Posted in Dome sweet dome, Outreach

Universidad de Celaya Article

Back in the dome I was asked by the Universidad de Celaya to write an article for their space/science magazine, here are some shots of the article that came out just about a year ago.  Since coming out of the dome I have done a couple different Skype presentations to classes at UdC and always with the help and encouragement of a wonderful woman, Mtra. Ana Cuervas Romo.

When I was writing this article in the dome and communicating with Ana via email she would always send “abrazos” (hugs) to me and the crew even though she didn’t really know us because she thought that with what we were going through we would probably need them.

Hopefully I’ll be able to see her and the UdC when I travel to Mexico in the fall to go to the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara but until then:







Posted in Dome sweet dome

Some time away from home

Martha and I got to spend the day outside, we did science, we sun-tanned, we took a few lovely walks around the neighborhood, and I got to see how it would feel if I suddenly weight 200 lbs.

So first things first, no I did not just gain 60 lbs for fun.  This EVA was to test the feasibility of long duration EVAs in the MX-C suits that we have, aka the White Suits.  We recently got our second suit, it has red accents instead of blue, and Martha and I went out in them to do some science with a field spec (measures reflectance of light from rock samples to see what is in them… I think) and see how long we could last without a battery dying, or either of us needing to go to the bathroom.

Me in the new MX-C suit, Shelly
Me in the new MX-C suit, Shelly

So first off let me introduce the suits: Phil, who you all know from past blogs, is blue and Shelly is red.  Yes, I’m super proud of having come up with names that so properly reflect the suit’s purposes!

Phil is a bit smaller that Shelly, but that’s quite common for many species other than our own.  The skeleton of each is a backpack frame and the parachute pants are a quark of simulated pressurization as well as a statement on how much style you can put into a mock space suit.  As for circulation, these bad-boys each come with a 4 gallon cooling reservoir that gets filled with ice water and pumped through a vest that is basically a network of tubes.  Respiration comes in the form of 5 major air hoses, one for each leg and arm and one for the helmet.  The helmet one is super important and basically controls how much physical exertion you can do because if you’re breathing rate increases past a certain threshold things can get a little PANIC-y and no one wants that, trust me.

So Martha and I did science, which was fun and exciting seeing as it has been a while since we got to play around with equipment we don’t fully understand.  And whats better, it gave us the opportunity for some really cool photos of science, WOOOO!

Mars Science, look at us go!
Mars Science, look at us go!
Check out all our science!
Check out all our science!

Also, pictures of me using science as props for a James Bond-y picture, more WOOOO!

Call me Step, Two-Step *pew pew* (thats the noise a ray gun makes)
Call me Step, Two-Step *pew pew* (that’s the noise a ray gun makes)

Since we were doing science at semi-specific solar incidence angles,  we had some time to kill between “zenith” and “high” and decided to get some cool pictures taken of us (Thanks Neil), go for a walk, do a foot race (Hahaha Space Race!), and mostly just sitting around trying to keep the weight of our space suit worlds off our shoulders and getting a little sun!

Martha and I resting after a nice walk around the neightborhood
Martha and I resting after a nice walk around the neightborhood

And of course, photos of our epic Red vs Blue “space race”

the epic battle of RED vs BLUE rages on Mars with a footrace!
the epic battle of RED vs BLUE rages on Mars with a footrace!
Hey, I had 25lbs on Martha, lets see you try running with that :)
Hey, I had 25lbs on Martha, lets see you try running with that 🙂
Martha won our "Space Race"
Martha won our “Space Race”

So I lost, but Martha was a very gracious winner!

Re-reading the post I did about my first venture with Phil (DONT PANIC), I realize that I have come quite a ways from who I was when all of this started.  Most of you have taken this journey with me and for that I’d like to say thanks.  I know that as things draw to a close I’ll get busier and busier so while I’m thinking about it, and procrastinating on writing reports, here it is:

Readers near and far
All the adventures we’ve had
Bring smiles joy and love

Thanks for staying tuned in and lets see how irritating it can be posting to Facebook and Twitter 😉

❤ always,

Posted in Dome sweet dome


Hello Real Science Enthusiasts!

I hope that you all take my silence the last couple days for what they were, me being hard at work creating awesome fun robot things.  because they definitely weren’t procrastination… never that… I mean c’mon I’m a professional here… Mom stop laughing!


I have been designing a robot and it is super cool.  The purpose of this robot is to go into the smaller lava tubes that we have around the dome and take some profile measurements.  So I’ll do a little photo progression of what I’ve been up to the last month to give you an idea of how I go through the design process

Early Notes on the Cave Crawler
Initial sketches of the Cave Crawler concept
Notes and descriptions of the Cave Crawler as seen from the side
More refined notes and descriptions of the Cave Crawler as seen from the side
The model as of 5/13/2015
The 3D model as of 5/13/2015 design, original downloads in grey, blue piece attached to GoPro case is the one I tweaked to be able put it on the robot chassis design, original downloads in grey, blue piece attached to GoPro case is the one I tweaked to be able put it on the robot chassis
Progression of leg design, version 1 in black leg to be glued to foot, version 2 in orange peg attachment between foot and leg, version 3 in blue same as version 2 but with a screw hole for added robustness
Progression of leg design, version 1 in black leg to be glued to foot, version 2 in orange peg attachment between foot and leg, version 3 in blue same as version 2 but with a screw hole for added robustness, the circular object is the hub which has attachment holes for the leg pins equally spaced around its circumference.
The gear ssembly with drive motor mount (grey), drive shaft (grey), spur gears (blue) and flanged bushings (green)
The gear assembly with drive motor mount (grey), drive shaft (grey), spur gears (blue) and flanged bushings (green)
Legged-wheel assembly, design chosen to be able to
Legged-wheel assembly, design chosen to be able to “step” over obstacles and even has the potential to climb
Sensor box motor mount (left) with microservo motor installed and servo box attached to motor horn (right).  Sensor box has cutouts for 4 rangefinders and one 9 degree of freedome Intertial Measurement Unit with compass and gyro.
Sensor box motor mount (left) with microservo motor installed and servo box attached to motor horn (right). Sensor box has cutouts for 4 range finders and one 9 degree of freedom Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) with compass and gyro.
a sample of the 53 parts that Zak has printed for me so far, the most complicated being the sensor box which had many different facets that needed to be sized appropriately to make sure all the sensors would fit
A sample of the 53 parts that Zak has printed for me so far, the most complicated being the sensor box which had many different facets that needed to be sized appropriately to make sure all the sensors would fit.

I’ve been sending my designs as they progress to a group of students I’m collaborating with at Vanderburg Elementary School in the Clark County School District.  In fact, because of the internet restrictions here on sMars the students did the initial research for me and my design is largely based on a project called IMPASSE.

Now you may have noticed that this design has no turning capability (all forward motion controlled by one motor) and yes that was on purpose.  This is a proof of concept, the motion isn’t the important part, the sensor box is the important part.  By rotating the sensor box it allows 3 sensors to get an almost 360 profile of the cave structure, however, with the IMU I wouldn’t know the direction of the box which would make any measurements not taken at the 0 degree home angle basically worthless.  So the sensor box will take a range reading, them the IMU will read the position of the sensor box, then the sensor box will rotate and the sequence will start over again.  Once I have the data from the IMU I can translate the relative distances found by the range finders on the sensor box into an absolute reference space and that way get a point map of the profile of the cave in a single reference frame.

The pictoral version of the paragraph above, just in case you're a picture person like I am
The pictorial version of the paragraph above, just in case you’re a picture person like I am

So these are my parts, and slowly but surely they’re coming together to form a whole.  I’ve told my student collaborators that one of the best traits that an engineer can have is patience because you have to be willing to do endless-seeming re-designs of parts as you attempt to assemble something bigger from it.  But patience, like my sensor box, is just a part.  An engineer has to have many parts, all working together, to create something new.

So there you have it, I do actually do work here in the Dome.  🙂

Thanks for sticking with us!


Posted in Dome sweet dome, Now on the Outside, Recovered

Birthday Boys

October 21, 2014

Ben, you and i fight the most out of anyone in our family, and sometimes these fights have lead to some pretty rowdy throw downs or storm outs, like that one time in Kanding… but regardless of that I’ve learned so much from you and I’ve never stopped being impressed with you even though sometimes I have hated to admit it.  So here’s to Ben:


The sweet and lovable…


The silly and charismatic…


The deep thinker and wide wanderer…


and a real pillar of support and encouragement in our family.


I love you even when we fight, I admire you even when I make fun of you, and I look up to you even I’m looking down from Mars 🙂 Happiest of birthdays Broski.

Now there is another man I love who happens to have the exact same birthday as my dear brother and this is my best friend and confidant and partner, Casey.


He is cuddly and kind (not to mention a total BAMF!)…


Fun loving and creative…


A bit of a clown :P…


but full of potential, love and a deep sense of honor.

I depend on him for so much and he’s too humble to know it; he’s taught me so much about being a better friend and person, and has supported me in every passion, desire, and opportunity I’ve ever had.  Happy Birthday PizzaShark!

I am so truly lucky to have such wonderful guys in my life and very fortunate to only have to remember one birthday for these two characters.  My life may be simpler and less frustrating without them but it would also be less fun, less interesting, and lacking a great deal of love.

I’ll bring all my readers another update on the dome and how we weathered the storm but until then, I hope you can join me in wishing these two guys a very happy birthday and many more to come!

Posted in Dome sweet dome, Recovered


November 11, 2014

2014-11-04 18.27.51

The bubble wasn’t crystal clear, there were scratches, smears and minor distortions in the heavy duty plastic but from the inside I couldn’t imagine a more perfect scene.  Cool air, warm sunlight so deliciously bright to eyes that felt baby new to such intense stimulus, the brain was awed and confused. Why such a gentle breeze when that dust is whipping by so quickly? Hmmm, that’s odd. On further investigation there is quite of bit of force against this body when looking in the direction the dust is coming from. Werid. Only my upper arm and left leg can feel the wind, everything else is getting pretty warm, and stiff, why is this body so stiff. Why is my chest so cold…panic?
Something deeper in the body, deeper in the brain radiates calm as it reminds the physical systems that this is how its supposed to be. “you haven’t had three weeks to prepare for this, you’ve been preparing for this your whole life”
Sensitive eyes … ohhh yes, I haven’t been out in the sunlight for a few weeks, LED’s really cant compare can they?
Stiff body … you’ve gained 35 lbs since stepping outside, that suit your wearing is “pressurized” its going to be a little different than just your normal body…
Air tubes and fans, that’s whats keeping your arms and leg and face nice and cool…
and that cold feeling in your chest, no its not fear, you put that block of ice in the suit to keep you cool. Not as good as the cooling vest I’m sure but you had to do this didn’t you? This is what you were made for.
Wow, you’re right, the suit may be bulky but it should feel that way.  The air around me now doesn’t match what I can see but why would it?  I shouldn’t be a part of that environment, humans weren’t designed for Mars.  The view, now that fits, that’s how it is supposed to be, there’s nothing more beautiful than a vision of Mars from inside a bubble helmet. This is where you belong, in this suit, on Mars.

2014-11-04 19.03.04

Allen (call sign Sasha) and Habcom are in my ear, time to get going, pose for a picture and climb the hill.  Determination, excitement, and purpose carefully fold around me as the feeling of complete and utter rightness nestles down next to the deep calming voice.    We’re doing our first geology EVA, measuring the volume of the ~500 meter long spatter cone rampart directly behind the Hab.  It is possible that future mars missions will want to use this material to build shelters and it is a good measurement to get so we know how much radiation shielding and insulation that mission will be able to expect.  Such giant leaps always begin with the first small step, and so I excitedly started up the side of the rampart.

Sasha’s suit has a better range of motion and weighs a third of mine, I don’t mind as he takes the lead up the hill.  Short, slightly taxing steps get smaller and more difficult as the incline increases, one small step for this woman, tough it out girl this is the job.

Ten more steps, man I’m glad I put that block of ice in the suit, otherwise this would be really uncomfortable.

Eight more steps, I wish I’d taken the time to fix that leg hose and the cooling vest.

Six more steps, stupid crumbly spatter rampart for every step up I take the slope under me crumbles half that height.

Three steps, was that throat mic always wrapped so snugly around my neck?

Two steps, wish I could feel the wind on my face, the air in here is so damp and warm.

One  – wait, I should feel wind on my face – step – where is my face fan? WHERE is my nice cool breeze?


stop Stop STOP

calm down the more you freak out the more air your hyperventilating lungs are going to suck up, relax, control yourself and let the fans catch up 

I can hear that nice calm voice but only barely over the overwhelming sound of PANIC


wait, what?!

that’s right if you freak out too much they wont let you go back out in this suit

“you’re my inspiration for people who stick with their dreams and actually accomplish them”

good, calm down

“its going to be hard sometimes but you’ve already come so far I know you wont let anything stand in your way”

easy, good, wait for the fan to catch up

“this is what you’ve always wanted and I’m not going to let anything or anybody keep you from doing it, not me, not even you”

The words help, in the ten seconds since this inner dialogue/screaming match started I run through all the things people have said to me since beginning this dome endeavor, Per, Chris, Mom, Casey, and countless others, my mini mantra that keeps the PANIC from overwhelming me.  Good Sense, bolstered by that deep steady calm, reasserts control.

Breathing slowly and deliberately I try to force PANIC out of my voice

“Sasha, this is Sophie, I’m having some trouble, can you watch me get the rest of the way up the hill, over”

“Copy Sophie, I’ve got you in sight come on up, over”

One foot in front of the other, one small step after another, each breath sweeter, cooler and fresher than the last, each heart beat more easy.  One small step for Sophie, one giant incline for self control and determination.

“Sophie, this is Sasha you okay? over”

2014-11-04 19.16.56

I let Sasha know I need a break but otherwise I’m fine, already beginning to feel embarrassed at my freak out.  The mission proceeded, we ended up being an exploration team and our data was used by the next team of three to do the actual measurements.  We walked about 70% of the rampart, up and down slopes across sketchy loose terrain, a few times PANIC grabbed me again but this time I was ready, I felt it coming, and I knew to recognize my limits within the suit.  We would stop and gather ourselves before continuing on with our mission.  
I never got rid of PANIC, but I knew how to make sure it never really not another good grip on me.  After getting back to the Hab and getting out of the suit I was still processing the whole thing.  I felt like a bird who was afraid of heights, actually more like a bird afraid of feathers.  During my nap I had nightmares about being stuck in the suit where I couldn’t move.  Our medical officer came by to make sure I was okay and said that they could hear my breathing through the voice activated throat mics during the whole mission and he was glad I did so well.

Everyone cared and was concerned, it was a great feeling and that night I didn’t have any nightmares of being stuck in the suit.  I had some weird dreams about a normal looking feast but all the food was carved out of candy (imagine a turkey sculpture made out of Nougat and corn on the cob made from banana LaffyTaffy) but I have yet to be able to find any real meaning behind that one.

When I woke up in the morning I was resolved to two things: 1) get all systems operational in the suit and 2) get back in the puffy pants.  The deep calm voice was right, I belong in that suit and on Mars and if this is as close as I get to be then I better not let a little fear get in my way, my PANIC is the same panic that people have been dealing with since the dawn of time.  It isn’t special, it doesn’t need to be shown in all caps, it is a normal response and there are ways to stay calm and manage it to a normal level.

I’m getting back on the horse and I look forward to sharing my experience with all you readers as soon as it happens.  In the forefront of my mind will be all the great things people say to me about this experience, bound and printed into my own personal Mars Hitchhiker’s Guide and on the cover I’ll put that age old expression “Don’t Panic” in large friendly letters to remind me of what I already know.

Stay tuned travelers, we’ve only just begun….

Posted in Dome sweet dome, Recovered

One Month Inside

November 24, 2014

It has been a month, a eighth of this mission is gone and I feel like I’ve really learned things so I’d like to share it with you, my dear and faithful readers, those vicariously with me on my journey to Mars, those who… well… are probably just my mom.  Hi Mom!

2014-11-04 19.03.04

Anyways, things I’ve learned to do:

Be clean taking only 2 showers a week:  If you had asked me about this 6 months ago I would have told you yeah sure that would be fine, as long as weeks were only 2 days long and there was no cap on the hot water I could get.  Well, even on sMars weeks are still 7 days and while the hot water will run until you do, out of the shower scalded and pruney (yeah Casey, its even too hot for me), you only get 8 minutes a week unless you wanna stop drinking.  No, my commander will not make me ration my drinking water with my shower water, I am totally exaggerating, the real reason for the limited usage and my strict maintenance of it is actually more strange:  I want to.  Every time I watch the timer count down from 2 minutes, every week that goes by that I neither smell nor use more than my last week’s water I feel good, like I’m making a difference. Like I’m closer to a real Mars habitat.  Either that or I’m a tad bit masochistic but I tend to go positive.

Work out at least 5 days a week for over an hour:  I happen to have a metabolism that keeps my shape from ballooning out if I decide I want to feed it any and everything it wants for a few years, unfortunately this does not, by any stretch of the imagination, mean that I am in good shape.  I am now in good shape, and through constant motivation from the team and myself I have really managed to get into a groove with the workout thing.  You may be saying “Sophie, how do you stay clean working out so much but only taking a shower twice a week?”  or something more like “Her crew mates probably just don’t tell her how much she stinks, poor girl” or maybe you haven’t stopped going “eeeeeewwwwww” and rocking back and forth.  Either way, I do have a method for dealing with this.  When we came into the dome we all noticed a fairly ridiculous amount of baby wipes in all the bedrooms and bathrooms, thoroughly puzzled we figured it out quickly enough and now everyday after I workout I take a baby-wipe shower.  You can quit your rantings of “unclean, uncleeeeaaaan” I promise I am properly hygienic.  I still need to take more walks on the treadmill, it is right in front of our only window so the view is actually quite nice, and I should probably try to avoid eating all the random Fruit by the Foot our resupply gave us but the point is I’m on the right path.  I may not be in Oz yet but my path sure is bright and I got the right footwear.

Ask everyone if they want to talk:  This goes for so many people, authors (you gotta wait for my next blog post I’m super stoked about it), teammates, writers, family, friends you haven’t spoken to in far too long, people whose villages no longer need protecting, random unlikely friends with motor bikes, amazing Greek intellectuals, EVERYONE.  I love chatting with people and I’m managing to stay in much better touch with my own family.  Everyone is so kind and thinks the world of what I’m doing and I feel so proud to be carrying those good feelings and hopes that it absolutely lifts me up when I’m down.

Play games ALWAYS: we play so many board games that we’re making up our own.  Watch for our kick-starter page 😉 Not only board games though, just anything fun, I got Zak to two step around the common area with me and he did so well I couldn’t help but but give him a big ol’ hug!  Watch out ladies, by the time he gets out hes gonna be a whirling twirling machine … should he ever pick a honky-tonk over a mosh pit … sooooooo maybe its not the mostly likely thing but hey, never once heard a guy who knows how to dance say that learning was a waste of time.

Stay calm within the storm: This is something Tony keeps yelling at us when we do P90X yoga but it totally applies to all walks of life.  When I wake up, I have 15 emails, by the time I’m through with those I have another 20.  I seriously go through about 50 emails a day normally.  In addition to that I’m writing a paper that will get me a Master’s degree, I’m also keeping an eye on our toilets so we don’t have an overflow of vileness that will make your guts disgusted with themselves, I take at least 4 surveys a day (speaking of which, hold on a sec), I’m also doing outreach activities every week, and my to-do list for today has about 13 items on it not including our hour and half workout.  Life is busy, I’ve never been bored here and I’ve certainly never lacked stuff to do.  I have completely put things off for a day or two and that was pretty magical, but all of us here in the dome have to learn to prioritize and work through all of the things we need to do.  My body may be shaking doing twisted half moon pose but you’ll never know it from my face.

Readers, this month I’ve been scared, I’ve pushed myself and found new limits I never knew were there, I’ve made and eaten amazing food I’ve never tried before, I’ve cried a little for friends and family I miss but I’ve laughed a hundred times more with the new friends and family I’ve made here, I’ve walked a spatter rampart on sMars in a 30lbs suit, I’ve helped develop a board game, and the whole time I’ve been adding data to a system that will hopefully pick the first Mars crew in the future.  I

So I’m gonna make myself a cup of hot Tang (sexy, I know) sit in our garden for a bit, and then get my increasingly pastey booty back to work.

Love from Mars,

The palest Martian you know ;)probably…

Posted in Dome sweet dome, Recovered


December 12, 2014

My brother Per was six years old when I first met him.  Now, understandably, I don’t remember most of it but the rest of my earliest memories have some version of him in them and there’s so many things I’ve learned from my brother I scarcely know where to begin.

The art of filling dinner napkins with gross food like eggs and peas and sneaking it into the bathroom to flush it down the toilet without getting mom and dad suspicious was probably the first thing I learned.

Second, and this one is now a super paranoid pet peeve of mine, is not to leave glasses on the floor by sofas.  Some of you may be thinking, huh, that’s a weirdly specific thing to be paranoid about, but once you watch your older brother slice clear through his Achilles tendon you’ll completely understand the need to never see that again.  Besides, he totally made us miss going to the pool that day.

Per taught me how to burp.  I’m not sure this deserves its own spot so we’ll put it at lesson number 2.5 but anyways, projecting is key.

Third, soccer.  I played from when I was six to twenty-one and during our time in Texas I mostly stuck with it because all my brothers played soccer.  Per would pick me up from soccer practice, we would play volley soccer and four-square soccer with our other brothers, and when per was training we would all go and “train” too.  I remember watching Per juggle the ball forever.  I could tell when he was starting to get tired because he would start kicking the ball higher to get more of a break but he did get a some ridiculous record of juggling that, to my 10 year old brain, was at least 700.

He tried to teach me to snowboard – “go to the top, when you get to the bottom come find me at the lodge, try not to break your wrist like Bergen”.  It didn’t go well but at least I limped away with all my bones intact, lets call that 3.5.

Fourth, he taught me the subtle practice of mind control.  From an early age he got us playing king and servants, he being the king of course, and from that time on I’ve been just a bit more inclined to do things for him than my other brothers.

Fifth involves not letting your younger siblings attempt to shoot apples off your head but I feel like this whole birthday message may be getting away from me.  I joke about all I’ve learned from my oldest (and smallest) brother but in reality he’s done more for me than even he thinks.  To go through the entire list would take forever but here are some of the big ones:

Having your own ideas is good but knowing the logic behind your ideas is even better, because then you can argue them properly.

Arguing a point isn’t fighting and doesn’t have to be hostile.  Some of my favorite family memories of us as adults involve all kinds of arguing.

Be honest, be yourself, be true to your life’s purpose but don’t be a butt-hole about it.

And, most importantly, always end the summer with a polar plunge!


Happy Birthday Boy Sis!  You’re awesome and I love you!

– Your Martian Girl Bro