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From isolated Nunavut island to Mars: Researcher reflects on training as pandemic halts plans –



The first summer Pascal Lee, an American  planetary scientist, arrived on Devon Island in Nunavut’s High Arctic, a dog named Bruno accompanied him and his team of researchers. 

That was 24 years ago, in 1996, and Lee has returned every summer until this year, when COVID-19 halted his streak. 

“Bruno was this gigantic 120-pound white — I mean he almost looked like a polar bear,” Lee said from his office at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.

The location of Haughton Crater on Devon Island in Nunavut’s High Arctic. (Haughton-Mars Project)


Lee has led the Mars-Haughton Project since its inception, an effort aimed at helping humans better understand Mars, and exploration on the Martian planet. 

That first year a local in Resolute Bay rented Bruno as the team’s watchdog. 

“Bruno was only interested in eating,” Lee said. “We weren’t even sure if he could run.”

One day Bruno ate 13 pounds of meat from their rations.  

But on the last day of that trip, after the shotguns were packed and the team awaited their plane, a polar bear appeared. 

Bruno charged the bear, to the surprise of Lee, and scared it off. 

“In one redeeming moment, Bruno saved us,” Lee said, laughing. 

Bruno enjoys the sunshine on Devon Island in 1996. Researchers took him to Resolute Bay to Haughton Crater as a guard dog. (Haughton-Mars Project)

“Nunavut’s treasure to humanity”

The research camp, which Lee said has employed as many locals from the two closest communities of Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord as possible, is situated in Haughton Crater. 

The crater, about 20 kilometres across, resulted from a meteorite impact some 23 million years ago. 

Lee’s sometimes kid-like excitement for his experience on Devon Island, which he calls a “beautiful place” and “Nunavut’s treasure to humanity,” comes through whether he’s talking about space travel or technology. 

For example, last summer researchers tested a drone controlled by sensors in an astronaut’s gloved hand with a camera image displayed inside a helmet. 

The drone moves according to hand movements while a mounted camera moves with the helmet. 

“It’s like a kid putting his or her hand out the window of a car, you know, playing airplane with your hand. That’s exactly how you fly that drone,” he said. 

Researchers with the Haughton-Mars Project test a pressurized rover while studying geology in Haughton Crater on Devon Island, Nunavut. ((PHOTO: Haughton-Mars Project))

Such technology would be necessary while exploring Mars because astronauts will be encumbered in a spacesuit, Lee said.

An effective drone on Mars could save astronauts significant time and labour in exploring, surveying and collecting samples, he said.  

Researchers tested the drone around Haughton Crater, which Lee said provides humans with the most Mars-like environment outside of Mars. 

That’s because it lies in an ecological environment known as a polar dessert.

To look for life, biologists have to crack open rocks where tiny organisms called cyanobacteria live just beneath the surface. 

“Every rock you pick up on Devon Island is like an apartment complex for these microbes,” he said. 

“It tells us we really have to be careful where and how we look for life on Mars, and maybe we have to dig a little deeper.” 

Inuit and space travel

Researchers with the Haughton-Mars Project hope to return to Haughton Crater in 2021 to continue testing new spacesuit technology. (Haughton-Mars Project)

Scientists should also dig a little deeper and learn more from Inuit culture and history about space travel, Lee said. 

For example, NASA is studying the psychological impact of humans traveling far from Earth. 

Some experiments have locked people up for months in a simulated space voyage to monitor the effects. 

And while the hypothesis for some of those experiments has been that people will become depressed, Lee said there is evidence throughout history that suggests the opposite. 

“We have a lot to learn from Inuit, who have lived up North for generations and who may find sometimes some winters difficult but, lo and behold, they survive winters very well, they keep themselves busy — they know to cope with this type of environmental stress very well,” Lee said. 

Such evidence of not just surviving but thriving long periods of darkness bode well for a trip to Mars, which would take about six to nine months, said Lee. 

Saturn’s moon Titan is the next likeliest place after Mars for humans to visit because of its thick atmosphere, Lee said. 

But a trip to Titan would take three or four years. 

Some scientists are studying how humans can enter a state near hibernation for such trips. 

And that’s something that Inuit ancestors, the Thule, knew about, according to the research of Robert McGee, a Canadian archaeologist, said Lee. 

“They would spend a good part of the winter in this very interesting state that we ourselves don’t explore these days very much but is still in our physiology,” he said. 

“Not quite fully asleep-state, but not quite fully awake. It’s called a state of torpor.” 

That state would lower humans’ metabolic needs similar to when an animal hibernates and can go for weeks without eating. 

Lee said plans for next summer are still being decided in light of the pandemic, but he hopes to be able to return to Devon Island. 

The team wants to test out a new space suit and there is decades’ worth of research to do in Haughton Crater still, Lee said. 

Eventually astronauts destined for Mars could train in Nunavut.

But the team is careful to respect the environment and Inuit, and they plan to hire locals as much as possible. 

“We are very mindful of the treasure that Devon Island represents. We want to keep it pristine,” he said. 

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Hockey Twitter demands a Lunar Classic after NASA reveals moon has a lot more ice than previously believed – Russian Machine Never Breaks



NASA made a special announcement on Monday that had the hockey world buzzing.

“Several studies have showed that water on the moon surface is in its permanently shadowed craters,” Paul Hertz, director of astrophysics at NASA Headquarters, said according to CBS News. “Today, we are announcing that for the first time, water has been confirmed to be present on a sunlit surface of the moon.

It is believed that there are at least 15,000 square miles of the moon’s surface that have deposits of water ice, meaning future astronauts could live off the land.

And Hockey Twitter is hoping those future astronauts are NHL players.

The ridiculousness began early in the day when the NHL on NBC Twitter photoshopped the Blackhawks and Bruins facing off on the moon. “MOON. HOCKEY. 🌕,” they wrote. “We’re ready, @NASA!”

“Call it the Lunar Classic,” the Ducks demanded.

“The Lunar Classic is going to be out of this world!” the Blackhawks added with an excellent pun.

The Hurricanes were excited about some “space hockey.”

So were the Devils.

Later, on their Instagram page, NHL on NBC photoshopped Alex Ovechkin, Roman Josi, and David Pastrnak as astronauts.

Hockey Twitter imagined hockey scenarios on the moon, while another fan, Matthew Henderson, created an elaborate media kit promoting a fake moon hockey event.

I want this to happen so badly now.

Headline photo: Pixabay images

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Water discovered on moon's sunlit surface – CityNews Toronto



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NASA finds definitive evidence of water on moon’s surface – Global News



The moon lacks the bodies of liquid water that are a hallmark of Earth but scientists said on Monday lunar water is more widespread than previously known, with water molecules trapped within mineral grains on the surface and more water perhaps hidden in ice patches residing in permanent shadows.

While research 11 years ago indicated water was relatively widespread in small amounts on the moon, a team of scientists is now reporting the first unambiguous detection of water molecules on the lunar surface. At the same time, another team is reporting that the moon possesses roughly 15,000 square miles (40,000 square kilometers) of permanent shadows that potentially could harbor hidden pockets of water in the form of ice.

Water is a precious resource and a relatively plentiful lunar presence could prove important to future astronaut and robotic missions seeking to extract and utilize water for purposes such as a drinking supply or a fuel ingredient.

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A team led by Casey Honniball of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland detected molecular water on the lunar surface, trapped within natural glasses or between debris grains. Previous observations have suffered from ambiguity between water and its molecular cousin hydroxyl, but the new detection used a method that yielded unambiguous findings.

The only way for this water to survive on the sunlit lunar surfaces where it was observed was to be embedded within mineral grains, protecting it from the frigid and foreboding environment. The researchers used data from the SOFIA airborne observatory, a Boeing 747SP aircraft modified to carry a telescope.

“A lot of people think that the detection I’ve made is water ice, which is not true. It’s just the water molecules – because they’re so spread out they don’t interact with each other to form water ice or even liquid water,” Honniball said.

NASA spacecraft gets sample from nearby asteroid Bennu

NASA spacecraft gets sample from nearby asteroid Bennu

The second study, also published in the journal Nature Astronomy, focused upon so-called cold traps on the moon, regions of its surface that exist in a state of perpetual darkness where temperatures are below about negative 260 degrees Fahrenheit (negative 163 degrees Celsius). That is cold enough that frozen water can remain stable for billions of years.

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Using data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, researchers led by planetary scientist Paul Hayne of the University of Colorado, Boulder detected what may be tens of billions of small shadows, many no bigger than a small coin. Most are located in the polar regions.

“Our research shows that a multitude of previously unknown regions of the moon could harbor water ice,” Hayne said. “Our results suggest that water could be much more widespread in the moon’s polar regions than previously thought, making it easier to access, extract and analyze.”

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NASA is planning a return of astronauts to the moon, a mission envisioned as paving the way for a later journey carrying a crew to Mars. Accessible sources where water can be harvested on the moon would beneficial to those endeavors.

“Water is not just constrained to the polar region. It’s more spread out than we thought it was,” Honniball said.

Another mystery that remains unsolved is the source of the lunar water.

“The origin of water on the moon is one of the big-picture questions we are trying to answer through this and other research,” Hayne said. “Currently, the major contenders are comets, asteroids or small interplanetary dust particles, the solar wind, and the moon itself through outgassing from volcanic eruptions.”

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Click to play video 'NASA aiming for 2024 Moon landing'

NASA aiming for 2024 Moon landing

NASA aiming for 2024 Moon landing

Earth is a wet world, with vast salty oceans, large freshwater lakes and ice caps that serve as water reservoirs.

“As our closest planetary companion, understanding the origins of water on the moon can also shed light on the origins of Earth’s water – still an open question in planetary science,” Hayne added.

© 2020 Reuters

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