Extraneous Fun

So we have a fair amount of work to do up here, what with keeping this dome running, prepping dehydrated food, and all the experiments/surveys that the main science guys are having us do. The whole point of this is to get data and understand how this isolation affects people, but we do have some spare time for ourselves. Enter the extraneous fun, another whimsical yet vital component to staying happy in space. Even if it’s pretend space….Mars. Pretend Mars!

Our training week was rather rushed, not only due to trying to cover a lot more than we really could have in that amount of time, but because the media was following us around a bit. It’s one of those things you think would be cool, until it happens, then you realize talking for even just a microphone is amazingly awkward. When you’re being filmed it’s like…where do I put my hands!? Am I making a stupid face? I probably look like a robot wearing the flesh of a man, aie! You can’t relax, or focus much on what you’re supposed to be learning.

However! We did manage to escape that during training week by sauntering off over the lava at such a pace that those with cameras could not keep up. And even microphone girl had to pack her stuff and tread lightly lest she topple into an old caldera.

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It’s hard to get the scale in just a picture, but that used to be a huge boiling pit of vicious lava that can only be rivaled in wrath by….well, not much. I got nothing. Still! Giant pit of glowy death, I know you can imagine it. Of course getting up there meant climbing the sloping hill and lava spills that made up that entire area, of which there was some insanely spikey and awesome stuff.

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The stuff on the right? That’s Pāhoehoe, it looks like someone took molasses and just let it run everywhere, then turned it to stone. You’ve got great grip, it looks surreal, and aside from the occasional mini lava tube that can collapse and scuff your shins up, pretty safe. That abominable dark stuff on the right? That’s A’a, which roughly translates to “AAahahaaaa!!” when you fall on it. Every rock is brittle, falls apart randomly, and seems to be made of fossilized thistles. Most tanks couldn’t get over this stuff, and if you’re not really careful, neither will you. We only had to cross a few narrow flows (as fun as it is deadly) but it was enough to stamp into you that if there’s a long way around, you take it. But it was fun! Andrzej almost did a swan dive into a pile of the stuff due to standing on a rather precarious bit of basalt but aside from some manly cuts, was totally alright. Good crew bonding time!

That night, once tests and such were over, we got to head out to the Halemaʻumaʻu vent, which is right by the Jaggar Museum in Volcanoes National Park. Now, we’d been here during the day (and been only half focused on the giant caldera going on due to media) but at night, the place changes a ton. In daylight, it’s a pretty fantastic landscape, sure, amazing cliffs, and vents pushing steam up, kinda like a dryer version of Yellowstone, on a grand scale. DSC05378

One of Christiane’s nice closeups. Trippy right?

At night however, the only thing you see is still that cloud, but it’s…lit from below by a lake of lava!

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I mean are you kidding me? The thing that drives me the most crazy is that at the risk of my life I would SO scamper down there and peek in. There’s probably a better than 50% chance I’d get shuffled loose my mortal coil by a gas plume or deadly rocks or having the cliff collapse while I’m trying to take a gander out there…but man it’s tempting. Don’t pretend you don’t want to look down that flaming hole too, you know you do! Also, just because I thought it was amazing, look at this road we found that had been obliterated by a lava flow some 20yrs back. I mean…can you imagine what that would have looked like as it occured?

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Even Jeeps don’t have a Lava-Wheel Drive setting, you’d be so done.

And then finally, it was time to enter the dome. I didn’t mind this because firstly, it’s what we’re here for of course, and secondly, now nobody is allowed to ask how I feel or what I’ll miss. I feel many things and I’ll miss all the same stuff you would. We’re all just like you except we can’t go outside. We can have a grand bit of fun here as well. Those experiments and all the rest only take up so much time, which has led to us having a wealth of things we can do for fun.

P90X, Yoga, the bike, we use marine batteries for weights occasionally, jump rope…all the healthy stuff. I’m so not putting up pictures of that, we look ridiculous doing exercise just like everyone else in the world.

I also was fortunate enough to find a giant stack of empty boxes that needed to be recycled and sent back down the mountain. While this was indeed an important chore, I felt it would be a disturbing lack of character on my part if I did not build a fort out of them first. We named it the Tardis and I was in there for about an hour, just traveling through time and space, and occasionally startling people as they walked by. Good times.

My Tardis

We also managed to take two hours to try on the suits, get acquainted with the systems, test radios. You know, procedural stuff. Just the regular suits, not the fancier space suit looking ones. While that was all fun and good, I had the fortune of getting my Hazmat suit on a full five minutes before Christiane, which meant I had time to jam out on the Ukulele. No idea what it sounded like, those fans to keep you cool are loud, but I had a grand time regardless.

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I look like an amateur version of Jake Shimabukuro getting ready for an outbreak of plague. But at least I’m rockin it. The collar you can see me wearing is actually a throat mic, so you can speak clearly despite the machinery noise in there. I’m not actually a dog.

So we have fun, will have plenty more, and this post didn’t even cover the salsa dancing, watching Lilo and Stitch because how could you not, or the time we put Shey’s tiny planetarium light in the living room and turned our dome into a little geodesic cosmos. If Neil deGrasse Tyson had been there we would have had the best tour of the universe ever.

Now you’ll have to excuse me, we’re shaving Cyprien’s head and it’s going to be hilarious, till next time!

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