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Mojave Desert 2007

Student Spaceward Bound

by Matt Allner
West Middle School

Daily Blog (Day 2)
Saturday, June 2, 2007

            Woke up this morning around 6:30 am to start getting the science equipment ready for the day and to get the breakfast foods on the table for everyone.  It was a beautiful night for sleeping.  Temperatures dipped into the low 50s but with my wife and Isabelle and Nathan sleeping in the tent with me it was nice and warm.  This was our children’s very first camping experience and it was neat to have them experience it with such a great group of people, four of which were my students.  I was very impressed with how well they handled sleeping in the woods for the first time---there was no complaining at all and nothing but smiles, giggling, and getting along (a parent’s dream!). 

a photo of the breakfast fareRain was in the forecast for the day so I got the fire started so everyone could dry out their clothing from the upcoming EVA expeditions.  Everyone started waking up around 7:15 am to the smell of the fire and dehydrated eggs with bacon.  Students had a choice of either eggs in a bag, which were delicious for being dehydrated, or cereal (Cheerios or Granola) along with bread, cheese (a mandatory requirement for expeditions that I learned from Chris McKay), fruit and either coffee, hot cocoa, or juice.  As we ate we started to review the day’s agenda and the jobs for each of the student teams for when it was their turn to be Mission Control.  Coffee and hot cocoa by the fire seemed to be the morning medicine for the female astronauts on our expeditioncoffe and cocoa by the fire

EVA Team #1 started packing their bags with the necessary science equipment we had gone over from the night before and then had to run their checklist back to me before our departure.  Prior to our leaving we gathered by the fire to read from the Lewis and Clark journals to see what the Expedition was doing on this very day over 200 years ago.  Both Lewis and Clark had written many times in their journal entries about their experience (as they passed through the area where we were actually camping at) and how “troublesome” the mosquitoes were.  June and July is the worst time of the year in Sioux City for gnats, ticks, and mosquitoes and our group agreed with Lewis and Clark that these new friends of ours were indeed “troublesome.”  Skin-so-soft and Deep Woods Off was what we showered with in the morning, afternoon, and early evenings to return the favor to our annoying friends. 

At 9 am EVA Team #1 (Kara and Buddy) set out under sunny skies with backpacks filled with snacks, water, and science supplies, and their GPS hand helds ready to navigate.  Today’s EVA missions were going to be more difficult than the day prior because the protocol was they had to wear ski gloves (simulating space suit gloves and the limitation of dexterity and tactile sensitivity) while using the GPS units and all science gear (including journaling in their log books)

EVA Team #1’s first mission objective:  to find a hidden lake on the property we were camping on, somewhere 1-2 miles from the base camp.  The team had a waypoint and compass bearing to go off of, but nothing more.  After searching for 15-20 minutes the students agreed they could not afford to spend any more time looking for the lake and therefore decided on a sample site in order to get their research objectives completed, as they were on a time limit (simulating limited EVA oxygen supply).  They decided on a stream for sampling water, along with a flat stretch of land for sampling soil—all located 30 feet down a muddy cliff in a narrow ravine.  The students unpacked their gear, reviewing with one another the protocol and steps of their sampling procedures. 

field documentation methodology -- shows rock hammer in picture for scaleFirst was the Field Documentation Methodology (FDM), which involved a series of digital photos of the sample site:  eight panoramic photos showing a horizon view; a pre-sample site photo from 10 feet away (with a rock hammer in the picture for scale); a pre-sample site photo (close-up); and then several pictures of the students digging a hole to bury the slides, removing foil from the sterilized collection tools, and then the sterile collection of soil samples from the hole they were burying the slides in. Kara unwraps foil from the shovel

Kara found the challenge of unwrapping the foil from the shovel with gloves on to be frustrating, especially when she didn’t want to contaminate the shovel by touching the end with her gloves. I was very impressed with how well she did completing the task as it took her a lot longer with the gloves on. Buddy was the steady hand that dug out the hole, buried the slides and then scooped out the samples of soil.  Kara was right at his side helping him with the collection bag while Buddy carefully put the samples of soil in the bag. 

Buddy and Kara collecting samples in Ziploc bagsWhen collecting soil samples, this was done using Ziploc bags and then marking on them with pre-discussed nomenclature methods which included a waypoint, latitude and longitude coordinates, elevation, and air and soil temperatures, as well as the date it was collected.  Prior to burying the slides students used temperature sensors to record the air temperature, and then the temperature of the soil at the surface, 6cm down (in the side of the hole), and then at the bottom of the hole (13 cm).  The temperatures were recorded around 9:45 am and the results were as follows:  Air temp: 59.5 F ; Surface soil temp: 57.4 F ; Soil temp at 7cm:  58.9 F ;  and soil temp at 14cm: 58.3 F.  These results would be compared to the results of EVA Team #2, whose objective would be to locate and recover the slides later in the afternoon.  Shortly after burying the slides students marked the burial location with a bright yellow ruler (because we had forgotten to pack a marking flag) and then took a post sample site photo of the site. 

Next, they collected a water sample and labeled the container in accordance with the GPS waypoint they had entered.  They concluded their sampling efforts around 10:50 am and spent the next 10 minutes eating a snack they brought, drinking some water, and then doing some journaling of their morning experience and their thoughts on the difficulties with using gloves while on their mission.  EVA Team #1 left two trail markers (yellow ribbons tied to trees) as well as writing up a defined set of directions (with compass directions and bearings) for the next EVA Team to use to find the buried slides.  After doing this, they headed back to camp around 11:00 am. 

            Upon returning to camp we found EVA Team #2 all smiles and eager to greet us with news that lunch was ready, as well as what they had been accomplishing during our EVA excursion.  They had organized and cleaned up the campsite, prepared lunch, and entertained themselves for an hour doing contests and challenges in a glove box that Mr. Newton had designed for them to work on.

students working with glove box more glove box work this time with beads

They had a series of timed tasks to complete, again with the difficulty of limited dexterity and mobility associated with the hands.  After listening to them all tell me how the task was impossible and couldn’t be done, I challenged them by showing the “young pups” how it was done.  My advice to them is that if you keep doing things the same way and you don’t get positive results (which they were all doing) then trying a new approach to the problem might be the answer.  The task was:  using the glove box they had to thread as many small beads as possible onto a piece of thread and in three minutes time.  The challenge was not so much the issue with the gloves, but the fact that the thread was so flimsy that it didn’t allow you the ability to keep the beads from falling off.  However, the students had left a Swiss army knife in the box, which was to be used to cut the thread at the end, so I use the scissors to hold the bead in place as I pushed the thread through the beads.  It was much easier and less frustrating to accomplish the task and I was able to thread two beads in the three minutes time allotted.  After I accomplished this for them, I didn’t hear one student mention during the expedition that something couldn’t be done. 

            After a delicious lunch we took a break to clean up for the day (daily baby wipe showers in our tents).  Although we didn’t have running water to use for showers, and usually when camping you can go several days without one, I told the students that I wanted them to take a baby wipe shower each day to keep clean as hygiene issues have presented many problems on space missions and with expeditions on Earth in Antarctica and with other isolated and semi-confined expedition groups (for more on this topic read the research documentations in Bold Endeavors by Jack Stuster).  They also journaled about their thoughts relating to both the hygiene issue in space, as well as their feelings surrounding their comfort level of not having a water shower on the expedition.  Everyone agreed that they felt clean, and that no hygiene issues came up with other members during the trip.  So, I guess we passed this test. 

Shortly after our clean up time, we proceeded to take advantage of the sunlight that decided to show up and did some UV radiation labs using UV beads.  We first discussed the damaging effects of UV both on Earth and in the Space environments.  Then we had UV bead tubes that showed the level of UV radiation being emitted, as beads would turn different shades of purple under different levels of exposure.  Using a color scale students could determine the level of UV radiation the beads were being exposed to.  We then took a cluster of beads and placed a UV filter over them to see how protected they were.  To the student’s amazement, the beads under the filter didn’t change color much at all, especially the ones closest to the center of the filter.  We then did a test putting the beads behind our sunglasses to see how much of a filter they provided for our eyes.  Students also did a radiation lab using white and black containers with thermometers in them to record the difference in radiation absorption.  One group did this lab in the shade and one group in the sun.  Results in the sun showed a greater difference in temperature, but both studies found the black containers to have recorded higher temperatures. 

Gatorade Bottle fix for broken support poles            Shortly after our UV lab activity it started to rain pretty heavy, so we put up an extra canopy for rain shelter and tarped our other canopy to keep our science supply station dry.  One of the support poles for the canopy broke so Glen designed a makeshift support using a tree limb and two empty Gatorade bottlesEVA Team #2 (Andy and Elise) packed their science gear, put on their rain coats and we set out into a steady rain to accomplish our mission objectives:  the recovery of the slides, updated results of the air and soil temperatures at the burial sight, and then discovery of the “lost lake” if time permitted. 

           Following the directions and waypoints left by EVA Team #1, Andy and Elise found the yellow ribbon markers on the trees but couldn’t find the ruler and marker in the ground.  They continued their search, and it was Andy that stumbled upon two amazing discoveries.  First was a thick layer of exposed sedimentary rock (sandstone) that was exposed from an eroded embankment.  Having studied rocks containing hypoliths and endoliths, Andy discovered hypoliths on some of the rock so he and Elise collected samples, marked the waypoint, and then labeled their collection bags with proper nomenclature. 

layer of exposed sedimentary rock collecting samples

posing for the camera like Lewis & Clark

After the collection they started looking for the buried slides again and stumbled upon the “lost lake.”  We marked the waypoint to show the rest of the group tomorrow on our morning hike.  After another 10 minutes of hunting they found the marker where the buried slides were.  Posing for the camera like Lewis and Clark did 200 years ago, we captured our own history in the makingThey then proceeded to approach the site, carefully dug up the slides and placed them in collection bags and then recorded the temperatures as EVA Team #1 did earlier in the morning.  Just five hours later they found the results to have changed quite a bit:  air temp:  66.3 F; surface soil temp: 59.4 F; soil temp at 7cm: 59.2 F; and soil temp at 14cm: 58.1 F. 

After returning to camp we discussed these findings as a group and came up with the conclusions that the air temp had obviously increased due to warming of the surface of the earth from the sun (hence the increase in surface soil temp) and conduction processes involved.  But the great mystery of the day was to figure out why the temps recorded in the morning (starting at the surface and going downward) went from 57.4, to 58.9, to 58.3 F but in the afternoon the temperatures went from 59.4, to 59.2, to 58.1 F.  The group concluded that the increase from surface to 7cm in the morning was due to the moisture in the ground holding the heat from the day before, and that the drop from the middle to the bottom of the hole was due to the temperature drop that stabilizes around 3-5 feet of subsurface depth.  With the afternoon results the drop from the surface to the middle of the hole was due to radiation from the sun heating up the surface much faster than the lower and moister layer at 7cm (as the middle temperature recording in the afternoon had actually gone up from the morning reading).  They also concluded that there was less of a difference in temperature from the morning and afternoon results at 14cm, than there was at 7cm which everyone felt was probably due again to the stabilizing of the temperature mentioned earlier.

knot guide

            Back at camp we realized that we had left our expensive Eastwing Rock Hammer back at the sample site, so we organized an unscheduled group EVA (which Andy named “Operation Eastwing”) for the next morning before we would start our survival training.  So, in preparation of this endeavor we anticipated that the heavy rains would make the hillside difficult to get down safely, so we organized a repelling mission using our climbing gear and rope we had.  All students had previously gone through Rock Climbing skills training, so they had sufficient knowledge of how to use a harness and use proper belay commands.  So, in preparation of this endeavor, students practiced their knot tying skills using an “official” knot guide and practiced with pieces of old climbing rope

            Dinner was next on the agenda for the evening as we all started leaving the nice warm fire that had helped us dry out our socks, hats, and shirts that had not survived the thunderstorms that had decided to show up that afternoon.  As wet as we all were nobody complained and there wasn’t a person without a smile on their face the whole time.  In fact, we all actually enjoyed the rain during the second EVA as it would rain for about 10 minutes and then the sun would come out for 10 minutes, repeating this for about an hour.  It felt as if we were in the rainforests of Costa Rica—yet we were still just two miles north of Sioux City, Iowa.  Our little paradise in Iowa.  As the parents worked on cooking up their dinner of Chicken with Spanish rice in a burrito, chips, fruit, and water/juice, the students made their camping meals using boiling water and worked on their second attempt at the Lego Challenge.  The results tonight were much better as the group had learned that common language was the key for proper interpretation and explanation of how to build a similar structure.  The end result wasn’t perfect but it didn’t look like it did the night before. . . 

first lab demo -- Warth's magnetosphere
            After dinner and enjoying some free time we took advantage of the evening light to get our science supplies reorganized again and then proceeded to do some lab demonstrations.  The first lab was one dealing with the Earth’s magnetosphere and a discussion of how it protected us.  We discussed the Van Allen radiation belts and how a scientist from the University of Iowa (and a native born Iowan)—Dr. James Van Allen—discovered them while working on the satellite project at the Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.  To show how these belts worked we used a high-powered magnet and placed it under a sheet of plain white printer paper.  We then sprinkled iron filings over the paper and watched the magnetic fields appear as they would collect the iron filings on their rings.  The students loved this one! 

            The second lab was one where we proved that there was 21% oxygen in the air we were breathing, which we did using a candle, a petri dish with water, and a test tube.  By standing the candle upright, placing it in the petri dish (with water), lighting it, and then covering it with the test tube a vacuum was created and eventually water rose to a level of about 1/5 the volume of the test tube (20%).  I explained to them that the candle didn’t go out until it had used up the oxygen in the test tube, and then the water that rose up inside replaced this volume, which could be measured by marking the outside of the test tube at the water level.  Then by filling the test tube full of water and measuring this volume, followed by filling the test tube to the marked line and measuring the volume, a person could subtract the difference and then calculate the percentage of volume of this space to be around 21%--representing the % of oxygen in the air we were breathing.

            The second lab we did was a convection lab.  We started this activity by discussing that in microgravity there is no convection because of the lack of gravity.  We also discussed why this was an issue with air circulation (for dust/microbe settling, smoke detection, heat removal from engines, etc.) and then proceeded to conduct our lab using two convection tubes (connected to one another by a small tube)—one convection tube apparatus having a burning candle at the bottom of it and the other a container of ice water.  Then by putting smoke at the top of the convection tube (the one with the ice water) and using a flashlight to track the movement of the smoke, they could see the smoke travel down the tube, through the connecting tube (which allowed them see acceleration of the smoke—Bournelli’s principle in action) and then the rising of the smoke as it hit the warm air currents being produced by the other convection tube with the candle.  They all thought this was so cool, and then made the connection with why we have breezes in the afternoons, and why on ocean beaches it is windy towards the beach in the afternoon and then in the evening the breeze turns around and heads back out towards the sea. 

demonstration Bournelli’s principle Bournelli’s principle

            We concluded the evening with an evening snack, hot cocoa, and some great star gazing.  Kara’s dad Steve taught us the art of cell phone photography and took some great pictures of the Moon through the ocular lense of the telescope.  Elise was also just as determined to get a great photo of the Moon and spent over 30 minutes taking pictures with her digital camera until she had taken one she was happy with.  Take a look at what some amateur photographers and astronomers came up with.

student photo of the moon student photo of the moon

We spent two hours star gazing at Jupiter and Venus, and the Moon, and learning how to operate Steve’s new telescope.  Afterwards we enjoyed the fire for a bit before turning in to bed around 1am. 

Continue to Day 3

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Last Updated:February 2006
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