Yesterday marked 39 years since we first landed on the moon. We have not been back since 1972, and will not go again until at least 2018.

As a high school senior in 2006, I remember watching Mireya Mayor’s speech at the Intel ISEF. Mayor is an ex-Miami Dolphins cheerleader, now a primatologist and National Geographic correspondent. Her speech was geared towards young scientists, telling them that if you want to go somewhere, it takes a little persistence but you’ll find a way to make it happen.

I think listening to her tales of discovery in the jungles of Madagascar was the first time I felt compelled to someday head into the wilderness, to go places where not many others can go. Since then, I’ve found the world of astrobiology. I’ve become obsessed with studying life where we once thought there could be none. I want to go to the ends of the Earth. These are my frontiers.

We as humans are still young scientists, but we are good at going places where not many others can go. We have talked about new frontiers in space, but have yet to get there. I think we just don’t want to go badly enough.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “imagination is more important than knowledge.” Albert Einstein said that. Good news: it’s true. There’s a big universe out there, humans, so dream big. But imagination won’t always get us where we want to go if we don’t have the guts to act on it. Let’s go somewhere.

Go figure my last day at Pavilion Lake was gloomy. For a while, the rain actually turned to snow, making this two years in a row that I’ve seen snow in July.

Next up: Axel Heiberg Island in the High Arctic. In the meantime, here is a grab-bag of images and stories from Pavilion Lake…

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Astronaut Goes Down Instead of Up
Here’s Mike Gernhardt, from NASA’s Johnson Space Center, about to pilot the DeepWorker sub.  Mike is involved in the rover design for our next moon mission. Yes folks, we are going back. Keep your pants on until 2018. On another note: you can get an idea from this picture of just how small these subs are. When Nuytco was designing them, they got a business class airplane seat, and literally built the sub around that. What’s so amazing about Nuytco is that they make subs which can go down to 2000 feet or deeper, but keep them small enough to fit in a pickup. Another cool thing: you actually drive these suckers with your feet. No steering wheel.

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The Barge
It looks less impressive than it really was. This thing had to be assembled right on the lake, and it was designed especially for our project. Nuytco typically launch their subs from enormous vessels, which can support cranes or mechanical pulley systems. We needed something big enough to launch two submersibles, but small enough that it could be transported to the lake on the back of a truck … which meant that the subs had to be lowered on a chain into the water on by hand!

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Alien Autopsy?
(No, there are not aliens in Pavilion Lake.) Pictured here is one of the “artichokes” … a microbialite from pretty deep in the lake. Microbialites are carbonate structures. They’re surprisingly delicate. Up close, you can see tiny pores and individual, sand-like grains. Some of the structures crumble like dirt if you pinch them between your fingers. So beautiful and still totally mysterious.

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Media
Here I am getting interviewed. Why anybody would possibly want to capture my thoughts on film is beyond me, but it nevertheless happened. The white sail-looking thing is supposed to diffuse light, which apparently makes your face look better. We nicknamed the light diffusing device “The CHUMP,” which stands for Can’t Hold Up Myself Properly.

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Mutant Monster Dandelions
This doesn’t really have much to do with anything, but aren’t they enormous?? I tried to make a wish on one, but couldn’t get the little fluffles to fly away, no matter how hard I blew.

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My New Best Friend
Here’s me with astronaut Mike, wearing his flight suit. I got a personalized tour of all the pockets. His chapstick goes in a pocket on his inner thigh, and pens go on the upper arm. “And this is where I keep my cash,” he said, pulling a fold of one-dollar bills out of a pocket on his leg. Why you would need cash in outer space beats me.

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Dale and Drysuit
At Pavilion Lake, most folks SCUBA dive using a drysuit. In a drysuit, you can wear layers of warm clothing underneath and remain quite dry and toasty. Pavilion Lake is around 4 degrees Celsius at the bottom, so staying warm is key. (I tried diving wearing a wetsuit. I do not recommend it.) Interestingly, you can’t pee in the water when you’re wearing a drysuit, because you’d just wind up wetting your pants. Some people have specialized pee valves put into their drysuits. Sporting the drysuit in this photo is Dale Andersen, who has been diving below 20 feet of ice in Antarctic lakes for 30 years, and once survived an Antarctic blizzard in nothing but a sleeping bag … a severely cool dude.

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The Other Sub
In addition to the piloted subs, we also have an autonomous sub called Gavia, which looks a lot like a golden torpedo. When programmed, Gavia can fly missions on her own, taking pictures and collecting data as she goes. Sometimes Gavia gets stuck in the mud, and Alex (pictured above) has to go diving to rescue her. The proper verb is “Gaviating.”

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The End
Back in Vancouver, I was treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the Vancouver Aquarium, thanks to a couple Pavilion Lake folks who work there as SCUBA divers. I never expected that getting to pet dolphins could be the low point of a month, but it certainly was. I miss Pavilion Lake terribly, and I’m already looking forward to going back next summer. I’ve never been so changed by one experience or group of people.

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I’m trying now to shift my thoughts towards what’s next, but to say it’s surreal would be an understatement. In ten days, I’ll head up to the Arctic on a twin-otter plane. I’m dreaming of glaciers, musk ox, icebergs, and long underwear.

Signing out for now,
Zena Cardman

I got into Vancouver yesterday evening.  My luggage did not, but the airline gave me a pretty substantial care package:  toothbrush, toothpaste, condom.  So yeah, that should keep me pretty much set for the next month.

Things of note:
1.  Gas is $1.42 here.
2.  This is for liters, not gallons.  Oops.
3.  There is a baby beluga in the Vancouver aquarium.
4.  Two blocks from the couch I’m sleeping on is a store that sells nothing but cupcakes.

This morning, I headed to the University of British Columbia to help Harry out with inventory.  Harry is a cool guy who (from what I gathered) is writing a textbook on how to build underwater robots.

A lot of people working with the Pavilion Lake project are faculty or grad students at UBC, so a bunch of our stuff is in the  Civil Engineering school here.  We were basically working in an enormous garage, fondly called the Rusty Hut, which houses a hydraulics lab.  There are hundreds of items that have to be inventoried … everything from giant buoys to secchi disks to AAA batteries.  I keep being amazed by how huge an undertaking this project is.  (Not to mention expensive.  The daily rental price for the submarines?  YOWZA!)

Also today we sliced up and shackled some really big chains (sparks flying everywhere!  wooo power tools!!).  They’re going to be attached to the two-ton blocks of cement which will serve as the anchors for the barge.  The barge is what the subs will be launched from, and apparently the barge is so big that we’ve arranged to block off a highway to get everything up to Pavilion Lake.

Obviously a lot of “real science” involves tedious tasks like inventories.  But inside the Rusty Hut is exactly how I pictured Science when I was a third grader: gigantic pipes and copper coils and even a door labeled with nothing but DANGER LASERS.