National Geographic : 1999 Jul
A fluttering banner heralds the goal of plan etary scientist Pascal Lee, leader of two dozen researchers who spent a month last summer on Haughton's rocky hills. Dry, cold, and barren, the crater has been an ideal Mars stand-in for experiments in lake-bed core sampling, robotic mapping, ground penetrating radar-even group dynamics. Says Lee, "Everybody feels like an astronaut here." beneath its surface with radar, and conduct other experiments to assess the crater and its environs. They are preoccupied by two ques tions: What can Haughton tell us about water on Mars? About life on Mars? At Resolute on nearby Cornwallis Island, I join a group of scientists boarding a de Havil land Twin Otter. Crammed RESEARCH with more than a ton of pas PROJECT sengers and cargo, the twin Supported in engine vaults into the air part by after a short takeoff roll and your Society settles into the 45-minute flight to the crater. We pass over Devon's precipitous headlands and deep, fjordlike valleys, and we land beside the Haughton River on rock and gravel-no one would call this a runway-at camp. All pitch in to unload. Fuel drums are simply heaved out and crash to the ground. An all terrain vehicle, or ATV, lands on its wheels and bounces, demonstrating its toughness. As I pitch my tent, I feel a profound sense of aloneness. We are 13 people on an island about the size of West Virginia. After a pep talk from expedition leader Pas cal Lee, a planetary scientist from NASA Ames Research Center near Mountain View, Califor nia, we proceed to camp routine. Geologist John Schutt briefs us on riding ATVs, our prin cipal mode of transport, and how to handle a shotgun in the event of a polar bear incursion. Will lead slugs and buckshot stop the Arctic's largest carnivore? I prefer to rely on our bear-early-warning dog, a massive half Saint Bernard, half husky named Bruno, veteran of several trips to the north magnetic pole and responsible for safe guarding skiers from bears. Last year he drove off a bear approaching this camp. We squeeze into a 14-by-12 -foot mess tent for dinner, sitting on freezer chests rimmed by giant cans of pork and beans, spaghetti, and chili plus jumbo cartons of tea, oatmeal, dried milk, and mashed potatoes. Geologist Jim Rice-6 feet 3 and 220 pounds-comes through the tent flap like a loose iceberg. Amid three long tables there is scant room to maneuver. An adjacent tent of equal size is strewn with spaghetti bundles of wires, cords connecting to battery chargers, laptops that sit like opened clamshells, and other scientific paraphernalia.