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 Recovered

Things you never thought you’d do

March 26, 2015

So, my intrepid readers, I’ve been thinking for a bit now about the things you do or say that you never thought you would.  Now for those of you who’re thinking “Yeah like living in a dome for 8 months wearing space suits to go outside?” you obviously aren’t a regular reader so please go back to the first post and try again.  For those who have done their Sophie-related homework you’ll know that dome life was always something I have wanted to do, now cheese making, that was never really on the list.  How many times have you heard this:

“Today I made great cheese.”

Personally, I’ve never heard that before living in a dome much less been the one to say it.

Similarly, this statement is fairly common:

“I have a lovely bouquet of roses on my desk”

but this one seems a bit odd:

“I have a lovely bouquet of cilantro flowers on my desk”

And yet they are lovely, they smell like cilantro which is wonderful, and they appear to still be growing despite having been cut from their roots,  Until the dome I didn’t even know that cilantro made flowers, I’m sure I could have figured it out if I took the time to just think about it, but I never did.

One of my favorite sayings from How I Met Your Mother is Barney saying “Suit up!” but I bet he didn’t imagine this reaction:


You know what else I never thought I’d do in my life?  Go fishing with a bow and arrow, own a hedgehog, get my Masters degree on Mars (Marsters degree?), filter my own water using sand dug up from around my dome home, and prize fresh tomatoes like they were gold.

I’ve always liked having a plan, and as far as plans go mine was pretty simple: graduate college, get a graduate degree, apply to astronaut corps, go to Mars.  Simple, right?  My life in four easy steps (call now and I’ll throw in a toaster).  Who would’ve thought there would be so much more to it than that.  Things like cheese and cilantro flowers, certainly, but also the amazing people you meet that take your life in new directions.

My interest in STEM outreach has grown exponentially since I’ve been in this dome and its become a driving factor behind many of the things that I do here.   There’s so much going on in the dome, I can’t imagine how scattered my attention is gong to be once I get out.

Speaking of which, I am updating the RSoFM page, check out some of the neat things we’ve been doing with projects for kids in the Clark County School District.

Until then!

Posted in Recovered


March 7, 2015

Do you know how many steps you make each day?  I do thanks to our Jawbone UP bands that we wear to collect data for Jocelyn’s personal research project.  The idea is really neat, when you’re awake it measures how active you are in terms of “steps”.  You input your weight, height and age and apparently they have a formula that can approximate how long one of your steps is.  Then when  you go to sleep you put it in sleep mode with the press of a button and it measures how still you are and correlates that to deep or light sleep.  its gotten to the point that whenever you ask anyone how they slept in the morning you’ll get back one of two responses: “Good, I think, but I haven’t checked my UP yet” or they’ll recite their sleep stats and show you their graphs.  On a particularly good night Neil came rushing into the kitchen brandishing his iPad with the UP app open excitedly showing off a rather impressive 4 hour solid block of dark blue deep sleep and saying “Look what I did!”.  I’m a roller so here’s my data from last night.  It may look rough but three hours of sound sleep is actually pretty good for me, and considering my accidental glutening it wasn’t a terrible night.

Jawbone UP sleep data 3/6/2015, a bit of a rough night

But enough with sleep, that’s boring!  STEPS!  now here is where we come to a bit of a controversy, Martha is able to do over 10,000 steps almost EVERY DAY!  its a bit crazy to be honest.  The rest of the crew and I average between three and six thousand steps a day which I feel is normal considering that we can only go about 30 feet before having to turn around.  It is kind of a running joke within the group that you have to really be trying to beat Martha in order to actually do it and yesterday I proved that right, it took an hour of biking with my Jawbone UP band strapped to my shoe instead of being on my wrist (I wanted every step to count!) followed by a P90X workout where I made sure to do more reps than Martha but check it out!

Jawbone UP data for 3/5/2015 YAY I BEAT MARTHA!

The thing is, I got almost nothing of real value done yesterday.  I fiddled around with some problem hardware and did some research but thats it, not super productive, so the next step will be actually beating Martha while having a productive day.  There are things to take into account with this goal:  Martha on a cardio workout day can hit up to 18,000 steps, I don’t think I’ve EVER done so much while in the dome so I have to choose a non-cardio day to challenge her again, maybe a yoga day.  The other thing is, Martha gets up at like 7:30 am and stays up until around 11 pm, I on the other hand wake up at a more leisurely 10 am and go to sleep around 1 am.  So I’m gonna have to start my day off a bit earlier if I want a fair shot at it.  Finally, my work is all computer based whereas Martha has a garden she must tend.  Sure, its a small garden but it requires work and that work requires moving things around lifting watering cans, climbing ladders, and generally being in motion.  I totally wish I had Martha’s project sometimes.  So I have to schedule time to bike or walk (if we have power) but I also have to have enough time sitting quietly at my desk to get stuff done.

Remember we don’t get steps for walking from our house to the train to catch into work, we can’t take the elevator instead of the stairs, and a leisurely stroll at lunchtime to a cafe is out of the question.  Our steps are hard fought, so next time you have to park an extra block away from your office and you’re about to angrily speed walk remember that there are nerds in a dome somewhere who would mosey along that block with a smile on their face if only they could.

You may be thinking, “Dang this girl is competitive” and yeah you’re right, but also, we actively find things to compete in, we have a big white board with our high and low scores from one of the research activities we do and under that is the current “Game Master” who is the last person to have won a board game where at least four crew members were playing.  The time that I took the research game high score from Neil by two points (from his 60 to my 62) was a time of great jubilation possibly accompanied by a bit of neener neener NEEner.  However while working in my room during the activity on Tuesday I was greeted with the sonic boom of Neil’s voice  saying “TAKE THAT IT SOPHIE, 72!” and instantly knew my reign was over.

Its an odd sort of friendly competition where we like to keep track of things, as our dearly beloved Pete said in training week: “Its all data!”.  I tend to think of it along the same lines as our PI telling us to celebrate every holiday we can.  Its something to mark the passing of time, the days when someone is really on a roll and their title gets extended from the original.  For example Jocelyn won a couple games of Rummikub and became the Sultana of Series and Sets, after that she dominated a game of Carcassonne and was then the Sultana of Series, Sets, and Serfs.  Quite the title, but then in a brilliant move she and the Cyber Bunny massacred us all in the game King of Tokyo and she became the Sultana of Series, Sets, Serfs, and Savagery.  Her final title ended up being Sultana of Series, Sets, Serfs, Savagery and soon to be Scarves due to her taking up knitting that same week but it was a great way to honor someone while at the same time instilling a friendly sense of rivalry that makes it more fun to be playing the games.

Top Left: Eclipse;  Middle Left: Risk 2210 AD; Right: Game of Thrones (The Game); Bottom: Puerto Rico

As of this week everyone has made it onto the board for something, Zak, the Duke of Destruction, Development, and Domestication and Chief Engineer for King of Tokyo, a couple round of Catan and Ticket to Ride, Martha has held so many titles it is ridiculous but my favorite was Number Set Ninja when she spent a whole game of Rummikub  gathering tiles only to lay every single one down at once completely destroying us in points.  Jocelyn was our Sultana, and Neil got his name up for King of Tokyo making him the Shogun of Savagery.  Allen was able to become the Master of Citadels for the similarly named card based game and I have held several titles as well for the multitude of games we play but rarely do I win more than one in a row.  Also, the need to have four people playing in order to change the winner board is a bit of a hindrance because Martha, Neil and I play tons of games.

So there you have it the only bit of rivalry within the dome and its over Meeples, dice rolls, and the inability to sit still :)  We’re not a reality TV show, we’re people who want to get along and whose biggest prize will be our last dome party on June 11 celebrating the fact that we all made it through 8 months of sMars as a cohesive and effective space family.

Love from sMars


Posted in Recovered

Life on Mars, well kinda

March 5, 2015

My Aunty Jeannie asked me a question back before Christmas: If there was life on Mars what would it look like?  She makes beautiful things out of clay and beads and gourds and things and is really talented.  She is also an amateur science buff, absolutely devouring any kind of scientific literature she can wrap her mind around.  Now I’m no biologist/botanist/geneticist/evolutionary scientist but what I lack in formal training I make up for in unfounded faith in whatever science fiction novel I’ve read last.  “The Long Mars” is actually all about this search for life on parallel “Joker” Marses and I have read about great whales that move through the Martian sands like it was water, giant fire breathing land dragons being chased by crablike hominoids, and the hardy Martian prickly pear cactus that can power a machine that allows you to step between parallel Marses.  Taking a step back from my rather fanatical faith in this book’s incredible descriptions of the multitude and prevalence of life, I do have to restart the sciencey part of my brain (mostly because I am incapable of googling “possible evolution of life on Mars”).  So Jeannie, here you are, Sophie’s reasoning through the possibilities of Martian life as influenced by the Euclidian postulates, I shall call them sMartians.

Assumption 1:  Let us assume that life is made possible only by the presence of water, either in the air or ground.

Assumption 2: Taking into account A1 let us assume that somewhere on Mars there is water; this shall be called the Cradle and for the sake of my knowledge of physics let’s put it at the very bottom of the Valles Marineris.

Assumption 3: The Cradle is located at the bottom of the deepest and longest geological feature on Mars; it is mostly unexplored currently because the rough terrain makes it inaccessible to rovers and the very small angle for orbiting satellites to take photographs of it.  The deepest part of the canyon, which just so happens to be where the Cradle is located, is approximately 7km deep and is therefore capable of sustaining a thicker atmosphere and warmer temperature due to its proximity to the interior of the planet.

Fact 1: Mars’ gravity is roughly 0.38 of Earth’s

Fact 2: Mars’ soil is slightly alkaline and contains elements such as magnesium, sodium, potassium and chlorine

Fact 3: Carbonic acid is the combination of carbon dioxide and water

Given the preceding assumptions and facts I will now begin to outline the type of mobile life I imagine on Mars based on physiology.

Sight: being in such a dark place with such small chance of direct sunlight the creatures of the Cradle have no need for eyes, instead they have evolved a system of echolocation that can also be used to detect subterranean caverns and tunnel systems.

Touch: like other sightless animals that have evolved on Earth, this animal’s sense of touch is very sensitive and capable of very fine distinctions between textures.

Smell:  Although the Cradle is capable of supporting a much thicker atmosphere than the rest of Mars it still pales in comparison to Earth’s and with such a thin atmosphere the sense of smell is relatively useless.

Taste:  The sense of taste is contained in the skin of the sMartian and it uses it to locate concentrated areas of magnesium within the Cradle.

Hearing and voice:  The density of the air makes sound very difficult to travel through and thus ears were also never developed as organs and voice is not transmitted in the way we think of it.  Thoughts are projected using a series of EMP based blasts and in that way the sMartians communicate.

Physiology: Having evolved in an area of much lower gravity the bodies of the sMartians do not have an internal skeleton to support themselves and have evolved a crude frame of a cartilage-like substance wrapped in thin muscles and covered with a very thick skin of some type of conductive material.  The respiratory and digestive system of the sMartian is made up of a pressure container at the center of the body which is fed concentrated carbon dioxide via capillaries that absorb it and water vapor directly from the atmosphere. Absorbed water molecules are unable to pass through a blubber-like membrane just below the skin and become trapped.  That water filled membrane acts as insulation for the creature’s internal heat source.

The carbon dioxide continues through the water insulation membrane to heart-like pumps that pressurize incoming gas until it is sucked into the pressurized “lung”.  When fully pressurized the lung releases through multiple contained section of the insulating water membrane around the body creating carbonic acid which it bathes the surrounding area in.  Before excreting the carbonic acid, the creature would have found an area with high magnesium content and proceeded to bury itself entirely within it.  As the carbonic acid reacts with the basic magnesium in the soil and exothermic reaction would be taking place all over the creature’s metallic and conductive skin raising the temperature very quickly.

The nervous system of the creature involves a brain that acts as a power station and a command center.  Nerves connected to the skin conduct heat to the central brain which is made of a natural ceramic alloy capable of translating heat to electrical signals that relay information from the other systems of the body to the command center.  The creature’s thermal efficiency is unparalleled and from a single “breath” is able to generate massive quantities of concentrated and stored heat to be turned into thought, motion, and sensing by the creature for up to two months.  Within that time the sMartian searches for another area with a concentrated source of magnesium in order to take another breath.

So there you go, this was probably the hardest blog post to write and I’m sure it is full of several impossibilities but also some fairly sound science, albeit based on some pretty funky assumptions.  Stay tuned for some sMartian autopsy photos

Posted in Recovered

Life long goals…

February 1, 2015

Thats right readers, another life-long goal has been started, and what a start it is!  “But Sophie,” you might say, “with all the crazy stuff you’ve done these past 4 months what more could you possibly want to do?”  Answer: Ummm every space nerd’s dream: BUILD A SPACE SUIT!!!

Mom, the Yayas, and my Aunty Jeannie have been on me for years about giving space suits a much needed makeover (well that and teleportation but there’s only so much a girl in a dome can do) and while this is perhaps not where they thought I’d start I have, indeed, started.  Like all space-made prototypes the major component is duct-tape but there is still high quality materials including bubble wrap, gardening hose, pool noodle, white fabric, 3D printed junction pieces for the hose (thanks Made in Space), and tinfoil.  When you’re trapped in a dome on the side of a volcano with five other nerds you’d be surprised at how excited people get when you propose a fancy tinfoil hat.

First iteration:

IMG_3400 IMG_3396 IMG_3390 IMG_3351 IMG_3353

3D printed hose connectors made for a sturdy yet flexible skeleton for the bubble wrap/tinfoil/plastic components of the helmet.

After an EVA to examine the lava tubes there was an outer shell breach of the helmet which was quickly repaired back at the hab.  No catastrophic de-pressurization occurred, the inner layers were sufficient to keep the hostile martian atmosphere out.


Posted in Recovered

Andy Weir and the Martian

Get out your hex tables all you ASCii nerds.  Zak Wilson (the next Matt Damon?) as Mark Watney and Neil Sheibelhut shooting/editing the video; here is my thank you to Andy Weir for his time and effort with me and my blog, its a bit short but the full length video will be heading up on YouTube soon, enjoy!

Futuristic Sci-Fi adventure fans, meet Mark Watney.  This man was chosen to go to Mars for his skills as a botanist, his resourcefulness as an engineer, and, perhaps most importantly, for his positive effect on the morale of the Ares 3 crew.  He is a funny guy, and I can say I just about died laughing when reading about his plan to meet his returning spaceship by poking a hole in his space suit glove and using the escaping pressure to fly around like Iron Man.

He’s not real.  Well I should say he’s no more real than Ford Prefect, Harry Dresden, or Captain Kirk (though soon an actor will transfer him from black and white e-ink to HD color and Dolby sound just like the other characters mentioned).

He is an idea of what a brave, resilient, and resourceful nerd can do when pushed to the limits in a hostile environment far away from home.  Given my current situation, perhaps I relate to him a bit more now than I did with my feet up at the marina selling a bottle of Dr. Pepper or bag of sunflower seeds every few hours. I read The Martian and felt for the first time that someone had found a reasonable and exciting story that involved Mars.  I love the battles of Barsoom and the arch angel Michael grok-ing the human race as much as any Sci-fi addict but it was the juxtaposition of Sci-fi and realism led me to get in contact with Mr. Weir and see what he was like.

When I say “get in contact with Mr. Weir” I don’t mean I just looked up my good buddy, Andy, on Google and sent him a chat message. In fact, I got in touch with a very kind woman named Sarah at the publishing company who, to the best of my knowledge, didn’t laugh once at the excited preteen-girl-at-a-Justin-Beiber-concert tone of my letter assuring her that I wanted to talk to Mr. Weir for my blog only to “showcase how literature and science can overlap and create some great dialogue”.  I sent the email.   I told my crewmates.  We had a very serious group discussion about whether I had informed the HI-SEAS selection committee of my apparent problem stalking authors.  I blushed a lot and decided that any rejection I got couldn’t possibly come close to the good-humored razzing I’d just received.  With that I put it out of my mind.  There’s always plenty to do on sMars and during that particular week Martha and I were doing maintenance on the composting toilets which effectively erased all thoughts not related to how well we hide how gross we are and the magical curative properties of hot water and soap.  So imagine my surprise when I come back to my desk some days later to find this:

Hi Sophie- I’ve cc Andy Weir here who would be happy to speak with you.


Ohhh Sarah, Sarah of few words, Sarah the bearer of awesome opportunity, my own personal Iris, using the spectrum of electronic communication to connect humble lil me with Watney’s Creator.  This might be the most exciting one line email I’ve ever received.

First off, I totally showed all the crew and was rewarded with unacceptably lackluster response from all except Zak who, appropriately, joined me in holding hands while jumping around in circles making high pitched squeals of joy and excitement.  It was kind of a blur but I’m pretty sure that’s what happened.  I mean it was either that or I excitedly squealed semi-coherently about having Andy Weir’s email address and he, equally excitedly, wheeled his chair to my work station to verify the object of my insanity/make sure I wasn’t having a seizure.  I could ask him all those questions I had while reading the book, all those wonderful and insightful questions, those questions that would bring about new understanding and deeper appreciation, those questions… the ones I swear I had… hell’s bells, I had a direct line to Andy Weir and my brain was totally devoid of rational thought.

What follows is a compilation of the more coherent parts of my email conversation with Andy Weir.  Working within the email medium was difficult for carrying on a real conversation especially when you factor in a delay of about 40 minutes between conversations.  I was surprised to find that he had at least as many questions for me as I had for him, the crew and I found it entertaining that he intuitively knew to send attachments to his orbital trajectories of Hermes available online, rather than links to webpages, a challenge we still have with some of our first tier support people.

Sophie Milam (SM): I am so excited to talk with you, you’ve made my sol! I have so many things I’d like to ask you but I think I’ll start off with the classic, would you go to Mars if you had the opportunity?

Andy Weir (ATW):  It may be a surprising answer, but I would not go to Mars. I’m just not brave enough to handle the anxiety and stress such a mission would be. I know my limitations. I write about brave people, but I’m not one of them.

SM: Our crew recently talked about some gender/diversity issues with an Engineering Ethics class from Michigan and one of the things that we’ve been able to come up with is that gender and cultural identity are incredibly unimportant to us and we tend to focus on our individual personalities and open mindedness more than anything. When you were writing The Martian, how did you balance the crew? Did you try to model your characters with a basis in gender or cultural stereotypes or did you only concern yourself with individual traits?

ATW:  I didn’t set out to deliberately balance the crew. For the most part, I just wanted them each to be unique enough for the reader to tell them apart without prompting. It’s a real problem in written fiction. You don’t have the face on-screen or voice being heard to remind the audience who’s who. They need to know it immediately from the name.
So there are no two people on Hermes who are the same demographic. There’s one white American guy (Beck), one Hispanic guy (Martinez), and one German guy (Vogel). There are two women of undefined ethnicity (presumably white) but one of them is the Commander, so you won’t get them confused either. Especially since they all call her “Commander”.
So it wasn’t any deliberate attempt at diversity. It was really just a shortcut to making sure the reader knew who was who. You’ll find I pulled the same trick with the NASA characters: Teddy (white guy who is in charge), Mitch (white guy who isn’t in charge), Venkat (Indian), Annie (white woman), Mindy Park (Korean woman), Rich Purnell (African American).

SM:  Why did you make the commander a woman?

ATW:  I don’t remember. I just imagined a commander and it was a woman. I can’t really explain why my brain came up with her as a woman anymore than I can explain why Mark was a man. It’s just kind of what I came up with. Please tell me all about your experiment! I’m very curious. Do you have simulated
equipment? Do they stage failures you have to repair, etc.?

SM:  I like your reasoning for the commander.  When I imagined the commander for our mission I also envisioned a woman and lo and behold the selection committee agreed.  We have a simulated psychologist program that walks us through some different approaches to conflict resolution, teaches us how to control our breathing and heart rate during stressful times but that’s about it for the simulated technology.

We haven’t yet had to stage any failures because we have been doing a good job of having real problems that need real fixes. I think that this is what I find the most similar to your book. Everything seems like it’s going well and then, for seemingly no reason, things just stop working.  Our restricted internet will block mission objective survey sites on certain computers but not others.  Our hydrogen fuel cells randomly kicked on in the beginning and ran us out of Hydrogen.  Our composting toilets required some pretty gross maintenance, and our EVA suits are a whole other topic.

ATW:  Do you find yourself bored a lot? Or are you constantly busy with habitat maintenance and other tasks?

SM:  I can honestly say I’ve never been bored once here.  There’s always so much going on mostly I feel bad for not getting more things done.  Its not all Hab maintenance, a good portion of it learning how to work within the power limits we have.  For example, on the days it is your turn to cook you have to do as much as possible while the sun is out.  So when I made Gumbo I started rehydrating things when I woke up in the morning, made the roux at noon, combined everything together before our workout and set it to simmer.  When you cook here you pretty much lose an entire day of productivity to do it.

ATW: For the resupply missions, do they set supplies out somewhere and you have to go recover them with an EVA?

SM: We have 2 types of resupplies, “bin-bots” where we leave out our waste and it is picked up by a “bot” who delivers any supplies we need into a “teleport area” in the Hab.  These are usually for our 2-month resupplies of food and personal effects, but they also take out the garbage.  We can have urgent requests for waste removal if something really needs to go…like when we cleaned out the composting toilets this week and it warranted an emergency waste removal the next day.  We also have “crash lander” resupplies that are dropped near the Hab and we do an EVA to go out and retrieve whatever has been left for us.  We got our new space suit this way.  Do you remember why you got into science/space/technology?

ATW:  I don’t know why I got into science. I’ve never *not* been into it. Probably because my dad is a geek and he indoctrinated me from childhood.

SM:  What’s the most dangerous/stupid thing you’ve ever done?

ATW:  Hmm. Most dangerous/stupid thing I ever did… My friend and I once got a pair of headset walkie-talkies. They were all right but the range was less than we’d like. They ran on two double-A batteries. So we soldered a 9V battery receptacle in place and powered one of the headsets with triple its designed voltage.
It worked great! The signal was much clearer and the range was far better. I had the headset on for about three minutes while we tested it. Less than a second after I took it off, while it was still in my hands, it exploded. Turns out overcharging a radio will cause a capacitor inside to boil. It was a good three feet from my head at the time, but the pop was so loud I had a ringing in my ears for several minutes. I strongly suspect that if it had been on my head at the time I would now be deaf in one ear.

SM:  Ohhhh man that radio story sounds just like something my brothers and I would’ve tried if we’d ever been allowed to have walkie talkies.  As it was, all our mishaps seem to revolve around bike ramps over the dead end guard rail at the bottom of the biggest hill in our neighborhood and homemade bows and arrows out of my mom’s favorite Lady Banksia bush.  My oldest brother and I still bear the scars of those days… ahhh the simple life. How much research did you have to do for the book?

ATW:  I did tons of research for the book. It took me about three years to write. I also wrote orbital trajectory calculation software to work out the various courses Hermes had during the book.

SM:  Our orbital science guy, Allen, loved the trajectories you sent, I think I’ve got him totally hooked to read the book now once we find some free time.

ATW:  I poked around the site and saw the video of you and your crewmates. I’m sorry you miss your dog and hedgehog. I’m an avid animal lover and have two cats of my own. I miss them whenever I travel. When do you “return to Earth”?

SM:  We get out of the dome on June 12 and will then have 2 days of debriefing.  So we are free and clear on June 15 which happens to be my birthday.  Actually four of us have birthdays in the ten days after we get out of the dome so we like to joke that we’ll get the whole world back as a birthday present.  Thank you so much for taking the time to have this conversation with me, it was so much fun getting to talk to you.  I just have one more question for you, any chance Zak and I can get tickets to The Martian premier?  Like all good books turned movie I am both ridiculously excited and nervous to see how it comes out.

ATW:  I only get one guest for the premier, so I don’t have any extra tickets to give out. Sorry.

Unfortunately next November won’t see Zak or I accompanying Andy Weir down the red carpet, maybe Jeff Daniels needs a date… hell at this point I’ll settle for Matt Damon.

Perhaps this dialogue didn’t blow through the barriers between literature and science to bring peace and verb tense consistency to engineers everywhere but you know what, I think at the very least it showed us that there doesn’t have to be this huge stereotype about engineers and writing.

I have degrees in Astronomy, Physics, and, Engineering and writing a novel absolutely terrifies me.  Will people like it?  Will it succeed?  Will I be able to handle the workload and the stress?  Will my characters be relatable? Not to mention my absolutely horrendous problems with grammar that no version of spellcheck has been able to handle, you can thank my mom for editing this draft.

Also, talk about putting your life on hold, you really have to commit.  I definitely couldn’t bang out a book in the time I have left to me here in the dome even if I were to be exempt from all the chores and responsibilities so I am in awe of Mr. Weir’s scant 3 years to put together a book like The Martian.

Mr. Weir says he only writes about brave people and that he isn’t one.  I disagree.  To tackle a project like The Martian, to make science fun, entertaining and yet still accurate is a big endeavor.  Anyone who attempts it definitely qualifies as brave in my book.  Space travel often seems like something someone else is doing that doesn’t really impact you but Andy Weir opens up this seeming cold and futuristic idea as something everyone can relate to.

Who hasn’t felt a bit isolated?  Can any of you say that you’ve never been forced into a situation you hadn’t planned on?  Have you never felt proud and intelligent and creative for finding a way to bring yourself out of a bad situation?  Everyone has problems whether they’re trapped on Mars growing potatoes from human compost or trapped in a more figuratively crappy though equally isolated cubicle.

What this book provides, besides hours of entertainment, is insight on how a person can use their intelligence and inventiveness to not only figure out their problems but to find out how to ask for and accept help, and it’s about showing how so many people are willing to help.

This book is not just the story of a clever man who got left on Mars and has to find his way home, it’s also about one man having a problem and the whole world coming together to try and help him.  It reminds me that there are people out there who still believe that we’re all looking out for each other.  It gives me hope that people will not just stand by while someone is in need.  It gives me a wonderful, courageous and goofy role model in my professional life and an excellent vision of humanity.

So turn off the boob-tube and snuggle down for a good read, I guarantee that even if you don’t return with Hermes thinking better of the human race and our future as a space-faring people you will laugh, commiserate, and rejoice as Mr. Weir’s Martian tries to get home.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for believing.

Your sMartian,

Sophie “Two Step” Milam

Posted in Recovered


February 14, 2015

I hate that saying, “its all down hill from here”  and so dearest readers, today I will tell you about how I feel completely halfway in every aspect of my life.

I am halfway between Mars and Earth
Yes, I do know that I am not actually on Mars.  The ammunition explosions from the nearby military base could be Martian thunder, the gleaming reflections of the few buildings around could be mirages off the Martian desert and our space suits could really be protecting us from the deadly Martian atmosphere… but they’re not.  My rational brain knows that.  My irrational brain hints at it often enough as well.  However, there are times when I’m outside and I’m struggling to see through the visor to the ground so I can watch where I’m placing my feet on the black and red earth that few humans have walked over that I really do feel like the intrepid explorer taking stock of my Martian surroundings.  Regardless of the blue sky, the soul of this place is rust-red and permeates my reality.

I am halfway between Astronaut and Plumber
I’ve spent months monitoring solar power generators, Hydrogen fuel cells, water for showers, communication with mission support, and robotic learning algorithms.  I’ve been a scientist, an engineer, a geologist, a chef, and a sh*t shoveler sanitation worker.  I understand the need for cross training better than I ever have in my life before my time on sMars and I know that there are not many people either qualified or willing to do both aspects of the work that needs doing on sMars or real Mars.  On earth when my toilet broke I would call the plummer.  I spent my morning today elbow deep in biowaste trying figure out why our pee trap was full of sludgey poop.  Perhaps it wasn’t as technical as replacing and rewiring the cooling pump for the space suit we wear or as exacting as creating the perfect gluten free roux for gumbo but this is something I was proud to have figured out and fixed and it makes a difference to life here.  Being an astronaut isn’t just about doing amazing science and playing with all the cool things NASA sends you out with, its also learning how to take a shower in zero-g and not drown, how to pee in a bag, and how to make re-hydrated food palatable.  So maybe on this one I’m two-thirds of the way there.


I am halfway between families
I am especially fortunate to have a huge number of people on Earth that I consider family and get to hear a relatively small amount of news from via email.  I am equally fortunate to have a relatively tiny number of people on sMars that I consider family and get to know an extraordinary amount of information from.  For example, My mom visited my little brother in the Windy City last week and I got to hear about how my brother is doing, how all the boys he went to high school with are so glad that he’s back, how their parents are excited to hear about the family and how all of our wonderful family friends are getting along on the blue/green marble they call home.  Here in sMars I was informed of everything from the bowel movements of several dome-mates, menstrual syncing, and the necessity of outrageous amounts of fiber in our diet to mothers’ birthdays, sisters’ weddings, adorable neices/daughters, and crew members’ Disney preferences.  Its amazing to think of how much I know about my dome family’s daily life and how much I still have to learn about who they are.

I am halfway between Start and Finish
For every day that we stay in this dome we break the record for North American long term isolation and confinement missions.  Allen said that there are now more days behind us in this mission than in front of us.  You’re probably thinking, “DUH that’s what halfway means”, but for some reason that phase has stuck with me.

I have fewer days left to me to razz Neil about his hillbilly obsession with Indy Car.  There is less time to understand and study Zak’s subtle art of Engininjutsu.  I’ll have to play more board games with Martha to make up for the gaming drought I’ll be in after this mission.  More after dinner time needs to be devoted to philosophical debate and Disney song naming with Allen.  Emulation of Joce’s academic aptitude and workout motivation will have to move a lot faster as well.  There is so much in the dome that I’m already starting to miss just thinking about leaving.  I halfway wish that it would never end.

And on the other hand, soon I’ll be playing with my Charly-dog in the yard, cuddling my begrudging hedgehog, dancing with my hunny bear, and having mimosas with mom and Bri before an epic spa day.  The more I think about that the more I wish I was getting out tomorrow.  There is a whole world full of direct sunshine, fresh food, old friends, flushing toilets, and alcohol craftsmen and we’re going to be so much more grateful of than we’ve ever been.  I’m halfway to having it.

I wish I could leave you with something profound, some knowledge of how this adventure will forever change me but I wont know until I make it through.  For now all I can say is that the people here are what make this dome a home, I love them all and even though we aren’t going to have a Valentines Day I couldn’t think of a better day to share the celebration of our halfway marker with.  Love is keeping me going through this, the love from and for all my families, Martian and other.

10398475_1052431588173_7587032_nSophie Grad 2

Posted in Recovered

Days 0-1

October 17, 2014

Yesterday we were all errands and jitters and wondering how it would feel when that door closed on Earth for the last time this year.  Then it was just a door, with a pretty red HI-SEAS logo on it that had been opened thousands of times before then, but now, now it is our airlock through which EVA’s begin with HabCom’s “Go for Hab egress”.  One of my best friends, Brianna, was on the island and I was lucky enough to get to ride with her and our friend Ash from civilization to the dome; in true Hawaii fashion she sent me off to the red planet with a lei of my favorite color.  I am proud to say I didn’t cry when I hugged her for the last time but I am not too proud to admit that those tears came not too much later.  I decided not to call anyone in my family or my partner before we went in the dome and as a result I gave up my chance for a “last minute on Earth” chat with the people I love most.  I did this for several reasons but most of all so that people wouldn’t confuse those tears with sadness or regret.  I cried for the very simple reason that for a very long time I won’t get to hear the voice that yelled like Attila the Hun at childhood soccer games, the voice I struggled through Chinese and Greek pay phone systems to hear say “I love you”, the voices that always got just a little too intense over the acceptibilty of “yagi” to be used in Scrabble (those voices were always wrong but I still miss them), and all the other voices I’ve heard over the last month encouraging me to reach for the stars.  I am thrilled to be on Mars, I am incredibly fortunate to be on Mars with Zak, Jocelyn, Allen, Martha, and Neil, and I am especially thrilled and exorbitantly fortunate to be on Mars with all of the people I love on Earth supporting me.

Enough of the sappy stuff, heres what you all wanna see right?  Nerds in space suits!  These are actually one of a couple different types of space suits that we will be trying out during our stay here on Mars.  I know they look like we should all be taking this ebola outbreak more seriously but there are some excellent features of this particular suit:  The wide field of view of the head area is nice, being flexible they are able to be stored in smaller places, and they are really good at keeping you from feeling the outside world.

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There is a tropical storm, Anna, heading for the Big island of Hawaii which mirrors a minor and quite common sandstorm we’ll be dealing with here on Mars.  To be sure we were ship shape for the approaching weather Zak and I embarked on a 10 minute EVA (plus 6 minutes of decompression in the airlock) to check on the Hab’s heavy duty vinyl exterior, current water levels, state of our hydrogen gas for our emergency fuel cells, and a visual inspection of the area around the Hab including our solar array.  We are proud to report all systems are nominal and we will not be evacuated this day for the storm.  Quite the opposite of running for shelter, we powered through an incredible task: inventorying every food item in our vinyl home. How much food could that possibly be?


An absolutely marvelous amount!  If anyone has recipes that call for yautia or yuca flour and anchovies in mustard sauce send them in because we don’t have a clue what to do with ‘em.  We also have a ton of awesome food, everything from Tang and brownies to freeze dried celery and popcorn to haupia pudding and spam (every flavor you can imagine) and everything in-between.  Jocelyn was head chef for our first real meal here in good ol’ Hab and I assisted, together we made some great spaghetti from freeze-dried ground beef, freeze-dried sausage, freeze-dried bell peppers, freeze-dried onions, tomato powder, regular and gluten free pasta, and plenty of water.  Believe it or not it was actually really great, not like momma used to make but ya’ know, momma had all the creature comforts of Earth, not like us martians.

Those blocks of blue, red, and red and white stripes in the picture above?  Earth flag, Candian flag (for our fearless commander), ol’ glory, and (not pictured) one of many designs for a mars flag.  It is three vertical fields of color: red for Mars as it is, green for the beginnings of terraforming in the future, and blue for the eventual creation of another water-laden planet.  Its not this crew’s favorite but we will be making some attempts at a new one to reflect how we have come to find Mars, feel free to shoot me some suggestions!  For now though, it is time for this little martian to be hitting the sack.  I’ll fall asleep to the sandstorm pounding on Hab vinyl, its amazing how much it sounds like rain sometimes…

Posted in Recovered

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