Setbacks?!? We don’t need no stinking setbacks!!!

The observant reader may note that I’m supposed to be trekking through the Himalayas to Mt. Everest Base Camp in Nepal right now. I was really looking forward to doing just that. I had done a lot of preparation and felt like I was ready for the challenge. Unfortunately, the trip was cancelled due to some of the participants withdrawing from the expedition, as well as some health concerns. I was still in simulation at the MDRS when this was announced, so I had time to process the news and figure out how I felt about it. I’m disappointed, but I’m not going to let it slow my roll. I’ve got places to go, baby!

First and foremost, I want to thank all of the people who contributed to my fundraising campaign for the Everest mission. With the help of my dear friends and family I was able to raise $2000 to help fund this expedition. Individually, I want to recognize Ginger, my friend who responded without hesitation when I asked for contributions. Ginger started flight training while we were sophomores in high school, and she was instrumental in inspiring me to pursue my own dreams to become a pilot. Thank you, Ginger! I also want to laud my amazing friend Kenny, who gave the largest single contribution of $1000. In truth, he essentially offered me a blank check. You’re like my brother, Kenny, and I’m humbled by your generosity. Ralph, a former flight student of mine, earned the Mars Academy USA scholarship that was offered for the first person to donate $500 or more. Ralph generously returned the scholarship back to MAU to donate to an aspiring future space explorer. Thank you, Ralph. I had several other contributors, some quite unexpected: my sister-in-law Alyson and brother-in-law Brandon, my cousin Kelly, my friends Stacy and Kim, former co-workers Bob and Blake, my mortgage broker Scott, Kenny’s mom Arlene, and my step-father Mark. Thank you all so much for your confidence, encouragement, and support!

Mars Academy USA is providing a full refund of my payments for this trip, and I offered to return donations to everyone who contributed. The resounding response, however, was that I should put those funds toward my next great adventure. “And what will that be?” you may ask. Well, let me tell you about it!

I’ve enrolled in an aerospace training program with Project PoSSUM. This is a very cool organization that provides extensive training to help people develop the skills and knowledge to actually become astronauts. Whereas the MDRS and MAU projects were research oriented and experiential, Project PoSSUM is more classroom and training based. Before attending the five-day course in April, I will complete three weeks of webinar training. In addition to classroom instruction, the program includes suborbital simulation, spacesuit operations, hypoxia training in a hyperbaric chamber, and aerobatic flight to demonstrate high and low gravity conditions (Oh yeah!) Completion of this course will qualify me to participate in other Project PoSSUM courses that include observation of noctilucent ice clouds at the outer limits of the atmosphere, parabolic flight simulating zero gravity, spacesuit design and testing, and educational outreach. These courses are taught by industry professionals and former astronauts, and I’m very excited to be involved with Project PoSSUM.

The correct orientation of a PoSSUM. (photo courtesy of projectpossum.org)

Meanwhile, in anticipation of going to the Project PoSSUM training, I’m completing a recreational open water scuba diving certification. Some of the simulation that is included in the PoSSUM training includes exercises in a neutral buoyancy pool, so they want participants to have some experience with scuba diving. As I’ve been going through the scuba course, it’s been very interesting to me to see how much of the knowledge really applies to some of the concerns associated with space flight. For example, prolonged respiration of pure oxygen at high pressure can cause oxygen toxicity, characterized by seizures, inflammation of lung and upper respiratory tissue, and retinal detachment (all very bad stuff!). Divers sometimes breathe oxygen-enriched air to reduce the likelihood of decompression sickness, but use of this “nitrox” mixture requires special training and must be conducted within strict parameters. Similarly, astronauts will sometimes breathe pure oxygen to prevent decompression effects, but prolonged respiration of pure oxygen is extremely detrimental. I was somewhat familiar with these principles before, but learning to dive has really helped me understand them better. And it’s just cool to breathe under water!

The last few posts I’ve been teasing about my next big project. As cool as Project PoSSUM is going to be, that’s not even the big one! I’m going to prolong the suspense just a bit longer, but I’ll whet your curiosity just a bit. I’ve been exploring the west desert of Utah to find a site for an analog simulation that I think is different than any other project that I’ve heard of. Interested? I won’t make you wait long!

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