I looked anxiously out of the window of our Twin Otter, scanning the landscape for the Hab, our home for the next month. All I could see was dirt and rock, dirt and rock. I finally got a glimpse of it, ahead and under the wing, but Rod, our pilot, banked the plane sharply, making a practice pass over the dirt landing strip, and the tilt of the aircraft gave me two new views — the ground out of the left-hand windows and the sky out of the right. We leveled out, and Digby Tarvin, my crewmate and traveling companion, cried, “There it is!” He leaned over me to snap a picture as we dropped onto the dirt airstrip.
InsertArt(1951572)OUR FLIGHT to Devon Island from Resolute Bay took only about 45 minutes, but it eclipsed the months of planning we had all done to get here. Digby and I were the fourth and fifth members of our crew to arrive on Devon, our home for the next month; Jody Tinsley, Jan Osburg and Peter Lee had preceded us by a day. When we stepped down from the plane, Jody, our executive officer, was there with an all-terrain vehicle and trailer to greet us; Peter was across the strip filming our landing and arrival.
Quickly, we grabbed the boxes and luggage as Rod and co-pilot Erin handed them down. We dragged or carried them over to the trailer to keep them out of harm’s way before we gingerly unloaded the two heavy ATVs we brought. These weigh about 550 pounds, and unloading them was somewhat like wrestling comatose bulls.
Job done, Rod and Erin posed for the obligatory pictures, and then they were off. Their mission was to fly back to Resolute for the remaining members of our crew, Commander Steve McDaniel and Ella Carlsson. Ours, as they roared into the sky, was to load the ATVs and move our gear to the Hab, fording on the way the stream we call the Lowell Canal.
SENSE OF ISOLATION
As the Twin Otter disappeared, my main emotions were excitement and delight, but I felt then and feel now a sense of isolation—a remoteness that is welcome but unfamiliar to a gal from the Southeast. This feeling comes from being far from home, far from the familiar. (The closest creature comforts are a plane ride away, at the hospitable South Camp Inn, our base in Resolute Bay).
The isolated feeling is compounded by the landscape. I’m used to trees, to lakes. To frogs croaking of a summer evening. To mosquitoes. To grass and the sound of lawn mowers. To kudzu and poison ivy. Devon is different.
Devon Island is brown and gray and quiet. The water surrounding it is blue-gray and patterned quiltlike by ice floes. Inland, it’s a desert: dirt and blocky stones — there are no obvious signs of life here. There are no trees.
The sedimentary rocks are covered in some places by snow — the north slopes of hills, the shady areas dipping into the nearby Lowell Canal. This will be our base of operations till Aug. 2. Here we will work and research in “sim,” or in simulation.
ASTRONAUTS ON AN ALIEN PLANET
For our purposes, we are to be astronauts on an alien planet, here to rely on our own resources, learning about our surroundings, studying this island as if it were Mars and we were stationed there, far from Earth. There will be no care packages, no FedEx deliveries, no Web. What we do have is a desire to learn, to explore, to experience life on our version of Mars.
To that end, all of us finally together at the station, Steve, Jody, Jan, Digby, Peter, Ella and I made ourselves comfortable in the Hab today, our research station as well as home during our mission here. The crew unpacked and stowed equipment, tested systems and developed a plan for maintenance and other crew duties.
We ended our work for the day with a flag ceremony. After supper tonight, Jan climbed the antenna tower to raise the symbol of our arrival, the Mars Society’s red, green and blue flag. With this gesture, we are happy to report that the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station is officially up and running for the 2003 field season.
© 2003 April Childress. Licensed by the author to MSNBC.com.