Devon Island Expedition

Devon Island Expedition
This blog features educational updates on my Devon Island Expedition of July 14-20, 2007. Other sites:,

Thursday, December 13, 2007

ECO Sensors

NASA resisted the urge to launch STS-122 with less than well understood Engine Cut Off sensor anomalies last week. Was this the right thing to do? I think so, it showed courage and good engineering sense to delay the launch and figure out the root cause of the erratic sensor readings.

There are those who argue that we really don't need the ECO sensors in the Space Shuttle system. These sensors shut the main engines down if they detect an impending fuel depletion before planned Main Engine Cutoff (MECO). If the main engines were not cut off and allowed to run the fuel tanks dry, an explosion would almost certainly result, with a catastrophic loss of vehicle and crew. The argument is that the burn and fuel loading calculations are precise enough that such a situation could not happen realistically.

On the other hand, we have data that appear to indicate that we have come close to such events in the past.

In light of this uncertainty, I think NASA made the right call. What do you think?

Leroy Chiao

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Going to China Again

I will be going to China again at the end of November. This time, I will be a member of delegation from the Committee of 100 (C100). The organization was started by famed architect I.M. Pei and musician Yo Yo Ma almost twenty years ago as body of prominent Chinese Americans who can serve as bridges for understanding between the US and China.

I was invited to join this prestigious group almost a year ago. This will be my first major role in C100 and I look forward to meeting with senior Chinese leaders to discuss current issues.

For more information, see:

Leroy Chiao

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Risk Symposium Coming Soon to LSU

I am co-chairing a symposium on risk and exploration, which will be held at Louisiana State University from October 28-30 this year. Admission is free and open to the general public. This will be a follow-on conference to the one held by NASA in September 2004. We will have a wide range of explorers from mountain climbers to deep sea divers to endurance sailors to astronauts.

Check out the website for more information:

See you in Cajun Country!

Leroy Chiao

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Renaissance Weekend Conference

I just finished my first Renaissance Weekend conference. This is an organization that was started and run by Phil and Linda Lader. Phil is a former US Ambassador to the UK. They put on five conferences a year in different locations across the US. Invited folks include politicos, Nobel Laureates, scientists, engineers, business leaders, professors, you get the idea. Very interesting sessions and discussions. Most everyone is quite impressive and has done much with their lives.

Discussions ranged from how the US might get out of Iraq to how to balance career and family. I was impressed with the folks who came here.

All this against the beautiful backdrop of Monterey Bay. Hard to beat!

Leroy Chiao

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Lisa Nowak Situation

This week's news included Lisa Nowak in court, asking that her ankle GPS bracelet be removed. This whole story is sad for all involved. Lisa and I overlapped by about ten years at NASA. She was a capcom during one of my Space Shuttle missions and during my long-duration flight aboard the International Space Station. I didn't know her well, but found her to be a serious and well-intentioned person.

Some say that this case reflects badly on all astronauts. I disagree. As I stated in a previous posting, astronauts are professionals. However, we are human and fallible. There have been a few cases of bad judgment by astronauts over the years, it's just that most of these incidents never made it into the national news. I don't think people judge the entire astronaut corps based on a few unfortunate incidents.

I don't know what will come of her case, but it appears that she is expressing regret and remorse for her actions. I am glad that this is so and that she appears to be in a better state of mind than before. I really do wish her the best.

Leroy Chiao

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Flying Airplanes

I went out and flew a tailwheel airplane today. It was the first time for me in about twelve years! My landings were actually quite good. I think I surprised my instructor and I certainly surprised myself!

What is it about flying that gives a certain satisfaction? Is it the satisfaction of doing something well? Doing something that if not done well, can be dangerous? I don't know the answer, really. I've been flying airplanes for about twenty three years now.

I learned in Cessna's and have flown in many different models of aircraft, including Piper's, Beechcraft's, Socata's, Grumman's, a few experimentals as well as NASA T-38 jets. All are different and many give a different sense of satisfaction.

Here is a photo of me with my Grumman Tiger. I don't know what it is, but there is something about flying airplanes that I like.

Leroy Chiao

Friday, August 17, 2007

Tile Repair Decision

NASA has decided not to repair Space Shuttle Endeavour's heat shield before the vehicle returns next week. Was this the right decision?

I think so and I am glad to see that the process worked to arrive at this conclusion. The facts are that we have seen similar tile damage postflight in the past. The damage is in an area that does not contain critical systems or wiring underneath. Modeling (although I take modeling results with a healthy grain of salt) has shown that heating will not be severe in this area.

Sure, it would have been a good data point on repair techniques and effectiveness. However, one maxim that we live by in the space business, is that no matter how bad it is, you can always make it worse! Thus, any decision like this needs to be weighed carefully. A bump by a helmet or a tool could easily cause much worse damage in a much worse area.

Like all other enthusiasts, I eagerly await Endeavour's return next week!

Leroy Chiao

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Future of Space Exploration

STS-118 is in orbit! After a beautiful, on time and nearly flawless countdown, Endeavour roared into space at about 6:36 EDT on August 8th. I was doing the live CNN coverage with Miles O'Brien.

Now that the crew is in orbit, I've been reflecting on the future of space exploration. There are fourteen shuttle missions left on the roster before the scheduled decommissioning of the space shuttle fleet, in 2010. What's next? The new NASA spacecraft, dubbed the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) and named Orion, is due to fly no sooner than 2014. It is over 5000 pounds overweight and I hear that the toilet has already been deleted, as well as some of the radiation shielding, in order to cut down on the weight. The Ares 1 rocket is also having significant design issues and the Associate Director for Spaceflight, Scott "Doc" Horowitz, who is the main proponent of what has come to be called the "Scotty Rocket" has announced that he will leave NASA in the next few months.

Add to that the fact that we will elect a new President very soon. No matter who wins, something is bound to change. Will Mike Griffin still be administrator? He has pretty much ensured that the shuttle program cannot be restarted without significant costs, in order to leave no alternate path to the one that NASA is going down. Is the US finished in government space programs?

The wild card is the commercial sector. There are a lot of private companies trying to do manned spaceflight. Some are credible, others much less so. There have been many false starts along these lines in the past. This time, it seems that the critical mass is here, with the advent of SpaceShipOne in September of 2004.

Is the future of spaceflight going to be in the private sector? Send me your thoughts!

Leroy Chiao

Sunday, August 5, 2007

STS-118 Launch

I'll be going to Florida to watch the STS-118 launch! Barbara Morgan will finally get her chance to fly in space. We will be rooting her on from the beach. Barbara trained as Christa McCaullife's backup in the mid-1980's. Next week, she is scheduled to be the first school teacher to fly in space.

I think it's great. Tell me what you think!

Leroy Chiao

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Astronauts are Professionals

This has been a rough week for NASA and for the astronauts. A report has been released which alleges that on at least two occasions, NASA astronauts have been allowed to board spacecraft for launch, despite opposition from flight surgeons and other astronauts on the scene, because of concerns of alcohol consumption.

I must say that in my fifteen years at NASA, I never had even a whiff or hint of anything like this ever happening. First and foremost, astronauts are professionals. We pride ourselves on doing a good job. High personal standards are what got us into the corps in the first place. I'm not saying that there is no way that this has happened, but it seems farfetched. Flying into space is such a fantastic experience that I cannot imagine anyone wanting to be in anything but the most alert state.

The astronauts are not all above reproach. We've had our share of scandal and examples of poor judgment. In any population, especially of high-performing people under stress, there will be a few instances of excess. We are all human after all. Who of us has not ever had too much to drink at one time or another? What I'm talking about though, is that in general, when it comes time to do the job, astronauts, like other professionals, step up to the plate and take the job very seriously.

The allegations are very serious and possibly true. However, in the absence of any specifics, it is impossible to determine the veracity of the comments. NASA will conduct it's own investigation, I'm sure. We'll just have to wait and see what comes of it.

Leroy Chiao

Friday, July 20, 2007

Heading Home

We've had a very successful expedition up here on Devon! It is time to go home. I've taken down my tent and packed my gear. The airplane arrives this afternoon to take us back to Resolute. From there, reverse track back to Ottawa and finally home to Houston on Sunday night. I'll miss this place. Nice folks, smooth operations and a productive and fun time. I hope to return someday!

Leroy Chiao

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Photos of Devon

We inspected several special areas on Devon Island today by helicopter. They are inside of Inuit owned land and special permission is required. Our stops included Saphire Lake, Stoker Falls and Astronaut Canyon. The scenery is quite spectacular. What is odd is the absence of obvious life. There is the occasional small flower, but no bugs, no algae in the water. There are fish, but we didn't see any. The occasional polar bear is also known to roam through!

Leroy Chiao

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Memorial to the Space Shuttle Challenger Crew

Inukshuks are a part of Inuit culture. They are used to mark trails and also points of significance. Two years ago, Keith and others built an Inukshuk to honor the crew of Space Shuttle Columbia. On this expedition, we created an Inukshuk near the Columbia memorial with the help of some of the Inuit who are currently at the HMP.

We are shown with a Challenger Center flag and an Explorers Club flag in front of the completed Inukshuk. It is appropriate that these memorials be built here on Devon Island. What a great way to remember these crews, who gave their lives in the pursuit of space exploration. Here at HMP, research and testing work will help further exploration of the cosmos as we reach out past low earth orbit to the moon and on to Mars!

Leroy Chiao

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Resupply is critical, whether on Earth, in space or on another planet! During my mission onboard the International Space Station, we were resupplied at three month intervals by unmanned Progress resupply vehicles. They brought us food, water, oxygen, fuel, repair equipment, tools, research experiments and supplies.

Here on Devon Island, we are resupplied by Twin Otter aircraft. Just like the Progress, they bring food and other supplies, as well as repair and building materials, scientific equipment and experiments.

On Mars, regular resupply of the bases there will also be critical to operations.

Leroy Chiao

Rover Testing

The Rover Team from NASA-Ames is testing software for future rovers. They have two here, equipped with different sensors. The software processes imaging data and compares it to uploaded topography data to determine the best way to get from point to point. In addition, the rovers are able to image and map their surroundings.

Leroy Chiao

Monday, July 16, 2007

Cool Sun Time Lapse Clip

Here is a link to a time lapse movie clip of the sun that Matt created. It tracks the sun as it moved between 2 AM and 6 AM the other morning. Here in the Arctic during this time of year, it is light all day (and night). The sun simply moves around the sky in a circle.

Check it out!

Leroy Chiao

First Challenger Center Webcast

We made our first live webcast to a series of Challenger Learning Centers today! All went well. Today's webcast was about the HMP in general and the kind of work that is done up here. Matt and I hosted the show, while Keith asked the questions and ran the video equipment. We had a guest appearance from "Robot Matt," from the NASA-Ames robotics team.

Prominent in our broadcast was Explorers Club flag number 162!

Leroy Chiao

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Out on a Short EVA

The HPT leader, Pascal Lee (and his dog, Ping Pong) led our team out on a four hour traverse today on all-terrain vehicles. We explored a section of the Haughton crater rim and also visited some of the Columbia Astronaut Memorials.

Pascal posited and I agreed, that this seems an ideal way for astronauts to explore the Moon and Mars. Instead of creating one or two complicated and large rovers, which may break down and force the astronauts to walk back to base (which severely limits the operational range of the rover), why not create a fleet of small ATV's for exploration? Each ATV would be capable of carrying two suited astronauts, in the event that one or more of the ATV's failed. Moreover, the ATV's would be more agile, flexible and faster than a large rover. More exploration could be accomplished and EVA time would be used very efficiently.

Leroy Chiao

Arthur C. Clarke Greenhouse

This is a photo of Keith and Matt next to the Arthur C. Clarke greenhouse, which Keith and others installed two years ago. It is of course used to conduct horticulture experiments. However, the cook has found it to also be an excellent place to allow bread dough to rise!

Leroy Chiao

The Explorers Club

Keith and I are both Fellows of The Explorers Club. We are carrying flag number 162 with us on this expedition. We will shoot some photos of the flag with us in some special locations on Devon Island in the next few days. Stay tuned!

Leroy Chiao

Devon Expedition Team

Here is a photo of me with Matt Reyes, the third member of our expedition, on Devon Island. Matt is a horticulture scientist as well as a whiz with video processing.

Leroy Chiao

NSBRI and Devon Island

The National Space Biomedical Research Institute funds research that is conducted on Devon Island. I carried a plaque of the NSBRI logo with me on this expedition.

Leroy Chiao

Risk Symposium at LSU, Oct 28-30, 2007

Keith Cowing and I are co-chairing a Risk Symposium, which will be held at Louisiana State University from October 28-30 of this year. It is a follow-on conference to one that was held by NASA in 2004. The conference will feature prominent explorers and their expeditions, both on earth and in space! Check out the web site:

Here is a photo of Keith and me on Devon Island in our LSU garb. This is probably the farthest north the colors have been! Devon is less than 1000 miles from the North Pole.

Leroy Chiao

Saturday, July 14, 2007

On Devon Island

I arrived on Devon this morning. This place looks like what I would expect Mars to look like! Also, there is a lot of very fine dust, as there would be on Mars, which gets into everything.

The base consists of different modules and is arranged logically, as a base would be on Mars. There is a central mess tent, a central core area, communications, storage and workshop spaces. The hygiene stations are shared and the people live in a tent city.

After arrival, we received safety briefings, a tour of the base and communications briefing. We then set up our tents and unpacked our gear. After lunch, our team discussed our activities for the next several days.

We arrived with the rover team from NASA Ames. We will follow them as they conduct operational tests of their two rovers. The two are equipped with different sensors and will be used to map out areas under controlled and semi-autonomous conditions.

Leroy Chiao

Friday, July 13, 2007

Today Resolute, Tomorrow Devon!

After a multitude of flights, stops in Detroit, Ottawa, Iqaluit, Hall Beach and Nanisivik, I've arrived in Resolute. I am told that Resolute is the SECOND most northerly city. Who's counting? Apparently at least one person from a place called Grise, which is pronounced 'grease.'

Charming little place, Resolute! About 250 people live here full time. The Inkeepers, Amanda and Duncan, are delightful folks.

Leroy Chiao

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Leaving Tomorrow to Devon Island

I just got back from a two week trip to China late last night and I am leaving for Devon tomorrow. Scrambling around to make sure that I have all of my gear and get it all packed!

Note the two other sites that I have listed in the Devon Island Expedition photo caption:

Also, please see our press release for the expedition at this link:


Leroy Chiao

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Best Wishes From Barbara Morgan

We just received this message from Barbara Morgan, who is preparing to fly on STS-118 in August!

Best wishes to Leroy, Reads [Bill Readdy], Matt, and Keith on their Teaching
Expedition to Devon Island. I look forward to learning all about it
when I return from space!

Barbara Morgan
Educator Astronaut

Monday, June 11, 2007

Devon Island Camera Feeds

Keith Cowing alerted me that these two links will show updated images of the Arthur C. Clarke greenhouse which was set up on one of his most recent expedition to the HMP. The photos are updated once every 24 hours. Ignore the dates on the clocks, which stopped over the winter:

Greenhouse Internal

Greenhouse External

Leroy Chiao

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Devon Island Expedition and Preparation

The Haughton Mars Project (HMP) base camp is located on Devon Island, which is a part of Canada up on the Arctic Circle. Devon Island is used as a Mars analog. Several programs have been up to HMP, to test space hardware and operations concepts.

Keith Cowing wrote our research proposal and will lead the expedition. Other members of our team will be Bill Readdy and Matt Reyes. Our program will be educational in nature. We will write blogs to describe our experience and how HMP is used to further efforts towards Mars exploration.

Going up to the Arctic Circle will be a new experience for me. In preparation, I had to buy the proper gear as well as arrange travel. Fortunately, Keith has been to HMP twice before and provided detailed lists and contacts.

From Houston, I will fly to Ottawa via Continental Airlines. From there, I will fly to Resolute on First Air, which calls itself The Airline of the North. Resolute to Devon will be in a Twin Otter. Quite a long trek North!

I've bought most of my gear, which includes:

Convertible, three season, three person tent
Zero-degree sleeping bag
Sub-zero boots
Sub-zero gloves
Plenty of warm clothing

Now, I just have to learn how to set up the tent!

Leroy Chiao