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Sleepless on Devon Island

The Arctic white nights and the workload of the simulated Mars mission are making it hard for the crew members to get enough sleep.
/ Source: Mars Society

One can’t rise at dawn if the sun never sets. Daylight is constant here in the Arctic. We are so far north that the sun essentially circles us, never rising much more than thirty degrees above the horizon. There is no dusk, much less dark, which presents us with both opportunities and problems. Our workdays can be longer — there is no dusk to remind us that it’s time for supper. We never turn on the common room lights, and we don’t have to worry about flashlight batteries, nightlights or getting lost outside at night.

InsertArt(1958315)HOWEVER, IT’S HARD to go to bed when it’s light outside. Our internal clocks are trying to reset themselves to a longer day, but we are trying to keep them from doing it. So we often have to force ourselves to go to bed. Once we are there, light seeps into our staterooms, making sleep harder to come by once we’ve tried to settle down.


If in the evening we want to watch a movie (“Mission to Mars” and “Galaxy Quest” so far) or want to use the projector for an audio-visual presentation, we have to find items to block the porthole windows with. Luckily, Nell Beedle, a previous Flashline crew member, had created a lovely cardboard shade for the primary window, but to cover the others, we have to rig various items — cardboard, plastic sheets and towels, to darken the other windows enough to see our makeshift screen. Even then, light seeps in around the cracks.

In the morning light, the PVC vent pipes that go to the outside glow pink from the light coming in. We track the passing of the day from the inside of the Hab by which window glows the brightest. Time seems especially arbitrary here on Devon Island. Mostly, it flies.

It flew today, in spite of the fact we decided to make today a light one in preparation for the long extravehicular activities on the next three days. We all slept late, drank extra coffee and lingered over breakfast. But the fact there was no EVA didn’t let us twiddle our thumbs. No, we stayed busy all day. Digby Tarvin and I had the typical out-of-sim jobs to do, but today was special — the diesel barrel was empty, and we had to unhook the pump and move the old barrel out of the way, then roll a new barrel over to the generator station and set it on end.

I don’t know what a 55-gallon drum of diesel weighs, but it’s heavy and unwieldy. I imagine Digby wished for someone other than yours truly to be his partner in this project, maybe Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jesse Ventura. It was quite a struggle to push the barrel over the rocky terrain and then lift it into position. In the process of replacing the pump, I managed to spray us both with fuel, and we came into the Hab smelling quite interesting.


While Digby and I worked outside, Jan Osburg and Jody Tinsley tore into the downstairs plumbing, determined to stop the leaks that were soaking the floor constantly. We haven’t been able to use the faucet for several days, an inconvenience, not a disaster, but we were all ready to have it fixed. So plumber Jody disassembled the sink and pipes, and Jan, the German engineer, put it all back together again. In a fix-it mood, Jody turned his attention to the Dust Buster and vacuum cleaner, and the team of Jody and Digby, or the Space Vacuum Engineers, managed to repair both. We were pretty excited when Jody actually tested the vacuum in the common room. We were all impressed with effects of the “vacuum of space.”

Meanwhile, Peter Lee spent some time working up a CPR review class, which he presented this evening. Theory came first, and then we practiced our techniques on the fine practice manikin he made out of a sleeping-bag stuff sack and a clear face shield. We all got tickled as we took turns being victims; Digby was pronounced the best simulated unconscious patient, and future medical man Peter commented at one point that I had no pulse. This gave me pause, but it didn’t keep me from producing chili for supper.

Meals today were a joint effort of Commander Steve McDaniel and me. When he wasn’t conferring with the navigation team about the plans for our upcoming missions, studying waypoints on the maps, and writing reports, he helped fix our meals and washed all the dishes.

Ella Carlsson spent much of her day putting solar shades on the EVA helmets. A couple of days ago, she worked out a design, and since then, we tested the prototype helmet she created — and we all wanted one. Our being so far north means the sun is low in the sky all day and often in our eyes. This is not only inconvenient but also dangerous, as the terrain we drive over is rough, and being able to see well is essential. For her to complete all seven helmets took hours and hours of tedious measuring and cutting and taping. But thanks to Ella, we are well fixed now for the three-hour EVA we have planned for tomorrow.

© 2003 April Childress. Licensed by the author to