Check it out here.
Communications geniuses: Mike “Mountain Dew” Down, Marc Seibert, Mike Miller
By Rafferty Pendery
Check it out here.
Communications geniuses: Mike “Mountain Dew” Down, Marc Seibert, Mike Miller
By Rafferty Pendery
On July 19th and July 20th several members of the PLRP team teleconferenced with Shad Valley students at the University of British Columbia. The video conference included an Astronaut Q&A, presentation by David Pogue, NASA Crew Systems and Crew Survival Operations, and Nick Wilkinson, Web Development, Logistics Consulting and the man behind the infamous MAPPER.
Here is what they have to say.
Space! This word often reminds us of galaxies, black holes, nebulae and our Milky Way. Never would anyone consider a correlation between space and our tangible surroundings. During a span of two days, a group of 52 Shad Valley students are amazed by the revelation that experiments and research conducted on lakes of our very own planet Earth can assist us with analysis of our universe, beyond our solar system. With access to the Pavilion Lake Project’s website, we were able to thoroughly discover the history, mission statement and aims of this project. Furthermore, we were introduced to the gallery and blog of many talented and committed individuals working with the PLRP. The well-established website provided us with many photos, insights and interactive opportunities surrounding the project. During these two days, we had the opportunity to participate in the interactive activities including helping researchers with the filtration of photos of Kelly Lake and Pavilion Lake. Many of us signed up and thoroughly enjoyed contributing to a worthwhile research endeavor, meanwhile gaining precious insight into the importance of ecological unity. We would like to thank the team of the Pavilion Lake Research Project for their diligence and integrity in the pursuit of knowledge. Thank you for all your time and effort put into this presentation and we wish you the best of luck in the continuation of this project.
Warmest regards, Niki, Julie, Edward, and Danielle Shad Valley UBC 2011
During the informative lectures, we learned many new things. The most valuable knowledge we learned was that we can study microbialites that exist under water on earth, and apply it to further development in space. Being able to speak and listen to professionals in different areas of expertise was very eye-opening and broadened our horizons. Learning about DeepWorker submersibles and the MAPPER software allowed us to personally become more involved in the Pavilion Lake Research Project through the photo-tagging activity. Life in space is obviously quite different from life on Earth, and by being able to speak to a veteran astronaut, we gained further insight into these differences such as dealing with zero gravity, eating, sleeping and other regular daily activities.
Richard Lin, Calvin Kwok and Paul Wong
We think that the work that is being done in Pavilion Lake is really interesting because so much of our world is covered in water, but it remains a huge mystery. Underwater exploration is key in gaining a more complete understanding of our world as a whole. The interactive program is very effective in allowing us to gain better access to first hand information. It is good that the research is not limited solely to the researchers because it allows the general public to get involved in the project and become more knowledgeable about underwater ecosystems. In understanding this information we can begin to comprehend the importance of exploration.
From, Rebecca, Venissa, Patricia
When I’d firstly heard about PLRP, I thought it was like a normal project, but after two sessions, I found out that it was more than that. It was a really big opportunity to know about such project like that, talking to David, and listening to an astronaut’s speech. I have found the answers of my wonderings after that, so it wasn’t wasting of time.
Over the past two days, we have had the pleasure to learn about the fascinating world that exists in Kelly Lake and Pavilion Lake, and the wonderful NASA operation that is currently underway. Before this operation, we had no idea what microbialites were, and how much potential they had in opening our doors to space exploration. In association with this, we found the Mapper website especially creative as it allows us to not only learn about the research that goes on in those lakes, but to interact with the data. However, our favourite experience during this two-day process was getting the astonishing opportunity to interact and correspond with a real NASA astronaut. We learned about the many joys, hardships, and dangers associated with leaving our atmosphere. One suggestion we have for future presentations would be to if possible, make a presentation in person, rather than over skype, as it would increase personal engagement. Overall, this was a truly enlightening experience, and we thank you so much for the brilliant opportunity you provided for us.
Thanks again! Neel, Brian, and Kelly
As members of the Shad community we already have a keen interest in sciences. We are usually exposed to careers such as engineering or research, so it is beneficial to know that there are opportunities to work in other scientific fields. We have learned that there are places here on Earth that are filled with life and yet still unexplored. Exploring depths underwater to further understand space is something we would not have thought of, which is why we found the research done at Pavilion Lake so captivating. The presentation was informative and entertaining, although some technological difficulties made certain parts hard to understand (i.e., the videos). We really appreciated having the opportunity to speak with an astronaut and experts in varied fields.
Catherine & Sophie from QC Shad UBC ‘11
We really enjoyed the talks regarding NASA and the research projects conducted on Pavilion Lake & Kelly Lake. Microbialites were unknown to us before the lectures and learning about them proved to be insightful as it opened our eyes to the many mysteries that have yet to be discovered. The interactive program on the website was fun and educational; and taught us a lot about this newly introduced world of microbialites in a creative way. In addition, speaking to a NASA astronaut gave us the opportunity to listen to the real experiences of being in space – something not very many people have the chance to do. Overall, a very informative and practical experience.
Aaron Vincent, Katy Kemp & Daniel Zhang
Our experience with the PLRP was really informative and intriguing. The use of technology (e.g. Skype and the Mapper) was an innovative way of presenting information and allowing students to be interactive. Before taking part in this presentation, none of us knew about microbialites or the applicable relations between the NASA space program and under-water exploration such as the Pavilion and Kelly Lake projects. Our only issue was some technological malfunctions and lagging that took away from parts of the presentation, but overall, it was a fun and informative presentation in which we all learned a lot. We definitely recommend this presentation to the UBC Shads of 2012, whom will surely be as enthusiastic as we were.
Pia, James, and Amon Shad UBC 2011
I’m so excited to be officially joining the PLRP team this year as part of the science team. I got excited about astrobiology in graduate school and after my PhD, was a NASA Astrobiology Institute postdoctoral fellow. When I became a professor, I kept looking for ways to stay involved in NASA and astrobiology science. I collaborate with the NASA Astrobiology Institute at Penn State University and now am part of the PLRP team!
I typically do deep sea research, so the PLRP approach of using manned submarines is not too unusual to me. What is unusual is that we’re taking an analog mission approach to the science and exploration – complete with a mobile mission command center. I’ve been really impressed with the amount of infrastructure that the team has had to create in order to do their work, including setting up wifi in remote places and running video feeds across miles. Typically my research done on a ship has communications already on it – we just hop on and do science. Coming to a remote (and beautiful!) site in British Columbia certainly presents challenges.
Today I got my full immersion into PLRP science and headed up the science backroom team for the third dive in Kelly Lake. One disadvantage of a single manned sub is that only one person is seeing and observing things in real time. Maybe they can take a video, but the rest of us might wait hours to see it. That means decisions are slowed and science might be impeded. So this year the team designed a way to have a sub tethered to a cable, sending video feeds to the surface – and then the coms team has been able to shoot video back to the mobile mission command center. What this means is that many of us scientists can sit in comfort and see and hear what the pilot of the sub is observing. That way we can confer on what we are seeing immediately, add extra sets of eyes to a busy pilot and give advice or opinions on what is happening. Really what we did was sit back and go “Cool!” when a lovely microbialite would pop up on the screen.
We additionally got a true mission-feel when we started doing delayed communications. If an astronaut is off of the Earth, it takes a while to talk to them! So even though our sub pilot was only a few kilometers away, we gave ourselves a delay to see how things would go. Not surprisingly, it did seem easier – doesn’t your job go better when your “boss” stops interrupting you? But we’ll see how well it works when we actually want samples. Maybe 10 brains are better than one – maybe not! It’s part of this week’s experiments. My final experiments won’t be done for a while. We are collecting samples from Pavilion and Kelly Lakes to continue to describe the microbial communities that are in the microbialites. My group is specifically interested in the phototrophic (light-harvesting) communities, who we expect are driving the distinct shapes we see in these structures. Our work is in progress, so now updates yet – but watch for later updates as we start to unravel the mysteries of these beautiful and mysterious microbialites!
Written By: Jennifer Biddle
It takes more than a quick drop in the lake to get the DeepWorker’s ready to go. Check out this video for some behind the scene action won what it takes to get the subs ready for flight.
Tyler, one of the MarsLIfe crew is so excited about PLRP that he is writing about his experiences in his own blog here
The 2011 field season will be our fourth year using the DeepWorkers and I’d like to think that over the years we’ve learned a few things and have gotten pretty good at flight planning. In the last two field seasons at Pavilion Lake, we’ve been focused on collecting images from regions of the lake where we haven’t been before (filling in the gaps!) or on getting more detailed imaging based on cool features we’ve seen in video footage from previous years. This year the team is at Kelly Lake and we’re in a situation similar to the one we faced in 2008 when we first brought the DeepWorkers to Pavilion for the first time and were new at flight planning, where do we send them?
Unlike our previous two years at Pavilion Lake, at Kelly Lake we don’t have previous flights or underwater images to help guide us in our flight planning. This is exciting as it means everything is new and we don’t know what surprises might be in store for us when we first view the video, but it also means that we need to find some way to decide how to design our flight paths. While we don’t have prior flights what we do have is some really great sonar images that were acquired in 2010 using the AUV from the University of Delaware team. Using these images we can get some sense of where interesting features are in the lake (e.g. big field of microbialites, neat ripples in the sediment) and plan our flights to have the DeepWorkers pass them by.
Every year we try to improve on how we create the actual flight paths as we’re constantly learning about ways to make it easier and more efficient. Thanks to the wonderful IRG folks, we have some incredible online flight planning tools this year that we’ve been able to put to good use (including many attempts to break /fix/improve them along the way!). With them we’re able to draw our flight paths directly onto an image of the lake.With these new tools and the sonar images, we’ve already managed to plan all 14 of our DW flights putting us in great shape for final reviews and edits leading up to the field season which is only a little over a month away. We look forward to applying the lessons we’ve learned from flight planning at Pavilion to the exploration of Kelly Lake and can’t wait to see what interesting finds await us!
Your 2011 flight planners,
Allyson, Mars and Stan
The PLRP 2010 field season has come to a close and I am both saddened by the fact that operations are finished for another year but excited by the prospect of adding the data we’ve collected this year to our growing body of knowledge about this unique lake. I am in awe of the work that has been done by this amazing team and of how much we’ve grown, while maintaining the sense of adventure and camaraderie that to me, helps to define the PLRP.
We’ve taken great strides towards answering many of our research questions and in the process, with every answer we have come up with many more questions that will keep the PLRP team occupied for quite some time. Fortunately, our family continues to grow and every year we welcome new individuals who bring a unique perspective and desire to tease out the mysteries Pavilion has to offer. We have also been blessed this year by the addition of two little members to the PLRP family, Darlene Lim’s daughter Amelia and Greg Slater’s son Joseph. We look forward to the day when they are exploring the lake alongside us.
The PLRP provides a wealth of research opportunities, and not just those focused on understanding the processes leading to the formation of the structures at Pavilion Lake but also to understanding fundamental biological, chemical and physical processes. The research contributions from our participating scientists and graduate students have resulted in a number of recent publications and are essential to increasing our understanding of Earth and astrobiological systems. We’re very proud of the role that the PLRP has played in developing operational technologies and protocols that not only help us meet our science objectives but provide important input into future space science missions.
With the addition of our two newest scientist pilots, astronauts Chris Hadfield and Stan Love, we had 34 DeepWorker missions over 10 days of operations. This year we were aided greatly in our pre-season flight planning by the wonderful team from NASA Ames led by Matt Deans and David Lees who developed an amazing flight planning tool that enabled us to search images and flight paths from previous years while building flight plans in Google Earth. Flights this year were planned to collect images of the remaining unexplored regions of the lake, to record detailed images of areas of interest identified from 2008 and 2009 data and to use the submersibles in combination with other analytical tools such as a conductivity, temperature and depth (CTD) instrument and our autonomous underwater vehicle(s) (AUV). Our ability to review post-flight video data in the field, an effort pioneered in 2009, added greatly to our productivity as this information was used immediately by the science backroom team to modify existing flight plans to best optimize our data collection. As part of the daily flight debriefs, we have also continued to apply metrics associated with scientific productivity to understand factors that influence scientific exploration. New this year to the DeepWorker flight repertoire were long ~ 5 hour flights and two night flights to investigate the grazing activity that we suspect may occur in the lake. To add to the innovations this year, Nick Wilkinson designed a fantastic, interactive program for use in classifying the microbialite images. This new tool will allow us to efficiently organize and process our field data over the coming months. Stay tuned for updates.
In case our DeepWorker operations didn’t keep us busy enough, we had a number of other important activities included in the field schedule this year. The UBC and University of Delaware AUV teams produced fantastic images of the lake bottom that were often used to compliment the DeepWorker flights and give us a better picture of where interesting structures and features are in the lake. Numerous SCUBA dives were performed by our intrepid team of divers to collect water and microbialite samples that were shared between various research groups in an effort to combine and compliment analytical findings. These samples will be characterized from a virology, microbial lipid, isotopic and genetic point of view to provide more information about the role of biology in the formation of the microbialites and what biosignatures may be left behind. Water samples were collected from nearby lakes including Crown, Turquoise, Pear and Kelly Lake to continue to help us put Pavilion Lake in context. Kelly Lake, which also hosts microbialites and has been an area of interest to the PLRP team for many years, was also the focus of significant AUV activities this year. Microbial mats were once again collected from the Cariboo Plateau lakes and giant pancakes were eaten by all (well, almost all). As a new participatory activity this year, our visiting teacherswere given the task of selecting a SCUBA dive based on their understanding of the research questions of interest (on their first day no less!). I’m happy to report that they eagerly interviewed members of the team before presenting their selected dive and rationale to the group for inclusion in the next day’s diving schedule. Community Day was another great success this year with the team happy to show off our work and answer questions from the many visitors we had to the site. Busy indeed!
We plan on continuing our updates throughout the year as we analyze samples and work through the amazing amount of data that were collected. Thanks to all who have read about our activities and through this process, have joined in our adventure. See you next year!
Its now been just over a week since the end of our adventures at Pavilion Lake and, as I start trying to look at all the data we’ve collected, I can’t help but be impressed with our successes. In addition to the image mosaicing that I was working on, and showed pictures of in an earlier post, my specific focus of being up at the lake was running coordinated missions between the two autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), that we had on-site from the University of British Columbia and the University of Delaware, and the Deepworker vehicles. Our mission planning goals were twofold; joint objectives and joint missions.
Joint objective style missions measure parameters that are relatively static in time (i.e. photos of microbialites). This means that coordinating different platforms isn’t necessary but coordinating their datasets are. This requires that the timestamps of each data stream be precisely set and that the dataset is georeferenced to a high degree of accuracy. This work was started last year but continued this year by using the collected images from Deepworker and comparing it with AUV collected data (e.g. high-precision bathymetry).
Joint missions involved a significantly greater degree of coordination as it involved running the vehicles at the same time as the Deepworkers. Our experiment this year was to look at the area of increased salinity at the bottom of the lake. To this end had the Deepworkers crossing the bottom of the basin at about 1 m from the bottom (> 55 m depth), while running UBC-Gavia at 40 m depth. The greatest debate was trying to decide what the minimum safe distance was to be between the two platforms! In the end we ran AUV missions down to 48 m without any problems. Although we’re just starting to process all of this data now, from both styles of missions, we’re excited about what new perspectives these combined datasets might hold.
This is my third year as a submarine pilot/scientist on the Pavilion Lake Research Project (PLRP) and it is really exciting and informative to be part of this team and to watch the progression and trends in the science and operational methods that are being applied to this expedition. I originally became involved in the PLRP because of the use of the dual DeepWorker submersible system as an operational analog to the dual Lunar Electric Rover system that my team at NASA is developing. The really special thing about PLRP is that it’s not a simulation, its real world-class science and the methods that we use to plan the flights collect and analyze the data, and the lessons we learn are directly relevant to future space exploration. It’s also pretty cool that we are seeing things that human eyes have never seen before and in that sense it’s analogous to finding life on Mars or some other planet.
The main contributions of our NASA Exploration Analogs and Mission Development team (EAMD) are to perform the operational research necessary to characterize the productivity and effectiveness of the operation and then systematically analyze the data and use the results to refine the operational methods over a multi-year period with the aim of achieving the highest level of scientific return from the human and machine assets deployed during the expedition. To this end we have developed a variety of metrics that characterize the data, and observation quality along with the operational performance and timeline data. These metrics are then correlated with the scientific merit metrics that we have developed with the PLRP team to understand the right balance between operational discipline and scientific flexibility. Is the right answer going to be totally rigid flight plans and flight rules to control every minute or the exploration dives, or complete scientific flexibility to explore whatever seems most interesting at the time? Probably neither, the optimal mix is most likely somewhere in between and this multi-year research program provides a unique opportunity to find that optimal mix here on earth so that we don’t have to learn those lesson out in space were the expense and consequences are much higher.
In the name of science we have invaded cottage country. The quiet cabins along Pavilion Lake have every bed filled, and there’s a tractor-trailer in the parking lot with NASA painted on it. Instead of fishing boats we have floating science platforms, torpedo-shaped robots, and 1-person submarines.
While digging into the world’s geological history we’re making an unusual racket in a peaceful place, and this is what I hear:
The loons calling on the lake are haunting and perfect, and will reclaim the mountain silence as soon as we are gone.
Colonel, Astronaut, submarine pilot