint because sustainability and space travel are intertwined. I will attempt to capture scenes of our mission through the art of appliqué, embroidery, and patch work with this message in mind.”

Imagination I will be operating SAM in Mode 2 (pressurized, flow-through) for the duration of their mission while monitoring the carbon dioxide (CO2), relative humidity, temperature, and pressure. The crew will enjoy an all vegetarian diet of dehydrated and freeze-dried foods, with a variety of grains and legumes, pasta, and spices, and opportunity to make home made bread. Unique from the first two crews at SAM in April and May of 2023 respectively, this crew will enjoy the addition of dehydrated milk, dehydrated eggs, and brewer’s yeast.

Crew Imagination I was sent off by friends, family, the Director of Research for SAM Kai Staats and his staff, and an original Biospherian Linda Leigh (Mission I, 1991-93).

By |2024-03-17T05:30:08+00:00March 10th, 2024|Categories: Research Teams|0 Comments

Getting it done!

We’ve been fully consumed with the fabrication of the Mars yard and preparation for our third crew to be sealed inside of SAM, such that these blog entries have fallen behind. We promise to catch up soon!

The work at SAM continues, with our third crew Imagination I entering SAM on March 10 for a six days, five nights mission of a very unique design and objective.

The Mars yard is now fully framed with 200 linear feet of 8 foot tall plywood walls that await the arrival of two semi-truck loads of foam blocks, to be sculpted into a synthetic Mars crater.

A new hydroponics prototype is complete and operational with transition from ebb ‘n flow to NFT (nutrient film technique) for an improved delivery of nutrients with no water exposed directly to light to reduce algae growth.

A point-to-point wireless bridge now brings stable, high-speed data from SAM to the SAM Operations Center, and a rebuilt SAM email server provides a new time-delay email server for the crew members sealed inside.

Two more days before training the crew!

Stay tuned!

By |2024-03-06T07:40:20+00:00March 1st, 2024|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

SAM Experimental Hydroponics v2.0

Written by Sean Gellenbeck, PhD

Initiated in mid January, the new, experimental hydroponics rack system was set in motion by SAM team members Sean Gellenbeck and Luna Powell. This upgrade is designed to be more effective and efficient in plant production, with intent to be fully computer monitored, controlled, and automated in the final design.

This single rack solution is a prototype built for use by (Hey! Is that? Could it be James Burk, Executive Director of the Mars Society helping carry in a shipment of new raceways!?)

To avoid these challenges, the redesigned system uses a different method called Nutrient Film Technique, or NFT. In NFT, a thin film of the nutrient solution is run through enclosed channels containing the plant root zones. With the roots exposed to the nutrient solution the plant can take up the nutrients and water they need. And the enclosed channels work to prevent the roots from drying out. This has the added benefit of reducing algae growth as the nutrient solution is now no longer exposed to light. As compared to Ebb and Flood the NFT design, less water is moved through the system at any one time. This results in a smaller pump and less complex structure to support the weight of the water above.

To create the new system, Sean and Luna made use of the metal support structure from the previous design. The flood trays were removed and replaced with 4 NFT channels running in parallel (side by side). The PVC channels are a standard within the hydroponics industry and are used in commercial applications. The channels were cut to size and sealed to prevent leaks onto other components. As with the original design, there are three levels in the NFT setup and the nutrient solution flows from one level to the next by gravity. However, where the previous design moved water simultaneously to all three levels, this new design carries water to the highest tray only, with gravity bringing the water to the lower two. In total, the system has 4 NFT channels flowing in parallel that connect to another set of channels on the second shelf (in series), followed by a third level of channels. The nutrient solution is pumped to the top set of channels and is split across all four channels before flowing from one level to the next. Finally, the draining solution returns to the main nutrient tank which is sized to reduce the need for crew interaction and allows for future development and system expansion.

In total, the new SAM NFT hydroponics rack has space for 78 plants. Thanks to our Jason at Biosphere 2, our team was able to quickly prepare the system with 4 species of lettuce, kale, collared greens, and a variety of herbs for the Imagination 1 crew to use during their mission.

After the Imagination 1 mission, development of the SAM hydroponics system will continue with refining the current design, duplicating it across four racks, and eventually building an automated control system to remove the need for manual crew intervention for pH and EC levels (electrical conductivity to measure of the nutrient level in solution). While much larger systems will be a part of the SAM ECLSS in the future, we expect to maintain this stand as a resource for crew experiments and education.

By |2024-04-12T06:19:26+00:00February 27th, 2024|Categories: Research & Development|0 Comments

P2P WiFi from SAM Ops to the Mars yard

P2P WiFi from SAM Ops to the SAM Mars yard at Biosphere 2

With the completion of the SAM Operations Center and Mission Control, it is imperative that we establish a point-to-point, ops-to-habitat wireless data feed in order that crewed missions are provided stable email communication, and for remote environmental control and life support systems (ECLSS) monitoring.

With the first two missions at SAM (Inclusion I and II) the data feed was provided by a dedicated cellular hotspot with the dedicated email server placed in the adjacent Mars yard. It worked flawlessly despite the ad hoc nature of that particular configuration.

In the fall of 2023 the University of Arizona provided SAM Ops with a dedicated fiber optic drop that is mostly outside of the standard UA network, meaning we manage the provided network from the demarcation in. This provides us with a good bit of autonomy and room to expand our infrastructure as we stand-up servers internal to our Operations Center and at SAM too.

For the third crew at SAM, Imagination I, we completed the second prototype of SIMOC Live, a version of SIMOC that receives live data from an ad hoc, mesh network of sensors hosted by Raspberry Pi Zero computers. Each of the nodes, in this iteration, are mounted on a plate of aluminum which is itself mounted in four locations across the habitat: lung, Test Module, Engineering Bay, and Crew Quarters.

The data is immediately visible on a touch-screen display in the SAM Engineering Bay, and then via a light-travel time delay (1.3 seconds for the Moon; 7-20 minutes for Mars) in Mission Control where the data is projected onto a wall-mount silver screen.

This invaluable project brought Ezio Melotti and Franco Carbognani from Italy, Christopher Murtagh from Canada (via Mexico), together with Matthias Beach and Kai Staats of the SAM team at Biosphere 2. How all of these people came together is a story in and of itself.

Chris was once a user of Yellow Dog Linux and then became the systems administrator for Terra Soft Solution, Kai’s company of ten years that produced the leading YDL operating system. Kai has relied upon Chris’ expertise for more than twenty years across a few startups and dozens of projects, from super computers at Argonne National Lab to film rendering in India to life support monitoring on Mars.

Franco and Kai met quite serendipitously in Cork, Ireland where they both attended the International Space University Summers Studies Program 2017. Franco was then and remains now a Senior Engineer at VIRGO, the Italian gravitational-wave observatory. At that time Kai was working through Northwestern University as a data analyst for LIGO, the American gravitational-wave observatory. Franco brought to ISU his expertise in ad hoc networks and miniature sensor arrays for the IOT (internet of things) thesis project. Two years later Franco introduced Ezio to Kai to assist with SIMOC development. Ezio is a leading core Python developer with more than twenty years experience in developing the language, code development, and training. Regular SAM team member Matthias brings a strong background in IT infrastructure build-out and was fully at home pouring concrete, standing up communications towers, running cables, and testing ethernet drops. Kai Staats has a strong background in super-computing architecture, basic sys admin, and like Matthias, IT infrastructure build-out.

For everyone to converge at Biosphere for SAM was … a dream come true. We could not ask for more experience, expertise, and enthusiasm. Thank you!

By |2024-04-12T22:18:43+00:00February 23rd, 2024|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Imagination I to be the third crew sealed inside SAM

Imagination I to be third crew at SAM, Biosphere 2

All-artist crew to undertake a six-day, simulated moon mission

TUCSON, Ariz. (Feb. 8, 2024)— An all-artist crew, featuring four University of Arizona professional artists—a non-fiction writer, dancer/choreographer, poet and textile artist—will undertake a six-day, simulated moon mission, generating creative work shaped by the limitations and possibilities of life and culture beyond Earth, March 10-15.

These artists will conduct the mission in a recently opened analog-research station, affiliated with the iconic Biosphere 2, a mission that also will be one of the first artist-focused analog space missions globally.

Read the complete press release …

By |2024-03-17T01:49:11+00:00February 8th, 2024|Categories: In the news, Research Teams|0 Comments

Red Hen delivers SAM’s first Mars yard construct

Kai Staats maneuvers forklift to unload a section of a Hollywood set

Demian Vallone awoke at some ungodly hour only to stand outside the high bay doors of a Hollywood sound stage in the middle of a massive downpour while riggers and stage hands debated how, exactly, to load a massive Utah desert set onto the rented stick truck. He then drove from Los Angeles, California to Biosphere 2 fueled by little more than energy drinks, a journey that took more than ten hours. Late Thursday evening Demian arrived to SAM. Friday morning the forklift was delivered, then Demian, Kai, Matthias, and Ron Wood of the Biosphere 2 staff unloaded the multiple sections, one of which was quite tricky at 16 feet long.

Red Hen Industries is a full-service design and fabrication house with experiential designers, builders, inventors, and producers. Red Hen is contracted to design and build the SAM Mars yard and terrain park, what will be a world-class facility for experiential education and research.

This first piece of the SAM Mars yard was not part of the original design. This synthetic Utah landscape was built for a short-lived photo shoot, then found its way to SAM via Red Hen co-founder Danica Vallone who saw a unique opportunity to keep it out of the landfill, and at the same time, provide SAM with a good starting point.

Red Hen is a leader in reuse and recycle, and part of a group featured in this recent NPR story.

By |2024-02-15T16:46:48+00:00February 2nd, 2024|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Reduced Gravity Simulator Reinstalled

SAM Reduced Gravity Simulator being installed at its final position.

Following the test trolley runs, the Reduced Gravity Simulator was disassembled and taken down for a final coat of paint. Each component was labelled, cleaned, and painted. With the cooler temperatures the paint needed two full days to dry. Matthias, Luna, and Kai developed a system to lift the massive armatures to their higher, final position.

Following a full day of removing the basalt (simulated Mars regolith) by Matthias and Luna, each took turns tossing a pull line over the Mars yard roof support structure (we won’t mention the number of tosses required), then pulling a 600lbs nylon line over. With two pulleys for a 2:1 block and tackle lift, Kai used his climbing harness and belay device to hold the armatures steady between lifts by Matthias and Luna.

Once at the height of the small angle iron shelf already secured to the building support beams, the top and bottom U bolts were fastened. As with the first, lower position, aligning the ends of the armatures was relatively simple. Using the nuts on the U bolts themselves, the armatures were moved with a high degree of accuracy, to within 1/8th of an inch tip to tip.

The four sections of track were replaced, the machine screw holes aligning perfectly.

In this new, higher position, the original test trolley is a bit awkward to sit upon, but remains functional as an overhead system. The first gravity-offload will be built and tested soon.

By |2024-03-02T06:51:21+00:00February 1st, 2024|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

SAM Operations Center is operational

Welcome to the fully refurbished SAM Operations Center at Biosphere 2

The SAM team enjoyed an incredible work week, an all-hands-on-deck, sunrise to sunset (and beyond) engagement with Matthias, Luna, Sean, Bindhu, and Kai engaged in a non-stop effort to complete the SAM Operations Center and Mission Control, as well as advance the Mars yard into its next stage of development.

– shower tiles are grouted and cleaned
– sink is installed
– vanity light is installed
– toilet is set
– sliding doors and new head are hung

– countertop brackets are installed
– countertop template (plywood) is set
– butcher block is in-house; needs to be cut
– induction cook top arrived; waiting to be installed
– sink and faucet arrived; waiting to be installed

*Conference Room*
– 65″ TV installed
– 5.1 home theater speakers installed, cables run
– chairs and conference table cleaned
– “The Martian” watched !!!

*Mission Control*
– 4 mission control desks are installed
– LCD projector installed
– silver screen installed
– sound bar installed (and it sounds amazing!)
– all sheetrock work completed, painted
– IT rack assembled (needs to be reduced in size)

– all electrical breakers replaced
– fibre optic drop, ethernet, and WiFi are working with asynchronous 200 Mbps
– floors are washed (a few times)

– reduced gravity simulator removed and painted
– TM and 40′ hatches inspected, temp patched
– TM outlined on the Mars yard workshop floor
– hydroponics rough layout established; plans made
– Mars yard boulders moved (not an easy task)

This week we will:
– re-install the RGS at its working height
– build the gravity-offload rig (and test)
– remove the prototype Mars yard and basalt (ugh!)
– prepare for delivery of a 20′ section of our sculpted Mars yard on Thursday

We kicked butt and got a LOT done! And this next week we again have our work cut out for us!

By |2024-02-15T16:00:21+00:00January 26th, 2024|Categories: Construction|0 Comments
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