Take Me Higher!

Mt. Everest

It seems that there’s a certain dichotomy that when life tends to be the most eventful there’s the least amount of time to write about it. If I were to reflect on that for a while I would probably find myself rededicated to the policy of living in the present, and yet I feel responsible to record my experiences of the past.

Indeed, this has been a week worth recording! When I wrote about my experiences at the Mars Society conference last month, I mentioned that I had been invited to participate in a research expedition to Mt. Everest Basecamp this winter, hosted by the Mars Academy USA. Due to scheduling conflicts during the same time frame of the trip I didn’t expect to be able to participate, but the prospect continued to taunt me for several weeks. I knew that it would be a great opportunity, but wasn’t sure how to it would contribute to my goals or how to make it work.

Last week, as I was reflecting on these concerns, I decided to learn a little more about an organization called the Explorers Club. This group is “dedicated to the advancement of field research and the ideal that it is vital to preserve the instinct to explore.” They have been associated with numerous monumental achievements including the first expeditions to the North and South Poles, the first successful ascension of Mt. Everest, the first exploration of the deepest point in the ocean, and the first human exploration of the moon. Aside from this storied success record, what attracts me to the Explorers Club is their access to funding resources for furthering members’ endeavors, and the opportunity to mentor with other members who can provide firsthand insight into making groundbreaking advancements in scientific research. These are some people I need to be around! To qualify for membership in the Explorers Club, applicants must demonstrate significant contribution to some field of scientific exploration, and must be endorsed by two club members. Getting in isn’t exactly easy, but participation in the Mars Academy USA Mt. Everest research expedition would help me meet the first qualification for membership in the Explorers Club.

I decided to revisit the the possibility of participating in the Mt. Everest expedition, and reached out to Dr. Susan Ip-Jewell of Mars Academy USA. MAU is dictated to providing analog training and research in austere conditions similar to those that will be experienced by crews on Mars. Their emphasis is on medecine, health and wellness, biotech and the biomedical innovations that will enable human exploration of Mars. When I spoke to Susan at the Mars Society conference she had been very encouraging about my plans, but the response she offered to my inquiry was more than I could have hoped for. Several months ago I posted a call for mentors to collaborate with me in my endeavor, and Susan is answering that call with zeal!

Dr. Susan Ip-Jewell and myself

Susan astutely pointed out to me several important ways that participating in the Mt. Everest expedition will help prepare me for Mars. First, it will expose me to rigorous conditions of temperature, pressure, and terrain, and really give me a sense for the challenging environment that I will face on Mars. Second, I will be able to establish credentials that will give me greater credibility as I promote my journey to Mars. It will also provide immediate opportunities to network and collaborate with specialists with the technical expertise that I need to develop. Finally, it will qualify me for membership in the Explorers Club and open doors for funding and partnership with other organizations and individuals who are in a position to help make my vision a reality.

After talking to Susan I was sold on going, but I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to get my wife Hilary on board. After all, it’s three weeks and a significant financial expense to commit to. Forgive me please if I go off on a tangent for a minute, but I would be horribly ungrateful if I failed to edify my wonderful wife. When we got married I essentially gave up on my dream of becoming a pilot. I didn’t know how I could afford to start a family and continue to pay for flying lessons, so I figured I’d just have to compromise and make a living doing something I was less passionate about. When we were on our honeymoon she asked me what we were going to do about “this flying thing”, and I explained my thoughts on the question. “Oh no! You’ve already put too much money into this!”, was her response. I don’t think that she really knew what she was signing on for. I’ve dragged her all over the country chasing flying jobs, been away more nights than I’ve been home, and essentially left her to singlehandedly raise our four daughters. I have no right to ask more of her and I’ve taken her support for granted too often. And yet when I told her about my conversation with Susan, Hilary’s support was immediate and unconditional. I can’t adequately express how grateful I am to have her in my corner.

Airplane love! Hilary and me in front of the chariot of our first date.

So all of this is a roundabout way of explaining that I’m going to be going to Mt. Everest Basecamp in February 2020! I’m very excited about this amazing opportunity and the doors that it will open. I’ll fly into Kathmandu, Nepal and then take a flight Lukla, Nepal where our team will begin a nine day trek to our simulation facility adjacent to the Everest Base Camp at approximately 17,000 feet above sea level. We will then enter a simulation scenario that replicates the conditions of isolation and confinement similar to those that will be experienced on Mars. During this time we will be conducting a number of research projects relevant to future Mars exploration.

I’ve also been invited to participate in a mission with Mars Academy USA at the Mars Desert Research Station in Hanksville, Utah in January. This mission will have similar research goals and activities- just a little closer to home.

I’m really excited to make a real contribution to this important work. My background in aviation brings real world perspective and experience in dealing with hypoxia (lack of oxygen in the blood) and other altitude related medical concerns. This will be a wonderful learning opportunity and I anticipate that it will open lots of doors to help achieve my goals.

I’m starting a GoFundMe drive to raise money for the participation fees for these two research events. Mars Academy USA has also offered several prizes for the first to contribute. Please check out the funding campaign, contribute what you can, and share with your friends. It’s something very significant that you can do to bring us all closer to making the cosmos a little smaller. Thank you for your support!

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