It seems like it’s been a while since I posted a progress report. There are several things that I’ve been making really good progress on, and others not so much. One area that I’ve been making steady progress in despite being one of the most challenging areas for me is losing weight. About three months ago I was up to about 220 pounds but I really want to get down to 180 pounds, both for my health and because I consider that my optimal launch weight. I’m not sure that I’ll stay there once I get to that goal, but knowing that I can achieve it will be an important milestone for me. I usually weigh in in the morning right after I run. It’s kind of cheating because it’s the time of day when I’m at my absolute lightest, but my weight varies so much during the day as I eat that this seems to be the best time to get a consistent measure. Today I was at 198.5 pounds, so I’m about halfway to my launch weight goal! A steady diet of astronaut ice cream probably isn’t going to help me on this one.
The other area that I’ve been making slow but steady progress with is running. I don’t get out to run every day (my work schedule often doesn’t allow for it), but I try to get out whenever I’m at home. Today I ran about 8 miles with an average pace of about 9 minutes per mile. It’s not all that fast, but my goal is to increase my endurance and aerobic stamina. This will be really important when it comes to traveling to Mars.
The pressure in my transit vessel will probably be a fraction of Earth’s sea level atmospheric pressure, and the pressure on the surface of Mars is equivalent to an altitude of approximately 115,000 feet in Earth’s atmosphere. The body’s ability to absorb oxygen from the air we breathe is based on the partial pressure of the oxygen in the atmosphere. Pressure is often measured in millibars and average sea level pressure is roughly 1000 millibars (mb). Since oxygen constitutes approximately 20% of the atmosphere, the partial pressure of oxygen at sea level is about 200 mb. At an elevation of 10,000 feet on Earth the partial pressure of oxygen goes down to about 140 mb. If the oxygen concentration were increased to approximately 60% of the space capsule, habitat, and space suite atmosphere the pressure only has to be roughly 230 mb, which equates to about 24,000 feet in Earth’s atmosphere. These are my rough calculations and I’m not expert, but I think this is fairly accurate.
The reasons for reducing the pressure are primarily to reduce the demand on atmospheric regulators and decrease the pressure and stress on various structures and materials that would have to contain those pressures. From a physiological standpoint though it presents a bit of a conundrum because most people aren’t accustomed to heavy exertion at the equivalent of 10,000 feet. I live at 4,500 feet and the mountains near my home range from 8,000 to about 12,000, so I running and hiking at these elevations helps me to acclimate to these thinner atmospheres. I’m not necessarily focused on going fast (although I try to steadily improve my times), but I’m more intent on being able to function for long periods of time in these conditions.
Other aspects of my efforts have been less productive the last few weeks. In particular I haven’t been spending quite as much time as I would like studying. Excuses aren’t going to help me get where I’m going, but one of the challenges of my current occupation is that there is constant ongoing training that can occupy a lot of my spare time. Last month I was informed that I would be transitioning from the Canadair Regional Jet to the Embraer Regional Jet (built by a Brazilian company). The training for each new aircraft that we learn is very extensive, and in this case will take approximately two months to complete. To a certain degree this seems like a bit of a distraction from my pursuit of going to Mars, but at the same time I feel very strongly that the work I do really helps prepare me for this great undertaking by helping me maintain an eager learning mindset, developing analytical and problem solving skills, exercising normal and emergency procedures, and establishing sound patterns of decision making. It can be a bit of a challenge balancing it with everything else that I have on my plate, but I’m not doing any of this because it’s easy!
The other thing that has been distracting me the last few weeks is this blog. I had been struggling with putting my thoughts into words and trying to get everything perfect, but it just wasn’t happening. A few epiphanies have helped me clear that particular hurdle, and I feel like I’m making slow but steady progress with this now. I think that the big motivator for me was realizing how important this site is for communicating what I’m doing and trying to enlist the help and support of so many people, without whom I won’t be able to do this. This blog is really kind of a lynch pin in the whole thing. That understanding has helped me get over myself and just try to focus on sharing my passion. I hope it’s evident!