Flashline-16 Commander’s Report 03-07-2024

 In Commander Report

Commander Report (and Personal Observations) – 3 July 2024

We have finally arrived at FMARS, an isolated habitat located on Devon Island, Nunavut! I am leading a crew of seven professional experts, most of whom have already participated in analogue missions. I am proud to be part of this team. They understand the importance of teamwork in this endeavour and give their best regardless of their professional expertise. Believe me, it is not as easy as it may seem, especially in such remote locations.

Adaptation to forced isolation comes with several stresses, including mood changes, loneliness, and depression, among others. Forced isolation in extreme environments is even harder because it forces you to socialise and rely on the people around you, all while being exposed to life-threatening risks. This is not a place where you can take a break and have a walk outside due to the environment, weather, and wildlife.

We have been waiting for a flight window for the last few days, often with only 30 minutes notice for departure. The repeated cancellation of our flight from Resolute Bay to Devon Island was a major source of stress and fatigue, which we tried to mitigate by redirecting our focus on preparedness. Arrival is a critical time for the crew when expectations meet reality.

When we arrived yesterday, the habitat was very cold and messy. The previous crew was forced to leave the habitat before their expected departure, and it had been untouched for a year. I was surprised by the number of items left behind, how much we had to discard, and the need for improvement. We started working intensively to prepare the habitat as soon as we landed. In this station, the crew handles specific maintenance tasks that might not be common in other analogue bases.

FMARS is a very remote area with constant sunlight in summer and perpetual darkness in winter. Opportunities for resupply or rescue are very slim. The nature of this place makes it a high-fidelity simulation. High-fidelity missions come with compromises regarding the risks the crew, and especially the commander, are willing to take. Operations in analogue missions can be flexible, which is why they can vary widely in complexity. We decided to run an expedition for the first three days and then enter into a simulation afterwards. The simulation duration is shorter than planned due to the flight delay from Devon Island. I decided not to shorten the expedition duration because a few maintenance tasks cannot be performed during the simulation for safety reasons.

Today is our first expedition day. We are following our original schedule as closely as possible, writing reports, doing maintenance, and performing scientific research. The only difference from the simulation part of our activity is that we can go outside anytime and do not have to suit up. Although this might seem like a significant difference, in high-fidelity locations, it is easy to embrace the habits and rules of a simulation due to the environment and risks, so expeditions share close synergies with analogue missions.

You might think that I should not be writing this report because, in theory, my official role starts with the simulation. Based on my experiences, crew roles should be adopted well before the mission starts so that each crew member becomes familiar with their duties. This is a first step toward creating a crew identity.

I am honoured to serve as Crew Commander once more and I thank The Mars Society for their consideration. I also want to thank previous Crew Commanders who have left me a lovely welcome in my Commander room: Judd Reed (2005), Melissa Battler (2007), Walter Vernon Kramer (2009), Adam Hehr (2013), Alexandra Mangeot (2017), and Andrew Wheeler (2023).

Ladies and gentlemen, Ad Astra!

Crew Commander,  

Ilaria Cinelli, PhD, FAsMA