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Breaking bones

It’s been a while friends and I am not in a great place to write down all of what happened I thought I would share a bit of what’s been going on in my life this week. This Mother’s Day I called my mom from the ER because I had broken my wrist, definitely not my finest daughter moment. Pictures are at the end if you wanna skip the words and get right to the gore. I went to Shoshone Medical Center and they x-rayed me and put me in a splint; I had some of the best nurses and the best x-ray tech person (other than Casey) that I could ask for. Maria, Jesse and Katie are an amazing weekend crew and SMC is super lucky to have you. Not only that but I was splinted by Santa himself (thanks Dr B) who fed my ego by telling me how not-a-wuss I am. Monday I went to Dr Connor Quinn who got me into surgery the next day at Kootenai Outpatient where I was taken care of by Jessie and Crystal who were also super amazing! So here I am, a week after the accident, off my pain pills, able to use both hands and healing well as a newly bionic badass… with throttle control issues.

That’s how all of this happened, I panic throttled my dirt bike, looked exactly where I did not want to go and had some pretty predictable consequences. I’d like to say that I was in a really difficult section of terrain but it’s just not true, we were at the end of our ride and just about to turn around and head for home. there was barely any slope whatsoever and it was just the perfect storm of being tired and doing all the things I know not to do. In my head it went a little something like this:

Man I’m so tired I have to remember not to pull on the handle bars because that’s where the throttle is. Shit I’m doing that, well crap better pull the clutch then it won’t matter. Crap, clutch is left not right that’s the throttle again, stop it hands!!! Okay well at least we are on this flat wide trail, just stay from those grumpy-looking bumps and we will just ride this out… away from the bumps… STOP LOOKING AT THEM OR YOU’LL HEAD RIGHT FOR THEM!!! CMON!!! Welp, it’s all gone sideways or more accurately upside down, shall we brace for impact? Sure, and while we are at it let’s try to kick the bike away. Good luck… we are totally gonna need it.

So I ended up flat on my back, with Randi taking off my helmet and Casey killing the bike and making sure I wasn’t bleeding out of my earholes. Casey and Chris went to look for the fastest way back to the road, we were just in the hills behind my house, Randi stayed with me. I remember looking from her to my arm I had cradled against me and saying

“man I hope I’m not freaking out but I’m pretty sure I broke my wrist”

She looked right at me and said “looks fine to me, swollen for sure but you’re pretty shaken up right now so try not to panic”.

Calmed me right down. Chris and Randi rode home to get their truck while Casey and I walked out, my arm strapped to my body with Randi and I’s shirts. It was about a half mile down some hills to the road and Casey patiently led me as I huffed and puffed and tried not to pee my pants when my footing slipped.

We got home where Julie and Bob (Casey’s folks) and Larry and Jacoba (Casey’s uncle and aunt) were waiting for us. They propped me up on a chair and asked how I was. I said “I think I’m okay, Randi says it doesn’t look broken so that’s good.”

Randi starts laughing next to me and says, “I just said that so you wouldn’t panic, it looks super broken, I can’t believe you believed me!”

“I was definitely grasping for any kind of hope, thanks for giving me what I needed.” We had a good laugh before Casey bundled me off to the hospital.

There you go, all caught up on my week; all said and done I had three fractures on the bones on my right arm, one T shaped plate and 10 screws un-humpty-dumpty-ed my right wrist, my left wrist got a pretty good sprain and is bruised most of the way to the elbow but getting better every day. I’m heading back to work tomorrow but I’m back to typing like my dad (index fingers only) and sleeping most of the day so don’t expect any quick response if you leave a comment or text or email.

As promised, here are pictures!

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Stress in the Dome

Hello Vandal Alumni!

Mars Vandals
Vandal Sophie Milam and Commander Dr. Martha Lenio on sMars!  Photo credit: Neil Scheibelhut

The majority of you have been directed here form the Vandal Alumni Magazine and the article that I had written describing, briefly, my dome experience.  I sent out a draft of my article to my brother for feedback and he graciously accepted and sent back a document more red than black, turns out grammar is NOT my strong suit.  However, I worked through them until the only comment I couldn’t fix was the one asking for more detail when I talked about the decay of our social system and how it lead to a period of unhealthy social interaction.  There is just no way to do this in 600 words.  Trust me I tried… several times.

Luckily, the Alumni magazine has directed you, the few brave gossip mongers, to this page so I can have all the words I want to properly explain what I meant.

Trust is the most important thing in a mission to Mars.  To trust that, for the good of the mission, your crew mates will understand your highs and lows, make allowances for your weaknesses and use you for your strengths is difficult.  What is more difficult is to still be able to form personal connections understanding that your friendship will always be second to mission success parameters.  Crew III enjoyed a period of social bliss that lasted 3/4 of the mission and I never would have thought that things would have changed as much as they did.

The end of the mission added a new stress to the crew: real life.  Big things like getting a job and finding a place to live were jumbled with smaller seeming things like who was going to be there when you got out, how much you wanted a beer and where you now considered home to be.  This intrusion of real life made it hard for every crew member to keep their promise to put the mission first.  Personal relationships got pushed from second to third because they now had to complete with apartment hunting and job applications for crew mates time.  Once that trust was strained things went down hill quickly.  Cliques formed and restrictions on group interactions were put in place to ensure equality.  It strained the friendships we had and many of those were only able to be recovered after a few months outside of the dome.

HI-SEAS Crew V will begin their journey to sMars and back, I hope that all the readers here will go over and give them a shout out of support and encouragement.


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Celaya Mexico

Greetings readers, I’m switching out my two stepping boots and flannels for heels and blazers as I veture to good ol Mexico.  Thanks to the Idaho Space Grant Consortium I am currently in Celaya Mexico, recovering from a very full schedule of talks.  Take a look at some pictures from it while I take a minute to compose my thoughts.

First I talked to the Universidad de Celaya’s students about my time in the dome and what I learned.  Next I spoke to the university’s engineering students about my thesis project focusing on tensegrity robotics.  Lastly, I entertained a group of 65 middle school students from UniAmerica Middle school with a project about Mars rovers and impact attenuation.  Basically I gave them lights and had them protect paper robot pods with balloons and try to throw them at a specific place with their eyes closed and their partner aiming them.  It was very fun and the kids seemed to have a great time.  That was Friday, needless to say I droppedal from sheer exhaustion afterwards at 5 in the afternoon because Saturday I woke up and had one final talk to the residents of Celaya at the Science Center.  The students were fantastic, full of questions and everyone wanted a picture. 🙂

Casey and I arrived in Guadalajara at 6pm after an absolutely crazy batch of layovers, that right LAX you suck.  We hopped into wat I can genuinely call the best bus I’ve ever seen, and took a 4 hour ride to Celaya which is a “small city” of 600,000 people, roughly 1/3 the population of Idaho, the STATE I live in.  When we told our host, Ana, about our small town of 200 people (that’s right, I constantly live as part of the 1%) she could not believe it.  She was such a wonderful person to have showing us around the city, taking us out to some amazing restaurants and genreally taking better care of us than we normally take care of ourselves.

Among our whirlwind speaking tour Ana and her sister took Casey and I to San Miguel de Allende which is a super awesome town.  It’s a super cool town, very traditional, cool old cobblestone streets and a great main square with a beautiful church in it.  As beautiful as is was to look at it was even better to smell, Mexican Sushi was really fantastic and the Mole Poblano which could not be any better if I’d dreamed it up myself.

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Busy busy busy

Hello readers,

this is just going to be a quick update but I wanted to share some of the things that are going on in my life in the next month that are really exciting.  In just a few days I will head down to Mexico for the first time in my adult life.  When I lived in San Antonio I remember going past the border a few times but it is pretty hazy so this time I m really just thrilled to go.  Most of that reason is because I’ll be meeting up with 3 of the domies while I’m down there and three of us are going to be presenting papers that we all had accepted into the IAC, International Astronautical Congress.  Foxy, aka Martha, is going to be talking about her research on indoor gardening in Mars simulation missions; Stitch, aka Zak, will be talking about how he got his Mars stitches or, technically, the uses of 3D printing in space; and yours truly?  Well I’ll be talking about Real Science on Fake Mars, my very favorite subject so YAY!  Fancy is the only one who got it right and she will be down there enjoying herself, lucky lady!  Ohh and Casey will be there, finally getting to meet some of the domies its going to be a really incredible time and I am so excited to meet a bunch of new people doing great things.  Check out the people in my presentation group:iaf-schedule

Before the IAC though, I’ll be spending some time with the Universidad de Celaya in Celaya Mexico doing some outreach for their university and middle school kids, 4 presentations in 2 days, Aye yay yae!  Again, pictures to follow but it should be an absolute blast!

After Mexico I’ll have a solid week of rest where I’ll get to see my dog who is currently going to Casey’s folks house and relax before going to Boston for the Forbes 30 under 30 summit and being part of a panel of speakers on Women in the workplace.  That summit #30under30sumit is going to be UNREAL!  They have so many amazing speakers I am literally in awe that they actually want me there too, I guess they need some crazy space nerd to balance out the gorgeous people (Jessica Alba, OMGeeeeeee)


So basically, I got some stuff in the works so keep on checking in as I two-step around this continent!

DomeSoph out and about!

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How I Made “The Guardian” Cry

In the 12 hours after Dome Egress my dome-mates and I we assaulted by a barrage of media attention, easily more in that day than in the rest of my life combined.  The memories run together probably more than they should but the one interview I remember was the one done by the people of the The Guardian.  Their interview was so different than the others, the questions more introspective and deep, the shots they took more aggressive and raw, they were fantastic to talk to.

Oh yeah, and I made them cry…

I was in the middle of what I considered a pretty rambling answer to a fairly simple question and was zoning out just admiring all the colors around me and when I stopped and look back for the next question there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.  I’m not talking snotty noses and big red eyes, just quiet tears and little sniffles.  I nearly busted out laughing when I saw them.

When I told my exdome-mates later we decided that my raw emotion and honesty must have moved them as deeply as my words (or something like that).
“What did you say?” someone asked
“Honestly?” I whispered, letting the silence draw them in, draw them closer to me, closer to the edge of their seat, closer to the genuine spirit of the returned adventurer that brought a camera crew to tears…
“I have no idea, something about birds and wind and colors and stuff”
Amid the laughs and echos we each told of our new adventure as interviewees, I let those memories go, not really caring if they made it to short or long term parking in the empty lot of my brain.

*sponge Bob narrator voice* 14 months Later

Lo and behold, Jocelyn posted the video they made and I remembered.  As I watched it those blurry, run-together memories of that day and the ones that followed, the last of my time with my dome-mates, came into overwhelmingly sharp focus.  This time I did bust out laughing at the end because as the video ended and faded to black I saw my reflection in my phone as I sat in my tiny office at work.

Not a dry eye in the house…


Stay tuned for more updates involving Tequila, Boston and all kinds of new adventures!

Keep on steppin’


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Good Works

And you thought I’d just leave…

Actually don’t feel too bad, I thought I would just leave too but apparently I am becoming “The Mars Girl” in my small Idaho community.  A month ago I packed a very small house, a cool TechShop-ish place called Gizmos in Coeur d’Alene (CdA) ID where a bunch of people came to hear me talk and ask me questions.  I did it as part of a Science on Tap program that the University of Idaho does and I was honored to have been selected and totally blown away by the turnout and the great questions.  I know its a loooooong video but you’re welcome to check it out on youtube here:

Ohhhh my goodness, I look soo funny!

Anyways there have been some good works going on since I got out of the dome.  I talked to a local school full of super smart kids doing coding (North Idaho STEM Academy), I spoke at the University of Idaho’s Women in Engineering Day, and just recently a group of us domies (homies but from the dome) got together in Indiana and had a great time at another outreach event that Jocelyn put on.  There were over a thousand kids that came through and it we taught them about In-Situ Resource Utilization and sustainability by having them build their own slow sand filters.  We also taught them about cratering on the moon, my personal favorite!

Coming up next in my life is a trip to Canyon Elementary School in Cataldo ID where I will be attending Dinner with a Scientist on March 17th where I just now (no literally, as I was writing that sentence!) decided what my new and improved demonstration was going to be.  🙂  You’ll have to wait for pictures on what that is going to be

I guess really, the point of this is to say that I’m back, I’m sorry I’ve been away but now that I’m back I’ll try to keep this totally up to date and keep you all informed of my goings on.

As I send this missive out into the world, I hope that somewhere out there my Baba is proud of my work and knows that even a slacker like me 🙂 can change her ways and give back to the world she’s finally accepted as her own.

Until the next time
Your dome-in-heart Two Step

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Two Steps

Two step signing on to say say good bye.

In two mornings I will be back on Earth.  This is my second to last night in the dome and while I wish I could say that we’ve all been wonderful little worker-bees and already have the hab ship-shape and ready for the next crew that would be lying and I’d never lie to my beloved readers.   So I have this problem with spatial approximation.  I’ve never really been great at approximating how large or heavy something is, but thanks to my job as XO I am getting better.  Do you know approx  how large 500 grams of freeze dried broccoli looks pre and post vacuum sealing?  One of the jobs of XO is basically Hab quartermaster, or in this case, Hab quartermistress.  I am inventorying every single scrap of food that we have and are going to be passing on to the next crew.

Cleaning up the shipping container, getting things ready for the next crew
Vaccum sealing all the opened food is really the hard part!

I’m saying good bye now because I don’t know how much time I’ll have tomorrow between finishing up the inventory and cleaning and packing up.

So I gotta steal a bit from Zak (and apparently Jocelyn) here but go and read his blog at

We will be leaving the dome Saturday morning (the 13th) at 8am Hawaii time (noon mountain time). We have a day of media interviews, a skydive with the Golden Knights and a BBQ/pool party planed for that day (fingers crossed the weather holds). There will be a live stream set up for the day: We haven’t figured out the details of how we are going to stream the jump landing but hopefully there won’t be any issues.

Currently, the stream is scheduled as:
The hab exit will be from 8:00am until 9:30am but this could potentially start a little earlier.
Then, the jump landings in Kona will be from 11am until 3pm.

So there you have it, I hope to see you there!

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Growing Pains

Hello Dear Readers,

Just a quick one today because I’ve been up since 8am and sleep has been a bit elusive this week.  I’m not going to talk about the 90’s sitcom, or about watching my little brother become bigger than me, it is my robot has had some growing pains.  It was only last week that it finally became fully made and it was glorious!  Splendid and imposing, inspiring, magnificent, awesome… and stationary.  Not the best trait for an exploration rover.

Call sign Two-Step, why wouldn't I make a robot with boots?
Call sign Two-Step, why wouldn’t I make a robot with boots?

The much desired hum of a powerful motor propelling it forward on spindly legs to walk over all obstacles in its path was instead replaced with the click-click-click of a motor stalled out and trying, a touch pathetically, to do something it had no possible chance of accomplishing.  I could almost hear Scotty telling me that we didn’t have the power.  And so we grow and we learn, and we remember back to every teacher that ever told us to do the math before putting a part into production!

And so instead of growing taller we grew shorter and stronger; Zak 3D printed some gears for the shaft to wring ever last drop of torque out of it and we got the ever important forward motion!  Wheels may not be as snazzy as legged hubs but hey, gotta start somewhere.

With some big ol' monster truck wheels and sweet rubber band treads out baby makes tracks on the HI-SEAS Mini Mars Yard
With some big ol’ monster truck wheels and sweet rubber band treads our baby makes tracks on the HI-SEAS Mini Mars Yard

The great thing about where you start though, is that you don’t have to end up there.  Hidden beneath those rubber band treads are 12 slots just waiting to try out some foot designs.  Something to give this baby, which I have just decided to name “The Giddy-up”, a little more edge.  Following after my childhood fix-it hero Tim the Tool Man Taylor, I’ll be giving it a bit more power with a better motor and maybe even a gear box to really crank up the torque.  Of course that’ll all happen back on Earth, I may have to build a little Idaho Mars yard to continue the work.

Stay Tuned!

Two Step, out.

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To take stock of

To catalogue the things in your life

This is my job right now, I am taking stock of all the shelf stable food that we’re going to leave behind for Crew IV which will start up in August.  One of the most important things on the mission has been the food and the amazing things that the crew members have been able to do with it.  Allen’s Kingal is still one of my favorite things that we’ve made and Zak’s red beans and rice have me subconsciously calling him Uncle Ben (which is weird because I actually have an Uncle Ben who lived in Louisiana and has never made me red beans and rice).  Neil’s Chicken Carbonara was amazing and second only Joce’s Chicken Paprika with dumplings.  Martha even did what my vegetarian brothers couldn’t and made spiced chickpeas and alugobi that I could NOT stop eating.

We’re putting together a cook book, and I have quite a few recipes that I still need to write up to put into it.  I’ve never made a cook book but I feel like its going to read a lot like a regular book; I’ll be seeing “empanadas” but thinking of Christmas in a dome, missing one family and enjoying another.

I’ve also been taking stock of the sensors, motors and other parts I’ve ordered.  Some of them stay behind, some are mine, and some I get to borrow to finish my projects back on Earth.  Each part a piece of a dream, a fanciful thought, a project.  Cleaning water with sand, teaching a garden to tend itself and imbuing an amalgamation of parts, motors and sensors with a sense of exploration.  As is so often the case with dreams some seemed to materialize on their own, some are dragged kicking and screaming into the physical realm, and some I just couldn’t spend enough time in the clouds to coax them down to Earth.

“Now Sophie,” the Subtly Insightful Reader intuits, “surely this talk of dreams cannot just relate to servo motors, ultrasonic rangefinders, and accelerometers.  You may build robots but you aren’t one.”

Well SIR, you obviously don’t know about my plans for SophBot 2000, however, that doesn’t make you any less right.  I have said before that we here are all parts of a whole; its almost impossible to live only for yourself here in the dome.  And like my garden sensors and Cave Crawler wheels sometimes the plans made for the parts don’t work out right away and the design needs to be changed.

The wiring diagram for this crew has had its fair share of revisions but the components have all been the same, constantly reintegrated as some systems fade and others rise.  And through it all the is the hum of gears meshing, turning, and bringing each other to new revolutions.

HI-SEAS Crew III: An electrical schematic in constant flux built on the foundation of dome-cooked love and respect.  Metaphors meet the blender of thine doom!

Basically, despite being confined to a dome none of us have stayed still very well.

Dome family!
Dome family!

May the sun be bright that thine batteries charge quickly
May the breeze be cool that your space suits stay chilly
And may your dome, or home, be as full of great people as mine is!