John Pazmino
 NYSkies Astronomy Inc
 2004 September 22
[This article was written before the establishment of the NYSkies 
website. With Minor editing, mainly to remove tupos, it is the same as 
the original. It is nominally dated one month after Ms Walker's talk 
on August 2004] 
    Elaine Walker was the chapter president of National Space Society 
in New York for about four years until she moved to Arizona in summer 
2003. She stopped in the City on other business and offered to give 
her NSS friends a show about her stay at NASA's Devon Island arctic 
station. This was arranged for Sunday 22 August 2004 at the Life 
Cafe', 10th Street and Avenue B, Alphabet City, on Sunday 22 August 
2004. I with about a dozen NSS members went to see her. I arrived 
there at 13:40 EDST, having made good time by train and bus. 
    Ms Walker skipped up to the restaurant, all in her old demeanor 
and guise at about 13:45 EDST. We ambled to the cafe's bar to wait for 
the other members. 
    There being no party rooms in this restaurant, we assembled tables 
to fit our group with Elaine posted at one end. Her show was a 
PowerPoint file displayed thru her laptop computer. She found a 
wall power point to plug the laptop into to save battery life. 
    At a little past 14h EDST, with most of us seated and waiting for 
our brunches, Ms Walker explained her travels. She was on a photoessay 
assignment to cover some of NASA's work during this summer season's 
run at the station.
    I give only a few highlights of her talk, which was thoroly 
detailed and illustrated with perhaps a full hundred of slides. The 
ambient noise and music in the cafe' were soft enough to let all of us 
hear her. The laptop had a large screen but still it required a 
sightline pretty much face on. Being that we were arrayed along a row 
of tables, this was possible for most of us, including me. 
Devon Island station
    The station is on Devon Island in the far north of Canada adjacent 
to the Houghton meteor crater. The site was chosen for geological and 
biological studies in a terrain resembling some parts of Mars, but 
otherwise there is no effort to simulate an actual Mars base. It is 
far more a regular arctic research base with all the usual equipment 
(including shotguns) of such a facility. Structures and machinery here 
utterly would never work on Mars. 
    The station consists of clustered huts and tents, many all-
terrain vehicles, and other conveniences for a crew of about twenty 
during Elaine's visit. The main experiment underway this year was to 
develop methods of drilling and coring in Martian soil and rock. This 
was conducted by crew from NASA's Ames Research Center and other 
    On hand were staff from the Canadian Space Agency and visiting 
scientists from other countries. During Walker's stay, there was a 
turnover of crew because certain people stayed for only a couple days. 
tundra and ice
    The land around the base is generally flat, with low hills, frozen 
below about 1/2 meter, overlaid with ice and snow. The top 1/2 meter 
of soil is soaked with liquid water. Under gentle pressure the ground 
supports human weight. With stomping or sharp pressure the ground 
yields into a quicksand consistency, which can trap people and 
animals, even vehicles. 
    To drill into this surface, the crew used a tall plastic bucket 
sunk into the water-soaked layer of soil down to the frozen 'bedrock'. 
This created a coffer keeping the water and mud out of the drill. This 
was to simulate drilling in hard ground without liquid or air, like on 
Mars. Air on Earth helps drilling thru windage and lofting of the 
chips. This is so natural to us that until the space age no one 
thought of any other environment for drilling. The drilling depth is 
only a few meters, to collect operating data, not to hunt for 
subsurface minerals. 
Houghton crater
    A parallel experiment was to explore the Houghton crater to learn 
more about the geological imprints from such collisions. This crater 
is particularly well preserved. Most other meteor craters on Earth are 
badly overgrown with vegetation, modified by human land shaping, 
weathered or eroded, or buried under newer geological layers. Walker 
showed how shatter cones were cataloged by the crater monitoring team. 
    Travel about the territory was by Humvees and ATVs in packs. Thus, 
if one vehicle ran into trouble, the occupants cam get back to base 
with the others. On occasion a vehicle bogged in mud had to be pulled 
out be calling more ATVs from the base. The itineraries were mapped 
out in advance based on known and potential terrain hazards. 
    The base is provisioned by airplane from Resolute Bay or other 
larger town. It takes a couple days to reach the base from southern 
Canada because flights to Devon Island are arranged at sporadic 
intervals of several days. 
    Clothing and equipment were normal arctic gear, but without the 
intensive cold of winter. The clothing was supplied by the base. 
Temperature was about -10C all day. The crew still must be careful to 
wear gloves, hat, boots. They are tutored about the hazards from the 
cold. Only modest heating was offered in the shelters, partly to 
conserve fuel, so coats were worn indoors. Elaine noted that while her 
body was adequately warm indoors, her fingers were often too cold to 
work with. 
    Three meals per day, 24-hour span, were served in the mess tent, 
all being high energy and tasty. Breakfast and supper are mandatory, 
for the the nutrition and the accompanying briefing of the base 
activity. Lunch could be skipped, typicly by being on the road. Light 
snacks were available at all times. 
Day and night 
    There was no night. The island is in the 24-hr daylight zone near 
the north pole. All activity is scheduled by the clock, with clues 
from the solar azimuth. Sleep is encouraged by wearing masks or 
covering up with the blanket or sleeping bag. 
    The station is closed up near sunset as autumn approaches. Certain 
tents are dismantled and all huts are buttoned up. During the winter a 
caretaker patrol stops by to look the place over for damage or losses. 
seals and bears
    There is very little flora and fauna on the Island, but plenty of 
polar bears and seals. The seals stay in the ocean or on the shore. 
They are the main meat food for the polar bears. The bears rove on 
land and in close waters. On the occasions that a bear attacks humans, 
the shotguns are an absolute necessity. Every one, including Walker, 
got training in handling the weapon. They are under strict 
instructions to shoot the bear only for an actual or impending attack. 
Otherwise, leave the bears alone. 
Indigenous people 
    There is a small thriving residency of Inuits who eke out a living 
by odd jobs at this base and in other stations in northern Canada. The 
land and waters north of the Arctic Circle are a semiautonymous 
territory given to the native Americans living there. They get around 
mainly by sleds and dogs. They speak a native language, varied over 
this huge territory, and a bit of slowly voiced English. No French. 
Other work
    Many of the occupants were wired for biomedical monitoring, with 
Walker wearing sensor probes and carrying a handheld computer. After a 
couple hours she got used to the wires and probes. The base medical 
officer checked the computer from time to time and rearranged the 
    Mars Society has its own base within walking distance of the NASA 
station. Walker didn't visit there but noted that it tries to mimic 
operations on Mars. Its occupants, for instance, walk around in 
spacesuits and enter the station thru airlocks. 
    The NASA base is tied to the rest of the world by satellite for 
voice, data, and Internet. Reception was consistent and reliable, with 
only a few fadeouts. Elaine availed of the service via her laptop to 
start composing here photoessay. 
    After we finished our brunches and Elaine wrapped up her talk, we 
had a round of bantering. By 16:30 we were on our way home. Elaine may 
come back to New York later this year on business and wants again to 
meet with her friends.