Life in an earth-bound space pod

Official crew photos for HERA Campaign 4 Mission 5. Photo Date: May 4, 2018. Location: Building 220 – HERA module. Photographer: Robert Markowitz

From May 5 to June 18, 2018, I lived inside an earth-bound NASA capsule known as HERA (Human Exploration Research Analog), which serves as a mission analog capsule for the Human Research Program. It was a bizarre, fascinating, fun, and educational 45 days. I’ve shared some posts about the lead-up to HERA as well as the egress ceremony.  Now I’d like to share about the in-between stuff – the food, the living, the science experiments. I’m sworn to secrecy on certain topics, but I think these pictures and blog give a good representation of LIFE IN A POD. As you look through the pictures, remember that all of these things happened in a tiny habitat, about the size of an RV (~600 square feet). We crammed a lot of activity into a small space.

If you are interested in learning more about HERA, please feel free to contact me or visit reading

UMass Geologists in Greenland

I’d be hard pressed to find a better way to decompress from my NASA-HERA mission than a field expedition to the Arctic. I went from 6 weeks in a 600 square foot pod to 2 weeks in the vast expanses of Greenland’s fjords and tundra. And it was wonderful. I’ll share some photos and experiences here.

A panoramic view of Sillisit and Tunulliarfik Fjord

From June 29 to July 11, 2018, I traveled with a research group from University of Massachusetts to South Greenland in a scientific campaign to calibrate paleoclimate proxies. The overarching goal of the project, which is led by UMass professors Isla Castañeda and Ray Bradley, is to test the hypothesis that climate change may have forced the exodus of Norse settlers from Greenland around the year 1450 AD. Sediment cores have already been collected, and our efforts this field season were to collect soil, sediment, and plant samples in order to improve our understanding of leaf wax and GDGT systematics in these Arctic systems. Continue reading

HERA Debrief

On June 18, 45 days after the launch of HERA XVII, our crew of 4 “returned to earth”. Our mission is complete, safely and successfully, and I’m happy to be home.

Re-entry goes like this: We spend the morning cleaning and organizing, doing inventory, making some last journal entries, snacking, and making ourselves presentable to the world. Basically, trying to stay busy to distract from the anticipation of our emergence. During midday, we shoot past the moon, firing our thrusters to adjust trajectory and make our final alignment with earth. About an hour before our expected water-landing, the 4 crewmembers gather in the Level 1 module to watch video footage of the re-entry. We are excited. I feel a bit nervous, not knowing what to expect when the door opens. The parachutes deploy, we hear wind, we wait. Shortly after splashdown, the fanfare begins, and the door opens to the tune of Stars and Stripes Forever. To see that door open is a strange feeling, as if I forgot it was even possible that we could leave our cozy habitat. Continue reading

HERA XVII – NASA Mission Prep

Well, this is my last full week at the University of Massachusetts before I take a 2 month leave-of-absence to participate in the Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) mission at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX.  I will be living with 3 others in the HERA habitat for 45 days, during which time we will have very limited contact with the outside world, eat delicious freeze-dried foods, shower in a ‘hygiene module’, and simulate flying a spaceship. Weird? Exciting! Continue reading

Lindavia intermedia

This blogpost is about a complicated little diatom. We just published a short nomenclatural article in the online journal Notulae Algarum that rectifies naming problems that have plagued the centric diatom currently known as Lindavia intermedia. The diatom was originally described from samples taken in Alaska (hence my interest), but has undergone a myriad of genus changes and status changes (ie. changing from a variety to a species). In writing the article, I learned a great deal about the rules of taxonomy and how we name organisms, especially algae. A fun project, and special thanks to Mark Edlund and Phil Novis for helping get this out. For more on this diatom, refer to the article here, or to the Western Diatoms webpage.

Internal view of a Lindavia intermedia valve under SEM

Valve view of Lindavia intermedia under a light microscope