Wednesday, January 6, 2016

From Sailing to Space

Getting pointers from astronaut,  Jon McBride

I want to be an astronaut.  NASA is planning to send a mission to Mars by 2034 and that gives me just enough time to get ready for it.  I’m sure they’ll take me.  I’ll be 75 years old so I won’t care about not coming home.  I’ll be in excellent health and know how to pack lightly from all of my summer hiking trips.  I can pay my way if I sell everything and since I’m not coming home, I won’t need anything anyways.  Craig, you’ll be fine.  Just get used to eating a lot of oatmeal.  I don’t get motion sickness very easily, I can sleep for long periods, and I’m Canadian.  Extreme, cold temperatures are no problem.

Packing practice - all of my bedding in one bag
Training with an 18 kg pack
I am an annual pass holder to Kennedy Space Center and I know every inch of that magical kingdom.  We are booked to have lunch with astronaut, Jon McBride, next week and I am signing up for the Astronaut Training Experience, which involves the Multi-Axis Trainer spin test.  Finally, I live on a boat.  That fact alone should put my resume on the top of the pile. 

Craig has gone home to Canada for a few days so Rusty the cat and I are on the boat on our own.  This is an excellent training mission so I am going to practice with Andy Weir’s form from The Martian as a way to document my preparation for my own Mars mission:

Log Entry SOL 0  - 21:00
Craig is safely on the plane and I am back on the boat.  Adopting space date units is my first big step in becoming an astronaut.  Here on in, SOL will indicate the date, and refers to the length of a solar day, with 0 being touch down.   I have much to prepare in the next few days.  Along with reviewing all systems since we are back in the water, I will be preparing for our passage to the Bahamas and continuing with stainless cleaning and inspections.   We have replaced our dinghy engine starter battery and house batteries, and are waiting for generator and main engine starter batteries, which I will pick up and install.  Until then, it’s all solar.  We are used to that, being fully off-grid at home.  Monitoring the MasterLink battery indicator panel (ML) is critical.  It currently indicates 12.5 volts and needs to stay above 12.0.  I am the commander of the electronics panels like the pilot of a 747.  Click, click, click; helm sub panel off, tank monitor on and off, inverter output 1 off, inverter output 2 on, cabin fans on.  A pod of dolphins swim by and the water fireworks of bioluminescence sparkle in fluorescent green at the transom.  All is well and in control.

Log Entry SOL 1 – 09:00
Daily routine begins with 06:30 weather report on SSB.  Not looking good for Gulf Stream crossing next week.  Waiting to hear about batteries.  Running diagnostics on solar power with a cloudy day ahead.   ML indicates 12.2.  Delaying stocking freezer until batteries arrive and will charge electronics on shore.   

13:00 – A squall is blowing through our bay and pounding buckets so I rig up a hose system from the bimini gutter to catch the water into our large water jugs.  It’s blowing so hard that I consider tethering in.   I don’t think Rusty could reach the life ring for me.  Tanks show 75%.

Log Entry SOL 2 – 16:00
Clear and quiet.  Still no word on the batteries.  No surprise since it’s New Years’ Eve.  Off to shore to meet friends for dinner. 

23:55 – Lovely evening.  Make it back to the dinghy just before midnight.  Just out of the dock area, the engine quits.  No luck on getting it started.  Check fuel lines and attachments, remove the cover and check the fuel filter.  Everything looks okay.  It starts for a few seconds and stalls so likely a carburetor issue.  I just pull out the oars when Flying Pig crew comes along and tows me out to the boat.  Lucky for me, since it’s so late and there’s no one around.   Brilliant moon, clears skies, and dolphins have returned.  New Years’ Eve fireworks explode over the mainland.

Log Entry SOL 3 – 11:00
Nothing is open today, of course.  ML down to 11.9.  All electronics turned off, except for fridge.  Blowing hard from the north so a row to shore would be great fun but the trip back, not so much.  We are at the far north end of the anchorage so I’ll stay put.  Inventory of food indicates we will be fine, although I am quite sure I too could grow potatoes aboard.  Being a member of the Alberta Mycological Society, I know I can at least grow exotic mushrooms.  Only problem is I had our septic tanks pumped out on SOL 1.  I can always break into Rusty’s cat food.  ML hovering at 11.7.  No movies.  Phone running low.   Still humid and hot but not going to run any fans.  Rusty is flaked out on the floor in the port hull, trying to stay cool.  My neighbours are showing off by running their generator in my ears all night.

Log Entry SOL 4 – 13:00
Dinghy engine may be stalled but battery is brand new.  Detach it and haul it to the forward locker, with Craig’s voice in my head, “Negative ground first off and last on.”  Presto!  Generator fires up immediately and my cheers are reminiscent of those from Mission Control after the Moon modular landing.  Now we have power galore.  Movies, popcorn, nav. instruments, fans, CBC on Sirius.  I’m set for months if need be.  Especially if I can grow potatoes and mushrooms.  I once kept a basil plant alive on board for six months so anything is possible.

Step 1: Remove battery from dinghy

Log Entry SOL 5 – 17:00
Productive day.  Cleaned out cupboards, fired up Furunos and entered route for crossing, checked bilge pumps, and collected more water.   Read latest National Geographic magazine entitled, Are we alone: And other mysteries of Space and watched the movies Apollo 13 and In the Shadow of the Moon.   The Apollo 13 disaster was the result of a surge of electricity to a thermostat that couldn’t accept the voltage level.  With my now vast knowledge of electrical systems, I am sure I could help fix that problem.  Power is powerful. 

Log Entry SOL 6 – 13:00
Preparing for my 30-minute row to shore to pick up Craig by going through my shore supplies list.  Car keys, wallet, shoes, rain jacket.  No coming back if I forget anything.   All in all, a productive 6 days and I am that much closer to being prepared for my Mars mission.


Batteries arrived and dinghy engine purring along.  It was a simple fix.  We are provisioned up and at the starting line, waiting for our Gulf Stream crossing opportunity.  I am good at hurrying up and waiting, another trait I’m sure is needed for that 2034 crew.   

Weir, A. (2011). The Martian. New York: Random House.