Chapter 3 - Draft -

Training the Crew

All members of the Starship crew passed the medical exam with “flying colors” except for two individuals: Jorge and Dan. 

Jorge, a long-time smoker, was told that he would need to stop smoking immediately to reduce his chances of stroke and heart attack.  Jorge started to wear a patch to ween himself from nicotine. He had tried to quit in the past but failed. This time, Jorge felt his motivation to travel to the moon and back might allow him to succeed with the help of SpaceX’s training team and medical staff.

Dan, being 60 years of age, was told that his advanced age was a significant factor in their concern for his safety. Although many studies demonstrate no differences in G-tolerance between males and females, someone over 60 years old should restrict exposure to acceleration. As a result, Dan was prescribed a daily dose of aspirin and was asked to wear a G-suit during the centrifuge training, which applies counter pressure against the legs and abdomen to stop blood pooling in the body.  

The artist crew was put on a training program to prepare for the physically demanding and uniquely stressful journey.  Training has contributed to extending the pilots' and astronaut’s G tolerance in both magnitude and duration. The artist training includes centrifuge, Anti-G Straining Maneuvers (AGSM), Weightlessness, safety and survival training. They would also have ascent and reentry training in a simulator.

Human tolerance to acceleration depends on many factors. One is the direction of the force applied.  There are two types of G forces: Gx or Gz. Astronauts, fighter jet pilots and racing drivers all feel considerable g-forces.  The human body can withstand a positive acceleration forward (eye balls back, which is Gx) at higher G forces than they can withstand positive acceleration upwards (eyeballs down, which is Gz) because when the body accelerates upwards. During ascent, the blood rushes away from the brain and pools in the abdomen and legs, which impacts the return of the blood to the heart and reduces the overall output pressure in the arteries.  When the heart has a difficult time pumping oxygen rich blood to the brain, the process snowballs and during a period of higher G force can lead to loss of vision and consciousness. A person’s tolerance to high G forces also depends on the rate and duration of acceleration stress and the differences in physiology and psychological reaction. Just as on an amusement park ride, such as a roller coaster, the rider’s level of fear, training, and fitness level are factors in how an individual tolerates high G forces. Increased risk of injury may be caused by a high level of vibration, rotational acceleration, and jerk motions. Blurred or loss of vision, consciousness, convulsions, amnesia, confusion, seizures, heart blockages, and cardia dysrhythmias can all happen during ascent. Common injuries may include temporary sore and stiff back, neck, and limbs as well as intervertebral disk ruptures.

To protect the crew from injury and to make the ascent comfortable, SpaceX carefully oriented the Starship passenger seats so that they tilt back. As a result, during ascent, Gx produces the “eyeballs in” effect instead of “eyeballs down” or +Gz effect.  Tilting the crew’s seats back also brings the heart and brain to the same level so that the hydrostatic pressure loss at the brain is largely avoided.  The design of the Starship had to change to accommodate the outstretched passengers.  The diameter of the design changed to 1.8 meters or so – constraining the vehicle’s mass otherwise the air drag would be too much in the early part of the flight – loading under the cabin pressure.

Centrifuges not only train those professionals who want to travel in space, but they could be the key to long-term space travel too. When humans live in space or microgravity (such as on the ISS) for long periods of time, they experience loss of muscle mass and bone density, and weaking of their cardiovascular system. The astronauts on the ISS exercise two hours a day to prepare them for the return to Earth. Building a giant spinning device to simulate artificial could prevent all these conditions and give astronauts a healthy break from weightlessness of space.  An upgrade to the ISS could include a centrifuge to restore gravity in the future. 

Centrifuges are also used for research to help prevent back and neck injuries under high G forces and the impact on breathing and lungs during prolonged acceleration. Researchers have determined that the lower part of the lungs tend to collapse under high-G levels when breathing high concentrations of oxygen. Air Fighter Jet and test pilots report coughing and pain behind the breast bone when experiencing high Gs. There are many unanswered questions, which further research needs to study such as how much time do astronauts need to spend in the centrifuge and how fast should the centrifuge spin to see the benefits. Also, would astronauts experience vertigo or dizziness while using the centrifuge? Would the experience be enjoyable for the user as well as effective? 

The main challenge of building a centrifuge for the ISS is that it would not simulate Earth’s gravitational field.  If a short radius centrifuge were built for someone to lie in – their heads would experience 0.2 g if on the outside, while their feet would experience 1 G. There are several unwanted side effects of a spinning centrifuge: people become confused and experience a sense of tumbling and loss of coordination.  Another unwanted side effect is sopite syndrome or seasickness.  People affected by this syndrome feel drowsy and tired. This side effect is prevented by simply holding the subject’s head in place. Unfortunately, this would not be practical when traveling through space.

Amanda arranged for each crew member to visit the 20-G centrifuge at Wright-Patterson army base in Dayton, Ohio where a centrifuge designed for humans is used to expose them to artificial gravity levels up to 4 G-force (G). The g-force is the acceleration due to the Earth's gravity under freefall. The higher the speed, the greater the g-force experienced, and the more pressure, or tugging, felt inside the body. This center has medical monitoring systems and safety mechanisms that permit studies of humans experiencing from 1 to 12.5 of artificial gravity.

There are several factors that decreases a person’s tolerance to increased G forces including infections that are associated with head colds, such as fever and dehydration.  Unfortunately, Kyle had to miss his first scheduled training session due to a head cold that he developed visiting his nephew the weekend before his scheduled session. 

First thing one Monday morning in May, Dan’s cell phone rang. “Good Morning!”

“Hello – Dan?! This is Sam. How are you?”  Sam was assigned to Dan to be his personal trainer to prepare him for his flight to space.

After the names of all the artists were announced to the world, Amanda filled the crew in with the training schedule. Each team member was assigned a personal trainer.  Amanda carefully interviewed and choose local personal trainers who lived closed to each artist and had flexibility to meet the artists demanding schedules.

“Doing well. Just about to head to the office.” He said with a chuckle, knowing his commute was a 3 second walk down his hallway to his office in his slippers.

Sam was a young – almost 30-year-old personal trainer.  He was a perfect fit for Dan. While they both ran, Sam competed in marathons since his early 20s.  He always loved to run – enjoyed the high he received from running long distances. His long-term goal was to eventually run ultra-marathons, where individuals ran up to 24 hours – or 100 miles.  His personal training included hours of long distance running to increase his endurance.  Dan really enjoyed working out with Sam. Although, there was almost a three-decade difference in ages between the two men – Sam had a great sense of humor and often referred to Dan as the “old man” – as a compliment since he really respected Dan for keeping in such great shape over the years.

 “Great! Do you have any plans this week-old man? “

“Not really, why?”

“Well, Kyle was supposed to have centrifuge training this week but contracted a virus while visiting relatives on Saturday. He thinks he caught it from his nephew who is 4. You know – kids in daycare are little petri dishes.  Anyways, he feels sick – not only tired but also is congested after starting with a sore throat.  His trainer feels that it would best for him to recover fully before experiencing higher G’s.  I was wondering if you would be able to take his place this week?”

“Sure thing!” Dan was anxious to get this part of the training over with. The personal trainers were responsible for ensuring that each artist received regular anaerobic and muscular strength training, which focused on the larger muscles: gluts, quads, and hamstrings.  Since training these muscles may diminishes your ability for Anti-gravity Straining Maneuver or AGSM – these exercises should be avoided prior to experiencing high G’s.

“When was the last time you went for a run?” Sam asked.

“Oh! I went for a 10-mile run on Saturday afternoon outside instead of on the treadmill because we finally had nice weather. I think the temperature was above 57 F (14 C)”

“Great! Please don’t run again until after I arrange for your centrifuge training. You need to be fully recovered from a quad workout before centrifuge training begins.  We will have a G-suit ready for you to wear when you arrive. Let me make the arrangements and I will call you back shortly.”

Within 2 days, Dan and Sam were on a plane to the world’s first advanced centrifuge at Wright-Patterson air force army base in Dayton, Ohio. The $34.4 million centrifuge was dedicated in August 2018. After three years of delays in construction, General Mark Koager, commander of the 733 Human Performance Wing said “It gives capability to the Air Force in terms of training and research that we haven’t had before.” It was worth the wait.  A newly designed egg-shaped capsule on the end of a 31 foot (9 m) spinning arm is used by more than 12, 000 students. The students include fight surgeons, aerospace physiologists, Air Force fighter pilots, 400 Navy and Marine Corps aviators, and now artists training to be crew members of StarShip to endure gravity forces up to nine times a human’s body weight. The capabilities of this device are outstanding.  It can go from zero to 15 times the force of gravity in one second and can make 45 rotations per minute. John Glenn called centrifuge training a “dreaded” and “sadistic” part of astronaut training. He was not lying. Being in a centrifuge is a terrifying and unpleasant experience for anyone.

Inside the interchangeable capsule, the rider can sit in either an F-22 or F-35 cockpit. Three cockpits can be linked together to create a virtual battle space.

At the airport, they were greeted by a young air force marine named Glen Thompson.  He was standing at arrivals with Dan’s name written on a piece of white paper. They shook hands and Glen told Dan that he was escorting them to the Wright-Pratt air force army base, and he would be guiding him through the centrifuge training.

After arriving at the ultra-modern army base reception area and going through security, Glen walked with Dan and his personal trainer to the Centrifuge facility describing the experience of being in a centrifuge.  Glen was a young air force pilot with over 500 hours of flight time. As part of his training, he had experienced using the newly opened centrifuge 5 times. He was expecting to perform more sessions in the centrifuge soon.

“I’ve been spun around at 9 G’s or nine times the force of gravity, which increased my body weight by nine times. And I accomplished this by not passing out. It was a truly crushing experience” The young fit air force pilot said proudly. 

“WOW! That is very impressive. Were you wearing a pressure suit – I think they are called an Anti-G suite?” Dan asks Glen.

“Yep! For the first time – I definitely wore the suite. But the second and third time – I could manage a minute without the suit.” Glen replies.

“I can’t believe that. That is crazy. I’ve been told I’ll be wearing the suite for my training today. I’m pretty thankful for that. I don’t want to pass out.” Dan tells Glen.

“Well -That’s the goal here.  We want you to stay alert during ascent when you are in Starship” Patting him on the back.

A small team of technicians and flight surgeon helped Dan into his anti-G trousers.  A G-suite is typically issued to air crews and is linked to the aircraft avionics to inflate during high acceleration maneuvers to force the blood from pooling in the legs. The pressure maintains the pilot’s blood flow to the head to help force the blood up to their brains to prevent pilots from passing out.  Dan is 6” tall – so in addition to his age, his height or distance from his heart to his brain is another reason for concern. Shorter people tend to do better in centrifuge training and when experiencing higher Gs since the distance between their hearts and their heads is less.

Once Dan was all suited up, the team helped him into an egg-shaped capsule. Although Dan is not claustrophobic, Dan felt snug in the egg-shaped capsule.

Dan was strapped in using a five-point seatbelt with straps twice as wide as normal car seat belts and then is connected to heart and breathing monitors. His G-suit is connected to the air supply. The centrifuge worker pulls the straps snug and adjusts his lumbar support, head support, and foot rests. He then points out where the adjustable air vents to help Dan feel comfortable.  There is a large video display in front of Dan that simulates a windshield view.

Effective AGSM training can increase an individual’s G tolerance by up to 3 Gs.  For fighter pilots, this training must become an instinctive habit.  Since this is a new experience for Dan, he is slightly nervous and his heart rate shows it on the monitors in the control room.

“You got this Dan! No worries!” Sam says encouragingly into Dan’s headphones. “As soon as you feel this big beast whirling, remember what we have practiced – over and over again” he says with a big smile.” It will be a piece of cake. Remember our goal today is to get to 5 Gs.”

The AGSM has two components: breathing and isometric contractions.  To stay conscious, exhale and inhale in rapid 3 second intervals. The benefit of this exercise is to maintain oxygen content in the blood and decreases the level of carbon dioxide. AGSM also relieves the increased pressure on the chest while allowing the heart to refill with deoxygenated blood entering from the rest of the body. Isometric contraction means flexing the muscles in the legs and abdomen so that when they contract, they restrict the room of small blood vessels making them smaller, so they carry less blood.  This exercise increases pressure in the chest and displaces the individual’s blood away from the contracted muscles into the upper body and brain. In a sense, the individual physically forces the blood to stay in the upper half of their body so to avoid experiencing G-induced Loss of Consciousness (G-LOC) in the safe and controlled centrifuge environment.

When he entered the egg-shaped capsule and was strapped in, it swung a little – which reminded him of a gondola ride swinging on its wires in Whistler, Canada that he took with his wife a few years after Peak to Peak opened.  Probably because of his height, he was never comfortable with small tight spaces. The long flight to New Zealand to see his eighth grandchild was extremely uncomfortable because he did not have enough leg room. He often got out of his seat during the long flight to stretch his legs and walk around. At this moment, he had a strong desire to escape the capsule.

Smelling a faint smell of vomit and sweat increased his fear.  Glen and a worker were standing over Dan to check his straps one last time, then reviewed the safety procedures. 

“Have fun!” Glen said before sealing the door with a loud metallic clang.

Feeling alone, and in the dark, Dan immediately starts to feel warm and uncomfortable. Lights blink on and he notices a pocket on the side of the wall with a strategically placed and unused barf bag in it. Inside the metal coffin, he notices a stick like something he imagined would be in a fighter aircraft. He is unfamiliar with the interior of any air craft but imagined this one simulates an F-16.  There is a monitor in front of Dan with a camera above it staring back at Dan. A large LED panel shows that his current G level is 1.0.

From a speaker behind Dan’s head, he hears a voice asking him if he was ready.

“Sure” He replies, even though he is not feeling too confident. He hears a faint hum and then starts to feel dizzy.  His eyes feel a small ping right and left indicating to Dan that he is now spinning. Without any visual clues to help him, it feels weird. The dizziness is a reaction of Dan’s middle ear – not his eyes, telling him he was spinning. As the movement of the capsule stabilizes the immediate feeling of dizziness subsides for Dan.

Outside the centrifuge, Sam and Glen are watching from the control room as the egg-shaped capsule is hurtling around the room at 45 MPH, with the capsule attached to the long mechanical arm.  In front of them, the LED reads “1.1” Gs. The first run lasts 30 seconds.

The designers of the first centrifuges did not have any clue as to how many Gs were required to enter space. 1950s rocket designs suggested extreme accelerations would be required to reach orbit.  Older gauges would show a maximum that a centrifuge could achieve would be 35 Gs. With research and experimentation, scientists and researchers understand that the human body, with the help of a G-suit and AGSM training, can withstand much less than 35 Gs before passing out.

Feeling a slight increase in pressure on his chest, Dan is feeling a bit more confident that this training is not as bad as he imagined.

Again, he hears the voice in the speaker behind him. “Are you ready?”

“Yes!” Dan replies feeling a bit more confident. Breath, clench, ready. Dan begins to inhale and exhale very rapidly. Immediately, Dan feels a hammer on his chest and strains to breath.  He sees the G reading of the LED increase rapidly from 1.1 to 1.4 to 2 Gs before stabilizing for 30 seconds. Dan continues to strain but his body is in excruciating pain. Every inch of his 6-foot frame feels as though he is in a vice. He feels as though he is being smothered by a very heavy weighted blanket.

“How the heck does air fighter pilots do this?!” he thinks. “This is nuts! It’s only 2 Gs”.

Over the loudspeaker in the control room, the workers, Sam, Glen, and the flight surgeon start to hear Dan struggle as his breathing gets heavier and raspy. Sam and Glen give each other concerned looks as the first 30 seconds of Dan’s 2G session completes.

The worker, with a microphone attached on his head says again “That’s great Dan. Are you ready for the next stage?”.

“Yes!” Dan agrees,  this time under the strain of the extra Gs. 

The mechanical arm of the centrifuge picks up speed, hurtling Dan’s capsule faster around the room.  The monitors in the control room show his heart rate increases as well as his breathing.  As he breathes harder, he becomes dehydrated and his mouth dries.  Dan wills the LED in front of him to go higher faster so that the pain will stop.   As the centrifuge settles at 3 G he feels his cheeks droop as he is spun at an incredible speed for another 30 seconds.

He could feel the G-suit working. The compression around his legs was squeezing the blood from his legs and abdomen up towards his heart and brain. He was grateful to be wearing the suit, but it was extremely uncomfortable and hot.  He was sweating profusely, as the beads of sweat ran down his back. He realizes that he is sweating as he hard as he would while running a marathon in the heat of the summer.

With effort Dan can withstand 3Gs for 30 seconds.

Again, Dan can hear the worker over the loud speaker. “Excellent Dan! You are doing great. Are you ready for 4 Gs?”

“Yes!” Dan straining to stay alert.

In the control room everyone is silent as they watch Dan strain in the monitor in front of them.  Sam is willing Dan to endure this torture.  He had heard that centrifuge training was difficult but never suspected it to be so painful to watch someone you work with and care about do it.  With effort, Dan completes 30 seconds at 4Gs.

Over the loudspeaker Dan can hear Sam’s voice. “How are you holding up old man? You are doing great from here.  Just one more G. I know you can do it.”

“Good!” Dan can barely speak.

“Are you ready for the last stage?” the worker asked Dan.

“Yes!” Dan can barely be heard.

The monitors in the control room continue to show his heart rate increase as well as his breathing. Dan’s use of the AGSM is helping him, but he is really struggling.  The monitors show that his heart rate is sky rocketing and his breathing increasing to a pace where he is hyperventilating.  Suddenly, there is a spike in Dan’s heart rate, and they can hear him vomit in the capsule.

Inside the capsule, Dan was not feeling well. He has severe arm, neck, back, and jaw pain. If he was not in a centrifuge, he would swear he was having a heart attack.  The pain, pressure, and tightness in his chest was unbearable.  His vision was being affected too. He peripheral vision was failing, and he felt as though the capsule closing in on him. He wanted to scream but was too busy breathing, grunting, and clenching to bother.

Then, suddenly a monster jumped on Dan’s chest.  His eye bulged out and he passes out.

“Oh! Oh!” the worker in the control room said as they watch Dan loses consciousness on the monitor.

“We got to get him out of there” Sam said.  The worker flips a switch which causes the mechanical arm to slow down. 

“Call 911” Sam commands, as the worker grabs the phone.

There is an excruciating 3 minute wait before it is safe for the medical staff to rush to Dan’s aid. 

The large, heavy, metal door is swung open, and oxygen is immediately applied to Dan. After ripping open the G-suit, Sam applies chest compressions to unconscious Dan.

“Common Old Man! You can’t die on my watch!” Sam screams at Dan – working harder to bring him back to consciousness. One of the workers grabbed the Automated External Defibrillator (AED) hanging by the door of the centrifuge room as they rushed towards Dan’s capsule.  The AED are designed to be used by laypersons who have AED training although training is not necessary.  The portable version of the defibrillator was invited in the mid-1960s by Frank Pantridge in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Bras with metal underwire and body piercings on the torso must be removed before using the AED to avoid interference.   Sam and the centrifuge worker check Dan quickly to make sure it is safe to apply the AED to save Dan’s life.

AED is used in situations where the heart is electrically active but in a dysfunctional pattern that does not allow it to pump and circulate blood. The only chance of survival for a patient who has this condition is that a combination of CPR and a shockable rhythm can be established – which makes CPR imperative prior to the application of the defibrillator. 

It is crucial for Dan to receive immediate assistance. If left untreated, the damage caused by the cardiac arrest can lead to irreversible brain damage and death. After the first three minutes, the chance of survive decreases by 10 percent per minute.

Luckily for Dan, the workers at the centrifuge lab have a strict maintenance schedule for the AED. Each month, it is inspected to make sure that the electrode pads or the AED unit’s batteries have not expired. Also, the unit is powered on to show the green light indicator, which confirms the condition and cleanliness of all cables and the unit and adequate supplies. The AED model owned by the Wright-Patterson air force army base has spoken prompts to aid in speedy response. 

While Sam performed chest compressions and CPR on Dan, the worker opened the AED and turned it on. The AED immediately instructed Sam to connect the electrode pads to the Dan’s bare chest.  Once attached, Sam told everyone to not touch Dan to avoid a false reading by the AED when he pushes the “analyze” button. Using the pads, Sam tried to determine if Dan has a shockable rhythm. The unit gave a green light and began to charge its internal capacitor to deliver a shock. This system is not only safer because it charges only when required, but it also delivers a faster electric current.

“Charging” Sam stated. “Ok! Stand clear!”

Sam looks to make sure that Dan is not being touched by anyone and then presses the “shock” button.

A 120 to 200 joules shock is delivered to Dan’s chest, with the shock moving in an opposite polarity between the pads. The AED then analyzes Dan’s condition.

“Deliver CPR” the AED’s mechanical voice commands.

Sam continues another session of CPR while the AED charges and waits for the next command.  Sam is wondering when the ambulance would arrive.

Just before the team was to deliver the second shock, the emergency personnel burst through the centrifuge doors and take over.  The two first responders asked about the details of the incident and get to work.  The centrifuge worker explained how Dan threw up and then passed out with his heart beating at a very high rate. He also explained that they had delivered CPR immediately after the centrifuge stopped and was able to deliver one shock from the AED.

The first responder continued CPR on Dan and applied the second shock from the AED which jolted Dan back into consciousness.

Dan takes a deep breath and slowly opens his eyes.

Smiling at Dan “You gave us a scare! It’s good to see you alert again!” Sam says to Dan.

Dan appears confused and slowly nods and does not say anything since he has an oxygen mask on his face. The first responders continue to work on Dan. They take his blood pressure and temperature.  They place him on a gurney and wheel him down the hallway to a waiting ambulance. 

Sam climbs into the ambulance with Dan for the ride to the hospital.  As the first responders continue to check Dan – Sam realizes that he must make a difficult call to Dan’s wife to tell her what had happened to her husband.  He will also need to call Amanda to report the incident.  This incident – Sam knew – would end Dan’s chances to journey to the moon. Regardless of the damage that may have happened to Dan’s heart, he knew from his father having a heart attack that the recovery from an incident like this takes at least 6 months. Sam lets out a heavy sigh.

Meanwhile, back at the Wright-Patterson air force army base, the worker at the centrifuge began to clean the interior of the capsule. Before doing so, he contacted the onsite AED Program coordinator. After asking about how Dan was doing, he said that he was on his way over to the centrifuge room.

Greg, the AED Program coordinator,  arrives out of breath after running down the hallway to the centrifuge room. “I’m so happy to hear the Dan regained consciousness.” He says to Glen.

“Yes – the AED did it’s job. He was lucky.” Glen responds.

Greg brought his laptop to download the “event memory”” from the AED to ensure that the record of the incident is saved. Along with Sam’s ECG, the AED memory records when the unit was activated, the number and strength of the shocks delivered to the patient.

“This AED is top of the line” Greg says proudly. “This little unit even recorded the actions you took to save Sam’s life and provides feedback on the quality of the compressions provided by the rescuer. Amazing – isn’t it?” All the information will be analyzed to see if the speed of the actions taken has an impact on Sam’s survival outcome.  As a precaution, Greg also printed out all the information to forward it to the Dan’s doctor when contacted and to report the effectiveness of this life saving device at his next AED monthly meeting.

Over the next 24 hours, the coordinator met with the centrifuge worker and interviewed Sam to collect all the information around Dan’s cardiac event to complete the paper work. The AED was checked to make sure it is operational with new electrode pads and the battery was replaced so that it was return to proper readiness for immediate use if needed. Greg and medical director reviewed the AED post-incident report to assure that the AED policies and procedures were carried out appropriately and if changes/improvements need to be made. A month after the incident, a post-incident report was forwarded to the local EMS agency and a record was kept at the base for seven years.

News of Dan’s cardiac event was captured by the news in Ohio since a reporter at the hospital recognized Dan as he arrived.  Before Amanda had a chance to inform the team of artists of Dan’s condition, with 24-7 online news, Kyle learned about Dan’s near-death experience while taking a break from painting to check Google News.

“Oh! Man! Poor Dan!” Kyle felt sick to his stomach. He was supposed to be in the centrifuge that morning. Recovering from the virus Kyle caught, he was still feeling low energy after being sick all weekend. Not knowing who to call, Kyle picked up the phone and called Amanda.

“Hey! Amanda! I just heard the news about Dan. Is he going to be ok?”

“Yes! We are flying his wife and one of his daughters to Dayton, Ohio to be with him. It was a shock to all of us. He is in excellent shape for his age. It is horrible what happened but lucky for him and all of us – Sam, Dan’s personal trainer saved the day. He performed CPR on Dan immediately and there was an AED in the room which helped to bring his heart back to a regular beat. He was conscious when he left the base – a little drowsy but conscious. He will be recovering from this incident for months.”

“OH! NO! What does this mean for his chances to go to the moon?” Kyle sounding more concerned.

“We are discussing this now.  It will be tough. I won’t lie to you.” Amanda said with sadness in her voice.

“I’m really sorry to hear that!” Kyle said with a pause, “ I hope he recovers quickly. That is the main thing!”

With that last comment,  he hung up his cell phone and stared into space. This training that SpaceX and NASA are not a cake walk. 

Next, Kyle called his personal trainer.

Two weeks after Dan’s cardiac arrest, Yusaku Maezawa and Elon Musk appeared together for the first time since the initial announcement that Yusaku was taking artists to the moon for the Dear Moon mission.  With long, concerned faces Yusaku and Elon addressed the large group of reporters. 

“As you have heard,” Yusaku began “there was an incident at the Wright-Patterson air force army base Centrifuge disorientation research center two weeks ago.   One of our specially selected artists who agreed to travel with me to the moon has suffered cardiac arrest while training in the centrifuge.  Luckily for everyone, especially Dan, his personal trainer – Sam – immediately applied CPR and the workers at the site had an AED ready to assist in an event of this type of emergency.  We would also like to thank the first responders, who were on the base that day and were able to come to Dan’s aid in less than 10 minutes of the incident.”

“Dan” Elon adds “has been resting comfortably with his wife and one of his four children in the hospital. He is stable condition and recovering. There was damaged to his heart muscle, which will take time to heal.  As a result, we are asking that you do not contact him or his family as they request privacy at this time.  It will take Dan up to six months to recover from his cardiac arrest fully, so we had no choice but to return to our Artist selection list and pick another artist to replace Dan.  We are very sad that he will not join us on our extraordinary journey to the moon, but he agrees that this was the best choice for him and his family.”

The room erupts in to a loud noise as the reports fight to get their attention to ask questions about Dan’s current condition, but they are ignored.  Speaking a bit louder, Yusaku continues without hardly missing a beat, “To replace Dan, we have selected a young, accomplished dancer. Her name is Adele. She has agreed to join us here today to introduce herself.”

An image of Adele appears behind Yusaku and Elon – dressed in a ballerina suit. She looks as though she is flying through the air as the picture captures her jumping high up with the help of a male dancer.  The name of her dance school appears at the top of the image.

From behind the stage a petite, strong brunette walks with perfect posture to greet Yusaku and Elon.  She shakes both their hands and smiles. A million lights flash as the reporters clamber to take a perfect picture of the two gentlemen and the young athletic woman.

“How do you feel Adele?” A reporter shouts.

“I feel wonderful! This is a dream come true – to travel to the moon to experience weightlessness.  It is also a huge opportunity for me to choreograph new material. It is truly a once in a life time opportunity.  I’m thrilled to be given this chance to be part of dearMoon crew.”

“Have you met the other artists?” Another reporter asks.

“No – I believe I will meet them soon. I was just asked a few days ago to go to the moon. Please forgive me – I’m still a bit in shock.”

Everyone in the room giggled. 

Without question, she is the best in shape person on the mission – even in better shape than the astronaut, Sarah, since Adele trained as a dancer since almost before she could walk. Her mother was a classically trained ballerina and wanted her daughter to excel in dance. Having connections in the Dance world, her mother had access to the best Chorographers in the industry. 

Adele is a loner though. She never went to public school because her mother insisted that she attended the best private boarding schools whose focus was dance from an early age. She missed her mother and father deeply during years of isolation away from her small family.  She found making friends extremely difficult. To avoid the feeling lonely, she turned to her only passion -- Dance. 

Her performance expectations were sky high because her goals were to impress her mother – the one and only judge, in her opinion, that counted.  She was never able to satisfy her mother’s desire to have a perfect dancer. Adele tried harder to impress her mother by winning the top prizes in dance competitions all around the world.  All her hard work paid off and she graduated from the one of the greatest dance schools in the world: Vaganova School - St Petersburg – Russia. No doubt her mother’s connections helped smooth her success in the dance world but all the while, her relationship deteriorated with her mother. She slowly realized that with every competition win, she was still never good enough in her mother’s judgmental eyes.

Her only other comfort and companion is her dear father.  He is like a giant teddy bear. Not too tall. A little over weight with a big soft belly.  His hair is always a bit messy – a little less perfect than her mother who always kept her hair immaculate. She often wondered what initially attracted the two to each other. After years of observation,  decided it was just a matter of opposite attracting each other.

While away at dance school, her father secretly wrote her letters of encouragement. She absorbed each word he wrote, always complimenting her and congratulating her on every achievement. He asked about how her week was going and cared more about how she felt than what she was doing to prepare for her next competition.  He wanted to know that she was happy dancing and didn’t care if she won or failed.  His letters always ended how much he missed her and the secrete date that he would plan to see her next. Over the years, he lied to his wife about business trips to make regular trips to see his daughter. The weekends they planned together – just the two of them – away from the dance school was where Adele could just be a kid for a few days of the month.  It was their secret – her mother never found out until her mother had an affair on Adele’s father. 

When the news exploded that her parents were breaking up, Adele was angry – especially with her mother.  Learning the news on the phone was a brutal blow. Her mother could not take the time to come to Adele’s school to deliver the news in person. The only worse way for the news to be delivered would have been txt.  When her mother told her the news, Adele’s anger exploded. She wanted to hurt her mother the only way she knew how, so she screamed into the phone “You were never a parent to me! You were just my judge and jury!  Dad – he took the time to visit me. He has been secretly visiting me for years!  Behind your back! Ask him – those business trips were no business trips Mother! They were to come to see me! Why? Because he cared – unlike you!” SLAM! That was the last time she spoke to her mother. That was more than five years ago.  She just wanted to rid herself of all the strong feelings she had for her mother. Adel thought “Let her live her life. Let her be happy.” Her mother’s life would no longer include Adele.

Things changed for Adele after she decided not to have any connection with her mother.  She started to dream about things she wanted to accomplish in her life.  She thought it was now possible to make time to meet people outside the dance world. She wanted to date and think about having a family of her own.  She would never dream in a million years of pushing her children into dance as her mother had to her. She would listen to them and encourage their dreams - all of their dreams. Now she was headed to the moon with other artists to see Earth from a distance. She could not believe how lucky she was. She had heard of the DearMoon project and even booked marked it on all the Socials to monitor who would be selected. She never thought she would be considered.

Just 48 hours earlier of standing on the stage with Yusaku and Elon, she was in a middle of her daily 2 hours work out, followed by 4-hour practice, when her cell phone rang.  She was a bit confused because the only two people who would call her were in the room with her.  She looked at her phone sitting on a shelf across the room and shrugged her shoulders at her two friends and fellow dancers.

“Who can that be? You two are the only ones who call me?” shrugging her shoulders while looking at her cell phone sitting on the shelf across the dance hall.   She figured if the call was important, “they” would leave a message.  At the end of her workout and before her practice she had to grab a quick bite to eat and decided to check her messages.

“Hello! This is a message for Adele Ducan.  My name is Amanda – personal assistant to Yusaku Maezawa – billionaire and owner of ZOZO. He would like to ask you a very important question.  Could you please return my call at 1-800-888-ZOZO?  I look forward to hearing from you soon.”

She nearly dropped the phone when she heard Amanda’s voice. Just like everyone else following the developments of the DearMoon project -- about a billionaire going to the moon with artists, she learned the identities of the other artists from twitter. After Kyle and Tom were introduced, Elon Musk announced on twitter the identities of the remaining artists traveling to the moon on the Starship just 2 months ago.  Recently, Adele learned about one of the artists being injured on Google news during training. She did not know any of the details of Dan’s cardiac arrest because she too busy preparing for her next performance to read the article.

Now she was on stage with Yusaku and Elon must ready for her next adventure.

After a few more questions from reporters, Amanda appeared on stage with Elon, Yusaku, and Adele. She thanked the reporters for coming and escorted the three off the stage.

“WoW! That was intense” Adele commented. “I guess I’ve committed to this crazy trip now!”

“Yes – the fun has begun.” Elon replied.

“Thank you Yusaku and Elon.” Amanda turned to the two billionaires to shake they hands. They were already in deep conversation about the status of the Starship and the next stage of testing. As they drifted away down the hallway, Amanda turned to Adele “How are you feeling?”

“Good – nervous! When do I meet the group of artists?”

“To be honest, it is difficult for me to say.  They are anxious to meet you too but because they are all professional artists, scattered across the globe – it is difficult for me to arrange a time and place for all of you to be together.  I am still working out the details. I believe you may meet them individually as you train. Closer to launch time, you will have a group training exercise and you will meet them then. In the meantime, I can provide you with all of their contact information including their email addresses, cell phone numbers, and skype ids so that you can meet them individually virtually.” Hardly pausing to take a breath, Amada continues. “As I had mentioned on the phone earlier, you have been assigned a personal trainer.  We have decided to pair you up with Sam – who was Dan’s trainer.  We realize that you are in extraordinary shape because of your daily routine as a dancer but Sam will help prepare you for space.  The purpose of your training is that you need to have the minimum basic knowledge and skills to guarantee your safety and ability to be part of the flight. Most importantly, you will have High G-Training that will occur at the Wright-Patterson army base in Dayton, Ohio and weightlessness training. It is important for you to learn how to control your movements in weightlessness so that you do not spin too much or do something that could harm yourself, the capsule or another person on the flight.”

Adele thought in response to this training goal “Controlling my body is what I do on a daily basis – control every move of my body.”  She looks at Amanda and smiles “Well – that makes sense!”

“Sam will help you train in extreme environmental conditions, ascent and reentry training.  Ascent and reentry training will be conducted in simulators.” Amanda states. “You will study all the life-support systems onboard Starship so you know how to act in emergency situations. Other aspects of your training will be to learn how to communicate with the command center during your flight to the moon.  This will lead to user certification for communication and equipment use on the Starship. “

Raising her eyebrows, Adele says “Wow!”

“In addition to all this, you will receive survival training in harsh environmental conditions in case you have an emergency landing or the location that you land is not near civilization, such as the high artic, dessert environment, or forested area.  You will eventually be trained in how to dawn the SpaceX spacesuit, which will include a high G suite, if required.” Pausing Amanda puts her hand on Adele’s shoulder “ I know I’ve just told you a lot. Please feel free to contact me at any time if you have questions. My job is to smooth the process so that you are comfortable with every aspect of your training and trip to the moon.  We want the experience to be a positive one for all of our crew members.”

“Ok! I really appreciate that I can contact you.  I have a million questions and will have more once this opportunity sinks in. Thank you!” Adele replies.

With a smile, Amanda informs Adele “Great news! Sam is available to meet with you tomorrow.  He will describe your training regimen in detail at that time. “Do you have any questions at this time?”

“I have lots of questions, but I think I will wait to ask Sam.  I’m excited to be part of the crew and would like to meet Sarah – the astronaut.  Where is she? When do you think I can meet her?”

“She is currently living in Brownsville, Texas and is working with the SpaceX team there to prepare for your flight.” Amanda responds. “I will arrange for you to talk to her on the phone soon so that you will be introduced.  Again, I think you will meet her when the group is together again the next time.”

“The next time?” Adele says in disbelief.

“Yes, about a month before the names of the artists were announced, SpaceX arranged for the team to meet each other for the first time.  They spent an intense day together where introductory information was presented to them, they toured the SpaceX vertical launch site, saw a StarShip and StarHopper prototypes, and met the Capcom specialist at the command center. “

“Amazing!” Adele’s jaw falls open slightly. “So, I have missed more than I thought! That must have been an incredible day for them.”

“It was a good day.  Everything went according to plan.  I think it was a good introduction but no worries, I will provide for you the introductory material that I had given them.  We had the session at Space X headquarters recorded and I will email you the material so that you can review it on your own time.” Amanda fills Adele in.

“Thank you again for coming here today so we could introduce you to the world.” Amanda said extending her hand to Adele.

“It is exciting. Thank you for selecting me.” Adele exclaimed.

Adele took all the attention she received in stride. Being a principal ballerina for so many years, she hardly noticed the extra attention she received from the press.

A large package of introductory information was waiting for her at her hotel from Amanda.  She received an email with the contact information of everyone in the group and another email with a link to the recording of the group’s first meeting.  She was curious to know how they interacted with each other.  

Soon after she arrived at her hotel room and turned on her laptop, all the artists immediately contacted Adele to welcome her to the team. She had a conversation with each of the artists which lasted into the night.

Kyle was first to contact her on Skype by sending her a wave. She replied by introducing herself as Adele.

Immediately her laptop made the familiar skype sound for calling. It was Kyle.

“Hey Adele! I’m Kyle. This is kind of weird talking to you like this the first time but I’m sure we will meet in person soon.  I saw you on Google News today when they introduced you. Amanda told us ahead of time about your announcement of joining the team. Welcome!”

“Thank you! Yes – that was thrilling to be with Yusako and Elon.  I had to pinch myself. I’m excited to meet you and the rest of the crew. I heard from Amanda that you already met everyone. I have to admit, I’m jealous.”

“Our first meeting happened about a month ago. So much has happened since. Poor Dan. He is such a great guy. Extremely fit and friendly.  I feel bad that he will not be joining us. Thank goodness all the things were in place to save his life. I guess you are lucky to be paired up with his personal trainer Sam.  You are in great hands!  He has proven that he can save someone’s life. “ Kyle says with a slight smile.

“Have you talked to Dan?  Can you tell me what happened? To be honest, I was not following the incident in the socials or news”

“Well, I do not have the details either since I was not there.  He apparently had a cardiac arrest while experiencing High G training in the centrifuge.  It happened suddenly – he was in really good shape! He is a runner. I guess it could happen to anyone.”

“Have you talked to him?”

“Yes – as soon as he was comfortable and he was taking calls, I called him to see how he was doing. He was very weak but alive.

 Even though, the artists are scattered around the world, we are in constant contact with each other. Technology is wonderful these days – the world is so small!” Kyle replies.

Published April 18, 2021

#dearMoon Audition video

“What training have you had so far.” Adele asked.

“Well, I feel horrible admitting this, but I was scheduled to do High G training the day that Dan had his cardiac arrest.  I was recovering from a minor head cold I caught from my nephew the weekend before. Kids! – you know?”

“Actually, I don’t. I do not have any children.”

“Oh! Well – children in daycare are like regular petri dishes. I was visiting my sister the weekend before I was going meet my personal trainer and her 5 year old, who just started daycare, hugged and kissed me with a runny nose as soon as I arrived.  Right then I knew I was done in! Next thing I know, I had a sore throat and was feeling low energy. I told my  personal trainer who called Amanda to delay my centrifuge training. Dan took my place. I feel bad about the entire thing.  I keep thinking that if I didn’t have this darn bug, Dan would be ok or maybe his cardiac arrest would have happened another time. Anyways…” Kyle voice softens.

“Try not to beat yourself up over it. I know younger people, well men – who appear to be in great shape and end up with cardiac issues.  It’s not your fault.” Trying to be supportive, Adele comforted Kyle.

Kyle smiles weakly, sighs and says “Well, you know..”

An awkward silence falls between them.

“Hopefully, his recovery will go smoothly, and he will be fine.” Adele offered.

“Yes, I hope he will be fine and lives a long life. Other than that, I will be scheduled to go on the Vomit Commit in a week’s time. I’ve always wanted to experienced weightlessness, but I’m truly scared by this ride. I’m not a huge fan of roller coasters.”

“That is super cool. I don’t know what Sam has in mind for my training yet. I am interested in finding out what I’ll be doing first when I meet him for the first time tomorrow.”

“You will probably like him. He seems like a good person.  Amanda went out of her way to accommodate all of us for training. She seemed to know which personalities would work best with everyone. I really like my personal trainer. He is name is Mathew. Super extreme guy who loves to cycle. He thinks nothing about cycling to the next city. In fact, I think he prefers to hop on his bike than to drive his car.  He gives me something to aim for – even though he must be about 5 years younger than me. He keeps me honest. “ Kyle continues “The best thing about training for this trip is that my workout routine is much better. I regularly go to the gym now whereas before I would use every excuse in the book not to go. The dearMoon project has given me something real to strive for. I like that!”

“I’ve been training my body every day of my life as a dancer – for hours at a time.” Adel said with a sigh.

“WOW! Then being prepared physically for this trip to the moon will be a cake walk for you.” Kyle said with a chuckle.

“I guess so! We will see.”

“What can you tell me about the other artists?” Adele inquired.

“I know Bangoura the best. He is the master drummer from Africa.  His identity was announced soon after mine so we bonded quickly.  He is very talented, creative,  and easy going. He is extremely passionate about his drum. The way he plays his drum is amazing.  It will be interesting to see what will happen when we are up in space. Yusaku was the drummer in his high school band before he started his CD and clothing company.  Bangoura and I skype at least once a week or whenever something comes up. I don’t think he has started his training yet. He is waiting for the semester to end since he teaches at university. Late May is the busiest time of year for him.  I was told that as our launch date approaches, our personal time will slowly disappear and then we will need to focus only on the trip to the moon.  A free ticket to the moon – like who would ever pass that opportunity up?” Kyle asks, then answers “But I can also understand that some people just could not take the time away from their family and work to go.”

“Yes – being single with no dependents does have some advantages. Do you have any children?” Adele asks Kyle.

“Ah – no – not that I know of .“ Kyle said with a smile.

Adele smiles back at Kyle. He had a really nice smile and seemed to be an honest person. She really like his eyes and his smile.

“Well, I don’t want to take up more of your time. Thank you for contacting me immediately. I’m looking forward to meeting you in person one day.” Adele tries to say goodbye.

“Sure – no problem. Please call me any time.  I think two heads are better than one if you have any issues or would just like to talk. I found once my name was announced as part of the dearMoon crew– I felt like I was in a glass bowl. The attention can be too much sometimes. I literally ran away to Havana when it got too much.  I’m here for you any time.” Kyle says in an exasperated voice.

“That is very kind and generous of you. I’ll take you up on that. Thanks again for the chat. I’ll call you again soon.” Amanda hangs up.

Sophia and her personal trainer Scott

Meanwhile, Sophia in Brazil and her trainer Scott were not getting along at all. 

“Sophia! Seriously, we need to get together to discuss your training.” Scott demands Sophia’s time.

“I know, I know – trust me – I know!” Sophia said looking down at her packed calendar for the month with her hands raised over her head in a gesture of frustration.

“I am your personal trainer. I’m responsible for making sure you are ready for the dearMoon trip.  THE trip to the moon for goodness sake.  What am I supposed to do if I can’t even meet with you to discuss your training?” Scott pleads.

“I am seriously under the gun here Scott.  I’m running an architectural firm filled with professionals who have obligations to design and build homes for companies and organizations all over the world.  I have five major projects in the works.  Scott, please understand.” Sophia appeals.

“I’m trying to but if I can’t meet with you to start you on a program soon…  I realize this trip to the moon might be years from today but we need to book time now with certain organizations. Large organizations which work with NASA and the military.  They have long waiting lists to use their equipment.  How can I book anything for your training if you can’t meet with me to discuss your training? It is a snow ball effect. Trust me – I will be as accommodating as I can but we need to meet.” Scott states.

“Let me look again at next month…” Sophia offers a solution.

“Next month…Really??!” Scott tried not to raise his voice. “Let me ask you – are you a morning or night person? I am a morning person. I can get up at 4 am to meet with you, if you’d like.  Maybe that would work somehow. We could schedule a meeting outside working hours.” Scott resolves to meet her schedule.

“Scott – “, trying not to raise her voice, “My working hours are 24/7.  Every waking second is about my firm and its success. God! I knew accepting this position would cause conflict with my life.  I am trying …let me see!  Ok!  Can you come to my office – I’ll send you my address” Sophia replies.

“Sophia! I have your address!” Scott says firmly.

“Come to my office on May 17th at 11:30 am.  I’ll have lunch with you and you can tell me how we can practice together. Does this work for you?” Sophia asks.

“Absolutely perfect. Thank you!” Scott replies. “I am looking forward to meeting you finally.  I’ll have everything laid out – we can talk about a daily workout. Ok?”

“Daily work out?! Wow!  I don’t know.  I’ll need to think about that.” Sophia pauses.” That is time – real time -that I don’t have right now” Sophia says honestly.

“Sophia – Try to work with me. Ok? Think about it. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Think of the bigger picture.  Not only are you going to the moon, you are going with a bunch of artists.” Scott explains to Sophia the benefits of participating in the dearMoon project. “The collaboration opportunity will be like nothing that has will ever happen before. Somehow – preparing for this trip needs to become a priority in your busy life.  I will see you Thursday!” Scott states.

“Humm – you are right.  I will shuffle things around.  I need to change priorities. Thanks for that!” Sophia acknowledges.

“See you soon! I’m looking forward to our first meeting in person. First of many!!”  Scott hangs up the phone.

Immediately, Sophia’s cell phone rings again.

“Sophia here!” Without a minute to catch her breath – she is speaking to a client of one of the projects she was managing.  Sophia thrives in a high-pressure environment and loves the challenge of facing every new problem, issue, question head on. Signing up for this trip to the moon is something different.  She wants to go but it is very different than anything else she has worked on since University. It was almost impossible for her to switch gears.  Scott was correct – she needed to make time for this opportunity. Something she committed to without really understanding the seriousness of the commitment involved. Since sending people to the moon had not been attempted in nearly 50 years. No one had ever attempted to send untrained astronauts – never artists – who could blame her?!!!

Jorge and his personal trainer Kaylee

Meanwhile, in Jorge and Kaylee, his personal trainer, was hiking through a beautiful forest discussing his training and his current attempt to quit smoking.

“This patch” lifting the right sleeve of his t-shirt “ is not really helping me quit” Jorge complained to Kaylee. “I’ve been smoking for the last 10 years – since I became stressed-out at university. It is an engrained habit.  Believe me Kaylee, I’ve tried before to quit but I could not resist the urge to pick up a cigarette when things got stressful with running my business.   Starting a small business and making it successful is incredibly stressful at times. I didn’t think I could make it to this level.” Jorge says honestly.

“Now you are going to the moon. That is an amazing opportunity!” Kaylee stops and looks directly into Jorge’s eyes.   “Jorge!  I know you have this.  This project is the most important thing that will help you stop smoking. You are not going to be able to have a single cigarette during the entire flight.”

Jorge nodes in agreement. 

“How can I help with your urges?” Kaylee asks.

“I really don’t know how you can help.  Getting in shape will help me  feel better and reduce my stress level.  I’m over whelmed at times with everything going on. Running my own photography business is extremely fun. I enjoy every minute of it but now that I’m training to go to the  moon, I hardly have time to sleep let alone get some food into me.  Smoking lowers my appetite, my stress level and gives me a break in all of this chaos.” Jorge shrugs as he lists the reasons why he smokes to Kaylee. “I have an appointment to meet with a counselor next week to talk about quitting. I’m also focused on finding someone to help me run my photography business while I’m away training and on the trip itself.” Jorge explains. “To be honest, I still can’t believe I’ve been chosen.  At night, when I can’t sleep, I think to myself ‘I’m going to the moon’ over and over again.” Stopping and turning to Kaylee, Jorge continues “It is my lifelong dream to participate in the space industry as an astronaut. It is the reason why I pursued an aeronautics Engineering degree in University.  Now, not only do I have a chance to participate in the industry – I’m actually going to the moon! It’s nuts! My life is really challenging at this time trying to balance training, my business, which I run practically alone, and personal life – which I have no time for at all or since I’ve been invited on this journey.” Jorge sighs.  “All of this planning and activity is stressing me out.”

“I guess writing down the reasons why you smoke is a pointless exercise because the real reason why you smoke is to reduce your stress!” she says with a sarcastic grin.

“Well, I did think about the reasons and wrote them on the back of this card.” Pulling a business card out from his wallet, Jorge continues.” I wrote: Health, Disease, Money. I want to improve my overall health so that I can travel to the moon. Lowering my risk of getting sick is important. I don’t want cancer or expose my nieces and nephews to my secondhand smoke. Saving money is something I struggle with. If I didn’t spend X number of dollars on these” Waving an imaginary cigarette in the air “ I could probably go on a vacation or two and lower my overall stress level ALL THE TIME!” He said with a big cheesy grin.

“Tell me about the first cigarette you had.” Kaylee requested.

“Well – I was 9 and I thought it was gross. My friend across the street stole one from his mom’s purse and we thought it would be fun to try it.  We went into their walkout basement where we would not be caught and lit it up. We both coughed up a lung that day. I never tried smoking again until university.” Jorge remembers.

“And, what happened then?” leaning in and looking at Jorge with compassion.

With a snort, Jorge’s shoulder’s lower in defeat “I had my next cigarette, during finals when I had to study for several exams that were on the same day. I was taking a couple extra courses on top of my regular schedule.  During my first year of university, I decided to study in Australia.  I didn’t bother to make sure that my American university would accept the credits.  At the beginning of my final year – when I wanted to graduate – I discovered that my first-year credits could not be transferred to my degree. I was shocked but figured since I had taken them already and had done well, I could easily redo them with my fourth year course load.  I actually thought that if I took my first-year courses again, that they would provide a mental break.” Jorge says with a sarcastic laugh. “Instead, taking these courses only took up all of my free time. So instead of relaxing and having a beer with my buddies, I was cramming in one more assignment.  It was nuts!” Sounding overwhelmed, Jorge continues his story. “My roommate thought he was helping me. He was a smoker. Smoking seemed to give my roommate the extra energy to work through long nights when we were studying and finishing multiple projects together.  At the time,  I was already addicted to chocolate covered coffee beans! In hindsight, I should have stuck to those but I guess my tolerance for caffeine sky rocketed and next thing I know – I’m smoking!” Turning to look at Kaylee, sounding defeated again. “Smoking is something I thought I would never try again.  But after the stressful exam period ended, I continued to smoke.”

Kaylee asks, “Why didn’t you quit after university?”

“I’m getting to that. So, long story short, I eventually changed careers to photography. Unfortunately,  I developed a routine taking a pack of cigarettes with me when I took photos. Smoking calmed my nerves while I tried to take half-decent photos with new equipment. I agree with you that I was stupid for not having a plan to quit right after my final exams ended.  Years later, “ Hands extended in front of Jorge, motioning downwards for each word for emphasis, Jorge exclaims “ here – we – are!   I’m under the gun to quit as soon as possible, which is causing me more stress. My addiction to nicotine is a cyclical problem now that I am thinking out loud about all this.”

“I see! Your addiction started because of circumstances that caused you to worry and stress.” Kaylee acknowledged the problem. “Smoking became a habit when you needed a release from the worry and stress.”

“Yes! Isn’t this the primary reason for everyone to start smoking?” Jorge says with a sigh.

“Well – not really! Remember smoking was the cool thing to do in movies and – believe it or not – it was a popular thing to do especially in the 50’s to 70’s.  People smoked to have a “cool” self-image. As you know now, Hollywood uses smoking to identify the villain in stories. For example,” Kaylee continues, “my uncle started smoking with a friend when he was 15 years old. He was a teenager at that time and he saw many movie stars smoking. He thought by starting to smoke, his image would improve with his friends and potential dates. My uncle chained smoked for decades.  Eventually, his health suffered so much that he nearly died on the operating table while the surgeon tried to improve the poor circulation he had in his legs. Even though he survived the nearly fatal operation, my uncle continued to smoke. He smoked for another decade before he decided to try to quit. He told me how painful the process of quitting was for him. He felt that quitting was like losing his best friend. To be honest, I thought quitting would have killed him.” Kaylee says with a sigh. “He really looked horrible for about a year.  Then, slowly, he started to go for walks regularly and took up swimming.  I am amazed that he has not smoked in 15 years!  More shocking is that he is still alive, mostly because he is on heavy medication to thin his blood.” She says with a weak smile.

“WOW! That is an incredible story.  It gives me a bit of hope that I can quit too.” Jorge says.

 “I think for you  to be successful at quitting smoking; we” Putting her hand on Jorge’s back, “need to find something else for you to do whenever you have the urge to pick up a cigarette. You know you can text or call me anytime if you need someone to talk to?”  She says looking up into his deep brown eyes.  “I am there for you if you need me.  I understand that talking to someone might not do the trick. ” Without pausing,  she continues, “I recently read an article about the psychology of addiction. Did you know that addiction can change the chemistry of your brain?”

Jorge stopped walking and stared at Kaylee “Really?”

“Yes! I’m positive that the information  I read regarding addition can be applied to anyone struggling with quitting. Apparently, it has something to do with Pavlov’s famous experiment of ringing a bell to summon his dog and then rewarding the dog with food.  It is a classic example of associative learning.” Kaylee explains.

“I never thought of it that way before.” Jorge replies

“This idea kind of makes sense to me.  I read that there is an area of the brain that regulates associative learning. It releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which is a chemical released by your brain when you do something pleasurable and rewarding. When it works correctly, in a healthy mind, it helps you to survive. Your brain can reabsorb the dopamine released causing you to want more. It is released when we eat, drink or have sex.  All these things have helped the survival of our species.”

“Ok! That makes sense.” Jorge says.

Kaylee continues, “One of the cool things about the effects of this chemical is that it creates a memory of the experience in our brains causing us to seek it out again. I imagine you having a cigarette when you are stressed. The cigarette creates a release of dopamine in your brain. Therefore, the pleasure in smoking causes your brain to want you to repeat the cycle, especially when you feel stress.”

“Cool – I agree! That makes sense to me!” Jorge agrees.

“Some experts think that addiction is no longer a choice or a sign of weakness.”, Kaylee continues, “When someone participates in compulsive activities, such as shopping, eating, or doing drugs, more of this chemical is released and the brain expects to receive a blast of dopamine each time.   In chronic situations, the brain chemistry changes because of the expectation for pleasure; normal behaviors are no longer enjoyable.  An addict’s brain will associate only compulsive behaviors with pleasure. Healthy behaviors no longer register in brains as pleasurable – and are eventually forgotten.” Kaylee finishes her explanation.

Jorge stares at Kaylee in disbelief.  “Well, I’m still eating three times a day, so I don’t think I’ve replaced healthy behaviors with smoking all the time.” Jorge says feeling defensive.

“I agree! I am describing someone who is an addict who does not participate in normal life’s activities.” Kaylee responds. “The truth the reaction by the public and the scientific community to addiction has changed over the last few years.” Reaching out to Jorge and touching his arm, causing him to stop walking for a minute. Looking into his eyes, Kaylee says, “Before an addict was viewed as a weak.  Now some experts consider addiction to be a disease of the brain. Still other experts feel that the pendulum has swung too far the other direction.”

Turning and starting to walk again, Jorge says, “ I understand.  But what does this all have to do with my issue, because it is all about me! “ Smiling with a cheezie grin.

“Sorry, I’m giving you a long-winded explanation.  I read in Psychology Today, that addiction is a group of behaviors, activated by emotionally stressful events or memories. I think this explanation describes your addiction to smoking best.  Any stress that you experience causes you to want to smoke.” She says with a smile – as though she has discovered something! “Intense training and going to the moon while managing your career is stressful. I completely understand your desire to smoke now.  Smoking causes a release of dopamine that gives you pleasure or an escape from this crazy life-style that you are living. I would probably take up smoking too if I didn’t have alternatives.” Kaylee says while laughing. “Choices we make, while under stress, will change your behavior.  So, as I said, there are many options that we can investigate. First thing we can consider is to change the environment when you are feeling stressed. When you are feeling stressed, why not stop what you are doing and go for a walk to clear your mind? “

“That is a great idea but remember, my job is to take photos of nature – which reminds me of smoking because that is where I’ve been smoking all of my career.” Jorge says with a sigh!

“Good point! Humm, what other activities do you enjoy?” Kaylee responds.

“I’m not sure.” Staring intently ahead, trying to think. Jorge finally says after a few minutes of silence. “I really enjoy cooking because it is creative.  I love watching YouTube videos of new recipes to try.”

“OK! But not really practical” Kaylee says with a smile. “You will not be able to cook on the Startship. I know this sounds totally bizarre but have you tried knitting? “

“Yes – once as a child. My grandmother tried to teach my sister and I.  I sat in on a few sessions with them.  It was fun, I guess.”

“It is something you might want to consider.  There are a million YouTube videos about how to knit.  It would keep your hands busy and it is creative.  I’m a knitter and I find that keeping my hands busy is relaxing.” Kaylee suggests.

“Hum – I will investigate that and get back to you.” Jorge really is unsure of this idea.

“I’m happy that you are going to see a therapist for counseling. I think that will help you understand the source of your stress and you can discuss ways of managing your stress level. Also, I think once we start training together on a daily basis, your stress level will decrease naturally since working out helps you feel better. The expression “Healthy body, Healthy mind” rings true. Either way, I’m here to help and support you.”  Kaylee says.

“Thank! I know I really need it.  So, when does my training start? What is your plan for me?” Jorge asks.

“First, tell me about your schedule next week.” Kaylee replies. ”I also need figure out where you will do your survival training.  I’ve been told that you need to complete three days of wilderness training so that you have the skills to survive in case when the crew returns to Earth and the rescue team has difficulty finding you.  I was told that it could takes a while to pick the crew after landing back on Earth.”

“I’m excited to get started but I need to check my schedule first.  Let me check my schedule and I’ll make time for what ever activity you have planned, Ok?”

“Great! Thanks Jorges.” Kaylee continues walking.

Bangoura’s wilderness training with Chris, his personal trainer

Bangoura was due to meet his personal trainer, Chris, to go over the last-minute details of his survival training. Three days – just a long weekend – on his own with a survivor’s kit of essentials to live in the Alaskan wilderness.

Bangoura’s survival training consists of survival in extreme conditions for three days alone Denali’s National Park and Preserve, followed by two intense days of dunker training at a local pool in Alaska. Bangoura scheduled this portion of his training the week after his semester ended at the SIBELIUS ACADEMY IN HELSINKI. Coincidentally, this schedule matched when the one road in Denali’s National Park and Preserve, Alaska opens after weeks of clearing snow. For some reason – that Bangoura can’t remember, he felt that going out to the wilderness after evaluating his students would be a good experience. Now, he was not so sure. He was feeling exhausted and not sure if he could remember everything that Chris taught him about surviving in the wilderness before final exams started. Bangoura had spent at least a month training with Chris in preparation for this part of his adventure.

Chris is a very strict trainer and serious about the responsibility he had to make sure Bangoura survived his trip to the moon and back. He is in his late thirties and ex-military. Unlike Bangoura, he hardly cracked a smile. He is very muscular, who could run long distances without running out of breath. He had many combat missions in the middle East and survived many disturbing ordeals away from his family. He received a great deal of therapy to help reintegrate himself into civilian life after this last military tour. With a young family to look after, he decided that it would be best for everyone if he retired from the military and became a personal trainer. He worked hard to stay in contact with his connections who worked in the government, which made Chris an ideal candidate for helping train military personal, first responders, and future astronauts to survive any extreme conditions on Earth and elsewhere.

Bangoura’s training also included simulation training for crashes in extreme environment - on land and in water. There is no guarantee that when the dearMoon crew returned to Earth, that they will land in an area close to civilization. Chris taught Bangoura the strategies he knew to help increase his chance of survival after a crash in the wilderness. Most of what Chris taught Bangoura made perfect sense to him.

The first lesson Chris coached Bangoura about was the importance of attitude. He explained to Bangoura “ You know – there is a good chance that when you return to Earth after your trip to the moon – you won’t be landing near some shopping mall. You most likely will land in the Ocean, a huge lake or the middle of Russia. You will be nowhere near civilization. You and your fellow artists (emphasis on Artists) will need to put all your efforts together to keep y’all alive until you are found. That could be anywhere between 10 minutes to three days. “ He said sternly. “Don’t worry though. You and your crew mates will be extremely important for the military, Space X, and NASA to find your sorry butts!” He says with a cheesy grin. “Your attitude is everything. You must have the determination and grit to survive even though you may feel helpless and hopeless. It is the difference between life and death. Don’t panic. Think with your head and not with your legs. By the way, you will be so exhausted from feeling gravity for the first time in a week that it will be difficult for you to move your legs anyways. Let’s make a plan now so that you can put it into action when need it!”

Chris described the importance of focusing on the task at hand. Finding clean water to drink and building a shelter to stay warm. Of course, the artists can use the Starship for shelter if it has not been too damaged by the possible crash landing.

 “Once you are safely out of the Starship, take an inventory of the resources you have.” Chris directed Bangoura. “When the Starship lands, each of you will have an Emergency Survival Kit prepared for you. It will have lighter, candles, and Coghlan’s Magnesium key chain Starter for a backup. You will also have water purification tablets, a hydration bag, and a folding knife that is handy for making kindling for fire and provide a sharp point/edge.” Chris listed the items in a typical survival kit. “NASA, SpaceX, and the military will equip you and your team of artists with sun screen, roadside flares, a warm jacket each, silver reflective blankets, and several high-calorie trail mix bars or snacks with a long expiry date. The Starship will have a good first aid kit with bandages, antiseptic, pills, and burn cream. Make sure when you pack for your trip that you take a few days of medication that you typically take that you can’t miss.” Chris continues “For your personal survival training, you will be in a cold environment so wear layers. Also, it is important that you pack a beacon and have plenty of water. Be reasonably prepared for anything. For your adventure in Alaska, it is also important that you check the weather before you leave. It is important also to bring a paper map of Northern Alaska since electronics tend not to work or your phone might run out of battery life just when you need it most. Do you know how to recognize the North Star?” Chris asked Bangoura during training.

Chris taught Bangoura the basics of how to orient himself. Since the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, he taught Bangoura a simple method. Put a straight stick in the ground and mark the shadow with a rock or a mark in the ground. Wait 15 minutes or longer and then mark the second shadow in the ground. Draw a straight line between the two markers. Regardless of the hemisphere you are in on the Earth – this is your East/West line because the Earth always rotates in the same direction. Since the sun rises in the East, the first shadow is cast in the West. Since it sets in the West, the second shadow is your East direction because marking a shadow is the reverse. Stand on the East/West line with your Left foot closest to the first marker and your Right foot closest to your second marker. You are now facing North. Turn around and you are facing South.

“Stay with your group and do not separate.” Chris ordered. “If you can, climb to a higher elevation to figure out where you are. Unless you recognize infrastructure that is familiar, like a road, it is best to stay put. The search and rescue experts will be looking for you and your team mates. If you can stay close to the Starship, it is an easy object to spot from the air.“

Chris was informative and logical about being lost in the woods. To him it was just another problem to solve. Nothing more than that. It gave Bangoura the confidence that he could achieve and live through this 3-day adventure with little difficulty.

Jorge and Kaylee – changing attitudes with the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

A week later Kaylee called Jorge to check in on his progress.

“Hi Jorge! This is Kaylee. I thought I would check in on you. Is this a good time to chat?” Kaylee called Jorge.

“Well, actually, I’m just heading out for a photoshoot with a client in an hour. I have a few minutes to chat now. What’s up?”

“How is your week going? Did you speak to your therapist?”

“Oh! Fine! I guess. I’m having difficulty sleeping. Man! I feel like I’m just complaining all the time. It’s not like me.”

“No worries! What did he/she say?”

“Her “ emphasis on Her, “name is Sharon. She had some helpful ideas. I met her on Tuesday at her office downtown. Parking was really a pain. Anyways, we are going to try CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to see if I can change my thinking around when I smoke. The idea is to replace older destructive ideas with new healthy thinking. Practice realistic thought patterns instead of unrealistic thought patterns that I use when I want to smoke.”

“Cool! What ideas did she have?”

“She wants to focus on the situations I’m dealing with now. Nothing in the past. I’m a bit relieved by this. I want quitting this time to be like turning the page. You know – never going back! She told me that she wants to talk about my thoughts that go through my head during stressful periods when I want to grab a cigarette and change those thought patterns so that I find better solutions. Therapy is challenging but I like it. Sharon is super nice and understanding. She helped several people quit smoking for good, which gives me hope that I will succeed at this. I’ve been smoke free for three weeks and the desire the smoke is ever present!”

“UGH! I can only imagine. Your body must be going through some pretty strong withdrawal symptoms?” Kaylee asks.

“Yep!” Jorge replies quickly. “My homework for this week is to identify distorted thought patterns I have about smoking. We will talk about them when I meet with her next week. Until I get a better handle on this, she thinks that we should meet privately. Eventually, months down the line, I’ll have a group of ex-smokers to meet so that I can hear their struggles and get support. “

“Super! I’m glad that you are meeting with her and it sounds like you like her. That is good news. Finding the right therapist is key. There is so much going on right now – if you don’t like the therapist we need to find another one to help you.” Kaylee says to Jorge while trying to sound helpful.

Jorge describes Sharon’s style by saying, “I think Sharon is cool. She is very easy going and not judgy. Once I’m in her office, it feels almost like a spa. Soft music plays, there is a plant wall, fountain, etc. It does not feel clinical at all!”

“Awesome! I’m so happy to hear that.” Kaylee exclaims. “I know you are running out the door so I don’t’ want to keep you. I just thought of something for your training this week.” She says with a smile.

“OK!” Jorge responds cautiously. Some of Kaylee’s ideas about training he found a bit extreme.

“Some of my clients have tried cycling for 30 minutes when they are stressed and want to smoke. Do something to get your mind off having a cigarette that reduces your stress level and helps with your training as well. I found an awesome bike path. I was wondering if you could meet me at the Smith Street parking lot tomorrow at 4pm? We could do the path together. If you like it, we can add this to your training schedule. Sound’s good?” Kaylee asks Jorge.

“Sure! Let me confirm with you later today. I have to run now to meet my client. Sorry!” Jorge apologizes.

“No worries! I’m glad I caught you. Talk to you later” and she hangs up!

On Tuesday, Jorge met with Sharon in her office downtown.

“I know that if I can control my stress level, I will reduce my need for a cigarette. But lately I’ve been feeling overwhelmed. I can’t find enough time in the day for everything I need to do.”

“Humm…tell me about your day” Sharon asks.

“Well, I like to get up before the sun rises. I’m a morning person. That is when the craving starts. I typically grab a coffee and head out to the balcony and have a cigarette. Then, I come in to my apartment to eat breakfast. Just toast and grab fruit as I run out the door.” Jorge describes.

“How many cigarettes do you have in a normal day?” Sharon asks.

“Normally, I smoke about six cigarettes a day. One with each meal, one with coffee around 2 pm, then maybe two at night after dinner.” Jorge admits

“What happens when you feel under pressure?” Sharon inquires.

“I feel overwhelmed.” Jorge describes. “My heart races and I feel pressure in my head. I feel as though my skull is being squeezed between blocks of wood. I also noticed that I forget to breath.” Jorge describes. “ When I’m very stressed about a project, the cravings for a cigarette increase.”

“By how much. “ Sharon asks.

“I would say almost triple the number of cigarettes” Jorges admits.

“Have you tried to quit in the past?” Sharon asks.

“Yes! Definitely!” Jorge tells Sharon, “I have tried quitting smoking cigarettes and failed so often that I’m hesitant to tell my little brother about this attempt. He really ribs me about quitting and feels that because I’ve failed so many times that any other attempt to quit would be useless. He is a non-smoker and can’t get his head wrapped around my addiction. His attitude is that smoking is gross and a waste of money.”

“Have you talked to him about how you feel about his attitude?” Sharon asks Jorge.

“Are you kidding me?” Rolling his eye, falling back into the couch. “No! I thought I could tell him after I succeeded! I would love to see the look on his face when I say to him “See! I did it after all!” Jorge says raising his voice.

“Well, clearly your brother – what is his name?” Sharon asks.

“Chris” Jorge says.

“Chris is not the support person you need at this time.” Sharon comments. “Do you have a friend or a co-worker who is more supportive?” Sharon asks “Perhaps someone you could talk to instead of grabbing a pack to relieve your stress.”.

“I could ask my co-worker – Brian. “Jorge suggests “He would like me to quit. I’ll ask him for help.”

“Talking to someone, even when you don’t feel like it, will often boost your mood. It will get your mind off having a cigarette. “ Sharon advises. “And ask Brian to be patient with your mood swings.”

“Me – have mood swings?” Jorge says sarcastically, “I don’t think so!” Jorge says with a smile and a wink.

“If he agrees to support you, please ask him if he would mind calling you randomly during the week to check in on you to see how you are doing.” Sharon counsels.

“Kaylee, my personal trainer, is excellent for checking in on me. I see her regularly too for training sessions. She is pretty great!” Jorge answers.

“I’m glad you have Kaylee but I was wondering how comfortable are you with talking to your co-workers about your addiction and asking for their support?” Sharon queries.

“To be honest, I feel a little embarrassed.” Jorge puts his forehead in his hand. Then looking up, “ I think people can be judgie about people who smoke. I could ask my co-worker Dave. He is a great guy. The stress that I experience does not seem to affect him but then again our jobs are a bit different.”

“Maybe, your coworker Dave can help you change your thinking about situations.” Sharon offers advice. “Your co-workers are with you when you are in stressful situations at work with customers. You could watch them to see how the cope with stress.”

“I think it is a personality thing to be honest. I’m guilty of worrying about every detail of a shoot.” Jorge admits.

“What are the types of things that you worry about?” Sharon asks.

“With wildlife, there is not much I can control. It’s important to catch the early light or during a rain storm when the light is dispersed. My stress increases when I’m not organized and rushing to get to a location on time. When I get there, I’m out of breath and not focused on the task at hand so I’m delayed in taking the photo I want.” Jorge describes.

“How do you schedule your shoots?” Sharon questions.

“It depends on who the customer is and the type of work I’ve been hired for. Often I have teaching sessions with people who live locally. These sessions are mostly booked on line often up to a month in advance. I will not see the student until the day of the lesson. The other work I so is photo shoots for companies either locally or around the globe. If the contract work is for a remote location, I will book the flight and hotel up to six months in advance. To arrange the details of a remote photo shoot, I meet with a client for lunch or dinner to review the contract. Having lunches and dinners are the situations where I have difficulty. The meal often includes a beer or an alcoholic drink which most often end with me enjoying a cigarette or two.” Jorge admits.” If this happens during a dinner, then I will come home and will not be able to sleep for a few hours.”

“Having a regular sleep routine is important.” Sharon states.

“I agree.” Jorge nods. “For the last three weeks, I’ve been smoke free but suffering with nicotine withdrawal. I’m having many sleepless nights.” Jorge sighs “I feel like a zombie walking around in a fog. I also feel as though I am trapped in a vicious circle.”

“Do you take sleep aids like melatonin? It is a chemical that is naturally created in your brain when you sleep so that it clears your mind and helps you rest.” Sharon suggests.

“No! I’ve never tried it.” Jorge admits.

“You can get it at any pharmacy. It is with the vitamins.” Sharon informs Jorge. “Getting into a healthy and relaxing routine before you sleep is important. It prepares your mind and body for rest. Do you enjoy reading?” Sharon asks.

“Of course – doesn’t everyone?” Jorge answers.

“Not everyone enjoys reading but since you do-- it is important to know what you are reading. For example, it is helpful to put down your phone and computer an hour before bed. The screen light from a computer will wake you up and disrupts your ability to relax and sleep.” Sharon guides Jorge.

“Ok! I guess a little downtime away from the computer could not hurt!” Jorge agrees.

“Many people drink a warm decaffeinated drink before going to bed. Avoid having coffee after dinner.”

Jorge nodes and replies. “I loved having a coffee and cigarette after dinner. I really, really miss it. I decided to cut out my nightly coffee. If I can’t have a cigarette, what is the point?”

“Good! I think that will help you feel a bit sleepier in the evenings before you rest.” Sharon says encouragingly.

“I also go out with a group of friends on the weekend to shoot photos. It is a weekly get together for fun! We have an awesome time together. The bad thing is that most of them smoke. A month ago – just before I quit, this time – I shared my plan to quit with them. I was honest with them and told them how important it is that I quit smoking for good.” Taking a deep breath, showing how difficult it was for Jorge to say this. “I’ve asked them not to smoke around me or offer a cigarette to me when we are together. I have to admit being around these guys is tough because I can smell the smoke off their clothing. It smells so good and my body craves it.” Jorge admits.

“Well – “ Sharon suggests carefully, “maybe until you get strategies to avoid smoking – you should avoid that crowd for the next few weeks?”

“Yeh – you are correct!” Jorge agrees. “ The problem is that they are a great bunch of guys. We work well together because we bounce ideas off each other. It’s always a fun time that I look forward to.”

“Well, when you decide to hang out with them and one of the offers you a cigarette, practice saying: ‘No thanks – I don’t smoke!’ Eventually they will get the message and stop offering you one.” She says with a sweet smile.

Published April 26, 2021

#dearMoon Audition video

Bangoura and Chris – Survival training

After a long flight to Fairbanks, Alaska from Helsinki, Finland. Bangoura had just two days to adjust to the Pacific Standard time zone. Certainly not enough time to feel fully rested but better than arriving in Alaska and setting out immediately on his three-day survival test. During his time alone, he rested at his hotel and went over his notes that he had taken while being trained by Chris before the end of term exam crunch.  Chris was also staying in the hotel, in the room next door to Bangoura’s. The two would meet for breakfast, then would spend time weight training and long-distance running. Their relationship was purely professional. Bangoura felt ok about this since he knew that Chris had his back.

The most surprising thing that Bangoura realized soon after arriving in Alaska, was that the sun never really sets -- at least, not during this time of year. The sun remained high in the sky at all hours. Because of his difficulty adjusting to the time zone, he would wake at 2 am to discover that the sun had not set and the light was like dusk. Thank goodness for blackout curtains in his hotel room since he preferred to sleep in the dark. He was happy that he brought a sleeping mask with him to sleep on the flight over from the UK. Now he planned to use it the entire time he was out in the wilderness to get some extra zz’s.

On the first morning of Bangoura’s survival training test, he got up at the regular hour, 7 am, and met Chris at the hotel restaurant.

“Our plan is that after breakfast, we will go to the airport where we will board a helicopter to fly to the Denali National Park and Preserve.  I have rented an SUV to drive you to the park where we will board a shuttle bus. As the bus drives along the Park road to Wonder lake, we will choose a spot that is appealing for you to start your three days trying to survive in the wilderness alone.”

Denali has only one road named the Denali Park Road, which is 92 miles long and parallels the Alaska Range.  The first 15 miles is paved and open to non-commercial vehicles. After the first 15 miles, shuttle buses are available when the park opens mid-May. The road passes  through high mountain passes and low valleys. The beautiful landscapes and wildlife are often seen along route.  Wild animals roam the park free and unfenced.

 “Denali is a large remote and mountainous park with very unpredictable weather. The weather can change quickly and will deviate considerably from the forecast.  It is important that you are prepared for all weather conditions.  It will be an excellent test of your survival skills. It is also early spring so don’t be surprised if you wake up to snow one morning.”

 “Ok!  What happens if I run into trouble?” Bangoura asks.

“Within your emergency kit is a beacon.” Chris reminds him of his equipment and escape plan. “ If you are injured and need immediate assistance, turn the beacon on and that will signal for help.  We will come and get you.” Chris stated.

“That is reassuring.  I hope nothing goes wrong.” Bangoura replies.

 “Remember, having water is essential to your survival. You can only last 3 days without water. “Chris added. “Use a container to collect rain water that you can store and drink.  If your supply runs out – find a stream with fast moving water but even this might not keep illness away. It is far safer to boil the water over a camp fire for 3 minutes and let it cool before drinking. Search for water downhill if there is none around you. “ Chris instructed.

If Bangoura was unable to find safe water sources to drink – he could resort to drinking non-water substitutes, but Chris recommended avoiding them for very important reasons: they may worsen Bangoura’s health and energy.  Some substitutes may appear benign but in fact could be harmful especially if you end up stranded for several days in the wilderness.  Alcohol, for example can impair judgement and causes dehydration. Urine contains about 2% salt and harmful body waste – not to mention the yuck factor. As you drink your urine, the concentration of waste increases in your kidneys and could cause your kidneys to fail. Seawater or sea ice contains more salt (4%), which requires the body to work harder to rid itself of the waste and causes dehydration.

“Use large leaves to capture dew in the mornings. In desperate situations, drink your own urine. If done repeatedly, the water is removed and the concentration of waste increases – making it less safe to drink. If you are in a cold climate – you can use snow but it is important to melt it first because it takes too much energy for your body to melt it first.” Chris warned. “Melt the snow over a fire or camp stove. It is still early spring here so there is lot of snow around.  The easiest way to melt snow without using your own body heat is to put snow or ice in a water bag and hang it in the sunlight.  If you need to – use your own body’s heat as a last resort.” Eating snow, without melting it first lowers your body temperature, which in a weird way, dehydrates you because the forces your metabolic rate to speed up to keep you warm.  “Another source of water could be digging for it. Certain plants identify the location of ground water such as cat tails, willow trees.  Dig a hole near the plant and wait for the water to enter the hole. Remember – water found in puddles or streams should be boiled before consuming. An expert trick is to tie a plastic bag around a leafy branch of a tree and water will collect from the moisture trapped in the leaves.”

After breakfast, Bangoura made his way to his room and double checked that he had packed everything he needed with the list that they had developed together.  They had practiced packing his backpack several times.  Considering what it held, it did not seem too heavy.  With one last check, Bangoura made his way to the entrance of the hotel where Chris was waiting for him.  They nodded to each other and boarded an SUV and made their way to the airport.

The flight to Denali National Park and Preserve was short. The Park is 120 miles South of Fairbanks. A mile marker on a road is used to locate the physical address of rural places in Alaska.  Denali Park entrance is at the Mile 237, on Highway 3.  Other people used the GPS coordinates of the park entrance: 63.728443, -148.886572.   It is interesting to look at the Alaskan landscape as they flew over the park north of Anchorage. Bangoura loves every opportunity he can fly. His first flight in an air plane was to the USA for a concert in his late 20’s. He was terrified at first but once the plane lifted off the ground and he could see vehicles the size of toys and he was fascinated.  He wanted to be in the air as much as possible.  Helicopters offered a much better experience – a closer look at the surface of the Earth. He was anxious to see the surface of the Earth from space.

There are two ways to visit Denali Nature Park Reserve – on trails or off trails.  The Park is the size of Massachusetts (or just over half as large as Switzerland), and most of the park is devoid of human-made trails. The Park consists of main roads and a bus system that allow tourists to experience the park from the comfort of a moving vehicle.  The terrain of the park reserve is challenging and varied. Weather on a trail or hiking off trails, it is important to pay attention to every step along the way.  If you are caught daydreaming, you may trip and turn your ankle. Bangoura and Chris had studied the area from trail maps available on the park’s website and understood that the land was extremely challenging with steep slopes and gravel.  Opportunities to injure yourself accidentally were common.

Denali had five different types of terrain: gravel river bars, boreal forest, bushy tundra, alpine tundra, and glacial moraines. There are two types of river crossings. Some will allow you to travel fast and efficiently, while others will be difficult and limit the amount of ground you cover in a day.  The two types of crossings are river and glacier.

From the McKinley Park, McKinley National Park Airport, Chris and Bangoura rented another SUV to the entrance of the Park. The entrance of the park is marked by a beautifully carved wooden sign “National Park Service Department of the Interior” small crest hanging to the left of the Denali National Park and Preserve.

They boarded a shuttle bus at the main entrance, which Chris arranged for them to travel the Park road to the Eielson Visitor Center at mile 66. There is only one road into this huge park, which has 6 million (6,075,029) acres – or 9,492 square miles.  The road is 90 miles long, but visitors are only allowed to drive the first 15 miles to Savage River since after this point, the roadway is not paved and very treacherous.  

In 1896, a gold prospector named William Dickey named the mountain after William McKinley, who was running for president. In 1975, the Alaska state legislature asked the federal government to change the name of the mountain back to “Denali,” its original Athabascan name.

In 1980, Mt. McKinley National Park was expanded and renamed “Denali National Park & Preserve.” For a long time, the mountain was known by both names, McKinley and Denali. In the latest chapter of this name debate, President Obama announced in September, 2015, that Mount McKinley, too, would be officially renamed “Denali” – the name most Alaskans have used for many years.

Since 1934, a visitor facility has existed at this location, along the Eielson Bluffs. Camp Eielson, was the first facility, named after the Alaskan Aviator Carl Ben Eielson. It was a simple tent camp until 1960, when an interpretive center and rest stop replaced it.  After a major renovation, a new visitor center opened to the public in 2008. The new center was built so that it is tucked partly into the hillside below the park road. The Eielson visitor center and area are known for their amazing views of Denali on a clear day and wildlife seen on surrounding hillsides.

Today was quite chilly – only 42 F (6 C).  The weather predicted that it would be cloudy most of the day with sunny breaks. There was no chance of rain, but the weather was very unpredictable, so Bangoura was prepared for all types of weather during his survival training.

There are three trails that end/start at the Eielson Visitor Center. There is also an opportunity to go off trail. As the website showed in their 360 degree vistas, the area is wide open. The scenery at the visitor center is vast in all directions. This gave Bangoura a sense of relief – perhaps he will not feel so alone after all. 

Arriving at the visitor center, Bangoura and Chris walked off the shuttle bus together with a group of four 20 year-olds. They were also new to the park and had planned this trip right after exams ended for about a year. They were excited to be in the wilderness for 2 nights. They were planning to follow one of the three trails from the visitor center.

Bangoura quickly found his bag and took advantage of using the visitor center’s facilities for the last time in the next three days. The visitor center was open between 9 am—5:30 pm.  However, the restroom portion of the facility remains unlocked 24 hours a day, so hikers arriving after-hours can still use them. The thought was very tempting to remain walking distance from this visitor center for this convenience.

Before departing, Chris offered Bangoura one last piece of advice. “Don’t trust/rely on Mother Nature. She is out there to defend herself in the back country. Always stay sharp and look where you are going.  Good Luck and see you in three days!” He patted him on his back and sent him on his way.  With sturdy walking shoes, two trekking poles and over boots tucked in his pack, Bangoura headed out down the trail, on the tundra, in the direction of Wonder Lake. On the Topographic map Bangoura was headed West along the McKinley River.  It was about 20 miles to the camp ground.  Even though he was in sight of the river, the trail he was following would rise 1000 ft between 2000 ft above sea level and 3700 feet.  The trail he was following is moderate with hills, mud, and tree roots everywhere. He could only manage to cover about 1 or 2 miles an hour. He planned to find  a place to camp between the Visitor Center and Wonder Lake Camp ground.  He thought if he could see the McKinley River, there is a good chance he would not get lost in the woods.

Jorge meets with Sharron (a week later)

“So how did the last week go?” Sharron asks Jorge as he walks into her cozy office.

“To be honest, it was very difficult.” Jorge says as he takes a seat on the couch; sitting closest to the window so that he can watch the birds in the tree outside of her office.

“Tell me how it was difficult?”  Sharron inquires.

“I’m feeling exhausted and do not sleep through the night any longer. Since I’ve started quitting, I’m up and alert at 3 am and I hate it. I used to sleep soundly for 7 to 8 hours straight. My old routine was to wake up refreshed after a great night’s sleep and have a cigarette to start my day. Now I can’t stay asleep for more than 4 hours at a time. I’m lying in bed staring at the ceiling each night waiting for the sun to rise. This new routine is driving me crazy.” Jorge says feeling utterly frustrated.

“That is common for people trying to quit to have sleepless nights.” Sharron tries to comfort Jorges.

“Well – it sucks. I’m grumpy and easily irked at work. Because I’m exhausted, I do not feel motivated to train with Kaylee. I just don’t have the energy to do it. Which makes me more frustrated with myself and the entire process seems to be snowballing.” Jorge explains.

“How have you managed without a cigarette?” Sharron asks.

“I have not had one in three weeks now. I’m pretty proud that I’ve lasted this long. If I can make it through this week without a cigarette, it will be the longest I’ve gone without one since I’ve been in University.” Jorge gives a small smile. Straightening out in his seat, Jorge continues “You will be proud of me! “

Sharron raises both of her eyebrows.

“I took your advice from our last meeting. I told the guys that I typically do photography with that I’m taking a break from meeting with them. When they asked why, I told them that it is important for me to quit smoking. Since smoking is what we do together – I was brutally honest and told them I didn’t want to be around the smell of cigarettes. They thought it was a bit extreme but understood.”

“Well, that is a great strategy, especially since you are nearing a mild stone.” Sharron claps her hands together once. “What are your other triggers for a cigarette. Each person is different. Triggers are often emotional, social – hanging out with your friends in nature taking photos is one example. They can also be linked to a pattern and are often connected with your withdrawal symptoms. Knowing the things that triggers your craving to have a cigarette is a great strategy to fight them. “ Sharron explains. “Explain to me how you feel when you smoke a cigarette? “

“I find to sooths my nerves and helps me focus.” Jorge replies. 

“So help me understand. A cigarette provided a physical change to how you coped with a stressful situation?” Sharron explains.

Jorge nods in agreement.

“So there are many ways to cope with stress without smoking a cigarette. For example, you could exercise. There are many benefits to exercise. It releases endorphins that make your brain feel better. It is an excellent alternative to a cigarette. Besides exercise, taking deep breathes to calm your heart rate and your body. Taking deep breaths will reduce your cravings for a cigarette and reduce anxiety.” Sharron points out the benefits of exercising to Jorge.

“Kaylee has provided a training program to me. I understand that she will switch it up on a monthly basis so that it does not become too much of a routine but as I said, without proper sleep, I’m a zombie during the day. I do not see how I can exercise if I’m not well rested. I think it will only lead to injury. “

“Ok! Let’s leave that idea for the moment. Have you tried meditation?” Sharron offers.

“Not really. I did it once and fell asleep. I didn’t stick with it simply because I could not focus my mind long enough.” Jorge replies.

“Do you think you could try it again?” Sharron asks, “Meditation, when done properly, is very simple and can be done anywhere. The benefit is that you said that it caused you to sleep!” She says with a broad smile.

“Uh-huh” Jorge says not convincingly.

“In the Budhist tradition, meditation is like saying sports. Meditation is a family of activities, not a single activity. Some people find it surprising to learn that meditation practices require different mental skills.” Sharron advises.

“OK” Jorge replies but still not sounding convinced.

“As you discovered, it is difficult for a beginner to sit still and have no thoughts in their minds. The simplest way to start is to focus on your breath. When I started meditation, I could only manage a few minutes at a time but this might be just the trick you need to get through a craving. Some people repeat a mantra as well. Regardless, focusing on your breath or a saying, meditation forces you to concentrate. This week, are you willing to try when you experience a craving?” Sharron challenged Jorge.

“Yes! But when? Seriously!? “ Jorges sounding frustrated again “Let’s be honest! I’ll be completely blunt here. My cravings hit me hardest when I’m rushing around at my studio. Do you yo really expect me to stop – bring out the yoga mat and sit for 5 minutes concentrating on my breath – when I have to be out the door at a shoot in less than 5 minutes?” Jorge says raising his voice.

“I agree! In those situations, meditation would not be a practical distraction from your craving. Let’s see. Do you have a smart phone?” Sharron tries to be helpful.

“Of course!” Jorge answers.

“I am sure there are aps that can help you through cravings.” Standing up and walking to her desk, and grabs her phone. “I found this website that might help you.” Swiping her phone and tapping the surface, she selects an ap and hands her phone to Jorge. “This ap will send you text messages at different frequencies during the day that will help you focus on your goal of quitting. It also distracts you from cravings. It is a simple idea but might help you.”

Jorge takes the phone and says out loud. “ Smoke Free hum, interesting. Let me find that and install it on my phone so I don’t forget. Thanks!” Handing Sharon’s phone back to her.

“Check with your service provider to make sure you have unlimited texting otherwise you might be charged.”

“Sure, I’ll double check but I’m pretty sure that I have unlimited texting. Do you know what the text messages say?” Jorge inquires.

Scrolling, Sharon says” This one says “Daily Challenges: Day 6- Delay your 1st cig (or the next one) by an hour today. Make a plan and stick to it. Every time you put out a cig is a chance to try quitting again. “ And another message that appears to be from a former smoker “ My journey has been about taking MY power back. I'm no longer controlled by cigarettes.” How do these messages sound to you?”

“Pretty motivational. I really need a push sometimes in the correct direction. Thank you for the suggestion.” Jorge replies. ‘It might be the motivation I’m seeking.”

Sharron continues “Here is a different idea that is worth trying. This service will send you a motivational message based on the key word you send them to help you to keep quitting. It is called SmokefreeTXT. The number is #####. The key words are CRAVE when you are having a bad craving and need a reminder why you should not smoke again. MOOD – when you are having a rough day and need a positive message to boost your motivation to keep quitting. SLIP – when you do have a cigarette. It does not mean that you need to start from the beginning. We all slip sometimes.” Sharron says with compassion in her voice. “Regardless – it is a simple way to focus on your goal of quitting without stopping what you are doing.” Sharron says to Jorge in a helpful manner.

“Cool! I had no idea that this type of app existed. I guess I should have guessed. The key words are pretty simple to remember. What is the number again?” Jorge asks Sharron. 

She repeats the number again and says “ I learned by using this program, that it checks in with you ever week to see if you have had a SLIP and had started to smoke again. In the case of a SLIP, the programs ask you if you would like to start over.”

“Humm, that is cool – I guess.” Jorge responds.

“Check out how long the program sends you text. I know this one”, pointing to her phone, “starts up to two weeks before you decide to quit and then will send you daily txts for six weeks after your quit day. I suspect that the creators believe that after 6 weeks of quitting, the user will have a new routine in place and no longer requires the daily reminders. Anyways, after the six-week period, this program checks in with the person once a month, then three months, and finally six months after the program has ended. Other programs, such as Daily Quitting Challenges or Quit Practicing can last only seven days. If you don’t like the program you select – I think you just need to txt STOP to quit the program but I would figure that out before starting one.” Sharron recommended.

 “There are also websites that I am aware of which have volunteers who man live help chats or phone lines that you can call for support. It is really amazing the different services you can tap into once you become aware of them all.” Sharron advices.

“That’s great! I’ll do some research before our next session to have a list of numbers and websites I can have on hand when I have a craving. That will certainly help to stop me from smoking again. Thanks!” 

“What are your withdrawal symptoms – since each smoker has a different experience.” Sharron asks.

“I miss how calm I used to feel after having a cigarette. Most days, I feel jumpy and restless. Some days, I have troubles thinking clearly. It is also difficult to sleep each night without a cigarette after dinner.” Jorge explains.

“I have heard that the strongest withdrawal symptoms happen in the first few days and weeks after quitting. Stay strong and smoke free will lessen these symptoms over time. You are on the patch and you are changing the way you spend your time -which are both excellent ways to manage your cravings. Acknowledge the fact that some days will be tougher than others and that is ok! What you are attempting to do is very difficult. “Sharron reassures Jorge.

Their session continues for another 30 minutes…

Bangoura’s adventure (Continued)

The scenery was stunning, as Bangoura made his way from the Eielson Visitor Center, the high Alaskan Range surrounded him. The glaciers can be seen high up on the mountains. Denali Park offered the best habitat for mountain glaciers because of the high elevation and cold artic air. Bangoura was surprised by how silent the area was. He was used to the sound of high congested areas in Central Helsinki, where cars and buses run on the street on all hours of the night. Here – the only sound that Bangoura could hear was the sound of the wind howling. He was thankful that he had good rain gear with him and plenty of water. It was a careful balance of keeping warm and dry. At such a high elevation he found himself panting for air almost immediately. He thought he was in good shape, but his body was not used to being at 2000 feet above sea level. As he struggled to get his hiking legs, he was focused on every step he was making. The last thing he needed to do now is to twist his ankle on a river stone. He could not lose his focus even though he had a million thoughts going through is head.

“Find a camp site, build a shelter, make fire, find safe water to drink, look for food to eat, and an area for waste. Three days will just fly bye” Bangoura thought to himself smiling.

He reminded himself that he was going to take this challenge one step at a time. One challenge at a time. He really wanted to reach his goal of being as prepared for this journey to the moon as possible. Surviving in the wilderness alone was a fear of his and now he was facing it.

Bangoura was on high alert for wild life. Thirty-nine species of animals thrive in the park. He was expecting to see bear, moose, caribou, wolves, dall sheep, marmots, and a variety of birds. He first saw birds flying overhead which was beautiful to watch when he stopped to catch his breath. He found that since he was walking on river stone, he had to watch where he took his next step. The temperatures were rising slightly as the sun rose over the mountain range. He was happy to feel the sun on his skin. In the distance he could see deer and elk grazing. 

Because he was following closely to the McKinley River that was highly braided, he was soon crossing small tributaries. Chris warned him that the river level could change without notice. He told Bangoura to cross where the river was braided and dispersed rather than concentrated in a single deep narrow channel where he could run into trouble. The temperature of the McKinley River was 36F (2C). An accidental swim in this river at any time of the year, especially now in early May, could lead to hypothermia. 

His trekking poles aided him greatly in checking the depth of the glacial river. The McKinley River was fed by two sources: spring and glaciers. He learned, through his research, that the rivers were safest to cross in the mornings before the glacial waters increased because of melt. The glacial waters could be very silty because of the sudden increase in volume and speed. The spring fed waters were often clean and had less silt. While carefully making his way to his camp, he was on the lookout for spring fed streams. Although he had enough water with him for three days, he wanted assurance that he had more water if needed.

Bangoura was hoping that he would not need to cross the river at any time but as he went along his trail, he noticed that the braiding increased. It was mid-May and the glaciers were feeding the rivers more each day as the temperatures rose. After crossing about half a dozen small tributaries, he had to stop to switch to his cover boots to wade across a fast-flowing river. Using his trekking poles, he tested the depth of water in front of him. He could see how the river was raging and could easily knock him off his feet. After a few failed attempts, he decided that maybe this would be a good spot to set up camp. He had hiked over five hours from the visitor’s center and thought he should make a shelter.

Bangoura spotted a large log that had fallen over about 50 feet away from the river. He made his way over there and set his heavy pack down. He leaned back stretching and then forward trying to touch his feet. “That pack is heavy!” Bangoura exclaimed out loud.

He dove into his back pack and retrieved a granola bar and his water. Then, he sat heavily on the log looking up at the mountain range in front of him “God’s country” he thought. “This is gorgeous!”

As he ate his small snack, he started to look around for items he could use as a shelter for the night. There are two types of shelters he was planning to make: Insulated for him to sleep in tonight and the next couple of nights to keep himself warm and conserve body heat. The second was a shade shelter. With the cloudy spring weather, he decided to postpone making the shade shelter. 

He spotted five long logs that he thought he could use as a lean to. Struggling, he dragged the logs to where he was resting.

Since the park just opened a few weeks ago, when the Park trucks were able to come and clear the road, there was still a good possibility of snow during the night. Bangoura wanted to build a shelter that would withstand the weight of snow. It is horrible to go through the trouble of making a shelter- only to have it collapse in the middle of the night.

Bangoura found two trees that were close enough to span a log but long enough that he would be able to stretch out and sleep. He tied a long log across the two trees using twine that he brought with him. Bangoura practiced making knots for months. He decided to use the bowline knot to hold the tree in place. It is widely considered a reliable knot, when tied in certain materials or loading conditions holds. Then, Bangoura began to lean long branches on the bridge between the two trees. Since it was cool, he was wearing gloves – which not only kept his hands warm, it protected them while picking up the branches. He was careful when picking up the branches because he knows that bugs and snakes love to hide under to stay warm. He took several breaks and took of his outer layer off since he was heating up. Luckily, he was close to the McKinley River, which provided lots of washed wood and logs and made making a shelter easier. 

The lean to was simple – just logs against the back bone of a branch across trees. Remembering what Chris told him – it was important to also protect against wind so once he had the branches protecting his backside, he found shorter branches to lean on either side of the two trees. Then, he started the busy work of covering the shelter with leaves, bark, and moss. He used anything that would protect against the wind.

With the sun still high up in the sky – and not expected to set any time soon – Bangoura thought maybe being up North was not a bad idea after all. At least he would have light to work under for hours.

His next task was to make a fire that would last the night. Fire is so important to surviving in the wild. It pushes back the darkness and gives light. Fire gives heat and protection against the elements. It allows food to be cooked and water to be sterilized. Fire also help people make tools as well as send signals for help. Fire is essential to life and allowed primitive man to control his environment for the first time. Making fire is so important that it was told in stories of Gods giving and stealing fire. 

Bangoura had seen many videos about making a fire and the different techniques to use. Fire is in fact a wonderfully complex thing; a full understanding requires knowledge in thermodynamics, heat transfer and chemistry. Referring to his cheat sheet, he had a simple diagram: Fuel, heat, and Oxygen. A reduction of any of these three factors will prevent a fire from generating. Fuel, which was any combustible material, is supplied with enough OXYGEN will be set on fire if it absorbs enough heat. 

He had to hike away from the river to gather dry wood. He made four piles so that he would have enough for a fire that would last all night. The piles consisted of tinder, kindling, and firewood. 

The tinder easily catches on fire but cannot sustain it. It is dry and easily flammable, which only needs a few sparks to ignite. The best fact about tinder is it has extremely low moisture content. All dry wood has moisture in it. Tinder, because of it’s large surface area, has less moisture so when it is heated – it does not create steam – which would prevent a fire from forming if you tried to start a fire with something larger. Also, because of its low water content, less heat is needed to raise the temperature to ignition. When tinder ignites, it provides heat to ignite its neighbors.

While preparing for this trip, Bangoura read a great deal about tinder – where to find it, how to make it, and how to store it.

To build a long-lasting fire, Chris taught Bangoura to use a principal of small to large. Once the proper materials were assembled, begin by igniting the small tinder material, then twigs, sticks, and eventually larger material to burn. Using the principle of thermal dynamics - where hot gases rise and cold gasses drop – it is essential that the dry tinder is placed under any other larger fuel source but does not crush the smaller material. If there is no oxygen to fuel the fire – then there will be no flames. This theory should be applied to each different size of fuel that is used to feed the fire with. Bangoura remembered to leave lots of cracks - about the size of the fuel itself to allow oxygen to feed the flame. He also remembered never to crush the material below it so that there is much oxygen throughout the structure. 

Bangoura got to work gathering the proper tinder. Under rainfall or freezing rain conditions – finding and using the right tinder was crucial. Hypothermia can occur if the body temperature drops two to four degrees below our normal body temperature, which is 98.6 F [37 C]. The risk of hypothermia can occur anytime a person is outdoors with changing weather conditions. The age of a person and alcohol consumption may also increase the risk of exposure.

The wind started to blow and since he was beginning to feel cool, Bangoura picked a spot in front of his structure to build his fire. He used his body as a barrier against the wind that was blowing at his back. He also built a small wall made of sticks that he had left over from building his shelter. He stuck two sticks close together and another two about a foot apart – so that it created a slot for branches to be laid inside. This mini wall was placed in front of the depression where he was building his fire since he wanted to ensure the fire would be protected throughout the night. 

Looking up to the sky, he saw dark clouds forming and started to work faster. Dampness was a huge factor in creating a successful fire. It was much easier to start a fire in dry conditions than during a rain storm. 

The first step was to find a fallen tree. A fallen tree protects the organic matter under it. Dry leaves, pine needles, grass, and saw dust created by insects eating the fallen tree is all found there. Bangoura took his sharp knife out and started to shave the underside of the fallen tree to make tinder. He looked for the driest materials because any moisture will increase the ignition temperature. He was also careful to shave the tree very finely so that the material would start on fire easily. Shredding the wood with a knife always produces better tinder than cutting material. After collecting enough to start his fire, he stored the rest in his shelter to keep it dry in case the fire went out.

There is a huge difference in size and moisture content between tinder and kindling. Tinder and kindling serve separate purposes: Tinder helps to start fire, while kindling keeps it going. Examples of tinder include dandelion clock (head) and cattail fluff, dry grass, and birch tree bark. Examples of kindling include tougher bark such as cedar and small twigs. Kindling can be easily used as tinder if shredded or cut thinner, so they ignite easily with a simple spark.

A little distance away from his shelter, Bangoura spotted a pine tree stump with resin seeping out of it. Resin is a plant product consisting of a mixture of essential oils, fatty acids, hydrocarbon compounds, and rosin acids. Trees may form pockets of resin due to a past injury, or for a variety of other reasons. It is produced by most trees, but particularly softwood species like spruce, pine, and fir. Amber is fossilized tree resin. Resin is an excellent source of tinder and kindling because it provides fuel for fire when ignited. Again, using his sharp knife, Bangoura carefully carved out the resin from the stump and added it to his piles.

Starting a fire using the head of one dandelion clock is quite easy but it is important to have the proper amount of dry kindling nearby. Unfortunately, every time he attempted to catch the tinder on fire with one spark from the back of his knife rubbing the magnesium key chain block, only the dandelion would catch on fire. Through experimentation, he learned that the small twigs and bark would not catch on fire because there was too much moisture in the tinder from the late spring melt.

“Man! This is frustrating. Why didn’t I practice making fire more often before I left?” Bangoura growled out loud. Looking around in desperation he spotted some tall, dried grass close to the fallen tree where he collected his tinder. Walking back over to the tree, he bent over and grabbed two hand full of dried grass and went back to the depression where he was trying to light his fire. The wind had kicked up and the clouds were getting heavier. 

Bangoura was starting to worry. “I better start a fire soon!” He said out loud to himself.

Again, he placed another dandelion clock in the depression, away from the wind and three small pieces of birch bark. He rubbed the back of his knife to the magnesium block again, which easily produced a spark. This time he added the dried grass and, thankfully, this attempt worked! The tinder caught on fire. A huge smile spread across Bangoura’s face. “Yes! Babe! Yes!” He cheered on the infant flame. He then reached for the cut-up fat resin and carefully added it to his small fire – hoping that it would add fuel to the flames but the pieces were to heavy and the fire went out.

“DAMN! SHIT! This is so much harder than I thought it would be – really!” He remembered what Chris chanted to him during his preparation for this three-day test, “Fire starting success is dependent upon practice and patience! Practice and patience! Practice and…Patience!” Chris would chant.

Determined to make fire, this time Bangoura made sure that he cleared the area of all organics. Making the fire in an open area – not only helps to create the fire – it could serve as a beacon all night long if the group was truly lost after they returned to Earth from the Moon.

He used his knife to make shavings from the resin on top of his small pile of dried grass, and another dandelion clock. He rubbed the back of his knife’s blade to the magnesium block and he quickly got sparks. This time the flame that was created was strong. Bangoura held his breathe. He gently added dried grasses and the flame got bigger. Then, he added bark to the flames – and it grew. Fire! A small warm flame grew. He resisted the temptation to jump up and down. He added small twigs and gently blew to make the flames larger. Then, he added more small twigs. This technique of adding dry tinder appeared to be working because this time he had a very small, very fragile flame in the works. “Patience and practice, patience and practice…” He chanted to himself. Several minutes passed before Bangoura finally had a good fire going and was adding branches to keep it roaring. The next step was to circle the fire with large dry river stones to not only protect his fire, but also heat the rocks so that he could stay warm all night long. The temperatures at night in Denali can go down to 33 F (0.5 C) in late May. There was a good possibility that the temperature would be cold enough for frost. 

Bangoura hated the cold and dampness of Helsinki, Finland. Ever since he got the professorship position at the SIBELIUS ACADEMY IN HELSINKI – he was determined to take all his vacations where it was stinking hot. He was happy that Space X’s launch site was in South Texas and some of the crew training would be done in a warm climate. When determining where he should complete his survival training, Chris and Bangoura considered the landing sites of the previous space vehicles. The Soyuz landings occur on land and since the Space Shuttle program retired. The Soyuz typically lands in the dessert of Kazakhstan in central Asia. This is also in contrast to the Apollo program and more recently Space X Dragon, which splashes down in the ocean. When he met Chris to discuss the location of where he would do his survival training – it seemed natural to choose a place that was cold. Alaska fit the bill perfectly. 

In an emergency, Chris told Bangoura that the Starship crew should collect pine needles and dried grasses for the sole purpose of creating a steady stream of white smoke to signal for help. Carefully watching the flame so that it would not go out, he decided to collect pine needles another time. If he needed assistance because of an injury – he needed the tinder he collected to signal for help. Chris also taught him that piling rocks or sticks in a clearing in a shape of a giant “X” or in three large piles were signals of distress. Finally, he was told by Chris make enough noise to attract attention and scare off any wild life – such as bears or large cats.

Now that Bangoura had shelter and a fire going – he was starting to feel hungry. He sat down for a short rest and eat another protein bar which would act as his dinner for his first night. He had very little food with him. Just enough to get him through the first night. The expectation was that during the three days of survival he would hunt for things that he could eat – such as bugs, fish, and small animals. 

He learned that he could eat crickets, grasshoppers without too much difficulty. The thought of eating worms and grubs turned his stomach immensely, but he guessed if he was hungry enough, he would eat just about anything. The crickets and grasshoppers were more digestible if roasted in leaves over a fire. The heat also killed any bacteria that would make him sick. Smashing worms and grubs before cooking – removes the poop and some of the yuck factor. When eating bugs – he was told to avoid anything fury, smelled bad or had bright colors. It is a good practice also to remove wings, hard plates, heads and antenna before consuming insects to reduce the risk of parasite transmission.

Plants was a whole other factor of worry for Bangoura. Although he was not allergic to any food, he knew that there were plants in the wild that could either make you very sick or poison you. He never learned how to identify the correct mushrooms to eat – although he heard it could be done. Mushrooms never really appealed to him at all and could not figure out why some people enjoyed them so much. Chris told him that if he did not know how to identify mushrooms – it was simply not worth the risk. Mushrooms can be poisonous and even fatal if consumed accidently.

Bangoura knew he had to look for a water source since he had about 2 L of water with him. With about two liters per day, Bangoura’s body could circulate blood, process food, regulate body temperature (which prevents hypo- and hyperthermia), allowed him to think clearly, and successfully carry out a host of other internal processes. Locating, purifying, and storing his drinking water during a survival situation were Bangoura’s top concerns. The length of time without proper hydration varies depending on the ambient temperature and his activity level. Any increase in either factor could reduce his ability to successfully find water. Under arid conditions, the human body could succumb to dehydration within a few days. Symptoms of dehydration include headaches, fatigue, and muscle cramps. Regardless of the climate, it is important to find water. Any water that he found or collected needed to be treated or filtered to drink. He understood that any water from streams, creeks, or lakes hold bacteria that could cause him discomfort and illness.

The easiest way to collect filtered water with little effort is to put plastic bags over vegetation. The bags collect moisture that is in the leaves as they produce Oxygen using photosynthesis. Plants draw water from the ground to transport oxygen and nutrients in its leaves. The most important fact to keep in mind when using this method of collecting moisture, is to know how to identify poisonous plants and avoid them. If you collect water from poisonous plants – you will react to the water. Bangoura got to work taking out the five plastic bags that he put in his pack back at the hotel. He decided to collect water from plants directly in the sunlight – hoping the extra heat of the sun would produce higher temperatures in the bag and more moisture from the plant. 

The disadvantage of being so far north was the limitation of coniferous trees. Since Denali National Park is located north of 61 degrees latitude – there were only a handful of leafy tree species that can reproduce and grow naturally. The artic tundra biome is just a few hundred miles from the park, where virtually no trees exist. There are eight species of tree in Denali National Park: three are from the pine family including black spruce, white spruce, and larch; the other five are from the willow family, which are flowering: Quaking aspen, balsam popular, black cottonwood, paper birch, and Alaska birch. 

Unlike trees, shrubs are not only abundant in Denali National Park, but they also enjoy a much higher diversity compared to trees. Shrubs are shorter and have less bark and wood so the shrubs can grow abundantly with fewer resources. Shrubs are often found in the understory of the boreal forest, subalpine regions where trees are less common, and along streams where willows and alders like to grow. Few species of shrubs occur above 5 000 feet – where trees are absent. There are fifty species of shrubs, representing 10 different plant families. The most common shrubs are from the willow (17) and heath (11) families. Shrubs that flower include rose, birch, current, honeysuckle, dogwood, oleaster, cypress, and bayberry. Many of the shrubs are deciduous and lose their leaves each fall. Bangoura noticed that the leaves on the tall shrubs where new and a vibrant bright green. Some leaves were so young that they looked wilted. He patiently looked for larger leaves that might produce the most amount of filtered moisture/water.

Luckily, Bangoura was away from the south side of the Alaska Range in the park, where impenetrable thickets of alder shrubs thrive in moist climates. Alder are typically the first colonizers of disturbed grounds where avalanches and rockslides are common. The Eielson Visitor Center is located at an elevation of 3300 m – 33 miles of the Mount McKinley summit. Dwarf shrubs, such as Mountain Avens, Diapensia, and Cassiope are characteristic of alpine tundra, which dominate the slopes above 3500 feet in elevation.

He decided to tie the large clear plastic bags to different types of shrubs walking distance from his shelter. He had written in his cheat sheet/notes, never to eat anything with colored or milky sap, tasted bitter or soapy, had spines, shiny leaves, thrones, hairs, or three-leaf pattern. He was surprised that cattails and clover were edible. He knew that dandelions could be made into wine so was not surprised that they were edible. Chris also gave him a list of items to avoid that he was not familiar with. He told Bangoura to avoid umbrella-shaped flowers or plants with white or yellow berries. Surprisingly, in the wild, he was told to avoid beans or plants with seeds inside a pod. Bangoura thought they would be the most appetizing but apparently, they are poisonous. Chris also told him to avoid any plant that smelled like almond, which he loved the smell of, because they contain cyanide. Finally, he knew to avoid plants with leaves in groups of three such as poison ivy. 

As dark clouds moved in around the sky above him, Bangoura needed to find a way to collect rain water. Drinking untreated water could lead to serious health problems caused by water borne diseases, such as cholera, typhoid, or dysentery. The easiest way to remove/kill bacteria in water is to boil it or distillation. If Bangoura did not have a heat source to boil water, he would have to seriously consider the source of the water he is drinking and find a way to treat it. Rain water is an excellent source of water that does not have chemical contamination. The issue that he faced was what to use to collect the water safely. He had used the clear plastic bags to collect moisture from plants. He did not have an empty container with him. The water bottle he brought still had water in it. He did not bother to bring an empty container since he wanted to simulate landing on Earth after a trip to the moon as closely as possible and he did not imagine that the Starship would have a clean plastic container aboard to collect rain water especially after a week traveling around the moon. He did bring one tarp that he was able to tie to trees that were close to his shelter. He put a small rock in the center of the tarp to create a depression and collect water. Soon the rain started to fall, and he ran quickly in his shelter. He dragged a small log into his shelter so that he had something that was somewhat comfortable to sit on as he watched the storm pass. He liked that he was so close to the streams of the McKinley River. Watching water calmed Bangoura and let him get lost in his thoughts and relax a bit.

Bangoura’s first night in the wilderness was uneventful other than a thunder storm that woke him around 3 am. He struggled to stay dry and comfortable after the rain passed. Without a “bed” or air mattress to crash on – he used a trick he read on line to help stay warm during a cold night. Just before going to sleep, Bangoura constructed a bed. He dug a trench the length of his body in the floor of his lean to. Since he had a nice roaring fire going, he rolled rocks surrounding the fire into the trench, then he filled the shallow trench with dirt and moss. This created a natural “hot pad” within his shelter. He then collected conifer boughs and piled them on top so that he was off the ground and away from pests. He covered the pine branches with moss and grass until none of the branches poked through. This took a while since he needed natural covers several inches thick to ensure that he would not get poked.

While imagining the circumstances of the artists’ return to Earth from the moon – Chris and Bangoura assumed that he would be able to use the sleeping bag that would be in the Starship as a sleeping bag. His sleeping bag was very light and easily fit in his backpack. He was thankful that it had a hood that kept his body heat in the sleeping bag as the sun sunk lower in the sky. He was warmer than his surroundings as the temperature dropped to 0C (33 F). The dampness from the hours of rain did not help matters either.

Published May 2, 2021

#dearMoon Audition video

Jorge’s next training session with his personal trainer, Kaylee

“How has your training been this week?  Have you hit the gym? Tried the workout routine we did together last week?” Kaylee pumped Jorge with many questions when he arrived at the gym.

“I managed to go to the gym three times last week.  I followed your workout routine, which took just over 90 minutes to do. It was good. I was on the treadmill for 20 minutes and then worked my shoulders, arms, and back and chest on different days.  The last 30 minutes was doing laps in the pool. I felt great afterwards. “ Jorge reports.

“Wow! That is super! “ Kaylee cheers Jorge. “I’m so happy to hear that. How did you feel afterwards?”

“Pretty great! I’m not sleeping well so I admit it took a great deal of effort to get myself to the gym but once I got there and knew what to do – I was fine. “

“Yes – sometimes showing up is the hardest part!”

“That’s funny” Jorge replies. “That is what I tell my clients about photography. If you want to be a photographer – you need to show up. You need to take photos.”

Kaylee smiles and then asks “I wanted to ask you. You’ve been to some amazing places in the world. Which photo was the most difficult to take?”

“That is a very good question. I could drive you crazy and say all of my photos are difficult to take. “ He says with a smile. “Photography is about telling a story. “ Jorge explains. “Finding the story that I want to tell is sometimes the hardest part of my job.  Other times,  I’ll just go out for a hike in my back yard and see amazing wildlife that I want to capture and share.  Those of the times where I’m in the zone and the story flows from the moment.”

“ In the beginning, when I was learning my craft, the story part did not come easily.  I made a bunch of mistakes mostly because I was trying to do too much at one time. What really helped me most was  to find a mentor to ask questions about what I was doing wrong.  The photography community is amazing. They are so friendly and helpful. “

“So how do you find the story that you want to tell?” Kaylee asks.

“Hmm. Well, when I come across a scene that I want to capture, the important step is to recognize what I love most about a view.  It could be how the light is reflecting off the side of a mountain, or how still the water is or the opposite, how hard the waves are crashing into a cliff.  The next step is asking, why do I like that particular object or movement?  It could be because of the energy that it is exhibiting.  The waves crashing into the cliff and seeing the water spray high into the air.  It could be that I like the contrast between the light reflecting off a rock face causing it to appear brighter than the surrounding area.  Then, the key is to focus on this one thing that I like about the scene. How can I emphasize this in my image so that I communicate that powerful feeling to whomever is looking at my image? That is the creative side of photography- the reason why it is an art.”. Jorges explains.

“WOW! That is super cool. You explained that so well.  I can understand way you love your work so much.”

“Once I understood what I wanted to achieve in my photos, the rest because much simpler. I could focus on improving different aspects of my photography skills that I was lacking. Of course, there were always challenges about learning different techniques and there is so equipment out there – but having a goal of how to communicate emotion to the viewer really helps. “Jorge interrupts himself to return to Kaylee’s original question ““ But – you wanted to know which photo that I’ve taken which was the most difficult to take? I suppose the photos that were the most difficult to take were the ones I had to travel to remote places. Some of areas of the world that come to mind are Angels Falls in Venezuela.  It is the highest, uninterrupted waterfall in the world. It is on a remote river that has no roads so to get there, you need to fly and take a boat. It is a crazy long trip to arrange transportation but once you are standing underneath the waterfall and the water is spraying everywhere – it is magical.”

“Where else have you been? What are your favourite areas to take photos?”

“I’m truly fortunate that my job has allowed me to travel all over the globe. My favourite places to take grand landscape photographs would be the mountains – the Canadian Rockies are spectacular. I love to capture the sheer magnificence of the mountains.  I also love to focus my photography on water since it conveys emotion whether it is flowing quickly or is very still. Water as a subject can easily tell a story of a location. I love how water reflects a fiery sunset or sunrise. Five years ago, I went to Iceland, which is aptly named the land of ice and fire.” Using his fingers to count the number of natural attractions there are in Iceland to photograph “There are volcanoes, waterfalls, glaciers, ice caves, the aurora, geysers, hot springs and lava fields.  It is easy to find locations to take dramatic photos of lava besides icefields – for example.” Jorges says with a smile. “I’ve also been to South America.  I went on a crazy trip on the Amazon River once.  I would love to do that again.  Capturing the movement of water – in a river, on the shore of an ocean or any body of water really – is really challenging but beautiful.” Kyle answers.

“WOW! You toured the the Amazon River?! Which portion?  That sounds like a crazy adventure. When did you do that?” Kaylee asks.

“I visited the Amazon Rainforest a few years ago.  It was a wonderful trip that I had planned with a small group of armature photographers.  The entire trip really opened my eyes to the importance of the rainforest. No one in our small group had been to South America before or Brazil.  I did not expect how rich the variety of wildlife is there. It’s the Amazon Rainforest after all.  The fun part of a trip is often planning it and dreaming of the destination.  It took my friend and I about 5 months to plan the trip.  Finding the right guide was important. “

“Tell me more – how long were you in the Rainforest?”

“The entire trip was 10 days long.  My friend and I chose Manaus, the capital of the Amazonas state as the starting point.  It is in the heart of the Brazilian rainforest.  In its hay day, the city was the center of the Rubber trade. Now the focus of the city of 2 million people is eco-tourism. It is a port city on the shores of Negro River, which is 11 miles (18 km) north of where it meets the Amazon River. “ Jorge describes the starting point of the trip. “The main method to travel in the area is on the river so we hired a boat to travel to where the Negro River mets the Amazon River.  The contrast in colours between the two rivers is stunning. I was told that you can see where the two rivers meet from space!  The black waters of the Negro River meets the heavily silted brown Amazon.  The phenomenon called “Meeting of the Rivers” is amazing and stretches for about 4 miles (6 km). It is caused by the differences in the water properties between the two rivers. The Rio Negro is acidic, cooler, and travels slower than the Amazon River. The difference in flow rate, temperature, and composition prevents the two rivers from mixing when they initially meet. Eventually, the water meets obstacles in the area that form heavy eddies and force the two to churn to form one river.”

“Did you do any hiking in the rainforest?” Kaylee asks enthusiastically.

“Of course!  While planning the trip, we made sure we hired a seasoned guide ahead of time who could be our interpreter since we did not speak Portuguese. Caboclos, are local people of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry. They know the jungle like the back of their hand!  Also, the local vocabulary incorporates many of the indigenous words from the local tribes so it was handy to have someone who could help us.”

“What was it like to walk through the rainforest? I’ve always dreamt of doing that one day.” Kaylee says in a dreamy voice.

“It was difficult to be honest.  The heat and humidity was very intense.  We also wore waterproof hiking boots. Mosquitoes were a constant pest but there was so much to look at that eventually they were not that much of a bother. We wore bug spray, which we reapplied offend. I was also wearing a net to cover my face, which was a huge help. We actually camped in the forest for two nights. ”

“Really? That is kind of cool” Kaylee reacts.

“It was a cool experience. We used hammocks that had a mosquito net. We were above the ground and protected from the elements.” Jorge says remembering the experience.

“What photos did you take?” Kaylee inquires.

“The trees of course.  I didn’t realize this – I should have – but I learned this from our guide. “ Jorge trips over his thoughts as he remembers the trip. “There are over 6,000 species of trees in the Amazon Rainforest compared to only 600 in all of North America! The variety is stunning. I saw a tree with leaves as big as a human. There is also the Rubber Tree (Hevea brasiliensis), which launched a rubber boom at the turn of the last century. These trees can reach 130 feet and have exploding seed pods that shoot their contents 20 feet and farther. One of the reasons why we were told it was good to wear hats while visiting the forest.” Jorge says smiling. “We were also able to take stunning photos of immense trunks with the canopy far above us with light shining through. Other common trees in the rainforest include the towering Brazil nut, which grows up to 160 feet tall, and the Tacuma palm, that have crazy rings of thorns around its trunk.”

“What other things did you take photos of?”

“There is so much incredible biodiversity. Did you know that the Amazon River basin has more than a third of all animal species recorded in the world and 1/5th of the birds?” Jorge lists the wildlife he saw. “Off the top of my head, there were beautiful Macaws and Parrots, all types of snakes, and frogs. We were lucky to see a three-toed sloth and a squirrel monkey troop jumping through the rainforest canopy, a pink dolphin in the water. It was an amazing trip.” 

“I can really feel your passion for your art.” Kaylee says.

“Yep! It’s been a long journey from where I started but I’m really happy where I am now in my career.  I want to get up each morning and not only take these fantastic photos but share my passion with others.  A huge part of my time is helping other people learn this art.  It can be frustrating for many people because there is so much information about photography out there. I know because that was the way I tried to learn on my own.  Everyone needs a mentor to ask questions, solve problems, and learn from.  It is actually similar to how you are helping me now train for dearMoon– I guess.” Jorge complements Kaylee. “So what’s next in my training plan?”

“Today, let’s focus on legs. I have a bunch of exercises that I would like you to incorporate into your routine.” Kaylee stated. “I’m also working with Amanda to get time for you to try weightlessness at least once before your trip. I know Kyle’s trainer has him signed up to try it very soon. You will also need to travel to Ohio for centrifuge training.  When do you think you can fit that in?” Kaylee asks.

Bangour’s 1st full day in Denali National Park, Alaska

Around 3 am lightening lit up the sky and a loud crack of thunder startled Bangoura from his light sleep.  He pushed himself further into his shelter to avoid getting wet. Annoyingly, he felt sprinkles of cold rain hit his face throughout the night as rain poured onto his lean to.   He was exhausted, mostly from the stress of being alone for the first time in the woods and was desperate to sleep.  He watched the storm pass as the lightning strikes moved across the sky.  He found the river valley very beautiful but also frightening mostly because he was not familiar with the area.  Eventually, the storm passed, and Bangoura was able to drift back to sleep. 

Around 5:30 am, the skies began to brighten.  Since the park is so far north, the sky never turned black.  Bangoura was thankful that he had packed his sleeping mask that he had with him from his flight to Alaska.  In the Starship, he imagined that the group would be sleeping in shifts so that someone would be awake during the entire trip.  He also imagined they would have ear buds to block out any mechanical noise and a sleeping mask to block out light while sleeping in closed quarters.  He hoped that the interior of the space craft would allow them to move around during the 7 days to the moon. 

In the morning, Bangoura had planned to tie absorbent cloths around his ankles to see if he could collect moisture from dew on leaves.  He understood that this practice would produce very small quantities of water, but he thought he should try different methods of collecting water since he had no idea what the conditions would be like if the group becomes stranded after returning to Earth. He also searched for fleshy and pulpy plants and roots that contained water.  He learned from Chris that you could smash the plants with a rock and collect a ridiculously small quantity of liquid, but in a desperate situation, every little drop helps.  

He was lucky have survival training in a river valley at Denali Park. With an abundance of streams and vegetation in the river valley, he was feeling more confident that he would be able to find safe water to drink for his entire ordeal.  If the Starship crew found themselves lost in a desert, just finding water would be extremely difficult. Chris taught him to observe animal behavior and follow animal tracks because they often lead to water.  In the early morning or late evening, wildlife will be drawn to water sources.  Also, he was told to stand still and listen for the sound of running water because when standing still, the sound of running water travels far.  Although annoying, small flies and flying insects can indicate the location of moisture or water. Chris told Bangoura to become aware of your surroundings because water always flows downhill.  If you follow the topography to lower elevations, there is a good chance you will find water in valleys. Other techniques that Chris taught him included digging wells around vegetations where moisture could accumulate, the feet of cliffs, in dry river beds and dry desert lake beds. These are the areas that could hold moisture. You might fail but they have a higher chance of having moisture because they had held water in the past.

Some climates offer safer water sources than others. In the Artic or Mountainous regions, snow or glaciers could provide water when melted. It is always best to melt and purify the water before drinking. In Denali Park, snow and ice are abundant well into the summer months. There have been some years where snow is present in the park around the year.  Bangoura learned that while on an ocean or in a polar region – search for fresh water in icebergs that have been through rains or recent thawing periods.  Salty ice is characterized as opaque and grey while freshwater has a bluish color and crystalline structure.   Freshwater also splinters easily with a knife. A good tip to melt snow and ice is to put a small quantity in the purified water you already have since the snow will melt in your container while conserving energy.

Another wise way is to collect condensation from metal surfaces that are placed in the open.  Between night and day – the temperature can be extreme in desert environments.  Before the sun rises and water evaporates, collect the condensation with an absorbent cloth.

Luckily, Bangoura had a good insect resistant spray to keep the bugs from biting him. Fighting insects while you are struggling for survival is annoying. If the Starship crew did not have any mosquito repellant with then when they landed in a remote bug infested area, Bangoura knew that the oil of the pine needs rubbed into the skin and clothing will repel biting bugs.  Another helpful hint is to burn pine needles in the camp fire produces an aroma that will keep those pesky bugs away. The temperature dropped at night so the bugs did not seem to bother Bangoura as much as he had feared they would.

Bangoura decided to try the Universal Edible test to find plants that were safe to eat during the rest of his stay in the park. Forging in the Alaskan wilderness was key to his survival.  Weather it was searching for Alaskan blue berries, an abundant plant in this part of the state, or another edible plants, it was always important to be careful. Since the vegetation was abundant in Denali park, it is fairly easy to poison yourself by misidentifying a plant. There are red or white berries, such as baneberries or snowberries, that look nutritious but could be fatal because they can cause cardiac arrest.   Lucky for Bangoura, Alaska is home to a large variety of berries that will provide key nutrients. Edible berries in Alaska include: lowbush cranberry, thimbleberry, strawberry, salmonberry, bunchberry, huckleberry, highbush cranberry, gooseberry, elderberry, cloudberry, twisted stalk/wild cucumber/watermelon berry and the Alaskan blueberry.

The first step in the Universal Edible test was not to eat anything and drink only water for the first 8 hours. That is easy to do when stranded, lost, and alone.  Bangoura had not eaten anything except the power bar he had for dinner the previous evening. Growling, his stomach complained that he was hungry.

The first tricky step is to find a plant that is plentiful that he felt could fill him if he could prove to himself that it is edible.  Bangoura read a list of poisonous plants from the Alaska Public Lands information center before leaving for his trip but without practicing identifying the plants, he did not find the list helpful.  Instead, he tried to memorize a list of plant characteristics to avoid.  He would avoid plants with  seeds inside pods, have a bitter or soapy taste, or have an almond scent in woody parts and leaves.  It’s also safe to avoid plants that have spines, fine hairs, or thorns.  Also, he remembered to avoid grain heads with pink, purplish, or black spurs.  He remembered that the book recommended that he paid careful attention to the leaf shape, spacing and root structure.  To be safe, he decided he would not try to eat any mushrooms.

Near his shelter, Bangoura found a plant that he suspected is a fireweed. He separates the plant into five parts: Root, stem, leaves, buds, and flower.  He also tossed aside any plant that showed signs of rotting, which included parasites, worms, or insets.

Bangoura decided to crush one of the five parts of the plant and rub it the inside of his elbow. He could have also rubbed it on the inside of his wrist. If he develops a rash immediately or within 8 hours – he needs to start over and find another plant to test.  During the next 8 hours, the Universal test requires you to eat nothing and drink only water.

After 8 hours, Bangoura did not develop any rash or reaction, but was feeling faint since he had nothing to eat for almost a day.  He was anxious to cook the plant to remove any toxicity.  He put the plant in a small camping pot and to conserve the drinking water he brought, boiled the rain water he collected from the tarp the night before.   

The next step, regardless of whether he could cook the plant or not, was to take the same part of the plant and hold it in his lips for 3 minutes.  Again, if he developed a burning sensation on his lips or had any type of adverse reaction, he would need to start over again. The Universal Edible test process is painfully slow, but he knew it was necessary to prevent him from getting sick in the wild, alone.  He was willing to do about anything to stay healthy during his three-days of survival training.

His stomach was rumbling even louder as he waited for three minutes to pass.    After 3 minutes, his lips feel fine, so he decides that the plant is safe to taste. Using the same part of the plant as the previous tests, he placed the plant under his tongue for 15 minutes. He held his breathe and waited to see if he would experience any unpleasant reactions.  He waited 5 minutes, and nothing happened. He waited another 5 minutes and then the last 5 minutes. He did not have any reaction, but the taste of the plant was bitter.  Since the plant appeared to be safe to eat he began to chew it. Looking at his watch, he chewed the same piece of plant for a full 15 minutes and held it in his mouth without swallowing it. Yuck!

Bangoura had a mouthful of green bitter mush at this point but keeping to his plan by watching the time slowly pass.  After 15 minutes, Bangoura did not have any adverse reaction and allowed himself to swallow the soggy plant in his mouth – which almost made him gag because of the soggy texture.  Again, he waited to see if he would have any reaction such as a burning sensation. If that occurred, he was prepared to spit the plant out and rinse with lots of water.

He had to wait another 8 hours for the final test.  If he felt sick to his stomach – he would to induce vomiting and drink more water, which he had plenty of. He spent most of the day collecting rainwater, moister from plants in bags, and dew from the morning. 

While he was waiting for each stage of the universal edible test to complete, he busied himself trying to catch fish from the McKinley River.   As a result of the instability of the river bed, it was difficult for macro vertebrate and fish communities to thrive in the river. Only specialized species of fish were found in the McKinley River.

Bangoura found a straight stick, which he split into a fork to improve his chances of catching a fish.  He used his pocket knife, the one he used to start the fire with the magnesium block the previous night to sharpen the forks of the spears.  Wearing overboots and using trekking poles, he carefully walked into the McKinley River and tried to find a flat rock to stand on. It is extremely difficult keeping his balance while trying not to fall into the rushing water.  He wanted to stay dry because hypothermia could set in quickly, especially at night during the early spring when the temperatures dipped to near freezing. Being wet and cold in this environment could easily deplete his energy resources, causing illness and possibly death. Watching the time, he knew not wad into the river around noon since the melt from the glaciers is at its daily peak. 

After walking a quarter way across the braided stream, he found a flat rock that he was confident that he could fish from.  He stood with is spear in his right hand – at the ready – and looked for a fish to spear.  For the first 20 minutes he didn’t see any fish that were large enough for him to eat.  The river was moving at a good clip, and he had to adjust his eyes to see what was in the water. Thank goodness the water was clear, and he could see to about half a foot in depth. 

Concentrating on the river below, his eyes adjust to see smaller fish swim in the braided McKinley River. Steading his footing, he threw the spear as hard as he could – missing the fish and watched his spear continue down the river away from where he was standing.

“NO!” Bangoura shouted. “Well, that was waste!”  Looking around – he decided to wade back to the shore and make a second spear – and a few extra just in case. 

This time Bangoura tried a neat trick that he saw on a YouTube video.  Finding a spent bullet casing – he discovered that they can be easily repurposed into a metal arrow head.  He took a large rock and started to pound the bullet casing flat. He did not crush half a cm. Then, he bent the bullet casing back and forth until the unused portion broke off. The next step took a bit of time. He found a flat rough rock and started scrap the sides of the flat bullet casing into the form of an arrow head. He didn’t mind doing this since he had time to kill.  Once he finished, he fastened it onto another straight.

Using some twine that he had brought, he tied a knot to one end of the spear hoping that he could stand on the other end of the spear while fishing. If he was lucky to catch a fish, his plan was to haul his catch in with the end that he was securing with his foot.

After making four more fork spears, he carefully wadded back into the McKinley River to the same spot where he lost his first spear.  It was getting later in the morning so he wanted to catch a fish before the river volume increased.  He was determined to catch a fish – even a small one,  to add protein to his food supply.

If he was stranded in an area, with no access to a body of water with fish – he would have to hunt.  Six weeks before Bangoura arrived in Alaska, he met with Chris one weekend to learn how to use a gun to shoot for the first time.  He made sure that Bangoura was able to possess a fire arm based on Federal and State laws in Alaska.  Changes in federal laws (2010) made it legal for tourists to carry fire arms in most outdoor areas of Denali National Park and Preserve.  Hunting and discharging fire arms in the park are generally prohibited by Federal lay within the national park.  Hunting is limited to qualified local rural residents who use hunting for subsistence by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA - 1980).  The State of Alaska Defense of Life and Property (DLP) does not apply within Denali National Park. There is no DLP regulation for federal law.  Bangoura had never used a weapon in his life, and the whole experience left him feeling unsettled.  Somehow, fishing felt less violent to him than using a gun to hunt. He understood that if he needed to eat to survive, he would need to hunt so he put his feelings aside.

Standing in the same spot, with the sun warming his back side, Bangoura held his spear in the air and waited. It was surprisingly warm standing on the flat rock in the braided river.  He wanted to remove his outer shell, but he knew better.  The weather in the National Park changed continuously throughout the day.  Also, he would never forgive himself if he lost his shell in the river while he is crossing it.

Suddenly, a small school of fish passed. He took a deep breath and shot his spear! The spear skimmed the top of the water and floated away – just like the first one.  “WOW! This is difficult!” he exclaimed.

For his next attempt, Bangoura stepped on twine that was attached to one end of the next spear. It only took moments before he spotted another fish that was larger and closer.  He held the spire with a tight grip, aimed and let it fly.  The fish was stabbed in the back half of its body.  Using the twine, he quickly lifted the poor creature out of the water as it struggled to free itself. Feeling proud to catch his own dinner, he shuffled across the mighty McKinley River, spear in hand, with a fish dangling from the end. 

When he finally got to his shelter – he noticed that his fire was slowly dying. He set his catch down and quickly added small branches to the fire to keep the flame going.  He was impressed with himself that he managed to keep himself warm and dry during his first night alone in the woods.

Preparing to catch and successfully catching his first small fish took about 5 hours. He had three more hours to wait before it was safe to eat the plant that he was testing so he set about cleaning his catch.  Referring to his cheat sheet, Bangoura had drawn a small fish with lines to help him remember where to cut the fish to clean it.  Making cuts around the neck and down it’s stomach, he removed the fish’s head and  internal organs. Finally, Bangoura fillets the fish and prepares to cook it over the fire.  

Another hour had passed.  Two more to go. He was feeling weak from hunger. Luckily, he still had no side effects from swallowing the mouthful of the extremely soggy plant.  His stomach rumbled again to remind him how hungry he was.  He was stubborn though and did not want to break away from the test by cheating. 

He was looking forward to his first meal that he had caught, harvested, and cooked.  Catching and cleaning his first fish was a huge accomplishment, and he is feeling quite proud of himself.  He had softened since moving from Africa to Helsinki.  During the week, when he was busy at work, he would often get takeout or eat frozen pizza – especially for lunch. He never made time for his meals like he did when he lived in Africa – and did not have a choice. Now in the park, Bangoura spent most of his time and energy just feeding himself. It was a tremendous a shift from his normal routine of eating on the run.

Finally, after 8 more hours, Bangoura was ready to eat.  He felt very well and did not have any reaction to the plant he tested.  He carefully collected a large quantity of the plant.  It was not the best tasting plant he has eaten but it was going to be good enough for him to have calories until he could return to civilization.  His cheat notes said to consume a quarter of a cup at a time to be careful.  The last thing he wanted to happen was for him to get ill.  He only had two more evenings – he reminded himself.  It was best to be safe than sorry.

Now that he could finally eat, Bangoura started to look for a plank of wood to use to cook his fish. Using his sharp knife, he made four wooden pegs to pierce the fish and attach it to a plank of wood.  He stood the plank of wood close to his fire so that the heat of the flames cooked the fish.  He put a cup of water in the pot on the open flame to boil. Once the water was at the boiling point, he added a quarter cup of the plant that he thought was fireweed.  He boiled the plant for less than 10 minutes to make sure any contaminants were removed. He carefully drained the water and took his first bite of food in over 24 hours.  Soon his fish was done cooking.  He carefully tipped the plank of wood away from the fire and removed the wooden pegs to release the fish from the wood.  It smelt delicious. The fish was perfectly cooked with a nice smoky smell.  Using his multi tool, the tender fish fell apart with a gentle push.  He wolfed down the fish in an instant, barely tasting it as he swallowed his catch.

He had about six hours to kill before he needed to sleep again. Putting his overboots on again, he waded into the river to try to catch a second fish to eat.  Using the same spear – with the rope attached – he spotted another fish and threw the spear into the water.  This time he missed, and he quickly grabbed the rope to pull his trusty spear back to where he was standing. Bangoura fails 10 times before he was able to spear another fish.  He kept on saying to himself his new mantra – “Live and learn.  That‘s what this whole adventure was about.  Living the best life possible and learning every step of the way.” He said with confidence.

With his second catch on the spear, he easily waded through the McKinley River to where his fire was slowly dying again. He quickly added kindling and set to work cleaning the second fish.  Working a bit faster this time, the two slightly larger fillets on the same wooden plank to cook them. Even though the larger fish took longer to cook – it was much more delicious since he could enjoy it more.

“That was delicious!” Bangoura realized that he was starting to talk to himself out loud and that worried him. Describing himself as a social butterfly, Bangoura realized this was the longest period that he has been alone without any access to the internet, phone, or another human to speak to.  He was starting to feel lonely but remembered that if the artists were in a survival situation, he would not be alone. He would have the fellow artists to keep company with.  Being part of a group or crew often improves your mood simply because you are not alone facing a challenge. 

Now that his stomach was almost full, Bangoura decided to go for a hike to find a spring fed pool to clean himself.  Along the way he looked for berries for dessert. Taking off his over boots and setting them aside in his shelter, he checked his fire again before setting out to look for a spring and dessert.   

As Bangoura walked away from his camp, he looked for poison ivy.  The vegetation closest to the river’s bank was incredibly low grasses.  It was still early spring, so his expectations were low that he would find any berry that was easily recognizable that he could enjoy.  If he arrived in Alaska for his survival test training later in the spring, he might be lucky to eat fresh raspberry and a crab apple.  Now everything was coming back alive after a long harsh winter and unfortunately, berries and fruit were not as plentiful.

Bangoura loved to hear the silence of just the wind in this remote part of the world.  He did not want to disturb the silence, but Chris warned him that he did not want to come face to face with a bear.  If he did – depending on the color of the bear, he needed to do the correct thing to scare him away.  Chris made sure that Bangoura could protect himself in any circumstance.  

Wherever he went in the wilderness, Chris warned him to never find himself between a mother bear and her cubs.  Using his trekking sticks as he walked, he trashed his sticks into the brush, trying to make as much noise as he could. He started to sing one of his songs that he played with his drums.  He missed having his drum with him to comfort him and to pass the time. He soon came across some purple berries that were from a bush low to the ground. He immediately recognized them as moss berries or crowberries. They ripen in the fall and remain on the plan throughout the winter.  He wanted to be sure so he collected a few branches and decided this would be the next plant that he used for the edible test.

Even though he was not comfortable with the thought of carrying a gun, he brought it with him for was protection and rare opportunities to hunt . The National Park Service (NPS) manages the wildlife within the original 2 million-acre Mt. McKinley National Park.  In 1980, the park was enlarged to 6 million acres by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), which added the new national park and preserve lands. At the time, the park was renamed to Denali National Park and Preserve. The NPS and State of Alaska cooperatively manage the wildlife resources of the park and preserve.

When considering hunting in the park, it was important to understand that Denali National Park and Preserve was split into three areas: Federally-designated Wilderness; national park land; and national preserve land.  Sport hunting is prohibited within Denali National Park, including designated wilderness lands and the 1980 park additions. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game maps out the state and lists season restrictions and bag limits to promote wildlife control and conservation, and sustainable and safe hunting practices. There are three animals that can be hunted year-round in Alaska: squirrel, coyote, and beaver.

Subsistence hunting and trapping by eligible local rural residents is permitted on park and preserve lands added by ANILCA, but not within the former Mt. McKinley National Park.  A valid Alaska State hunting license is required for all hunters age 16 and older. Sport hunting is only permitted within Denali National Preserve.  Hunters must know and follow all applicable state and federal hunting regulations. Bangoura studied Denali’s hunting regulations before leaving home. It took Chris and him a while to determine exactly where the Denali Park Preserve was located so Bangoura would be able to hunt during his three days of survival training/testing.

Bangoura was excited to see some wildlife. According to Scientists in the Denali park there are 39 different species of mammals in the park  - of all different sizes ranging from tiny shrews, which are the weight of a penny to 1 200 pound moose. Before leaving home, Bangoura studied the information on the web regarding the types of large wildlife in the park. The goal of many hikers was to spot the big five: Moose, Caribou, Dall Sheep, wolves, and Grizzly Bear.  Bangoura was excited to cross paths with any of the big five, except for the Grizzly Bear – he wanted to make as much noise as possible to avoid any contact with the great beast. Since Bangoura had next to no camping or hiking experience – he wanted to be as prepared as possible for the chance occurrence of meeting up with a Grizzly Bear during his survival training. 

He scoured the internet and read books about hiking in Alaska for information and asked Chris a bunch of questions to make sure he acted appropriately.

Chris told him “There were two schools of thought: 1) Teach people how to avoid meeting a bear and the problem of dealing with an angry bear is avoided and 2) Teach people all the tools that they require to successfully deal with a bear if put into the situation of meeting an angry Grizzly Bear. I will teach you as much as possible about these beasts, so you are well prepared. Their behavior is complex.  Their behavior often depends on the individual bear, the situation that you encountered it in and the geography of the location.”

Bangoura remembered Chris saying, “Always expect to see a bear and be prepare to deal with any encounter.”

For that reason, Bangoura was carrying bear spray and knew how to use it by watching YouTube videos. As he hiked, he made loud noises to let the creature know he was in his/her neighborhood and ensured he did not surprise any bear.

“If you see a bear, never run!” Chris commanded. “If you and your artists friends are stranded after returning to Earth, you will be together. Stay together and hike in groups.”

Bangoura wished now he had someone with him to keep him company.  Safety in numbers had much truth to it when in a new, strange environment.

Before this adventure he read Stephen Herrero’s Bear Attacks, Their Causes and Avoidances to learn about Grizzly Bear behavior. He also watched videos on YouTube to study their actions.  Bangoura knows when humans study the bears actions – the bear is doing the same.

“It is best to communicate to the bear that you mean no harm.  If you can do this successfully, then hopefully each of you will walk away unharmed.” Chris recommended. “Do not drop your pack and run to distract the bear.  Always stay calm.  Be aware of your surroundings at all times to keep a wide margin of space between you and any wildlife.”

Bangoura read that it is best to stay 300 m (300 yards) away from any bear or 25 m  (25 yards) away from any other wildlife, nests, or dens.

Bangoura started his hike down the trail close to his shelter and along McKinley River.  The trail is wide and stony. He is wearing very sturdy hiking boots and is using two trekking sticks to keep his balance and make noise to let wildlife know of his presence.  It surprised him how few sounds there were around him.  Aside from the occasional loud sound from the only amphibian in this part of Alaska – the Wood Frog – he could only hear the rush of the river alongside the trail. 

The Wood Frog is a small amphibian, between 1 and 7 cm from tail to snout. These frogs are known as ectotherms because their body temperatures fluctuate with the ambient air and surroundings. They   survive during the long cold sub-artic winter by burrowing into decaying leaves on the forest floor during hibernation and freeze solid using “cryoprotectant” chemicals.  The frog’s brain sends signals to the liver to convert stored glycogen to glucose, a sugar, when the daily temperatures begin drop below 32 F (0C).  The glucose circulates through the frog’s bloodstream into the cells where it lowers the freezing point of water. The glucose also protects cells from damage and minimizes the effects of dehydration. As the temperature continues to drop, the wood frogs freeze solid. Throughout the entire winter, hibernating frogs are inanimate: they don’t breathe and their hearts don’t beat. Alaskan wood frogs tolerate colder temperatures and freeze for longer periods of time than wood frogs in all other areas of North America, and survive temperatures as low as –12° C. Scientists have discovered that the heart and liver (and other core organs) freeze last and thaw first allowing the frog’s vital functions such as circulation and metabolism to be maintained as long as possible. In the spring, when the temperatures rise, the frogs thaw and search for ponds to breed.

Bangoura brought binoculars with him to see wild life from a distance. He saw several types of migrating birds’ overhead. The Park is home to migratory birds from all over the globe and a small group of hardy local birds. The abundance of birds in the park changes throughout the year.  The largest number of birds living in the park occurs in the spring and decreases during the autumn migration. Bangoura did not know how to identify birds although he made a list of the ones he may see on his cheat sheet from the Dena/learn/nature/birds.htm website.  The list included: pine grosbeaks, mixed flocks of ptarmigan, and perhaps a gyrfalcon or northern goshawk.

Aside from looking for wildlife, Bangoura is looking for groundwater fed springs for another source of food and water.  Denali National Park and Preserve is blessed with a large quantity of fresh water rivers and streams, from large glacial rivers to intermittent streams. The character of the river or stream is dictated by their source, local geology, and processes within the watershed. The source of a river or stream may be melting glacier, snow, or springs from naturally filtered groundwater.  Bangoura was most interested in finding a naturally fed groundwater stream or pond.  These bodies of water proved to be most abundant in aquatic life and free of silt and pollution.  In contrast, the mountain ranges in Denali Park were subjected to erosion, that affects the stability of stream beds.  As a result, the stream beds affected the current flow, gradient of the stream and substrate particle size.  

During his hike, Bangoura crossed many intermittent streams that were flowing only in the spring due to peak snowmelt.  These streams dry up during the summer months unless the area experiences high rainfall. During dry periods, these streams become dry river beds. Some species of aquatic insect survive in these intermittent streams by laying their eggs during the dry periods, which they can survive until the melt water and rain returns in the spring.

As Bangoura was captivated by the beautiful scenery, he failed to notice that he was being followed.  On a parallel path, closer to the base of the mountain, a young adult Grizzly Bear was taking a jaunt down a similar trail about 500 m to the North of Bangoura.  Bears often follow paths for the same reason that we do – it is easy to travel along them.  Bangoura continued to sing and make noise as he went along his journey to find an alternative water source.  After stopping to tie his right boot lace, he stood up and leaned backwards to stretch his back.

“Thump!” Turning around, Bangoura nearly jumps out of his skin at the sight of a young grizzly bear landing on his front paws.  The bear is not looking directly at him but is staring forward, which, as Bangoura remembered from his training, was a great sign.  When Bears feel threatened, they look directly at their prey, and if you are very unlucky, they charge. Grizzly bears are excellent runners and can reach up to 40 km/hour in a sprint, even though they appear to be fat, clumsy, and slow moving.

Thinking to himself, “He is just a young curious bear.  Stay calm man, he just stood on his hind legs to get a better look. That’s all!” With some effort, Bangoura takes a deep breath to calm his fears.

Raising his arms above his head and waving his trekking poles at the bear he shouts, which gives Bangoura more confidence.  Reaching in his back pocket he grabs his bear spray can.

In response, the young bear’s ears lay back.  Again, the young bear stopped and stood up another time to get a better look at Bangoura. 

“Get out of here!” Bangoura shouted at the young bear. “You don’t want me to use this!” Bangoura had his bear spray in his right hand, ready to use it. “This spray will hurt more than you can believe! Back off Bear! Back off!”   The bear shook his head and then turned away from Bangoura.  This did not prevent Bangoura from yelling more at the bear.

“That’s right! Don’t come near me! You’ll don’t want to mess with this guy!” Go! Go! Go!”

As soon as the bear was a good distance from Bangoura, he could feel his knees weaken. Searching for a fallen tree to sit on.  Bangoura notices that he is breathing very rapidly. 

“Did that really happen?” Bangoura wondered out loud. “Is he really gone? “Standing up and looking in the direction of the bear to make sure he was safe. An incident like this is not what typically happens to Bangoura on a school day.  Awesome! “Calm the heck down!” Trying hard to relax, Bangoura continues to talk to himself. “He didn’t even come near you! You are great! You are fine!”  Reassuring himself that he is alive and has survived his first real encounter with wild life.

Lately, he has been watching movies where a team of astronauts were sent to Mars or another distant planet in our solar system. Due to an accident or unexpected event, only one of the crew survives. The movies Bangoura has watched centered around the poor soul left in solitary confinement– trying not to go crazy without another human to communicate with.  Bangoura prayed this would not happen the Starship crew.  A situation where he was alone after a disaster would be more than he bargained for.

The scenery was so stunning around him, Bangoura was tempted to wonder from his camp further to go for a longer hike, but he knew that was not the purpose of his training. Also, he was not familiar at all with these surroundings.  The last thing he wanted to happen was for him to wonder too far away from camp and get lost.  It is important to stay close to where he slept so that if it was a true search and rescue situation the idea would be for him and the rest of the crew to stick together and near the crash site.  Wondering away from camp could lead to injury or someone being lost. He liked the fact that he managed to find a water source fairly close to his lean to. Despite the bear’s sighting, his camp, with a warm fire besides a meandering stream to fish from; Bangoura decided he was in heaven.

Turning to his right, the sound of bubbling water grabs his attention. A group of willow and aider are growing in a clump about 700 m from where he is resting.  Jumping up and running over to see if a spring fed stream was there.  Since groundwater fill these streams and ponds, the water is always cooler in the Summer and warmer in the Winter compared to the surface fed springs. The ponds and streams also persist longer so the continuous presence of water allows for leaves to fall and provide a good food source for fish and macro invertebrates.

Bangoura found a large bolder right next to the pond and immediately takes off his hiking boots and socks, then rolled up his pant leg to dip his sore feet in the cool water.  With sharper eyes, Bangoura immediately spots a good size fish. “Man, I wish I had brought my spear with me.”  Then, he remembered another trick. He heard that you can remove the zipper tab from any zipper and break the loop, then bend the broken part to 90 degrees from the zipper tab.  Then, using a rough rock, simple grind the broken part until you get a sharp point. The same idea can be used on a discarded pop can tab.  Unfortunately, he was not able to find a discarded pop can.  He really did not want to damage his back pack in any way, but if he could catch another fish, it was worth the price. Without any more hesitation, he turned the zipper pull into a fishing hook.  Looking in his back pack, he found a bit of fishing line that he pack in the bottom of his bag.  He found another straight branch and soon had a functional fishing line.  Using berries as bate, he was soon fishing in the pond.

Unfortunately, he didn’t notice that the level of the stream had changed, and his boots almost got washed away. Luckily, out of the corner of his eye he saw one of his boots fall over.  Running over, he grabbed them out of the water. 

“Darn! I can’t believe I was so stupid to just leave them there.  I should have known better.” With a sigh, he put his soggy socks and boots on his feet and headed back to his shelter – without any fish but a new hook to use for the next day’s fishing.

When he arrived at his shelter, his fire had died out. Luckily, the rocks were still very warm. Using long sticks, he carefully rolled two small stones from the fire pit into his two wet boots.  Then, buckled down to make a new fire. He was running low on tinder and natural fire-starting material. He pulled out his back up pair of wool socks since his feet were starting to get cold. He put them on and then realized that they were pilling.

“I wonder if these little bits of wool will burn?”  He plucked off a small handful of wool bumps, strands, and fibers – making excellent tinder that could help him start a quick fire.  Cotton and wool are natural flammable material.  Adding dry pine needles and grasses, he struck the magnesium block with his pocket knife – making a few precious sparks to start a flame.  He was slowly getting the hang of making fire.

“Practice makes perfect!” he said to himself confidently. Bangoura watching the colors in the sky as the sun set, realized that he had almost completed his first full day in the woods alone!  “One day down, two more to go!”, he thought as he tended to his fire -that was drying his wet boots.

Bangoura's Second day in Denali National Park, Alaska

Bangoura felt much more rested waking up on day two of his adventure. No rain had fallen during the night so the only wetness he had to deal with was the dew that had settled on his shelter in the early morning.  With a bit of struggle, he rolled off his bed and stretched.  He felt his back crack.

The scenery was incredible. The sun was just coming up over the mountain range and the colors of the fields of wild flowers was a collection that Bangoura had never seen before. As the sun rose, the dark reds turned to fiery pinks and the greys suddenly became vibrant greens.  It was going to be a beautiful morning – or at least until the weather changed.

He turned his attention to his fire and started to boil water from the stream that he found last night in the small pot that he had brought.  He was looking forward to having something warm inside of him, even if that meant warm water.  He was running through the list in his head of all the things he would like to accomplish today. It was strange not to worry about checking email or contacting students, which was his routine when he arrived at school each morning.  He developed a habit of checking Google news at his desk first thing in the morning to see what the heck was going on in the world.  Checking Google became a way to ease into the work that was before him but reading about political strife, the refuge crisis and Brexit, often had the effect of adding stress to his day instead of relaxing him. Now, in the middle of a National Park, without access to the Internet or a phone to check text or voice messages, he realized he did not miss reading Google news at all.  He is surprised how quickly he can disconnect when there is so much in nature to look at and so many chores to do while living off the land.  He was thankful for this time off the grind of “real life”. 

After the fire was up and running once again, he put his warmed boots on – after discarding the stones that he had put in them to help them dry faster.  His feet immediately warmed the rest of his body.  “Ahh!”  He enjoyed his toasty dry feet which made him feel happy.  He wished he had his drum with him to celebrate.

Today, he wanted to try his zipper hook to fish from the new pond. Bangoura also wanted to find another type of vegetation to eat.  Finally, he wanted to trap or hunt a small animal – either a beaver, rabbit, or a porcupine. He craved a good BBQ dinner.  While preparing for his three-day survival test, he knew he would need protein for energy and to survive. He watched YouTube videos that taught primitive methods of trapping animals.  The first thing to remember, is that most states prohibit this type of hunting but in a survival type situation, it is allowed. 

Setting up a traditional deadfall trap is simple.  All Bangoura needed was a huge bolder – big enough to knock out an animal trapped underneath it.  Some suggest using a log but then the animal that you are trying to catch will easily escape if it receives a glancing blow. The best type of rocks to hunt for are large, about 5 times the weight of the animal you are hunting. It should also be round and flat to maximize the area that the animal can be trapped.

He also needed a stick that was long enough to cut in two and had the diameter of a C battery. He found a 5-inch-long stick that was about the correct thickness. The idea was that this stick would be the support stick – and cutting it in two would hide it from the animal. Then, he found a long strong stick; about the diameter of a pencil that would be the trigger stick. He also needed a knife.  Other techniques required a trip wire but Bangoura like this one because it was quick an easy and did not require him to have cord or wire with him.

After gathering the sticks, Bangoura set to work by cutting the thicker stick first in two and then carving groves in the two shorter sticks.  The groove should be ¼” wide and 3/16th deep.  Then, he started to thin one end of the longer stick so that it would fit snuggly into the groves of the shorter stick when put together.  “Now the tricky part!” Bangoura said out loud.

He found a natural trial some distance from his shelter that he imagined small animals used. He remembered the advice he read: he should avoid setting the trap over soft ground. The harder the ground, the more effective the trap would be. Another flat rock would be ideal but hard packed ground works well too.  If the ground is too soft, it will cushion the blow of the rock and make the trap useless. The trail he decided to set his trap on was on the way to the natural spring he found last night. He imagined that small animals used this path for hunting and to drink from the pond.  He put the trap across the small path – making sure not to bend down too many of the plants since he wanted to camouflage the trap as much as possible.

Carefully, he balanced the larger bolder on the two supporting sticks. He twisted one of the two support sticks into the ground as far as he could manage. He was tempted to use his boot as a hammer, but it would damage the stick where the groove was.  Once it was secured, he used the second half of the same stick – making sure the grooves in the support stick were aligned – he set one end of the large bolder on top. It took time but he eventually arranged the support sticks so that they were angled towards the rock instead of straight.  The tricky part was aligning the two support sticks so that the groove was unobstructed.  

To make sure that his trap did not have his scent, Bangoura walked to the rapidly flowing river and washed his hands up to his elbows in the ice cold glacially fed water. 

“WoW! I don’t wish to fall in there!” Bangoura thought out loud.

Then, he walked to a pine tree and yanked a branch to take a small branch off that had a great number of needles. Then, he rubbed his hands up and down the needles to get his hands smelling like pine instead of human.  He returned to the trap with a bit of pine sap between his fingers. He detested having his fingers sticky but it was necessary to trap a small animal for dinner. 

Baiting the trap was extremely important.  He remembered that he should not bait the deadfall trap with something that was plentiful where he was camping.  What is the use in offering something to the animal that he was eating anyways?  He remembered to keep the skin of the fish that he caught and used some for bait. Cutting the trigger stick so that it was the correct length, he baited it with some fish skin from his dinner the night before.  His first attempt at setting the trap failed when the entire trap came down on his foot.

Jumping up and down swearing, Bangoura growled.  After the sting of the large rock hitting his right foot went away, he was able to try again. This time Bangoura was extremely slow and careful and was able to set the trap.  Once it was in place, Bangoura jumped up and down yelling “I did it!” I did it!  But here was no one to celebrate with him. Realizing this, he slowly backed away and made two more traps in various areas around his camp.

Published May 9, 2021

#dearMoon Audition video

Adel training sessions in the Centrifuge

Waiting to begin her second day of training in the entrance of the National Aerospace Training and Research (NASTAR) Center in Southampton, Pennsylvania, Adele’s name is finally called. She enters the Centrifuge training area and climbs into the gondola. Just like the day before, the centrifuge technician reviews the now-familiar seat adjustments and cabin features.  Adel has seven EKG wires connected to her chest and tucked under her shirt to a transmitter on her belt.

“I’m ready!” Adele tells the centrifuge technician who is helping her get comfortable in the small cabin. He closes the heavy metal door and leaves the room.

Initially, the centrifuge technician starts the simulated flight at around half-acceleration force.  As the centrifuge begins to rotate, the flight controller tells Adele that she is flying at 50 000 feet. The G-forces are noticeable but still comfortable.

Yesterday, she decided not to use the G-suite since she was curious to know if she could withstand the G forces without any help.  The flight controller and surgeon/doctor agreed to let her try since she is extremely fit and in her early 30s. 

After 30 seconds, the centrifuge begins to accelerate. The machine begins to spin around faster and faster and Adele feels pressure increase on her chest and she is surprised how “real” it feels.

Minutes pass as she successfully experiences 30 seconds at each Gx force level.  Gx is called “eyeballs back” by fighter jet pilots because of the enormous pressure on the eyes.  For the second day in the row she can withstand six times the g-force in the horizontal direction.

After a 30-minute rest period, she’s strapped back into the gondola so that she can experience Gz or “eyeballs back” forces. This force is called “eyeballs down” because blood is pushed towards the subject’s feet.  Since Gz is the force that the artists/astronauts will feel when they have blasted into space, the Flight controller has a surprise for Adele.  The video that Adele watches simulates a rocket blasting off into space.  Again, the Gz force is increased by half a Gz and is constant for 30 seconds before advancing to the next half Gz. She easily withstands three times the g-force vertically before starting to feel some discomfort in her chest.

When she reaches 3 Gz – the gondola shuts down and the Gz ease off.  It is very quiet in the capsule as her spaceship coasts. 

Another minute passes before a voice tells her that she had reached the peak altitude of 360 000 feet. This blast off flight simulator seems authentic to Adele. Even though weightlessness cannot be imitated on Earth, she feels light as a feather when the acceleration forces drop off. On the screen in front of Adele, she enjoys a view of Earth’s upper atmosphere and space. 

After a peaceful interlude, she hears five-seconds countdown to reentry.  Bracing herself again for Gz forces, Adele practices the AGSM maneuver since she is beginning to feel exhausted.  For another 3 minutes she feels pressure as she watches a simulation of falling through Earth’s atmosphere in a blur on the video screen.  Feeling a bit nauseous, she looks for the vomit bag close to where she is sitting.  Finally, the G forces ease as the simulated Starship begins to fire the repulse engines to gently land on firm ground.  The flight controller’s voice is heard over Adele’s ear phones “Welcome home Astronaut!”.  Adele takes a big gulp of air.  “I’m happy that is over with!” She exclaims.

As the centrifuge stops, the flight controller voice is heard in Adele’s head phones again.  “During the flight, did you have any discomfort?”

“I have to admit, I was feeling 4 out of 10 pain in my chest when we reached the highest Gz force, just before the video showed me an image of Space – which was super cool by the way!”

The flight controller than asks “Did you have any difficulty breathing at that point?”

“Not really”, Adel admits.

“How does your heart feel now?”, the flight controller asks.

“Good”, Adel sighs.

“Did you have any difficulty seeing during the flight simulation?”, the flight controller asks.

“None”, Adel answers.

“Any dizziness?”

“No.”, Adel smiles

“How does your head feel now?”, the flight controller asks the next medical question.

“Really good!”, Adel answers.

“That is great news!  Well – I have good news for you. You’ve completed your two days of training in the centrifuge. You have passed with flying colors.  When the launch date is set, we will have you back again for more training in the centrifuge so that your body is accustomed to feeling additional Gx and Gz forces before you leave Earth.” The flight controller congratulates Adel. “The more training you and your fellow artists have, the better your body will be suited for space travel”, he states.

“In the meantime, please take the EKG leads off before bed tonight so your skin is not irritated. Don’t be surprised when you feel exhausted this evening.  It might seem as though you have not worked today but your body has just successfully passed a tough workout.  Get some sleep tonight.”

The flight controller was correct. Adelle did not remember her head hitting the pillow that night.

Bangoura is looking for something new to eat

Bangoura was excited to find a new plant to test using the Universal Edible test.  Walking back to the camp, he found some low bushes that looked like they were immature raspberry bushes. He took a small branch with berries back with him to the camp.  He also collected water from the spring to boil since he was getting thirsty. Minding his fire became a constant concern. When he returned to his campsite he immediately added fuel to his campsite fire to start it roaring to help boil the water he collected.  While waiting for his water to cool, he decided to start the test.

He was happy to find the red juicy berries. After the green mush he gagged down the previous night, he wanted something sweet to enjoy. He took a small berry and rubbed it on the inside of his elbow and waited. This first step felt like overkill. He felt silly rubbing berries on the inside of his elbow but if he could prove the berries were safe to eat then he would have a fantastic side to go with whatever he could trap.  His mouth watered at the thought of it. 

Since he needed to wait to perform, he second step, he decided it would be a good time to fish. He found the broken zipper tab he had kept in his zippered pant pocket and found a long branch suitable for a fishing rod. He cut his fishing line and secured one end to the fishing rod and then other end to the make ship hook.  Bangoura then walked down the path to the little pond he found the night before. When he came close to his trap, he paused to see if it was still set. Unfortunately, it was just as he had left it. He reminded himself that it would have been too lucky if he had found a dead critter right away.  He would check his trap every hour throughout the day to see if he was able to catch a beaver, rabbit, or porcupine. He was hoping to trap something that would be easy to clean, like rabbit.  He was not sure how to clean a porcupine  - especially with the quills but if he was hungry enough he would find a way.

The sun was high in the sky as he approached the pond. He figured it was about 11 am or noon.  Bangoura enjoyed the sounds of the birds around the pond while he was focused on fishing. Since it was  the end of May, it was migration season in the Park.  Robins and other migratory birds were making their way back north for the summer.  Slowly the song birds were returning as well. Off to the right he spotted some movement out of the corner of his eye.  Pausing he stared.  He thought he could make out an eye staring at him, but he was not sure.  Turning slowly, he could just make out the head of a well camouflaged Willow Ptarmigan – the state bird of Alaska sitting by the water.  He could not believe his luck.  He never really learned how to identify birds but thought he should at least know the state bird before arriving.

Turning his attention back to the task at hand.  He was patiently casting his line back into the pond.  He was thankful that he had fished for about an hour and had only caught his line on some vegetation at the bottom of the pond once. He was dreading the thought that he might hook a log and loose his precious home-make hook. As time passed, he marked each hour by taking a break and checking his deadfall traps.  Unfortunately, it was just as he had left them. He was starting to worry that he picked the wrong locations for the traps and was thinking of trying different locations.

After fishing for over two hours, he finally felt a small tug.  Jerking the line up quickly, he set the hook and pulled the line in.  To his surprise, he caught a small bait fish. “Yes!” This is a good step forward.  He secured the fish better on the hook and threw the line back in. Within 5 minutes and three casts he felt another tug – this time much harder.  He pulled his line in and caught a nice bass. 

“Well, look at that!”  He said proudly.  “I caught some lunch, just in time!” He smiled.

Then, remembering his universal food test – he chose to ignore his growling stomach and saved the fish for dinner.  He pulled out his knife and quickly cleaned the fish.  It was something his mother taught him when he was 10 years old and something he had never forgotten.  Unlike his mom, who seemed to have an iron stomach when it comes to cleaning fish, Bangoura’s stomach turned at the sight of internal organs. 

He unhooked the fish.  Making sure that his fish was dead, he brought it to a flat rock and hit it between the eyes with a fist sized rock.  He wacked the fish three times to make sure it was dead. The last thing he wanted to see was a beating heart after cutting into it.  He turned the fish over and started to cut the fish just below the gills on either side.  He made two cuts on either side of the head and along the back – severing the head.  He then cut along its stomach.  Putting the knife down, he reached in and removed the intestines and other internal organs.  Turning around, he pitched the waste into the bottom of the lake so not to attract bears or other creatures that might be interested in him for dinner.   Then, he carefully removed a very thin lining between the organs and the meat. He suspected that the lining is to protect the meat from the stomach acids.  He used his fingers to carefully remove it. Bangoura really had no clue how he would store the fish until he could eat it so he brought it back to his shelter and cooked it over his fire. Once cooked, he found a bag that was in his back pack and was able to put the fish in the back pack to store in a tree until he could eat it with – hopefully – the berries he was testing.  He went back to the bush for more berries and did the next step of the universal food test.  He picked two or three berries and touched one to his upper lip for 3 minutes without any reaction.

“Good!” He was pleased that this test was going smoothly. 

The next step was putting the berry under his tongue and waiting 15 minutes.  Looking at his watch, the time passed slowly because he had no reaction to the berries: no swelling or burning in his mouth. Finally, he felt confident enough to chew.  He chewed the berries for 15 minutes straight. At this point, he had a mouthful of sweet tasting sweet juice. It was delicious to taste something sweet for a change. He experienced a natura high tasting something sweet for the first time in days. With one minute to go, Bangoura was excited to swallow the juice in his mouth. It would be so much more appetizing than the green mush he swallowed the night before.

“3, 2, 1, swallow” Bangoura thought to himself.  The sweet juice went down easily.  “Yeah! These are a variety of raspberries! WHOOHOO!” Bangoura celebrated again. Why the hell did he eat the green mush when there were raspberries?  He ran back to the berry bush he picked his first few berries for the test and filled his hat full of the delicious berries.  Returning to the camp – he brought his fish out and had a good meal.  Being careful not to swallow any bones from the fish, he picked the meat off using his fingers. With his first taste of fish, he realized he still had pine on his fingers from setting his deadfall traps in the morning. He put down his fish and berries. He fished his hand sanitizer out of his back pack and realized to sanitize his hands – he needed to remove the organic dirt first. He walked quickly to the river and rubbed his hands under the cold rushing stream. He walked back to his lunch and rubbed the hand sanitizer on his hands for a full minute.  Then, Bangoura waved and blew on his hands to make sure they were dry.  He finally went back to eating.  There was not too much meat on the fish but the berries he really enjoyed.  He realized that it was time his checked his traps before going back to the task of fishing.

He got up from his stump with hearing a crack in his knees. Good thing he is trying to do this while he was relatively young. In 10 year or more – he was not sure if he would have the energy or stamina to survived in the woods for 3 days let alone survive the trip to the moon. He could understand why the cut off age for astronauts was 46 - it only made sense.

Two of his three traps were just as he had left them. Nothing had moved the bate from when he set the traps.  He was really excited to see that the trap closest to his fishing spot worked! Approaching the path, he noticed the rock was flat and not up on an angle as he had left it. Under the rock laid a bunny with blood coming from one of his eyes.  It was staring forward into the rock. Bangoura hoped that the furry creature did not know what had hit him and he had died instantly – as the trap is intended.  Carefully picking up the soft fury body - Bangoura thanked his lucky stars that the trap had killed the type of creature he had hoped for. He didn’t really know anything about skinning bunnies but he thought it would a much easier creature to clean. 

Back at the camp, he put the body on a flat surface of a large rock and started to remove its fur.  He thought cleaning a rabbit would be like cleaning fish except one important part – draining the blood from the creature. He wanted to work fast to clean it before the little buddle of fur cooled and the body stiffened.  He did not have a bucket to drain the blood so he decided he would drain the blood over the river so that the blood would wash away. Before he began cleaning the rabbit, he again washed his hands and arms to his elbows in the freezing river.  Then, Bangoura sanitized his hands with hand sanitizer.  He also washed his knife and made sure there were no rust spots anywhere to spread contamination. He removed the fur by starting with the feet. Since they have no meat, they can be easily dried and kept as a good luck charm. He then removed the tail, and head. Grabbing the rabbit’s hind quarters with his non-dominate hand, he took the head and twisted it quickly and it easily broke away from the body.

Turning the rabbit over and cutting into the belly, Bangoura removed the intestines and internal organs. He made a small incision and opened the stomach. He gently pierced and pulled away the thin membrane that covered the heart, lungs, and other organs. He picked the rabbit up by its neck and reached behind the organs, gently scooping them out. 

The next step was washing the rabbit.  Dipping his hands into the rushing river, Bangoura’s hands froze but he did not mind. He proceeded to wash his hands and arms again, then he washed the entire carcass in the rushing water. He was excited to taste Rabbit for the first time.  After washing the rabbit and making sure he had carefully removed all the internal organs, he was ready to butcher it.  Starting with the front legs he easily removed them. Then, he proceeded to carefully cut as much meat from the ribs as he could.  He did not want to waste any meat.  He started to boil water in his pot to make a broth from the thigh bones of the animal. “This rabbit is going to taste so good!” Bangoura exclaimed.  Finally, he removed the hind legs by cutting into the meat to expose the hip joints and then twist to break them. Removing the legs from a rabbit was relatively easy compared to larger game.     

Tending to his fire, he quickly got it roaring once again. He found two saplings that had forks in them. He stabbed the ground with the ends of the sticks that did not have a fork.  He found a longer stick and sharpened one end so that he could skewer the rabbit meat with it.  Bangoura watched the rabbit cooked.  After about 30 minutes, he rotates the meat to cook the other side. The smoke from the fire was helping to cook the meat as well. The mixture of wood and rabbit burning made his mouth water and his stomach growl. He knew he would have to get the internal temperature of the meat to 160 F to eat it safely. 

At the same time, he was overly cautious. He did not want flies to land on his meat before he could eat it.   He was constantly swatting the few flies away that found his food. He was lucky that he was in the park in early Spring, but he wondered how the Starship crew would fight the flies if they landed in a swamp in the middle of summer. Bangoura wondered what he would do if the flies were thick. He made a mental note to research this issue when he returned to civilization.

Soon his dinner was cooked and ready to eat.  He was starving. He took the rabbit off the fire and let it cool slightly.  Since he did not have a cooking thermometer, he would have to trust his instincts that the leg he was about to chew into was cooked.  The meat had such an aromatic and flavorful smell, as soon as he felt that the meat was safe to eat, he immediately brought it to his mouth to take a bit and scorched his mouth.  

“Great! Now I’ve burned my mouth. I just hate that!” Bangoura said out loud to himself. 

Now he was nursing a burnt lower lip and blowing on the rabbit at the same time.  When the meat was no longer smoking hot, he decided to try to taste it again. This time he bit into the meat – and realized it was a bit dry. He was hoping that the meat was well done since he had only cooked fish over an open flame. He did not want to risk eating rare meat in the wild.  The intense flavor of the meat was gamier than he had expected.  He figured having a tummy full of meat would tie him over nicely until the morning.  He was through most of his second day and things seemed to be going smoothly for him.

He nibbled on the bones until they were clean and white.  Even though the meat was not moist, it was one of the best meals he has ever had.  Not only did he harvest the meat, but he cleaned it and cooked it – all within three hours.  This was the first time he had tasted freshly hunted meat and his success made him want to hunt again. With a full stomach, he set off to check the two remaining traps, hoping that he would be lucky again.

Kyle and Adele on the Vomit Comet

Over the next two months Kyle and Adele became fast friends and confidents. Adele told Kyle about her life as a dancer and how lonely it can be. She also explained her relationship with her mother and how her parent’s breakup affected her – personally and professionally.  She also confided in him about her excitement and fears of going into space with the Starship crew.  Talking to Kyle about anything was easy partly because he is not part of the dance community that she was so deeply intrenched in. 

They chatted almost every day on Skype but never met in person because of distance and schedules.  Kyle was busy working on his new installations while Adele trained and practiced for her next dance performance.  The show was scheduled to be in NYC in a month.  On top of their busy lives, they were both struggling to fit in training for the dearMoon space program.

Kyle cheered Adele on virtually when she completed our G-force Centrifuge training in just two days.  He was not as lucky.  He had difficultly seeing after experiencing Gz forces and needed to take a week off before attempting centrifuge training again.  He did not have any issues breathing. He just experienced tunnel vision that scared him.

“Hey Kyle!  Have you talked to your personal trainer today?  I have some BIG news!” Adele said with excitement in her voice over Skype.

“No! I just got up – remember it’s only 6 am in Havana Adele! What the hell?” Kyle’s medium length blond hair is messy and standing on end.

“Opps! I’m really sorry that I woke you up! I forgot again about the 5 hours’ time difference.  I am so Sorry! Go back to bed. Call me when you get up!”

“Well! I’m up now!” He said with a yawn.  “Let me grab some Cuban coffee and you can tell me all about your exciting news.”

“You won’t believe this!!” She screeched, then “Nice bed head!” with a smile.

“Yeh! Yeh! One second – let me set up the espresso machine. I don’t know how I survived in NYC without Cuban coffee. You really need to try this one day. I swear it is the best coffee in the world.” Kyle said rubbing his eyes.

Kyle moved away from his lap top camera to set up the espresso maker on his stove.  He purchased his fresh Havana Coffee beans from the local corner store on a weekly basis and ground them fresh every morning using the coffee grinder that he brought from the US. 

Meanwhile Adele sat patiently at her desk in Barcelona. She had just completed her morning workout and was messaged by her trainer about her next stage of training.  She could not believe the news.  She was about to meet a fellow artist/astronaut for the first-time face to face! She could not wait.

After the coffee grounder finished, Kyle filled up the bottom half of the espresso maker with water, put in the coffee ground holder on top, then carefully added his beautifully smelling freshly ground coffee grains.  He quickly screwed on the top, then set it on the element on his stove.

Making his way back to his laptop, he says “Ok!  I have my espresso on – we can talk.  What is the big news?!”

“I just talked to Sam about my next stage of training. You won’t believe this. I’ll finally get to meet one of the artists on the team.  You will never guess who and what we will be doing?” Adele exclaimed.

“Super cool!” Kyle said – hoping it would be him but guessing she was about to meet someone else in the crew.

“I’m going on THE vomit comet to experience weightlessness for the first time with…”

She makes a drum roll sound on the desk in front of her.  “YOU!”

“Me! Well – that is awesome.” His eye brows jumped and his eyes got suddenly bigger for a second. The news slowed sinks into his groggy head. “We finally get to meet in person.  WOW!”  Kyle could not believe his ears. Really – he will finally get to meet this amazing woman he has been chatting with for two months. “I can’t wait! Did Sam say when?”

“He said that we will meet by the end of this month. He is just working out the details with the Virginia-based Zero Gravity Corp. (Zero-G) company. I believe that we fly over the Gulf of Mexico.  I can’t wait to meet you in person!”

The Virginia-based company, Zero-G, started flying its plane, G-Force One, in 2004.  An individual could experience weightlessness for 20 seconds at a time for almost $6700 USD a person.  Several celebrities including the renowned Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking have flown on G-Force One.

Kyle and Adele’s flight on the Vomit Comet was delayed a week and then two weeks. While they patiently waited to meet each other in person for the first time, they chatted and planned their meeting and talked endlessly about the opportunity to be weightless together for the first time.

Amanda sent Kyle and Adel information about how the Zero G Airbus achieves weightlessness. The specially modified Boeing 727 jet aircraft simulates weightlessness by flying in a wave pattern of steep parabolas that resemble climbs, followed by sharp dives.  The Virginia-based company has been providing thrills to customer scientists, students, and actors for more than a decade. In April 2006, ZERO-G became the first commercial company to gain permission from the Kennedy Space Center to use its space shuttle runway and landing facilities.

The airbus takes off and ascends at a sharp 45 to 50-degree angle to reach 23 000 ft (7 000 m) in altitude and then descends in a free-fall which lasts for a quick 20 to 30 seconds at a time. As it climbs up the parabola, or the "hump," passengers achieve several seconds of weightlessness at the top. The plane then dives back toward the ground at a 30-degree angle before pulling up to create the bottom of the wave. Passengers experience nearly twice the tug of Earth's gravity from about the midpoint on the way down, across the bottom and halfway back up. The plane repeats the parabolic arcs ending with a parabola peaking at 32 000 ft (9800 m) pinning each passenger to the floor of the cabin with about 2 Gz of force, then the plane descends rapidly in a free fall – allowing the passengers to experience weightlessness over the Gulf of Mexico.

The Zero G Airbus is capable of creating several types of gravity simulations including creating periods of zero gravity, moon gravity, Martian gravity and “hyper gravity, which is twice Earth’s gravity. Changing the flight pattern can vary the pull of gravity on the passengers and determine the length of time weightlessness lasts. Complete weightlessness lasts approximately 25 seconds. Passengers who experience a simulation of Martian gravity — about a third of Earth's gravity — last about 30 seconds, while those simulating lunar gravity — about a sixth of Earth's gravity — last about 40 seconds.

The entire vomit comet experience lasts about five hours including a brief training session before takeoff. Each participant experiences fifteen parabolas to simulate about 30 seconds of reduced gravity.  One parabola simulates Martian gravity (1/3rd of Earth’s gravity), two parabola’s simulate Lunar gravity (1/6th of Earth’s gravity) and the remaining 12 parabola’s simulate weightlessness.  After your experience is done and you are back on Earth, each participant is given photos of their experience and they keep their flight suite.

In 1957, planes making roller coaster like flight patterns to allowed training astronauts to experience simulated weightlessness in the air. Since this feeling makes some passengers nauseous, the airbus responsible for the ride is nicknamed "Vomit Comet."  It is also known as G-Force One.

NASA took over the Air Force program in 1973. A private company, Zero-G Corp., has handled the weightlessness training of astronauts since 2008. Today, the airbus can be reserved for future space astronauts, space tourists, scientists, engineers, students and celebrities.  

Kyle and Adele are both feeling nervous and excited about this phase of their training. Amanda told them that the human body adapts quickly to weightlessness and only about 4 % of participants get sick to their stomachs, which made both feel a bit more confident that they could do this without getting ill.

There are several ways to combat motion sickness.  The artists can choose to take an anti-nausea pill or injection of an effective anti-motion-sickness drug called scopolamine. Being mindful of their bodies also helps. They told Kyle and Adele to always keep their head aligned with their body and pretend you are wearing a neck brace. This action shows your brain often what it expects to see, for example, your feet are underneath your body keeps your perception in check, and the world will not feel as though it has been turned upside down.

While they waited for their opportunity of a life time to be weightless, they both read all they could on line to be prepared for the experience.  Kyle found an interesting article which gave advice from a former astronaut.

“Adele – look at this” as he sends a link to her via skype: ‘How to Prepare for Your Own Personal Spaceflight or Zero-G Experience.’

“Can you imagine? It says here that one of the astronauts who had been to the ISS and had done four space walks never took the time to stop and look at the Earth. He does not have a memory of being in space. What do you want to do that is fun when we are weightless?” He says with a grin.

“Humm – I don’t know. I’ve been very focused on the whole experience of just training for it. I have not given much thought about what we could do while weightless. Have you?”

“When I watch videos of astronauts on the ISS – they are always eating something liquid, which they squeeze out into ‘space’ and it becomes a floating bubble. I want to try doing that! Especially if I’m not being sick to my stomach at the time.” Kyle says with excitement.

“That’s a great idea.  I think I want to do a summersault floating in space or a double pirouette. I hope I don’t spin out of control.  I’m not sure how I would begin to spin though if I’m floating.  I’ll have to think about that.” She says laughing.  “I think it will be a blast. I’ve always dreamed about being weightless. As a dancer, I feel as though my job is to fight gravity all the time.”

They searched the internet and found many helpful YouTube videos to watch.  Importantly, they learned that any carryon luggage for the Vomit Comet must fit in the passenger’s pocket.

After much discussion they came up with a list of things to try while weightless: summer-saults so that they face outwards and rotate on their sides (Similar to what astronauts do while at the ISS), eat and try to not make a mess; drink all the liquid that they could catch, float a water bottle, fly, go for a walk, and play a game.


Bangoura found fishing relaxing and a good way to pass the time. A few clouds were in the sky but none of the clouds looked threatening.  He felt safer fishing on a pond than the running river by his camp site. The spot his chose to fish had fresh water flowing into the pond but it was not rapidly flowing or changing direction as the McKinley River.   

On the way to his fishing spot, he reset the trap that had caught his delicious lunch. He knew he would be extremely lucky to trap another rabbit or a porcupine, but he had to try. This afternoon he was a bit more successful fishing than he was earlier in the day. He had five true bites before his hook got caught on a log in the bottom of the pond.  Not wanting to get wet, he tugged and tugged until it finally loosened and was freed.  Luckily, he did not lose his hook.

Every hour he returned to his three deadfall traps that he had set earlier in the day to see if he had trapped anything but did not have any luck.

He continued to fish for another 45 minutes without any bites. Just as he was thinking of giving up, he decided to lift a large bolder near the pond and found a worm underneath. He immediately cut the worm in three small portions. He put one portion on his hook. The first two portions of the worm were immediately consumed by the fish that was taunting him.  With the third and final portion of the worm left, Bangoura said a silent prayer for little help to have a delicious meal for dinner.  He put the worm on the hook and cast into the pond and waited.  He felt that familiar tug and jerked the line up to set the hook.  He immediately knew he had caught his second fish.  He hauled it in as fast as he could. 

“WOW! This is a good day to be in nature!” He said out loud. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” He marched back to his shelter to clean and cook his catch.

After he ate his fish with the green vegetation that he tested previously, Bangoura remembered that he should practice calling for help.

Before he left the hotel yesterday, he bought a small whistle to attach to a zipper pull on his back pack. He knew that if he was injured in a fall, that calling for help would be much easier if he had a loud whistle with him instead of yelling.  Blowing in a whistle would be far less exhausting than calling and more effective. 

He left his shelter to find higher ground so that his call for help would be heard further.  He followed the path that he took the day before, which allowed him to climb out of the river valley. The gravel was loose and as he walked, he slipped a little on the loose gravel.  Looking around for wildlife, he spotted a bird flying over-head, making calling sounds.  How nice it would be, Bangoura thought, if he were in trouble, he could extend a pair of wings and fly out of here.  His plan was to practice what he had to do in case of an emergency, so his plan was to call for help for just 1 minute. He didn’t really want to notify anyone and have them running to save him.  In some states, the cost of a search and rescue team could be tens of thousands, especially if a search and rescue helicopter is involved.  Some insurance companies will cover the percentage of the cost.

After walking for about 20 minutes, he found an area that was higher than his camp. He removed his whistle from his zipper pull and blew into it. He waited 10 seconds and then blew again. It made a loud sound in the valley below and echoed.  He repeated making the sound 6 times in one minute.

“Ok! Hopefully I won’t need to do that for real!” Bangoura said to himself.

He made his way back to his shelter.  Following the trail down to the valley was quick. Gravity seemed to be pushing him and he started to jog alittle while sliding on the loose gravel.  He made himself stop before he lost control and fell. “Slow the heck down!” he told himself in a huff.

Back at the camp he searched for rocks and logs to make a large symbol on the ground that called for help if an airplane or search helicopter was flying overhead.  Bangoura had not seen any flying planes or helicopters since he had arrived the day before. Before this trip, he imagined that he would see a tourist helicopter at least once a day but he had not spotted one.  He was starting to feel lonely since he had not spoken to anyone since he left Chris, his trainer, at the bus. Bangoura imagined if the Artists crashed landed in a remote part of the world, SpaceX and NASA – along with the local military would have search and rescue airplanes and military helicopters searching for them immediately to bring them to safety. 

Remembering what he had saw searching the internet, he learned three important symbols to use in case of an emergency: “F” For food and water,  “I” for serious injury and need to for a doctor, and  “X” is for unable to proceed.  He also learned three additional symbols that were easy to remember:  An arrow to show which way you went – although Chris emphasized that the group not only needs to stay together but not move away from the crash site.  A large metal ship will be much easier to spot from the skies than a human. Also, there is safety in numbers so separating in unfamiliar territory to look for help could lead to disaster including death. He also learned “Y” for yes or affirmative. “N” for Negative.

Collecting river rock from the stream next to his shelter, Bangoura picked up 12 rocks and carried them to the field behind his shelter. He carefully laid them out in the form a giant F since he was starting to get hungry again.   “There! The only other thing I imagine the crew could do is to fly our flag upside down!” Bangora said to himself, which is the international call for help.

It was getting late, since Bangoura noticed that the sun started to set.  He thought he would have half an hour before it was dark to work on his fire and get ready for bed.  His plan was to relax and look up at the stars tonight before falling asleep. He felt that his second day alone could not have gone better. He was able to provide a good meal for himself and not be injured.  Tomorrow is the day he would be rescued and returned back to civilization with all the new skills he had learned.  He felt proud to have survive in the wild alone for this length of time.

Adel and Kyle meet

“Hello Kyle! This is Amanda. How are you?” Amanda asked with enthusiasm in her voice.

“Hi Amanda! I am good. How is it going?” Kyle replied.

“Well! I have some exciting news to tell you! I’ve finally managed to book a date for your and Adele’s Zero G training session. It took a great deal of effort, but I managed to book both of you in at the Miami, FL - Ft. Lauderdale International Airport (FLL).  Because you are closer to Miami than Adele, you will fly from Havana, Cuba the day of the Zero G flight.  I have arranged a direct flight to the Miami Ft. Lauderdale International Airport.  Adele will arrive the night before since she is flying from Spain.  I will send you your itinerary later today when I have confirmed your itinerary. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or would like to change anything in the itinerary. “

“Awesome! I’m really looking forward to meeting Adele after talking to her for so long.”

“Excellent! I’m calling her next to tell her about the plans that have been made for you two.  Have a wonderful experience. You will be the first of the dearMoon StarShip crew to experience weightlessness so please share your experience with the other artists.  There will be photos and videos of you taken during the session to share also with your friends and family.  Have fun!”

“Wow! Thank you for arranging this.  I can’t wait to see the itinerary.” Kyle thanking Amanda.  Right after speaking with Kyle, Amanda called Adele to tell her about her upcoming trip to the US to meet Kyle.

As soon as Adele was done speaking with Amanda, she got on Skype and called Kyle. 

“Can you believe it? We will meet in just over a week. I can’t wait.” She said with the biggest grin possible.

The day finally came for the dancer to meet the artist.  Adele arrived from Barcelona the night before feeling pretty exhausted. She took an Uber from the airport to her hotel. Once she checked in, she ordered a quick snack from room service and promptly passed out.  She woke up with a start at 3:30 am and could not fall asleep again.   She could not get out of her head that she was finally meeting Kyle. She was hoping that they would hit it off as they seem to on Skype.  She thought he was cute and talented. Even though she knew she would not have the opportunity to see his art work in person on this trip, she was excited to see it in person in the future.

At 8:30 am, a shuttle picked up Adele and took her back to the Miami Fort Lauderdale Airport for her Zero G training.   When she arrived at the terminal, her personal trainer was there waiting for her at the main entrance.  He escorted her to the Zero G building that was through the terminal and some distance away from the main building.

“How was your flight?” Sam asked.

“Good. Long.” She said feeling a bit exhausted.  “I had a quick snack before going to bed. I fell asleep with no issues but because of the time change, I woke up at 3:30 am and could not fall asleep again.  Do you think they will give us breakfast before we fly? “

“I believe so.  I think they provide a small snack during your orientation and introductory training session.  Don’t worry – they will cover everything that I’ve reviewed with you already so there are no surprises.” Sam says confidently.

“Thanks! It’s good to see you again Sam.” Adele says.

At the ZERO-G Training Facility check-in, Adele fished through her dance duffle bag for her passport. Sam and Adele were escorted into the Orientation Room where, sitting at one of the desks was Kyle. He quickly stood up and walked towards Adele smiling. 

In an awkward moment, Kyle extended a hand towards Adele saying “It is so nice to finally meet you in person!” while Adele has her arms extended to give him a hug and then quickly shakes his hand smiling.

“Yes! I’m so excited to be here. I can’t wait to be weightless finally. I think it will feel strange and very cool!” Adele is beaming to finally be in the same room as Kyle.  Kyle kept looking into her deep brown eyes.

“Breakfast is in the adjacent room. There is lots to choose from.”

Suddenly feeling like a third wheel,  Sam extended a hand towards Kyle “Hey Kyle, I’m Sam – it’s nice to finally meet you in person, as well.”

“Oh! Sam! Yes – it is good to meet you too.  Thanks – by the way – for saving Dan’s life.  What you did was unbelievable. I’m so happy he survived his heart attack during centrifuge training.”

“Yes! He was lucky that they had a defibrillator in the room, and it was in prime condition – otherwise I don’t think he would have made it.” Sam said earnestly.

“How is he doing now?” Kyle asked.

“Oh! The old man is doing great. I just talked to him last weekend. He is spending time with his grand children and resting at home.  If he takes it easy, he will be fully recovered in another four months. He is still disappointed that he will not be going to the moon, but he understands why the decision was made to replace him.”

“I had a chance to talk to him as well” Adele offered.

“Really?” Staring at Adele in shock, Kyle said, “I didn’t know that! When?” Kyle asked.

“Oh! Shortly, after I was selected. I asked Sam if I could reach out to Dan to introduce myself. Ask him how he was doing and  - in a weird way – thank him for this amazing opportunity.  I felt awful but I needed to know that he was going to be ok.  I also wanted him to know how thankful I was for the opportunity that was - in a sense – taken from him.” Adele said in a heartfelt way.

“Wow! Talk about an awkward conversation but I can see why you did that.  What did he say then?” Kyle asked.

“Well – he was quiet. It was just after he was released from the hospital, so he was still in horrible shape from his heart stopping and was contemplating the fact that he was not going to the moon after all. We did not talk long. Just about 10 minutes.”

Trying to change the topic, Sam said “Let’s grab some breakfast before the orientation begins.” Sam directs the other two into the adjacent room.

When they returned to the room with breakfast, their team coach was waiting for them.  A petite red head in a Zero G jump suite said, ““Welcome to Zero G! Thank you for joining us today for this ‘once in a life time’ experience but I guess that fact does not apply to you two.  You ARE (emphasis on ARE) the lucky ones going to the moon, aren’t you?” Cathy exclaimed, “I’m so used to saying the same thing when greeting people here. I am Cathy from Zero G. I’ll be your guide today, provide an orientation, and then accompany you on your flight.  I’ve been with Zero G for five years now.  I can tell you going weightless never gets old.  It is a thrill to me each time I help other’s experience this truly unique experience. “ Cathy says with great enthusiasm.

“Today we have 10 people joining us in our team, which is the Blue team.  I see you have your flight suits and introductory packages. We will begin in about 10 minutes. I want to give the others a chance to arrive and grab something to eat.  I think there is a line up at the registration desk. Please have a seat and review, sign the Medical History form.  Please don’t hesitate to ask me any questions at any time.” Cathy left the room.

“Good thing we got here early.” Adele said to Kyle “How was your hop over here from Cuba?

“Just fine.  It was a very short flight. How was your flight?”

“Good but long. I had to change planes in Zurich.  The connect between flights was less than an hour so I had to run between terminals, but I made it.  I would not miss this opportunity for the world.” Adele said. “By the way, where is your personal trainer Mathew?”

“Can you believe he is sick? He called last night to say that he would miss this part of my training because he was congested and was not feeling 100%.” Kyle said with a sigh!  “He called Sam to tell him he was not feeling well. So “Putting his arm around Sam’s shoulder “Sam will be both our guardian angels today.” Smiling at Sam.

Kyle, Sam, and Adele all sat down and reviewed their medical history form, which asked their names, date of birth, and contact information.  The only age restriction to be on the Zero-G airbus is that you must be at least 8 years of age. Flyers who are between 8 and 13 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. According to the Zero-G brochure, they have hosted several 90-year-old flyers over the years of operation. 

The medical form is typical of most medical history forms. It asked if they had any back issues, pregnant, recent severe illness, surgery, or admission to hospital.  It also asked the following questions:

1. Are you able to walk up a flight of stairs without difficulty? __YES  __ NO

2. Do you have any trouble clearing sinus blocks? __YES  __ NO

3. Do you have any allergies? If so, please list all

4. Do you have any conditions that require you to take prescription medications? If so, please list the

conditions and medications. __

If any of the potential fliers have one of the medical issues, they were asked to consult with their family physician before arriving, and provide a note stating that it was safe to participate in the activity. Otherwise, if they were free and clear of any medical issues, they could check a box stating that they have not experienced any of the above medical issues.   When Adele and Kyle signed, they agreed that they were responsible for any omissions regarding failure to disclose any existing or past medical history.

Soon, the room filled up with 36 participants and three team coaches.  The other two flight coaches were young men in their 20s.  Their names were Alex and Dave.  They had been with the company for 10 and 8 years respectively.  Both physically fit, they stood straight with their hands behind their backs and legs slightly apart – in a military stance.

“Welcome to Zero G! Today we are going to fly and be weightless.  It will be an experience of a life time and we are so happy that you could join us. I’m Alex – this is Dave and over there is Cathy. We are your flight coaches today.  Cathy will look after the blue team, David will oversee the silver team, and I am responsible for the gold team. There is no difference in the flight experience between the flying zones. Each will provide the identical weightless experience. The colors designate which zone of the plane you will be flying in. The socks that were sent to you along with your flight suite indicate which zone you will be flying in.”

Kyle and Adele both looked down on their feet and smiled since they were both in blue.

A short itinerary appeared on the screen behind Alex. 

“Thank you for wearing your flight suite today. We have given you an introductory package and there is a medical history form to fill out. Some of you have downloaded it from our website, signed and submitted it at registration. Thank you for being so prepared. For those who have not done so – please read and sign the medical history form now. Do not hesitate to ask any questions.  We are happy to help you fulfill your dream.” Continuing his introduction, Alex says, “Inside your introductory package, you will find a packet of Dramamine or Bonine, which are over the counter antihistamine used to prevent and treat nausea, vomiting, and dizziness caused by motion sickness. Please have it now with your coffee or juice if you feel that you may become motion sick in the plane. During the pre-flight training, we will review methods to prevent motion sickness – proven ways to help you keep your breakfast down.  But if our methods fail and you still fill sick to your stomach, no worries – there is also  a ‘barf’ bag in your introductory kit. Please put the bag in one of your pockets of your flight suit so it is accessible if something should upset your stomach. Today you  will experience between 12-15 parabolas, which is enough to have fun, but not long enough to cause motion discomfort.”

Adele turned to Kyle and showed him the patch she received from her Doctor. She was not going to take any chances and wanted to make sure she would enjoy this first experience of weightlessness.  She was extremely excited to try a weightless pirouette and she was hoping the Flight Coach would help her achieve her goal without losing control of her body. A week before she left Barcelona, she visited her doctor to get a prescription for Scopolamine patches. She found out that they were more effective than over the counter antihistamines and did not cause drowsiness.  She put her patch on before she left the hotel earlier this morning.

Soon a brief video started that described the modified Boeing 727 jet aircraft.  The interior of the plane consisted of a flight area and 40 standard jet airline seats.  The fliers were instructed to sit in the seats provided for takeoff and landing. Once the plane was at cruising altitude, the fliers were encouraged to move into their flying zones.  At that time, they would be told to sit or lie on the floor of the plane to wait for an announcement from the pilot that the plane would become weightless.

The video also described how weightlessness is achieved and the amount of G-force that the fliers would experience during the 90-minute flight.  After everyone finished their light breakfast, they were encouraged to use the washroom facilities on Earth because the plane does not have one since the flight pattern would cause the bowl to spill during the flight.

When everyone was ready to go, all the fliers stood up and filed out of the room to board the bus that would take them to the modified Boeing 727 jet aircraft.  The room was a bit quiet since everyone was in deep thought. 

“Are you nervous” Kyle leaned to whisper into Adele’s ear.

“Yes! Aren’t you?    I can’t help but shake. Here goes nothing!” Adele whispered to Kyle with a grin.

Before the fliers left the Zero G building, each had to go through security just as anyone would in any airport. They removed their shoes, emptied their pockets, and showed security their smart phones.  Then, they boarded a luxury coach which drove them to the modified Boeing 737 that was waiting for them on the tar mac.  Alongside the Zero G plane, a professional photographer was waiting to take a group and individual photo before they boarded the plane. 

The first photo was the group in a serious pose, then the photographer asked all the fliers to make a silly face, which made everyone relax a bit. Then, he asked everyone to jump at the count of 1, 2, 3!

Before each flier boarded the plane, the photographer asked the flier to pose in front of G Force One. Several of the fliers gave a thumbs up. Several Asian customers posed by giving the peace sign. When it came time for Kyle and Adele’s turn, Adele wanted a photo of her jumping into the air with Kyle  so it looked as though they were flying outside the plane together.

“One, Two, Three! JUMP!” Raising their hands in the air with big smiles, Kyle and Amanda took a photo together.

“Perfect photo guys! You will love to show your kids this photo!” The photographer said to them not recognizing them as part of the StarShip crew.

“What?! We don’t have kids – but thanks” Kyle replied.

With butterflies in their stomachs, Sam, Kyle, and Adele took their seats in the rear section of the plane. They put on their seat belts and settled in.  Everyone in the plane was staring ahead at the open padded space in front of them. How strange it was to see a plane with so much room. As the travel industry grew and international flights became common place, so did packing customers in like sardines.  As Alex explained, the empty padded section of the plan was divided into three flight zones: Blue, Silver, and Gold.  Gold was furthest from the seats, then Silver, and the Blue Zone was closest. 

“Welcome to G Force One! I am your captain – Andrew Smith. Thank you for choosing to fly with us today. As you know, we will be doing between 12 and 15 parabolic dips over the next 90 minutes.  Please listen to your flight coaches, who will help you control your body during weightlessness. Once we are at cruising altitude of 23 000 ft, the seatbelt sign will be switched off and you can move to your designated zones.  Prior to reaching the top of the parabola, we ask that each passenger lie flat on the floor of the plane giving everyone enough room to stretch out.  As the plane rises to perform its first parabolic dive, you will feel up to twice the number of G’s as you feel on Earth.  You will feel very heavy and then when I say “Injection”’ that will be the signal that weightlessness begins.  It will last up to 25 seconds at most.  Just before weightlessness ends, I will say “Withdrawal”. It is important to plan your maneuvers so that you do not injure yourself.  Your flight coaches will be watching you and offering their assistance.  Please ask them questions and let them know if you feel uncomfortable.  Remember each person reacts to weightlessness differently.  Please be respectful of other people’s experiences.”

At the end of the pilot’s introduction, the stewardess started a video that explained the safety features of the plane, what to do in case of an emergency, the location of the exits and life jackets. 

“Sit back and enjoy the flight! Thank you for choosing G Force One for your weightlessness experience.” It was an odd thing to say since Zero G is the only company available to civilians to experience weightlessness.

“Are you ready for this?” Kyle asked Adel reaching out to grab her hand.

“Yes! I think this will be fun.  It’s odd to not be able to look out the window during takeoff, don’t you think?” Adel comments. Surprisingly, the only windows in this section of the plane were in the doors of the aircraft.

“Yes, it is very odd but I think it would be worse to see the outside when the plane is doing the maneuvers. I’m a bit happy that I can’t see the outside to be honest.”

The hum of the jet aircraft was very loud in their ears. They could feel the Boeing 727 jet aircraft turned around and quickly take off. It took about 45 minutes for the plane to reach the designated air space for the parabolic maneuvers. When it reached 23 000 ft (7 000 m), the seatbelt sign turned off and all passengers unbuckled their seat belts to stand at once.  It felt weird to see everyone file into line and move freely as the plane flew. Kyle noticed that each group has a professional photographer aboard to take memorable shots of this once in a life time trip.

Kyle, Sam, and Adele quickly moved to the blue zone and laid down on the floor of the plane as they were told to do during orientation. Waiting for the signal for weightlessness to begin, Sam had a good look around.  The interior of the jet plane, where the artists and other passengers are lying is a relatively tight space.  The flight was sold out, so each designated area is crowded.

Every inch of the area where the fliers were lying was covered by 3 feet square white covered pads that were about 3 to 4 inches thick. Between the two doors of the aircraft was a Zero G advertisement sign. There were a few other advertisement signs throughout the plane’s interior.

As the plane reaches a 45 degree angel, all the passengers felt about 1.8 Gs.

“Ugh!” Kyle sighs “Gravity!”

“Yaw! That’s heavy!” Adele replies smiling. She is feeling especially giggly being so close to Kyle and experiencing weightlessness for the first time, she was having difficulty keeping her smile in check.  This was the most fun she has had in a while.

Cathy warned the fliers during orientation that if you become sick to your stomach you will be asked to return to your seat for the rest of the ride. The ride may become the most expensive vomiting experience that any of the passengers have.

“Remember, because of the capacity of this plane and the number of fliers on this flight – we ask that you do not attempt to swim. Be watchful of where your legs are and try not to kick the person besides you. Keep your feet down always!” Cathy reminded the passengers.

Captain Andrew Smith announced over the PA “Injection!”, which is the signal that weightlessness is about to begin.  They were told during orientation that the first parabola will simulate Martian gravity or 1/6th the gravity of Earths.  As the forces of gravity decrease, Kyle naturally lifts his arms as a response.

All at once, the passengers in the jet start to make a “Wee” and “Ahh” sounds. No one is really saying any coherent words.  All the passengers had shocked expressions on their faces. Some other passengers had uncontrolled giggles.

Adele’s body suddenly feels lighter than she has ever felt – even with a principal dancer lifting her up to the air during one of her performances.  She planned during her first parabola just to enjoy the experience of floating. She curled into a tight ball, wrapping her arms around her knees and levitated in the air smiling.  This was fun! Really FUN! The patch on her arm had worked and her stomach was not upset by the sudden loss of gravity on her body.

Kyle’s experience was a bit different.  As soon as he started to feel lighter, he turned his head rapidly from right to left to watch other people attempt somersaults and stand while floating. The quick movement of his head made his stomach turn and he swallowed hard to try to settle his stomach.  He quickly put his hand to his mouth as a natural reaction.  Cathy, who was carefully watching the entire group took note of Kyle and gave him a thumbs up and thumbs down signals with her hands.  With a concerned look on her face, she asked “Are you ok Kyle?” She asked.

Nodding vigorously, Kyle gave her a thumbs up signal. Others on the flight were not so fortunate. A 10-year-old brunette boy from Virginia jumped up when he heard the signal “injection” and immediately started jumping as high as he could – which resulted in his stomach reacting violently to the sudden change of gravity. 

His eyes suddenly got large, and his cheeks filled as his mom scrambled to put her barf bag in front of her son.  Just in time, the announcement is heard from the pilot: “Withdrawal in 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1”

Everyone else on the jet made a collected “Ahh!” sound. 

There is about a two-minute pause between each parabola, which is useful for when scientists want to conduct scientific experiments in weightlessness that cannot be done on the surface of the Earth.  The two minutes allow scientists to take notes, adjust, and to reset their experiments before the next parabolic session begins. The challenge during this period is that the fliers also feel twice the gravity of Earth as the plane readjusts to make another parabola.

“WOW! That is so cool!”  Turning to Cathy quickly, Adele askes “Cathy, can you help me do a pirouette during the next parabola?” 

“Why don’t you try to do a simple summersault first – see how that goes and then when the third parabola happens – you will be 100% weightless, we can try a pirouette then?” Cathy replied.

As the plane rose in altitude at a steep inclination, the angle of the inclination was announced over the loud speaker. When the fliers heard “Inclination 40 degree” and “injection” – weightlessness began. Weightlessness lasts about 20 seconds.

Lying still and trying not to toss his cookies, Kyle thought that he would try to do a simple push up and hold his head as still as possible for the Moon ‘s gravity or 1/8th’s Earth’s gravity.

“Sam, I should have kept my head still that time.” Kyle said to Sam.

“Are you ok, Man?” Sam asked with a concerned voice.

“Yaw! I’ll be great! I will try not to look around so fast next time.  Turing my head made my stomach spin!” Kyle said with regret in his voice.

Everyone was given the signal that weightlessness was about to begin.  Kyle rolled onto his stomach and tried to do a simple push up, which made him stand almost vertically, then float backwards towards the back of the plane.

Immediately, Adele starts to giggle, stand up, and takes one giant leap towards Kyle, crashing into him, laughing.

“Hey!” Kyle says a bit annoyed to Adele.

“I’m so sorry! I can’t seem to control my body. I can’t stop!” She says as she travels over Kyle and crashes into the padded wall. Luckily, there are ropes strung along the top third of the walls that she grabbed. These allowed passengers to hang on if they lost control of their movements. Laughing, she turns and finds an open area and tries a simple summersault landing on her feet then bouncing up.

“Withdrawal in 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1” Captain Andrew Smith says over the PA, “Everyone prepare for 100% weightlessness next. “Cathy reminds her group. Turning to Adele, “How did your first summersault feel Adele? How is your stomach?” she asks.

“Doing a summersault was awesome but I can’t seem to stop moving in one direction once I get going.” Panting and straining against the extra gravity.” I can really feel the extra G’s now.” Pausing to take a deep breath. “I would love to try a pirouette now.  Please help!” she pleads with Cathy.

“Ok! No problem! When we get the signal for weightlessness to begin – please stand up and face me.  Let’s spin you only four times.” Cathy suggests.

“Sure! Thank you for your help” Adel agrees.

Without thinking, when given the signal, Adele stands up in the fourth position with her right leg behind her left leg and the feet turned out in opposite directions.  Lifting her arms into a plie position, she nodes to Cathy. “Ready!” She exclaims.

“Ok! Let’s try this. The first weightless pirouette!” Cathy announces.

Floating in the air, Adele brings her two arms together and her right foot up to touch the inside of her left knee.  This motion begins her spinning motion. Watching carefully, Cathy is holding onto one of the ropes attached to the wall of the plane to hold her steady while watching Adele spin.  Counting “I, 2,…” on the third spin, Cathy attempts to grab Adele’s jump suite but instead accidently gives her the slightest push.  This sends Adele floating away from Cathy towards Kyle.

“Oh! My God!” Laughing very hard,” No! No! Not again!” Adele yells as she tries to grab one of the ropes hanging from the ceiling to stop crashing into Kyle once again. “I’m so sorry!  It is so terribly weird not being able to control my body! I can’t believe it.” Adele says laughing and smiling. 

“No worries!”  Crashing into Adele sent Kyle also crashing into a wall of the plane.  “I’m glad you are having fun.  Nice spin Adele!”

“Thanks!” Adele says, blushing. “ I want to try that again.”

Kyle skootches’ over closer to Sam and away from Adele during the next maneuver. 

“I am going to try to drink bubble water next time.” Kyle announces to Adele and Sam. “Wanta join me?”

“Oh! Yes! Please!” Adele giggles – acting like a young child clapping.

As they laid on the floor of the plane, waiting for the next session of weightlessness to begin, Kyle carefully takes the small water bottle out of his right pant pocket and undoes the cap. He seals the bottle with his thumb and waits.  When given the signal, Kyle gently stands, facing Sam and Adele and says “Ready?!” Releasing three very large water droplets floating between them.

“I have this one!” Pointing straight ahead and sounding like a kid, Adele lunges forward to get a mouth full of water! “Umm! Yum!  Quick do that again!”

Sam and Kyle both drink their water bubbles and Sam nodes to Kyle “Yes! Please! That’s super cool.”

“Ok! No problem! Here we go!” as he releases another three large bubbles of liquid into the cabin. 

“This is much fun!” Adele shouts as she takes her second mouthful of water.

Kyle misses and the water hits his nose. Because of the water tension, the water travels across the bridge of his noise into his eyes and over his cheeks!

“HA! Adele notices Kyle’s wet face. “I need to try that.” Pulling out a cloth from her pocket and hands it to Kyle, she asks. “May I borrow your water for the next parabola Kyle?”

Wiping his face quickly, “Yes! Sure! Here you go!” Handing her the water bottle. “Enjoy!”

“I will! Thanks!” Grabbing the bottle and being careful not to spill too much of the contents.

Lying on the ground again waiting, Sam turns to Kyle and gives him a thumbs up to check to see how his is feeling.

Kyle responds with his right hand flat out tilting it back and forth – half and half.

Sam smirks in response. “Hold it together Kyle! We are just about half way done!”

In the Gold zone, a fit 70-year-old woman was the next victim. She turned to her husband, who she was celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary together saying “Bruce, I don’t feel too well” before vomiting into her barb bag.  She threw up at least three times before making her way to her seat at the front of the plane. Adele looked at the ill woman and hoped that the couple got a few memorable anniversary photos to share with their family before the woman got sick to her stomach. No one wants photos just after you are sick!

During the next session, Adele quickly stands up and squeezes the bottle of water into the fuchsia wash cloth that she brought from her kitchen and stuffs the little empty water bottle into her side pant pocket.  Standing up with a huge grin – she turns to the photographer and squeezes the towel with all her might to wring her hand towel.  Some of the water squirts out in large droplets causing them to float freely. Much of the water is squeezed out of her rag and coats her fingers. This action instantly coats her fingers in a clear jelly.

“WOW! Kyle! Look at this! It looks so freaking cool!” Adele hollers over to Kyle.

Trying not to move his head too quickly, Kyle grabs onto one of the ropes on the side of a plane wall and gently turns towards Adele!

“Neat!” Kyle agrees with Adele saying, “Very cool!”

“Do you have any more water?” Adele asks Kyle and Sam.

“Unfortunately, no! “Kyle replies.” That was my only bottle.

“I have one from breakfast” Sam offers the bottle to Adele. “I hear that you can see your upside-down reflection in a bubble of water.  “That would be neat to see!”

Kyle turning to Sam “I can see why astronauts need to exercise in the ISS.  It is crazy how light my arm feels. Look” He swung his right arm over his head like a rag doll. “It feels light as a feather!”

“Yaw! No kidding!” Muscles weaken and shrink in Space. Everyone’s muscles atrophy. Muscle mass can decrease by 20 % on short space flights that last from 5 to 11 days. Weight training is useless in a weightless environment. Instead, astronauts on the ISS use elastic teethers to exercise at least two and a half hours a day.  But, because gravity is not pushing down on bones, bone density decreases too by 1 or 2 % per month.

“Hey! Kyle! Let’s play a game of basketball next.” Sam pulls out a miniature net and foam basketball from his pockets. 

“Great! That is really cute! Where did you find that?” Kyle asked

“Oh! I found it at my Dollar store in my neighborhood. I was looking for something crushable and small to bring on the flight. This fit the bill perfectly. “Sam described as he floated to the bottom of the plane and laid down for the next opportunity to float.

“Ready for weightless session 12?” Alex yells to the gold group.

“Yes!”  Everyone yelled at once.

“Here we go!” Alex exclaimed just before everyone heard the pilot say “Injection!”  Alex had been on so many Zero G’s flights he knew just when to expect to go weightless.

Pushing themselves up, Sam tosses the little basketball high into the air for Kyle to catch. Kyle easily catches the ball and tosses it back into a very small basketball net. 

“Score!” Kyle raises his hands and spins around “Woo-hoo! Wow!”  As he spins and almost collides with  Cathy.  “I’m so sorry Cathy!”

“Woo Big Guy!” Cathy replies as she gently pushes Kyle back in the direction of Sam.

Sam and Kyle quickly switch positions so that Sam can try a slam dunk before the plane completes its parabola. As Sam floats to the floor, he planned his next stunt.  Lying on the ground, Sam noticed  ribbons that ran the length of the plane, which acted as foot holds for people who wanted to hang upside down.  Lying on the floor of the plane, he motions to Kyle to look at the foot holds.

“Hey Kyle! Do you want to try hanging from your feet next time we are 100% weightless!” 

“Humm! Not really! My stomach definitely does not feel up to it.” Kyle replies

“Bummer! Adele! Do you want to try?” Sam asks Adele.

“Sure! Whenever you are ready!” Adele answers.

When they hear “Injection”, Sam and Adele float to the ceiling of the plane and quickly tuck their feet under the ribbons, and then simply stand up – but this time upside down. 

“Oooo! Wow! This is kind of freaky!” Adele calls to Sam.

“Yes! Everyone is upside down! Cool!” Sam replies.

The professional photographer appears in front of Adele and Sam hanging upside down. It’s a funny shot since Adele’s long hair is hanging upside down and a total mess.

Soon the parabola ends and Cathy, who was carefully watching Sam and Adele, signal for them to lie down again.

“I’m going to try to kneel up while the plane descends this time!” Kyle announces.

“Great! Good Luck!” Sam calls out to Kyle as he lies down on the ground again.

“This is really tough!  The weight is crushing” Kyle says as he falls forward on his hands and knees.  Straining with much difficulty, Kyle tries to kneel and stand up. “Wow! This is difficult” Cathy slowly walks towards Kyle to offer him a helping hand. “Thank you, Cathy!” Kyle gladly takes her hand as he struggles to stand.

“Let’s link arms and try to spin a circle for the next parabola. I think it will be the moon’s gravity.” Adele suggested.

“Sure!” Kyle says with a thump has he kneels and then lies on the floor of the plane, just as the pilot says “Injection!”

Linking arms, Sam, Adele and Kyle face outwards as Cathy comes over to help the group slowly spin in a circle.

Again, the professional photographer assigned to the Blue group takes a series of photos of the three fliers linked together spinning.

“Wee! I don’t want this to end!” Adele says with glee in her voice.

“Oh! I think I do.” Kyle suddenly let go of Sam and Kyle and moves away from the group to vomit into a bag that he quickly pulled from his jump suit.

“I think I’m done” Kyle slowly moves to the seating area where the other green looking fliers sat and waited for the flight to end.

Looking a bit green and embarrassed, Kyle could not wait for this ride to end. He figured that a dozen instances of weightlessness without any medical support was not a bad experience for his first time being weightless. The next time he experiences weightlessness, probably when lifting off and heading to the moon, he plans to take the recommended motion sickness meds.  He has learned his lesson the hard way!  He was happy that Adele’s experience was a positive one. She’s such a great person. He was so happy to have someone so positive and energetic to travel with.

“Ahh! Poor Kyle!” Adele says to Sam.  He should have taken Gravol or another anti-motion sickness medication before the flight.

“He did pretty amazing considering he looked a little green right from the start!” Sam replies, smiling at Kyle.

“Is everyone having fun?” Cathy asks the fliers who are left in her zone. 

“Yes!” Adele says with a smile.

“Definitely!” Sam replies.

“Great! I’m glad to hear it.  I believe we have one more 100% weightlessness and then a moon’s gravity experience and we are done for today.” Cathy instructs.

“Wow! That was quick.” Adele says as she lies down again. “I think it will be fun to be in space for a week experiencing weightlessness. I guess I need to spend more time in the pool since it feels so much like swimming, doesn’t it.”

“Yes!  The Canadian Astronaut David Sainte-Denis described weightlessness on the ISS as swimming without water. I think swimming every day will build muscle tone and help your body get used to being weightless to some degree. I often feel more relaxed in water anyways. After a good swim, I always have the best sleep!”  Sam says.

“I agree.  There is something about water that relaxes me too. “Adele agrees. “I guess it has to do with how much water is in our system to begin with.”

“Injection” The pilot is heard over the PA.

Both Sam and Adele float effortlessly to the ceiling smiling.  Upon reaching the straps on the ceiling Sam stretches out and then spins like a log back down to the floor.  Adele floats away from Sam towards Kyle near the front of the plane to check on how he is feeling.  It was difficult to resist swimming to Sam. Instead she used the cord near the ceiling of the plane to guide her path. “How are you feeling?” Adele asks when she reaches Kyle.

“Good! I just can’t take many more of these up and downs. My stomach is felling very woozy.  I think I’ve had enough fun for today.”

“Ok! I’m glad to hear that!”, Adele acknowledges. “I’m sorry that you are not enjoying this to the max.”

“I think it was a positive experience for my first time.  I’ll be more prepared in the future!” Kyle states.

Floating back to the blue zone, Adele asked Cathy to help her do a pirouette again for her last episode of weightlessness.

Again, posing in the correct position, Adele launches herself into a powerful spin – that helped her make seven full revolutions before Cathy helped her slow down and stop.  The professional photographer switched to Adele’s iPhone to video the performance for her.  As the pilot signals the end of the last parabola to the cabin crew and the passengers, Cathy helps Adele slow to a stop before gently landing again softly to the floor of the plane with a giant smile.

“Wonderful! I’ve always dreamt of spinning and floating in the air.  That was so much fun!”  Pumping her fists into the air.  “WOW!”

The Zero G plane completed the final descent and ascended to a cruising altitude of 23 000 feet. 

“This is your pilot Andrew Smith again.  I hope you enjoyed your weightlessness experience today.  We have completed 15 parabolas successfully, which included two moon and two Mars gravity.  Please return to your seats and put on your seatbelt for the duration of our flight. We expect to land in 40 minutes.  Once everyone is seated, our staff will distribute water for everyone. You may feel dehydrated from the excitement of the experience. Thank you again for choosing to fly with us today.”

Sam made his way to where Kyle was sitting. He was looking much better and more relieved to have the plane settle into a typical flight pattern. 

“Well, that was fun!” Sam said to Kyle “How is your stomach now?”

“Still woozy! Don’t get me wrong though – I really enjoyed the whole thing, despite my stomach acting up.  Going into space seems a bit more real now, doesn’t it – Adele?” Turning to the strong, young beautiful ballerina.

“Yes – definitely!” Adele said with a sigh.

All three fliers were happy to get a cold glass of water before landing.  Only a few other participants continued to be sick on the flight as it landed at Florida’s the Miami, FL - Ft. Lauderdale International Airport (FLL).

“Solid ground – I’m really looking forward to walking on solid ground” Kyle whispered to Adele as the landing gear squealed as it lowered.  Bump, bump, bump, the plane landed a little roughly on the tar mac.

When the plane came to a halt, everyone stood up again at once and filed out of the plane.  The pilot was the first to leave the plane and waited at the bottom of the stairs to turn the name tag of each participant from upside-down to right-side-up. This tradition of turning the name tags around at the end of each flight, is a rite of passage for surviving the Zero G flight experience. As Kyle and Adele approached the pilot, they were immediately recognized.

“Congratulations Kyle and Adele. I hope you had a good experience before going into space. I’m so jealous that you will see the moon up close.” Andrew Smith extended his hand to shake their hands.

“Thank you for flying the plane so safely.  I only had difficulty at the end” Kyle admitted to the pilot. 

“I thought the entire trip was Awesome! I hope we can practice again before leaving Earth.” Adele said to the pilot “I’m incredibly grateful for this experience today. Thank you – as Kyle said – for flying the plane safely. It was super cool!”

Published May 16, 2021

#dearMoon Audition video

Bangoura's third day

Bangoura woke up with a start on his third day in the wilderness. A crash behind his shelter shook the ground around him. 

“What the heck was that!” he muttered as he scrambled out of his shelter to have a look.  Right behind his shelter stood a Caribou. “Oh!” Bangoura gasped and then froze. He had never seen such a large and powerful animal so close before. “Hey big Guy or Girl!” Bangoura was too startled to figure out if he had a bull or a cow visitor.  He was suddenly awake and not sure what he should do. The creature in front of Bangoura was 4 feet tall and well over 200 pounds.  “What the heck are you doing here?” Suddenly looking around for other Caribou. Bangoura was sure that they traveled in herds.  “Just don’t come too close!” He shouted at the Caribou. He remembered his bear spray that was in his shelter. He slowly bends down into his shelter to grab the spray. Thank goodness it was easy to find.

The Caribou did not have any antlers, so Bangoura was pretty sure it was a female caribou that came to visit.

Caribou are the only deer where both sexes have antlers.  Pregnant females shed their antlers after calves are born in the spring. Non-pregnant females shed their antlers during the winter. Males shed theirs after the fall breeding season.  Apparently, young males retain their antlers longer than mature males. The caribou looked at Bangoura and stomped with its right leg. It also let out a great snort.

“Oh! Oh!  Sorry big girl!  I had no idea this was your territory” Bangoura says softly to the huge creature near his shelter.  “Please don’t run!  I’m just hear for a few more hours!” Slowly backing away. “Don’t charge!” I mean no harm, Bangoura is thinking hard. “What the heck can I do to scare this caribou away?” he thought.  He knew he should stare down a bear but was lost about what to do with this huge creature who was obviously upset.  Looking around the second time, Bangoura spots a young caribou about 50 feet away in the bushes just behind Bangoura.  “Oh! Shit!”  Now he knew why the cow was angry. He was between the mom and the baby, Bangoura thought.

The caribou stomped again with the same right hoof and made another snort, shaking her head.

Backing away slowly, and not wanting to lose eye contact with the mother caribou, Bangoura stepped backwards without looking and suddenly trips backwards over a log. 

“No! No! No!” Bangoura mumbles as he stumbles backwards trying to steady his fall.  Losing his balance at once, Bangoura slips and falls backwards screaming “AH!” as his head on a bolder. Bangour’s lights turn off and he loses conscience. That was the last thing Bangoura remembered until he woke up in a hot tub with soft bubbles kissing his checks as warm water gurgled all around him.  “Ahhh!!”  I made it, Bangoura thought.  He thought he was back in the hotel in the fitness room’s hot tub, but he could not remember how he got there. 

“Hello! Anyone here?” He screamed. But all he heard was his own voice echoing, as if he was calling in a large canyon.  “Hello! Anyone! Anyone here?!” He repeated – louder this time.  Again, all he heard was his echo through the large room.  Starting to feel anxious, Bangoura leaned forward in the tub when suddenly the water in the tub began to drain. He was in a large whirl pool and being slowly tugged around in circles.  “What is going on?” Bangoura thought as the room spun out of control. “Help me! Someone!”

Then, Bangoura woke to giant licks across his face.  The baby caribou had come to investigate Bangoura when he fell backwards in front of its mom.

“UGH! YUCK! Gross! Back off!” Bangoura screamed and waved trying to get the baby caribou to back away. Bangoura lies back in a daze and tries to remember what happened. He tried to move his right foot but then a sharp pain shot up his leg.  His face turned ashen white as agony shot up through his leg to his body and striking his head.  He let out a scream that echoed throughout the valley – just as in his dream. “Ouch! Oh! My GOD! That $#@#$ing hurts!” Bangoura’s screams scared the baby caribou enough that it suddenly turned its tail and ran towards its mother.

“No! No!”  Sitting up and grabbing his leg – noticing that his foot was twisted in a grotesque and unnatural position. “AH!!!”  Tears started to well in Bangoura’s eyes and he tried to push the pain out of his mind.  “I need to get out of here!” 

Grabbing his whistle, he started to blow and count 20 seconds, then blow again and count another 20 seconds.  “Please! Please! Please! Someone hear me! I cannot walk out of here now.  I need someone to carry me out!” Bangoura tries not to panic as he realized his dire situation.  I can’t believe I’ve twisted my ankle! AUGH!” Bangoura shouted.

He is not sure how long he had been knocked out, but he felt a large goose egg on the back of his head. His head throbbed as he used his whistle to call for help.  Looking down at his again he notices that the area around the ankle was swollen, red and warm to the touch. 

Unfortunately, Bangoura did not have any ice with him. Ice would slow the increased blood flow to the injured area, reducing swelling, redness, and cool the warmth. If applied immediately, ice can reduce inflammation to the sprang.

Slowly, Bangoura rolled onto his stomach and uses the log that he tripped over to kneel.   Carefully and with immense difficulty, he used a long stick to help him stand. He gently set his foot down for the first time to try to put some weight on it.  Searing pain went through his body.  Every cell in his body up to his head was on fire. There was no way he would be able to put any weight on his injured leg. He knew he would need someone to carry him out of the valley. He would not be able to hobble out on his own.  As disappointed he is that he was not able to walk away from his three day test, he was becoming anxious that no one would find him.  Using the long stick, he was able to hop to the stump near his shelter and rest for a minute to collect his breath and his thoughts. His head still throbbed from falling backwards.

Surveying the damage to his body and his shelter, he looked around his camp site.  Apparently, the mother caribou had charged him around the time he hit his head and passed out.  His shelter, the one that has kept him warm and dry the past 36 hours, was in ruins.  There were now tons of branches and pine frons scattered all around where he fell. 

Bangoura thought in desperation, “I need to call for help.” He looked around and saw that his fire was dying.  He hobbled over to his fire and fished around in the bottom of his pack, where he found a birthday candle that he had thrown in just in case of an emergency.  This small candled saved him from searching for new kindle.   Sitting down on the stump, he carefully extended his injured foot forward. He was able to use his stick to pock at the fire to find the hot spot. Then, he leaned down and set the birthday candle at the warmest part of the fire.  Quickly, the fire started to spread. He hopped over to the pine frons that were part of his shelter and collected them to set on the fire and make white smoke to call for help.  He had thought of collecting this for emergencies before his third day in the woods, but things were going so well yesterday, this task had slipped his mind. It was difficult and exhausting to move around with one good leg and his large stick as a crutch.  He did not want to fall again.  Leaning heavily on his stick while trying not to lose his balance – was a difficult task. Feeling dizzy and nauseous from his fall, Bangoura suddenly turned and retched beside his stump.

“Oh! I feel like shit! I hope someone sees my smoke signals!” He thought as he took his whistle in his mouth and began to make the same long whistle sound and then wait for 20 seconds.

After calling for help for 5 minutes, he returned to his fire.  Placing large pine frons on the dying fire created large blooms of white smoke that shot straight up into the ski.  He kept adding all the pine frons that he used to keep him dry in his shelter.  Someone had to see his fire – and bring help soon.

Meanwhile, the group of young 20 year old’s that Bangoura met on his way into the park were packing up their camp and preparing to move closer to the road where they were hoping to catch the shuttle to back to the entrance of the park.  Just like Bangoura, they had a fun adventure backpacking in the park.

“Kevin! Did you hear that?” Susan said to Kevin, her boyfriend of 6 months.

“What? My head was in the tent! I could not hear a thing. Sorry! Maybe next time we could think of bringing a larger tent for the two of us – or you could bring less stuff!” He says with a huff.  They had a fun two days together but Susan’s constant worrying about running into wild life was starting to drive him crazy.

“There! Did you hear that? It sounds like a whistle blowing. I keep hearing it at regular intervals. Maybe someone needs help?”

“Ya! I just heard that. Where is it coming from?” Frank wondered out loud.  Kevin and Frank had been friends since they met the first day of Grade 9.  They were both new to the school and were lost in the long hallways looking for their homeroom together.  They became life long friends after the chance encounter.

Turning around and blocking one ear, Frank carefully listened to hear where the whistling was coming from.  It was faint but, as Susan described, could be heard at regular intervals.  Someone was hurt and they were calling for help.

Turning to his friend Frank asks, “Dan! You have better hearing than the rest of us. Where do you think it is coming from?”

Immediately Dan pointed in the direction that they were planning to walk – up the river. 

“I guess we should check it out then.” Kevin nodded to Susan, Frank and Dan. “I hope it is not an emergency. Do you have your first aid – either of you? I took my course when I was 15 years old to be a life guard. I stopped keeping it up to date when I started university.” He admitted.

“I never took first aid, but I know that it is important to keep someone warm if they are in shock. “ Frank stated.

“OK! Let’s hurry then!” Kevin replied.

In 15 minutes, the group had all their equipment packed in their bags and they set off before making sure that their fire was completely out.

“Hey! Do you see that??”  Kevin pointed to the white smoke rising in front of the. “WOW! Do you think it is a forest fire starting? That would be bad!”

Picking up their pace – they were able to see Bangoura sitting next to his bellowing smoking fire.

“Hey! Help! Help me please!” Bangoura waved as he saw a group approaching him up stream. “Oh! Thank Goodness! I need help.  I twisted my ankle about an hour ago. I really could use your help. Do you have a phone?”

“Of course! Let me call for help.” Kevin pulled out his cell phone – the one he used for photos during their adventure. He had carried a portable charger with his gear so after three days he still had some battery left. “I took a photo of the National Park Service Help line as I left the main park office before taking the shuttle.  Let me see.” Using his phone, the group watched patiently as he scrolled through all the photos that he had taken in the last three day. “There!” he said when he found the photo.

Quickly he typed in the number “Hello! Hello!  We have found a man who is injured, and we need your help. He has twisted his left ankle….”  Listening, then he responded “Sure! We are in the McKinley River valley, not too far from the road but he is not able to walk. My friends and I hiked about 20 minutes along the McKinley River bed from the Wonder Lake camp ground. We were headed to the Eielson Visitor Center at the 66-mile mark along the Park road to be picked up.   I seriously doubt that we can carry this guy out.  Can you bring help?”

Over the phone, the dispatcher asked Kevin if she could talk to Bangoura. “Sure, here he is.” Kevin switched the phone to speaker so that the entire group could hear the conversation.

“Hi! My name is Bangoura!”

“Hi Bangoura! My name is Sharon, I’m going to help you get home safely.  What happened? Can you remember?”

Bangoura told her how he was startled when he woke up this morning by a crashing sound. How he accidentally came between a mother Caribou and her young one and that he tripped backwards attempting to get out of her way. He was not really sure what happened after that because he is not sure how long he had lost consciousness. The good news is that he could remember his name, tell her the date, and knew where he was.

“How much pain are you in?” Sharon asked Bangoura.

“8 out of 10! After my shelter was destroyed by the mother Caribou, I was able to hobble over to a stump near my fire where I could call for help.  I used a stick to hold my weight but I can’t put any weight on my left side. I can barely move my left leg. There is a bunch of swelling, but my bone is not sticking out.  My ankle is large, red, and swollen.” Bangoura described his injured leg to Sharron.

“Ok! I won’t hang up but I need to put you on hold so I can get someone to come and get you. I promise – we will have you home soon!”  and soft music started to play on Kevin’s cell phone.

Sharron turns to her co-worker Paul at the main visitor’s center saying “We have a camper with a twisted ankle between Eielson’s  Visitor Center and Wonder Lake. He is not alone but he is not able to put any weight on his ankle.  Can the park helicopter to pick him up?  His name is Bangoura.”

“The helicopter just left on the 20 minute tour of Mount McKinley.  I can radio him and see if he has room for one more.”  Paul replied.

Paul picked up the radio to communicate with the helicopter piolet.  “Felix! Felix! This is the visitor center.  Please pick up. Felix!”

Felix immediately replied. Paul told Felix about Bangoura’s situation and asked him if he had room for one more person. Unfortunately, his helicopter was full of a family and could not fit Bangoura in.

“No problem! See you in a few minutes.” Turning to the family that he had just picked up to give a tour of the park, Felix said “Sorry folks! We have a hiker who has twisted his ankle and I’ve been asked to pick him up right now. He is in pain and unfortunately, can’t walk himself out for help.  I don’t know how long I’ll be gone.”

Andrew, the 10 year old boy in the helicopter piped up and said “Well, that’s sucks Mom! Do we get our money back?”

“How long were you planning to be in the park?” Felix asked.

“Humm, well! We were hoping to enjoy the helicopter tour and then we will ride the bus to the end of the highway and back. So just the day!”  Andrew’s dad replied.

“I suggest that you take the bus tour. That will take at least an hour.  Depending on how hurt this hiker is, I might be able to rescue him by the time you return. Then, I’ll take you on your tour, otherwise, you get a full refund – of course. Please understand, these accidents happen all the time with the rough terrain the park.”

“Poor guy!” Andrew responds “ I hope he is not hurt too badly.  I hope he will be ok!”

Back at the river bed, Sharon said to Bangoura “Great news!  I have spoken to the park helicopter pilot. He is on his way back to the visitor center to drop off the guests that he just picked up for an aerial tour. He will then pick you up.  Do you have something that will help him spot you from the air?”

“I have a giant red sleeping bag that we could lay out! That can be easily seen from the air.” Susan spoke up.

“Yep! That would work!” Kevin replied.

Susan unhooked her sleeping bag from the bottom of her pack and laid it out on the rocks besides Bangoura.

“I also have a good fire going. We can add more pine needles to add more smoke so the helicopter can see the smoke first!” Bangoura added.

“Great plan!” Sharron said. “I’ll relay this to the helicopter pilot. We should have you back safely soon as possible.  Who can we contact to help you when you arrive at the visitor center?”

“Ugh!  My friend Chris! He is my personal trainer.  I’ll get his number for you in a minute.” Picking up his pack again, he unzipped the top front pocket where he pulled out the laminated card. “Ready? Chris’s number is…” Bangoura gives Chris’ contact information to Sharron.

“Hang tight! Help is on the way.  Your friend Chris will be here to help you when you arrive. Can your friends stay with you until help arrives?” Sharron asks.

“Sure! We were not in a rush anyways. “ Frank says for the group.

Thirty minutes later, the group heard the helicopter approaching.  While they waited, they tried to make Bangoura comfortable. They elevated his leg, put another sleeping bag around him to keep him warm and chatted with him to keep his mind off the pain. Susan gave Bangoura an aspirin for the pain that she kept in her pack for emergencies.

Hearing the helicopter approach, Susan, Frank, and Kevin started to jump and down waving their arms.   Dan put more pine needles on the fire to create bigger plumbs of smoke.  “WOW! I think he sees us!” Dan replied. “Look! The helicopter is headed this way.”

As the helicopter descended, the guests of wind kicked up the fire. “Oooh! Ahh!” Kevin said as he saw the fire flair up! “Look at that flame go!”

The helicopter landed on the other side of the McKinley River. Two men popped out the back with a stretcher.  They quickly walked across the shallowest part of the stream. 

“Hi Bangoura!  I’m Brennan and this is my partner, Sam! We are here to help you.  Let’s look at that ankle of yours.”

They quickly accessed Bangoura’s condition by asking a few questions.  They put him on the stretcher and collected his pack from the group.  Bangoura shook Kevin’s hand and thanked him for calling for help.  “Thank you everyone for getting me out of here!”

Brennan asked “How is the pain?”

“Eight and a half out of ten. I hope I didn’t break it!”  Bangoura replied.

“We can give you something that will dull the pain until we reach the clinic!” Brennan replied with concern.

“Yes! I would like pain killers. I can’t put any weight on my leg at all. It is throbbing terribly!” Bangoura answered positively.

“Take care!  I hope you’re going to be ok! Good luck on your trip to the moon! You are so lucky!” Kevin replied.

In a moment, Bangoura was off, leaving the group of young adults wondering who they just met.  “That is incredible that we just met someone going to the moon! It’s so cool!!!” Susan said.

Meanwhile, Bangoura was dreading meeting Chris back at the visitor’s center. He was doing so well until this morning. He really wanted to prove to Chris that he could survive in the wilderness for three days without help and now here he was in a helicopter with an injured ankle. This was not the ending he had hoped for.

“Here we are!” Felix announced as they approached the roof of the Visitor’s Center. “How are you feeling?”

“Very rough! “Bangoura replied with a groan. “I can’t believe this happened!”

“Hey! No worries man!  I pick up people with twisted ankles and broken bones on a regular basis! Don’t sweat it, at all!” Felix replied.

“Yah but – this will really mess up my training!” Bangoura said sadly.

“Training for what, Man?” Felix asked

“Going to the moon! I’m one of the dearMoon crew. “ Bangoura informed Felix.

“Ugh!?  Sorry – I’m not on social media or the internet. Are you some kind of astronaut?” Felix asked with a curious look on his face.

“Trying to be.  I’m one of the artists selected to go to the moon on Elon Musk’s rocket – when it is ready to go!” Bangoura says.

“Wow! Man! That sounds straight out of a science fiction novel.  Not to mention you are more brave than I! You would not catch me doing that!” Felix answered.

With a feather light touch down, Felix landed the helicopter on the heli-pad.  The side door flew open with a push from Sam.  Sam and Brennan jumped out first and then carried Bangoura who was strapped to the stretcher from the helicopter.

Felix hollered after Bangoura “Good luck with your journey man! God Speed!”

“Thank you for your help!” Bangoura waved as he was carried from the helicopter.

“Well, there you are!” Chris greeted Bangoura. “How the heck are you? What happened?”

“I’m happy to see you too!” Bangoura said to Chris with a forced smile. “Well, most of the last three days went well, then this morning happened!”  Bangoura told Chris everything he told Sharon. “Over all it was a good few days, except for this morning.”

“It is amazing how quickly your fate can change on a dime out there.” Chris replied in an understanding tone. “After you are feeling better, we can go over the things you learned in the bush. The most important thing is that you were able to get the help you need! Well done surviving most of three days on your own.” Chris congratulates Bangoura.

Sophia and Scott

In Hawthorne, California, Scott was waiting for Sophia to arrive for her uniform fitting and advanced communications training in Space X’s simulator. He worked patiently with Sophia to find time within her overscheduled calendar to help her train for the journey to the moon.  He planned a two-day session, where the expectation was Sophia would be the first artists to be certified to use the communication equipment and safety equipment on the Starship.

Checking his phone again, Scott paced in the entrance way of Space X’s headquarters. He imagined that Sophia would txt or email him if she had to cancel last minute. He was used to her canceling their training last minute for the last couple of months.  She never arrived early for any appointments and was constantly on the run.  He teased her that she did not need to do any cardio training since her life appeared to be running from one location to the next.  She did not stop.

Hearing the large front door thump, Scot turned in time to see Sophia heave the large door back towards herself so that she could rush into the grand entrance.

“Scott, so good to see you again!  I’m sorry I am running late.  I had to take a call on the way over here and pulled over to be safe.”

“No worries!  You are not booked in the simulator until 11 am today. We are meeting the seamstress to take your measurements for your dearMoon space suite now. Her name is Suzanne Smith. I just need to txt her when you arrive.  Hang on!”

Unlike the extravehicular suites where one size fits all, the light weight jump suites that will be warn inside the Starship for the duration of the trip to the moon, are custom made.  The purpose of the suites is to provide a sealed-off life support system to protect the astronaut from a sudden rapid loss of air and pressure in the vacuum of space.  If this occurs during flight, the gas inside a person’s organs expands and bubbles out almost immediately (Less than 15 seconds), which would cause the person to pass out before any corrective measure can be taken. The Starship environmental control system determines the personal spacesuit capabilities but there are some features that are common to all suits.

“Hey Suzanne! How are you? It’s Scott.  Sophia just arrived. I am terribly sorry that we are running a bit late.” He pauses. Sophia can hear an excited female voice on the cell phone, but her voice is muffled and she can’t understand what is being said.

“Ah Ugh!”  Scott replies, then “Yes! We will be right down. Thanks!”

Turning to Sophia, Scott relies the following message. “Suzanne just told me that security at the front desk has our badges and we just need to show government issued ID to gain access to the building.  We will also need to sign an NDA.”

Walking up to the security desk, Scott introduces them to the guards. “Hi! My name is Scott Adams and this is Sophia.  We are here for Sophia’s space suite fitting and simulation training for the dearMoon project.  We will be here for the next two days.  Suzanne Smith told me that she had left our security badges here at the front security desk.  Here is my license. “Handing one of the two guards his ID and turning to Sophia, he asks“ Sophia, did you bring your passport?”

“No! Of course not. I never bring my passport – I left it at the hotel’s safe so that it is not stolen.” She said defiantly. “I have a photo of it. This should be sufficient to get my badge.” Holding her cell phone out for the guards to see.

“Yes! This does the trick”  The guard says as he copies Sophia’s information onto the registration sign in sheet.  “That works perfectly fine. Thank you!” Handing her cell phone back to her.

“Here are copies of the NDA that we ask that you read and sign at the bottom.” The second security guard says, holding out a clip board with one page NDA.

“That’s simple enough” Handing the signed form back to that guard, at which time the guard gave Scott his temporary security pass.

After Sophia signed her form and received her temporary security pass, they both hung the passes around their necks. Each temporary card had their image in the center with their name below the image in large black bold letters.  The neck band had visitor written in white lettering on black heavy ribbon. The only indication that this was a SpaceX badge was the lettering on the neck band used the same distinctive font as the SpaceX logo.

“Ok! We are all set! Follow me.  Suzanne gave me instructions on how to find her in this large building.”

SpaceX’ headquarters is large and cavernous. After passing through two blue metal doors, Sophia and Scoot enters the main room.  Immediately to their right is Mission Control room, filled with about 30 desks; each with 3 computer monitors on them. Mission Control is encased in floor to ceiling glass. In front of the desks is a giant projected screen, which live streamed various images and technical readouts. As they walked through the main room, they could not help but look up. Above them was the first Dragon capsule that made it into space complete with entry burns on the undercarriage.

The giant room was painted entirely white with a few clean rooms on the sides.   Sophia noticed that there was very little dust or scruff marks on the floor, which is somewhat surprising considering Rockets are built and designed here.  On the floor are large stripes of black paint to guide visitors and help people from wondering into employee work stations.  Work stations consists of work benches with machine and spare parts and half assembled rocket engines.

On the right side of the walk way was a fully assembled Falcon 9 rocket engine.  The 9 represents the number of engines on a single rocket. The workers at this start up have a mission. They are building and tweaking a rocket. Not only to go to Mars but they have a mission to save our species from extinction in the event of an asteroid impact.  Occupy Mars is a common logo on t-shirts warn by the employees at headquarters. All the SpaceX employees who work here, wear company fitted t-shirts, polo shirts, and baseball caps with SpaceX logos. They buy them from the SpaceX online store at an employee discount. The passion displayed by all of the Space X employees is obvious.

“Its funny being back here again after our first meeting earlier this year.  I didn’t expect to return alone.” Sophia says to Scott. 

“I imagine this is a pretty intense place to work.  I wonder how late everyone works here regularly.” Scott comments.

As they walked through the building, they saw adjacent rooms with 3-D printers hard at work making components that Sophia and Scott had not seen before.  Samples were left on window sills of the offices to allow visitors to pick up and touch the samples.

“The seamstress is waiting for us in a room at the back of the building. She told me to follow the main path and when we reach a T in the path, we must turn right.” Scott directed.

They eventually found where the main pathway ended in a T.  On the back wall there was a small plaque that gave directions:  Seamstress: Room 110 with an arrow pointing right; Simulator: Room 105 with an arrow pointing Left.  An arrow pointing to the Cafeteria, Employee lounge, and bathrooms was also pointing left. 

“Do you need to use the facilities?” Scott asked Sophia “This place is huge. It will save you a long walk if you go now.”

Smiling, Sophia said “No Thanks! I’m fine. I took care of that before leaving the hotel. You are correct – with the size of this place! You would think they would have more strategically placed bathrooms.” Sophia said smiling at Scott.

They finally found Suzanne, SpaceX’s seamstress, behind the blue door in a mid-size room. Knocking on the door, they hear a friendly “Hello! Come on in! I’ve been waiting for you!” Suzanne hollered.

A large black woman with beautifully braided hair walks confidently towards Sophia and Scott with a measuring tape around her neck and extending a hand.  “Hi! I’m Suzanne! You must be Sophia – our soon to be architect astronaut and Scott, her personal trainer.” Suzanne grabbed their hands and shook them warmly. 

Looking around at Suzzane’s studio, Scott commented, “You were correct! This office is quiet cozy compared with the warehouse.”

Around the parameter of the room were large wooden tables with a measuring grid to help Suzanne guide her scissors when cutting fabric for the space suites. The walls were lined with every strength and color of thread imaginable.  In the back corner was a large and deep shelving unit with heavy black, silver, and white bolts of fabric.  On one of the tables sat square fabric containers, each with hundreds of American flags, Japanese flags, and SpaceX logos that would eventually be sewn into the sleeve and inside of each space suit. Each Starship Spacesuit will be custom made by Suzanne and her co-workers. A suit can take up to 200 hours to make each depending on the adjustments that need to be made during development.  She had successfully help make the prototype that was released for testing just six months earlier.  Through the testing process, she had received feedback from former astronauts and other space specialists to make the suit safer and easier to maneuver while working in space.

In the early 60’s, NASA initially asked government contractors, such as Litton Industries and Hamilton Standard, to provide the space suites for the Apollo program. The prototype they presented NASA, after months of development, was stiff, shiny, bulky and proved useless in space.  NASA required a flexible strong spacesuit that allowed the astronauts to be protected from harmful cosmic rays from the sun and the vacuum of space. Another company stepped in to protect the Apollo spacesuits who was an expert in creating comfortable bras and girdles.  Playtex, known as the International Latex Corporation (ILC) of Dover Delaware, had radical ideas to improve the prototypes provided to NASA. They developed a softer, more flexible spacesuit which was entirely made of fabric.

Suzanne’s background is like the woman who helped make the Apollo program space suits. She started to sew when she was seven years old. Her mother made her and her sibling’s clothing to save money for their family.  Suzanne loved to watch her mother work at the sewing machine and loved most of the cloths that her mother made her. She wanted, most of all, was a jean skirt that her friend had at school.  They were not able to afford the material that was required to make the skirt, but she asked her mom if she could use an old pair of jeans that her dad had worn out.  She asked her friend if she could borrow the skirt, she wanted for the weekend to see if she could copy the pattern.  That weekend her mom showed her how to spool the thread and the simple basics of cutting material.  Suzanne was immediately hooked. She loved the creativity that sewing allowed her to have. She was able to make a jean skirt that was like her friend’s but added her own flare to the skirt. 

While growing up she was on the constant lookout for new designs and ideas to inspire her.  She waited for sales and discounts at the local fabric store to get the material she wanted to work with. Her mom bought her a sketch book for her 10th birthday which she filled with all her designs.  When she entered middle school and high school she excelled at home-economics.  The teacher took her under her wings and showed her advanced sewing techniques, which she eventually used to design and make her own graduation gown.  After leaving high school, Suzanne decided to go to the community college to get a certificate in Dress making.  After 12 short months, she applied to the International Latex Corporation (ILC) of Dover Delaware to learn how to make bras and girdles.  She enjoyed the challenge of making pretty lacy bras for woman.

In the corner were two large industrial sewing machines. One was used for delicate stitching while the second was used to sew heaving padding for the interior of the suite.

“Let’s get started.” Suzanne announced.  “I will measure your torso, chest, arms, and leg lengths and then describe the main components of the suit.”

Taking the measuring tape from her neck “Please raise your arms like this.” Lifting both her arms horizontally on either side of her body. “Great! Hold still please!”

Suzanne got to work quickly. She measured Sophia while making notes in a small notebook she had placed on the wooden table besides them. 

“Spread your legs just a bit now. Thank you!” as she measured the inside seam of Sophia’s leg.

“It’s been such a long process to having a final design of this suit, I’ll tell you. I’ve been working at the suite for five years now.   The constant development and back and forth could drive some people crazy but you know… The astronauts will be safe because of all this testing and what not.  It’s also keeping me gainfully employed doing the thing I love. “Suzanne said with a smile and a light laugh.  SpaceX has been testing, learning, and incorporating changes to improve the design and operation of the next-generation space suites. “ God put me on this planet to help keep  people safe  with my God-given skill. I’m so lucky and happy to be here helping all of the brave souls at NASA and SpaceX. Now we have artists going to space. Who knows, maybe I’ll get a chance one day?!”

Blushing slightly, “Thank you!” Sophia replies. 

“My job is to keep you safe while you are in space because you know Space wants to kill you!” Suzanne says with a chuckle. “The suit that each artist will wear will come with a custom 3D printed helmet – that I’m not responsible for making – Thank Goodness! But it does have flame-resistant outer layer and touchscreen-compatible gloves. Like all previous space suites, ours will have an ambilocal cord to connect you to the Starship. It will be connected to the ship by a connection that will be on your right hip. The umbilical cord will provide warm and cool air to you while you travel. The visor on your helmet will be closed for some of the time and open for others. When it is closed, the umbilical cord connected to the ship will provide the air that you will breathe.  The boots are black and have heel sliders to secure your feet to footrests. It looks pretty cool but is also flexible, lightweight, and easy to move in. All the research and development has paid off.  The suite is much lighter than previous ones that were developed for NASA. Feel this” Suzanne commands as she lifts a proto type from the working table behind her.  Scott immediately moves in for a closer look. He could not believe that the SpaceX suite was just on the table, and he did not notice it.

“That is so cool.” Scott exclaims, reaching out to touch it.

Suzanne is very proud as she describes the suite that will be worn by the artists. “The typical space shuttle suits weighted about 33 lbs or 15 kg.  This suit will only way a third of that; maybe 10 lbs or about 5 kg. The material that it is made of is flexible too – although some if the flexibility goes away when the suit is inflated like a balloon.” Continuing her description of the StarShip space suites, Suzanne says,” Eventually, an emergency parachute will be added to the back of this suite. It is still in testing. Also, the designer of the suite thought it would be best to have emergency water rations added. I intend to add a pouch that will be filled with filtered water on launch day.”

Wearing a suit, like Starman's, the mannequin on the way to Mars on a Tesla Rover, on an actual spacewalk would not only expose the astronaut to stellar selfie opportunities, but also — and more importantly — to temperatures ranging from 250 degrees Fahrenheit (121 degrees Celsius) to minus 250 degrees F (minus 156 degrees C), a bath of unobstructed stellar radiation and a dearth of oxygen that would leave a real astronaut dead within minutes. The space suit requires it to be attached to the spacecraft or a portable life support system otherwise an astronaut would die due to a lack of oxygen (anoxia), too much CO2 (hypercapnia), and gas bubbles in their blood (ebullism).

“Will we have another type of suite for Space walks if any of the artists or astronaut needs to leave the Starship for any reason?” Sophia asks.

“The extravehicular suite is under development.  The requirements of outer wear for an EVA or Extravehicular activity are quite different.  In space, the temperature range is just crazy.  In the direct sunlight – the temperatures rise to 250 degrees Fahrenheit (121 degrees Celsius) and in the shade, the temperatures drop to minus 250 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 156 degrees Celsius).  Also, there is a large quantity of space junk that could strike you and hurt you.  The suit needs to be strong enough to protect you from being hit by any size particle. Finally, the suite needs a portable life support system due to the lack of oxygen.  A portable life support system would remove the excess C02 and would protect you from experiencing an embolism – which means the gas in your blood bubbles.  Like I said Space is very dangerous place to be. It is out to kill you!” Suzzanne says.

“How many of the EVA suits will be on board?” Scott inquires.

“Unlike the Titanic, I was told that each passenger will have two suites. Ones to wear inside the Starship and one to wear outside – like a life raft! God forbid you need to use both during your journey around the moon.  I hope that you have a safe journey to and from the Moon and never have to step outside the Starship for your entire journey.” Suzanne says emphatically to Sophia.” You and your artists friends might experience a bit of cabin fever being locked up for a week in that tin-can but you will be safe – and in my mind – the only important thing. You need to come back safe!”

“Agreed” Scott says.

“Well – I think we are done for today” Suzanne states. “I believe you still have time to grab some lunch from the cafeteria, “looking at her watch, “before your session with the simulator starts. Do you know which way to go?” Suzanne asks.

“Yes!” Sophia answers. “We saw the plaque at the T in the pathway on the way to your office. It was a pleasure to meet you.” Extending a hand.

In response, Suzanne grabs her hand and pulls her in for a quick hug. “Please stay safe!  We want you back alive. It was a pleasure to meet you too!” Turning to Scott “Keep her safe – ok?” Shaking his hand.  “We are counting on you! Ok?!”

“Yes Ma’am” Scott replied, blushing.

Leaving the room, Scott whispered to Sophia “Suzanne is a force of nature – isn’t she?”

“Yes! You can tell she is passionate about her job and responsibilities. I’m glad she is on our side making the suite.  I think I’m in good hands here!”

“Yep! I agree with you.” Scott replies

After a quick lunch in the cafeteria, Sophia and Scott make their way to the StarShip simulator for Sophia’s simulation certification testing in communications.

“I think the simulator room is down this hallway” Scott directs Sophia to their next destination. “We will meet one of the simulator experts/technicians to train you on how to communicate with Mission Control while traveling in space to the moon. Each Artist will receive the same training you will today before you launch.  It is critical that you are in constant contact with Mission Control for direction. It will also allow you all to stay in contact with family and friends during your journey.” Pointing to a red door at the end of a long hallway. “Here we are!” Pushing the door open to a large garage like room with two large Starship Nose cones lying on the ground over a large mechanism that appears to lift and jostle the passengers of the simulator.  Around the two simulators were about 5 employees. The two with clip boards turned when they heard the red door slam shut and walked towards Scott and Sophia.

“Hi!  You must be Sophia and Scott! We have been waiting for you. I am Ian and this is Elizabeth! Thank you for coming in today. We are excited to show you the Starship simulator and explain the communication capabilities of this beast to you.  I’m so excited for you that you will be going to the Moon.  Learning how to communicate with Mission Control is essential for your survival during this amazing journey.  Let’s begin!  Follow us – we will take you to our coffee break room to give you a brief description of Communication in Space before we step into the simulator.” Ian guides Sophia, Scott, and Elizabeth to follow him around the two simulators.

“Welcome to SpaceX. “ Elizabeth chimes in. “How has your day been so far?” She asks Sophia and Scott.

“Pretty good so far. I’ve been fitted for a space suite by Suzanne – one of the seamstresses.” Sophia says beaming.” Now that I’ve been measured for a suite, the adventure is becoming a bit more real.” Sophia answers.

“We had a pretty great lunch from the cafeteria.  Do you always eat that well here?” Scott asks.

“The majority of the employees eat more than one meal here several times a week so to keep everyone happy, SpaceX has hired some pretty spectacular chefs.  The variety of food is awesome. I’m never tired of what they serve.” Ian answers.

Opening the door to the coffee room, the four enter a small room with a long table with eight chairs around.  “Would you like a coffee, espresso, tea, juice?” Elizabeth asks.

“Double espresso please.” Sophia answers with a giant smile. “I really like this place!”

“Just mineral water please – if you have it?” Scott replies.

“Of course” – handing Scott a bottle of bubbly water.

Ian begins “ Do you know anything about communications between spacecraft and the Earth?”

“I know that transmissions are performed using radio waves.” Sophia answers.

“That’s correct! Starting in the 1960s with the Apollo Missions, NASA used line of sight to communicate with the astronauts traveling to the moon.  This worked well until the moon got in the away of the communication with Apollo 11.  As you may or may not remember “Smiling at Scott since he appeared to the youngest in the group “When Apollo 11 traveled to the ‘Dark Side of the Moon” or the far side, Michael Colins lost communications with the Earth. There was a quiet period where he was the only human in space unable to communicate with Earth.” Ian describes.

“This is still an issue.” Elizabeth adds. “Communication in low Earth Orbit, where the International Space Station (ISS) orbits is practically instant. But as spacecraft travel further out into space, communication becomes more complex. The further you travel, there are more issues that need to be addressed.”

“For example,” Ian continues “when we colonize Mars, it can take between 3 and 20 minutes to send or receive a message between Earth and Mars. The electromagnet signal needs to travel to the surface of Mars and back through huge distances, which degrades the clarity of the signal.  This critical time lapse poses many challenges to engineers faced with keeping the astronauts alive and well. Also, remember both planetary bodies are in motion traveling through space and sometimes celestial bodies will get in the way of the signal, which makes it even more difficult for the message to reach us here on Earth. Here on Earth, we have become accustomed to using our Smart phones to communicate with each other almost anywhere in the planet.  We can send photos, text, emails or speaking with anyone on the planet. We are also used to accessing the wealth of information that is available to us through the internet.  This luxury, unfortunately, does not exist in space.”

“Currently there are three available methods to communicate in space. “Elizabeth explains. “Direct line of site, using VHS/F radios, Radio through satellite relays called SATCOM, and HAM radios all over the world. Radios were chosen as the method of communication for the astronauts in the 1960s and today because of the relative frequencies which radio waves transmit and the amount of data that they handle.”

“On Earth, the magic of broadband internet, with concentrated laser light energy has a shorter frequency and can handed a greater amount of data. Unfortunately, broadband internet is not available in space.” Ian adds to Elizabeth’s explanation. “It is too bad because it requires less energy to transmit huge amounts of data.  Having the ability to transmit data in space using the internet would increase the radio transmissions by 10 to 100 times. “ Ian says with a chuckle turning to Elizabeth. “Imagine – having a skype conversation or transmitting a video live from the surface of Mars? That would be awesome!”

“For now, we are stuck with using radio transmission.” Elizabeth nods.

“When you saw Suzanne, she probably explained that you will wear a helmet that will be 3-D printed. Probably the first of its kind to go into space – after the one Starman is wearing to Mars. Inside your helmet will be a device that transfers the sound waves of your voice to radio waves. These radio waves will be transmitted to the ground and or the other astronauts in space.  It is no different than how your radio works in your kitchen at home.” Ian continues. “Remember -even though people think of radio waves as sound – they are not.  Sound is unable to travel through the vacuum of space. Radio waves, on the other hand, are a form of electromagnetic radiation – similar to visible light.  Therefore, they are easily propagated through the vacuum of space.”

“Fortunately, there are solutions that exist to help you and the Starship crew of artists to communicate with Earth while you travel to the moon.” Elizabeth explains. “Satellites relay the message from your radio device to Earth at a speed of 256 kilobits per second which is equivalent to sending a message using dialup in the mid-1990’s. This speed will allow you to send still photos from the moon but will not allow you to stream video.”

“Research into space communication is continuous.” Ian adds. “There is an idea that every craft, rocket, satellite launched into space should have built into it a means of communication with each other and Earth. Imagine if your laptop computer, tablet, smart phone, webcam and home entertainment systems were all linked to your wireless internet router and shared content with each other?  The interplanetary network would not only relay information between the objects, but they could also tie into Earth based internet.  Scientists could then connect and search the internet using satellites – just as we do now when searching web pages.”  Ian continues. “Another idea that researchers are working on is a new type of protocol that is not used on Earth. It is called Disruption-tolerant networking (DTN).  This protocol does not assume continuous end to end connections.  Instead of sending streams of data, it hangs onto packets of data that it can’t send immediately until the connection is re-established, therefore almost guaranteeing an undisrupted message from a long distance in space.”

“Imagine in the far future, we as a species decide to travel into deep interstellar space with a large group of humans to explore the galaxy in search of a new home.” Sophia’s jaw opened slightly. “Sounds like Star Trek? Doesn’t it?” Elizabeth asks.

“A bit” Sophia replies.

“Well, there is a project called ‘Project Icarus’, which is in the works” Ian replies with a smile. “The idea is that this massive ship would periodically send empty fuel canisters back to Earth. These canisters would be equipped with relay equipment that would form a chain that could pass messages back to Earth. The hops between equipment would be shorter than the total distance between the ship and Earth. This design reduces the transmission power required to communicate with Earth or the antenna size. On Earth, giant solar system receiving stations, stretching for miles would receive these messages. Multiple arrays, stretching for miles, would be built in several locations to ensure that we would stay in near-continuous communication with the giant ship since weather occurrences would hinder the reception of these messages. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Who knows what technology will exist in 30 years? Who could have imagined 30 years ago that we would all have personal devices that allow us to connect to the internet and every other human on the face of the Earth in our back pockets?” Ian concludes.

“Today, we will show you a simulator which mimics the interior of the Starship. Thank you for signing your NDA. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that you keep to yourself everything you see and all the details that we will give you about communicating with Earth while in space with the technology we will show you today. “Elizabeth emphasizes the secrecy around the technology Sophia is about to learn. “We are glad that you are here – it shows that you are deeply interested in mastering the ins and outs of the Starship. Today, we will focus on communication between the Starship and Earth but in other training session that SpaceX provides you will learn how to prepare a meal, use, and repair waste receptacles.”

Sophia squinches up her nose and makes a face to Scott.  He just smiles in reply.

Published May 24, 2021

#dearMoon Audition video

Elizabeth adds” To simply survive in space as a space tourist, you need to be fascinated with our life support system. Learning  how the Starship communicates with Earth and all of the operational details of the Starship that will keep you alive.”

Adel repeats, “All the operational details of the Starship? Really! I don’t think I will be able remember all of that.” Adel says with concern.

Ian continues, “No worries.  We will teach you everything you need to survive step by step.” Then Ian begins to describe the Starship communication. “The Starship will send status information and pictures of your trip back to Earth using the existing Deep Space Network (DSN), which is a collection of very large radio antennas that are located in three locations around the globe: Canberra, Australia; Madrid, Spain; and Goldstone, California. SpaceX will also use this network to send instructions to Starship.  It is important that these three locations are evenly distributed throughout the globe so that communication with the Starship is never lost during your journey to the moon.”

“The operation of this equipment is complicated but simply put, small antennas on Starship will send weak signals back to Earth. The further away the Starship is, the larger the antenna need to be.  The largest antenna on Earth currently is 70 meters (230 feet) in diameter.” Elizabeth adds.

“I’m sure you heard of the two Voyager space crafts launched in the late 1970’s?” Ian asks Sophia and Scott.

“Of course!” Scott replies. “I heard that they entered Interstellar space a few years ago.”

“Yes- they are the furthest man-made objects in space at the moment” Elizabeth agrees. “The signal that NASA receives from them is very, very weak. Engineers have figured out a way to strengthen this signal to communicate with these spacecrafts.  As they age and travel further from Earth, NASA has a plan to reduce the power used on the spacecraft by systematically shutting systems down so that energy is conserved, and communication continues with the space craft.” Ian replies.

“It is very impressive for a spacecraft, launched almost 50 years ago, to still be communicating with NASA each day. You can go online and visit the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Voyager website and view the Space Flight Operations Schedule (SFOS).  It is a program that has at least a dozen people and is still fully operational! Eventually, the Voyager will no longer be able to communicate with us or us with it.  Each Voyager spacecraft carries with it a Golden Record of Earth sounds, pictures, and messages. Since the spacecrafts could, theoretically, last billions of years, these time capsules could be the only traces of our civilization.” Elizabeth adds.

“So what do you need to communicate with Mission Control?” Ian asks an open question to the group with his hands and arms gesturing wide. “Well, equipment that will provide fundamental communications capabilities to remain in contact with mission control throughout your journey.”  Answering his own question with a grin.

“When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the moon in 1969, a S-Band Transponder designed and built by Motorola’s Government Electronics Division, a legacy company of General Dynamics was the only communications link the Apollo 11 Astronauts had to NASA's mission control and millions of people watching on Earth.  As Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon, the S-Band Transponder transmitted his voice and video over 200,000 miles to Earth as millions of people watched him take "one giant leap for mankind." In that moment, an engineering proved that we could communicate in the harsh conditions of space. The astronauts completely relied on the Unified S-Band Transponder to stay connected. The Transponder was their only link to mission control and transmitted all voice and video communications, spacecraft status, mission data, distance, the astronauts' biomedical data and emergency communications.”

“Space communication is called Telemetry, tracking, and command or TT&C for short, which is used for communication between spacecraft and the ground systems. The subsystem functions include Controlling of spacecraft by the operator on Earth, Receive the uplink commands, process and send them to other subsystems for implication, Receive the downlink commands from subsystems, process and transmit them to Earth and Inform constantly about the spacecraft position.”

Sophia looks at Scott in disbelief and thinks to herself, “How am I going to understand and remember all of this?”

Noticing the confusion on Sophia’s face, Ian says, “I am happy to break it down for you. Let’s start with the direction of communication. Uplink is the process of sending information towards a spacecraft. It is also called forward link.  The opposite process is called downlink or return link.  The information that is sent between the spacecraft and the Earth may contain commands, telemetry, and payload data. For example, downlink information would include the spacecraft status, mission data, voice, and video transmission. This type of information is called Telemetry.  Uplink information is called Tracking, which helps mission control tracks the location, distance, or range of the Starship. The third type of communication is the uplink information that would include navigation commands, ground voice and video to the Starship. This type of communication is called Command.”

To help herself remember, Sophia counts on three fingers: “Uplink, downlink and commands”

“The main components or equipment that provides this communication are the receiver, transmitter, and antenna. Because of the huge distances you are traveling to the moon and back there could be hemispheric, omnidirectional, or directional wide-angle antenna. The majority of spacecraft communicate using radio or satellite communication.  The Starship will use radio.  The types are not important for your knowledge. It is important that you are aware that they are there and that they are part of the communication system.” Ian states.

Elizabeth turns to Ian and reminds him, “We should explain a bit of history here first.” Turning to Sophia and Scott she explains, “Before Apollo, there were the un-crewed and crewed Mercury and Gemini launches.  They used separate systems to communicate with mission control. Radio was used for tracking while Low frequency VHF or UHF was used for voice, telemetry, and control. Apollo mission to the moon gave the engineers a new challenge. Not only did the spacecraft need to communicate with mission control but the components of the space craft also needed to communicate with each other! For example, the command module needed to communicate with the Lunar Excursion Module when they separated. This meant a new communications system was needed to be configured in space where multiple space vehicles operate simultaneously in space. It quickly became apparent and critical to have more accurate tracking systems in place. As a result, additional commands and telemetry data capacity were required. In addition, television/video was needed to document this historic event! A new communication system called the Unified S-Band System was developed because of these unique requirements. It allowed, for the first time, the ability to communicate between multiple vehicles and mission control.  The Unified S-Band system combined tracking, telemetry, and control in one system.  It also included television and an emergency communications system.” Elizabeth described the communication system

“When Elizabeth says one, she means that the communication occurred on one spectrum and one spacecraft radio to handle all three functions.” Ian explains. “Something the engineers needed to worry about is called Range Rate.  It is a term used to describe the rate at which the range between a satellite and a receiver changes over a particular period of time.”

“Imagine, as a satellite passes over ” To illustrate her example, Elizabeth grabs a pepper shaker with her right hand and moves her right hand overhead to mimic a satellite passing above their heads. “ a receiver “, she then grabs a salt shaker to mimic a receiver on Earth. “The range between the receiver, “lifting the salt shaker slightly off the table” and the satellite is a smooth and continuous movement as the signal comes to the receiver.  The rate of change is reflected in the constant variation of the signal’s Doppler shift.” Elizabeth explains further, “The Doppler shift is a term used to describe a reduction or fading of a signal when the transmitter of the signal is moving in relation to the receiver.  The movement of the satellite in relation to the receiver causes a shift in the frequency of the signal.  The frequency of the signal perceived by the receiver is different than the one that was emitted from the transmitter. “

Ian adds to Elizabeth’s explanation, “A great illustration of this is a passing train. When the train is getting closer, the sound is a higher pitch. When the train passes you, the pitch suddenly drops.  This effect is the same when applying it to electromagnetic waves. The analysis is different for several reasons that are not important here. The important thing to remember is that the concept is the same. A doppler shift is caused by the speed of the transmitter relative to the receiver. This effect causes transmission issues. In the case of the Starship traveling, the fading is caused by multipath broadcast. If the receiver’s oscillator frequency matches these variations exactly, as they are happening, the result is a duplication of the incoming signal -shift and phase. The technology of the receiver adjusts by adding a fractional phase of the receiver’s own oscillator.”

Sophia blinks a few times and stairs at Elizabeth with her jaw slightly opened. “Now you have lost me.” She says exasperated. “I don’t think I can remember all of that!” with her heavy accent.” I’m sorry!”

“No! No! I must apologize. I admit that this is my passion – space communications and often I get into the technical details when it is not necessary. The important information is that you are aware of the complexity of space communications and some of the components. You are lucky that you have a team to back you up in case of an emergency. Sarah will be with you the entire time as well. She will be in constant contact with mission control during the majority of the flight. We are training each of the artists primarily so that she can sleep during your journey to the moon.  Each of you will take at least a 5-to-8-hour shift at night – allowing for Sarah to sleep and feel rested for your trip around the moon.” Elizabeth explains, turning to Ian smiling. “Perhaps we should have started with that explanation!”

“Yes! We apologize.” Ian agrees with Elizabeth. “We should have explained the purpose of your training today before filling your brain with details.  We will be more careful in the future. You see, we are new to training civilians entering space. We are used to training scientists, engineers, pilots, etc – people with an entirely different background to prepare them to travel to the harsh environment of space.”

“Well, that is ok!” Sophia replies. “I am privileged to be chosen for this adventure.  What is next?”

“Let’s jump to the future and I’ll describe what space communication will be like for the Starship.  Then, let’s head to the simulator. Don’t you agree with this plan, Ian?” Elizabeth smiled and turned to Ian. “The simulator is really extraordinary, “turning to Sam and Sophia.

Sam asks Ian and Elizabeth, “Have you been in the Starship simulator?”

“Yes, a few times.  I would love to be in Sophia’s position to prepare to go to the moon. “Elizabeth answers. “What fun would that be?!!”

All four node in agreement.

“So, what does the future hold for space communication and for the Starship?  NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California is currently developing and testing the use of lasers for deep space communication.  The Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) package aboard NASA’s Psyche mission utilizes photons -- the fundamental particle of visible light -- to transmit more data in each amount of time. For this type of communication to be successful, the space craft would be in line of sight with the command center. This is a challenge since there are many objects in space, including satellites, planets, asteroids, and smaller plants called planetoids that interfere the lasers. Communication efficiency will improve greatly by using photons to carry information. The beam of light also carries more data than using radio waves without increasing the mass, volume, spectrum, and or power of the equipment.” Ian explains.

“A spacecraft destined to explore a unique asteroid is expected to be launched the summer of 2022. It will also test new communication hardware that uses lasers instead of radio waves.” Excitedly Elizabeth adds “Think of the DSOC flight laser transceiver on board Psyche as a special telescope. It will be able to receive and transmit laser light in precisely timed photon bursts. Very cool!” Smiling from ear to ear.

“That sounds pretty neat!” Sophia agrees.  “But this new way of communicating using lasers be ready for Starship and dearMoon?”

“To be honest, delays always happen in this industry all the time.” Ian answers, ”I do not know when DSOC will be ready. I think it would be best to have the most reliable communications systems available to Sarah and the dearMoon crew.  If it is ready in time for your launch, I believe this new method to communicate will be installed to augment any existing equipment.  Perhaps the dearMoon crew will be testing it during mission.  Today we will stick to radio communication because we know for sure, this is the technology that will be available to you and your group.”

“If you curious about how it will work? I was told that a laser beacon on the space craft will assist line-of-sight stabilization for a downlink laser beam. The laser beacon to the space craft will be transmitted from the JPL Table Mountain Facility.  The data that is beamed from space will be received at a large aperture group telescope at Palomar Mountain Observatory in California.” Elizabeth adds a description of how the new laser communication will work enthusiastically. “The super cool thing is that if it works, when we colonize Mars – imagine streaming high-definition video to Earth?” Elizabeth says smiling and nodding to Ian.  “I hope I live to see that one day!”

“Me too!” Ian agrees. “Ok! Well! We could talk all day about this – there is always so much to cover when talking about telecommunications, but I think we have given you a good background for what we will be showing you today.  Are you ready to go into the simulator?” Ian asks.

“Yes!” Sophia says – thankful to be able to walk around again. She was not used to sitting still for any length of time and listening to someone. It was strange for her to sit and listen to someone because, typically, she is the one doing most of the talking.

“Let’s do it!” Sam agrees.

Leaving the coffee room, Scott, Sophia, Ian, and Elizabeth walk back to the large garage-like room with two large Starship Nose cones lying on the ground over a large mechanism that appears to lift and jostle the passengers of the simulator.  Around the two simulators are three employees working on the two simulators.

Ian waves to one of his co-workers over to introduce them to Sophia and Scott. 

Extending her hand to shake theirs, a middle-aged woman with long blond hair neatly tied back in a bun, wearing a long white coat walks quickly over to meet Sophia and Scott. “Hello! I’m Wendy! What a great pleasure to finally meet you, Sophia! I recognize you from watching the news. I’m the Senior Engineer responsible for designing and modifying the Starship simulator.  This is our test facility. Welcome!”

“Thank you!” Sophia says shaking Wendy’s hand. “This is my personal trainer Scott. He his helping me prepare for the dearMoon mission. Today I’m supposed to use one of these simulators to learn how to communicate with Mission Control.”

“Hello Scott! Thank you for coming today to help Sophia.” Turning towards Sophia “ Yes! We have two simulators under development to test different controls and features.  The development cycles here at SpaceX are four to six weeks long. It’s important to constantly test the new features developed by engineering. We do not want to have any delays, so we developed two simulators to accommodate all of the development that is constantly happening here at SpaceX.”

Taking a step back, Sophia takes a better look at the Starship Nose cones. “WOW! These simulators are enormous.”

“The Starship, when it is in full production, will be the largest fully reusable space transport system.  It is designed to carry both crew and cargo within Earth orbit, the Moon “ pausing for a moment to smile at Sophia, then continuing Wendy says” Mars and beyond. The Starship will furry 100 people comfortably for the long seven-month journey to Mars. Eventually, the designers at SpaceX expect that there will be a Starship launch once a day. “Wendy said.

Ian continues the description of Starship “It will also be the most powerful launch vehicle ever developed. The designers are building the space craft so that it will hold in excess of 100 metric tonnes to Low Earth’s Orbit.”

Wendy directs the group by saying “Please walk this way to enter the simulator.”

“What will the crew portion of the Starship look like when it is ready for Mars?” Sophia asks.

“The crew configuration will be several floors of living space.  The current design includes private cabins where passengers will pay a premium to have private living quarters that will include a bed, storage closet, private window for viewing the universe.  On other floors, there will be a large common area, centralized storage, solar storm shelters, and viewing gallery. The majority of the passengers will be seated in large galleries.  Each chair will be adjustable so that the passengers can have a comfortable place to sleep during their long journey.” Wendy answers.

“WOW! I can’t wait to see all of that when it’s complete. I hope the dearMoon crew has access to seeing the completed Starship.”

“We are still working out the details of the configuration of the living quarters for the dearMoon project. Since there will be far fewer crew members, I believe that the Starship will me modified. Perhaps, you will have larger cabins for sleeping in. The viewing gallery will be generous since the entire purpose of the journey is for the dearMoon crew to observe and create art. Safety is also our top concern for your safe return.  You will have access to the control area so that each of you can communicate with mission control at any time.” Wendy describes as Sophia, Scott, Ian, Elizabeth, and Wendy walk up a few carpeted steps and enters a spacious access door into the control room with 10 seats.  Wendy asks Sophia and Scott to sit in the front row, which has six seats.

Outside the Starship nose cone is the brains of the simulator housed in nearby computer racks. These computers are a replica of the computers that fly the Falcon 9, so the simulator reacts exactly as another SpaceX rocket performs.

“This is the simulator that Sarah is using to train for your mission. From the control room,” Wendy points to the small room across from the simulator, “ the instructors can observe the crew from these cameras.” She points to two camera mounted to the ceiling of the simulator and two cameras on the curved side walls facing the seats. “ There are also two more cameras mounted on the ceiling behind us so that the instructors can also see exactly what the crewmembers see on the control panel displays.  Each person in this room also has a tablet strapped to their legs to make entering commands easier.   The instructors can monitor every command input from the crew and inject all kinds of malfunctions including leaks from the Starship, faulty sensors or even a stuck valve. Sarah is being trained how to resolve any type of computer or engine failure that could occur on your journey.”

This last comment makes Sophia’s eyebrow’s raise.

“For today, we will focus on communication between the Starship and mission control.  There is a collection of commands and terms that are used for communicating between a space craft – any space craft and mission control …” Wendy begins to train Sophia.

Bangoura’s experience in theMammoth Neutral Buoyancy Facility (MNBF)

After a week of rest in his hotel, Bangoura was ready for his next training session.  After an examination at the local clinic, it was determined by the medical staff that he had twisted his ankle. Luckily, it was not broken as he had feared.  Chris, his personal trainer, told him that he dodged a bullet.  If he had broken his ankle, the injury may have needed surgery, which would have meant months of recovery. A simple sprang, while painful, allows Bangoura to continue with his training.  The next training session was to get Bangoura accustomed to weightlessness in a pool. 

Close to Denali National park in Alaska, is the Mammoth Neutral Buoyancy Facility, where Bangoura was expected to meet Chris for his training session.

“Hey! Good morning Bangoura!” Chris was in an especially good mood this morning. After waiting for Bangoura to recover from his three-day adventure in the wilderness, he was anxious to get Bangoura through his next session of training. Being an ex-Navy Seal, Chris had many years of  SCUBA diving experience under his belt.  He loved being in water and the experience of being underwater. He said once that the best things in his life happened while in water.

“Good morning Chris!” Bangoura replied as he hobbled on crutches to the entrance way to meet Bangoura. “How are you doing? Good to see you!”

“Good to see you too. How is the ankle?”

“Still pretty tender.  I’ve been resting it.  The doctor said to give it another couple of weeks and then I can start doing physiotherapy on it to strengthen the muscles I strained when I fell.  Hopefully, it will be good as new in a month or so.”

“Great! Are you ready for this?  I understand that you’ve only snorkeled but never SCUBA dived before.”

“Yeh!  I have snorkeled many times but never SCUBA.  I love being in the water but never took a swimming lesson in my life.  I learned to swim by watching other children play in the water. So, I’m a bit nervous about today.”

“No worries – SCUBA diving is relatively easy as soon as you learn to breathe underwater “ slapping Bangoura on the back, “Then, suddenly, you have 70% of Earth to explore!  I just love it. It is an entirely different planet once you try it.  You’ll love it!” Chris says encouragingly, then asks “Did you fill in the health questionnaire I sent you yesterday?”

“Yes! I emailed my responses to the school.”

“Great! Let’s get started.” Chris says.

They walked in through the front doors of the Mammoth Neutral Buoyancy Facility to meet Samantha – Bangoura’s instructor.

“Good morning gentlemen! I’m Samantha. You can call me Sam.  I’ll be your instructor for the next five days.  Welcome!  How are you doing? What happened to the ankle?”

“Hi Sam! I’m Bangoura!” Smiling then he explained his injury by saying, “I twisted my ankle last week while camping at Danali.  Luckily, it is only a twist and not a break!”

“Lucky – for sure! How did you get out of there with that injury?” Sam asks with concern in her voice.

“A group of campers heard me holler for help. They had a cell phone and called the headquarters, which sent a helicopter. Even though I was in a great deal of pain, the helicopter was quick picking me up. I was grateful to have a lift to safety. I didn’t think I could walk out of the park without assistance.” Bangoura explained.

“WOW! That is cool. I have never flown in a helicopter before.  It must have been fun to fly in the park like that!” Sam sounds impressed.

“Yes – despite the pain – the ride was fun!” Bangoura agrees.

“Hi! I’m Chris!” Chris steps in to introduce himself. “I’m Bangoura’s personal trainer.  I’m here to assist in Bangoura’s training for the moon!”

“Oh!” Sam stairs at Bangoura” You look familiar to me. Are you one of those artists going to the moon with Elon?” Sam asks.

“Well – I’m not sure if Elon is coming with us but yes! I’m the drummer chosen to go to the moon for the dearMoon project. That’s the reason why I was in Denali National Park. I was participating in my three-day camping trip for survival training.  The entire experience was amazing. It is a beautiful park. Unfortunately, my camp was visited by a Caribou and her calf in the early morning of the third day. Their unexpected arrival startled me, and I accidently fell backwards, tripping on a log while I was trying to get out of their way.”

“Ouch! I’m sorry that happened to you but I’m jealous that you are going to the moon! Take me with you please! ” Sam begs.

“That decision is totally out of my control.” Bangoura replies a little stunned. “It’s a blessing just to have the opportunity to train to go to space.  It’s really tough.”

“Well, thank you for choosing this company as part of your training.” Sam says as she directs them to the pool.

“Location, location, location!” Chris answers. “While Bangoura was still in Alaska recovering from his broken ankle, I thought it would be a great opportunity to help him train in weightlessness by taking a course with you guys.”

As they walked along the corridor, Sam tells Bangoura and Chris a little bit of history about Neutral buoyancy pools.

“The neutral buoyancy pools were first developed by NASA in the 1960’s to study how the human body would react in weightlessness.  When the first two humans performed the first spacewalk, they did everything wrong because they were not prepared. They were lucky to have survived.  NASA realized then that future astronaut needed to train in a simulated environment.  Being in this pool is not like being in space. The feeling of weightlessness is close but wrong.  The neutral buoyancy pools are primarily used to train astronauts for extravehicular activities and to development procedures which could include adding critical life supporting equipment to the ISS, doing repairs, or resolving an alarm.” Sam continues her description, ”The first neutral buoyancy pool was a recreational pool.  The Neutral Buoyancy Simulator, located at the Marshal Spaceflight Center, in Alabama, was built in 1966 and was decommissioned in 1997.  It had three tanks of various sizes. The largest was 23 meters (75 ft) long and 12 meters (40 ft) deep!”  Sam describes the original pool. “Of course, there has been other neutral buoyancy pools. The Europeans, Chinese, Russians, and Japanese all have their neutral buoyancy pools.  The Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas has the Water Immersion Facility (WIF) that was used for the Gemini and Apollo programs. That pool has a diameter of 7.6 meters (25 ft) and a depth of 4.9 meters (16 ft). In 1980 through 1998, the Weightless Environment Training Facility (WETF), also at the Johnson Space Center had 24 meters (78 ft) by 10 meter (33 Ft) pool with a depth of 7.6 meters (25 Ft).” Opening a door to another long corridor, Sam continues, “That pool was of course too small to hold mockups of the International Space Station, so NASA purchased a facility from McDonnell Douglas in the early 1990’s to create the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL). The construction ended in 1995 and the pool began operating in 1997. It is a huge pool but not as big as this one!”

NBL pool is: 62 meters (202 ft) by 31 meters (102 ft), with a depth of 12 meters (40 ft)

Pushing through the last door, Sam says “Behold, Mammoth Neutral Buoyancy Facility (MNBF), which was commissioned just four years ago in preparation for the fifth anniversary of the landing on the moon. This facility is designed to help develop the facilities that will be used for the Artemis program, which is the program to return humans return to the moon. The current plan is to establish a cis-lunar orbiting outpost and a lunar colony.  NASA secretly started to build this facility large enough to house the lunar orbiting outpost about five years ago.  It had to be bigger than the NBL. This facility is 20 meters wider than NBL and 15 meters deeper.” Sam proudly states with her hand on her hips.

“WoW! This is a crazy large pool! I will feel like a guppy in here” Bangoura replies staring at an indoor ocean.

“Yes! It means that this is 82 meters ( 270 ft) by 50 meters ( 164 Ft), with a depth of 28 meters ( 92 ft).  We can house the entire Canada Arm, which is 15.2 meters (50 ft) long – easily.” Sam states.

Changing the topic, Sam comments “You said in your questionnaire that you are fairly comfortable in the water but never took a formal swimming lesson. Being comfortable in the water is important for safety.  Once you complete your training, we will suit you up in a simulated space suite and use a crane to put you in the water.  The instructors will put the correct amount of weight on your suite, so you don’t float to the top or sink to the bottom – hence neutral buoyancy. The significant difference between being weightless in space and in the pool is that water gives resistance when you move your arm.  If you hold still – you will feel about the same as you would during a spacewalk.  Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut once said that a spacewalk is so much easier because there is no water resistance.”  

Sam begins to describe the importance of proper training by saying, “SCUBA diving is a sport that has risks like all other adventure sports you can try. The truth is, humans are not built or design to breathe under water so it is important to take courses so that you have the proper skills, know which equipment to use, and have emergency training in case something goes wrong – which can happen to all SCUBA divers of every level. During these five days of training, you will learn that it is critical that SCUBA divers are thoroughly trained, follow safe diving guidelines, always use proper gear, and – even though it is tempting not to – always dives within their experience level.  We have a great deal to cover today.  Let’s find the class room to review the hand signals that you need to know to communicate under water.  I think you will be more comfortable Bangoura if you can remove the weight from your ankle while I teach.” Sam suggests.

“Thank you!” Bangoura replies.

Once in the classroom, Samantha walks to the front of the room and stands by the blackboard. Infront of the blackboard is a large desk with SCUBA equipment laid on it for her lesson.  The classroom consists of rows of benches behind tables that could allow up to four adults to sit side by side.  The room was brightly lit with natural sunlight streaming in from four large windows along the outside of the room that had no drapes or curtains.

“ I would like to cover the following topics before we go to the pool:  Hand Signals to communicate underwater, the principal of Buoyancy, and then I’ll review the safety procedures to follow while using our pool.  I will reserve time at the end of each topic for questions.”  

Sam begins describing the importance of learning hand signals “Since we are not able to talk underwater, there are a bunch of hand signals that I would like to teach you so we can communicate while diving. The hand signals I teach you are the secret language of divers and are fairly universal. Two divers who speak different languages can have an entire conversation underwater. Some divers even find themselves using scuba diving hand signals on land. Don’t worry if you can’t remember all of them.  I have a booklet for you to review after we are done today.  Please imitate me while I show you the basic hand signals. It will help you to remember them as I cover the information.” Sam instructs Chris and Bangoura.

“The first hand signal that I want to teach you is thumbs down, which indicates that the fun is about to begin, and we are going to start SCUBA diving. You are encouraged to use this signal to tell your dive buddy that you want to go deeper as well.” Bangoura copies Sam as she demonstrates each hand signal to help him remember.

“It is bad,” Sam emphasizes bad by saying it in a low voice” to use the thumbs down signal if you have an issue. It will confuse your diving buddy if – for example, you give a thumbs down and then point to your ears because you can’t equalize the pressure in your head. It will only confuse your dive buddy.” Sam says with a smile.

Bangoura watches Sam run through her lesson plan thinking of how far he was from home and away from the classroom.  He loved to teach and missed his students during the summer break.  This summer will be jammed packed with training activities that Chris had planned for Bangoura’s trip.  He was positive that the summer weeks will fly bye.

“The next set of hand signals describe how you are feeling. Once you have reached the depth where you want to dive it is important to communicate to your diving butting that you feel comfortable by making an “o” sign with your hand.  When you are wearing mitts, put your thumb towards your index finger. This is a good signal for your dive buddy to ask you if you are ok and you may reply with the same signal.” Sam recommends.

“If you are experiencing a problem, indicate it by doing this:“ Sam opens up the palm of her hand and points it down, then she instructs Bangoura to shake his hand.   “Afterwards, it would be smart to indicate what the issue is. For example, if you can’t see out of your mask, point to your mask. If you can’t equalize your ears, point to your ears. If you need to surface, raise both your hands above your head. If you are only able to move one arm, touch the top of your head but do not make the mistake of waving to someone underwater when you do not need assistance.” Sam warns.

“Your dive master will be watching you closely, especially when you are new to diving.  Let’s review other important hand signals. “Sam continues her lesson.

“The hand signal for when you feel cold is easy. Cross your arms across your chest, like so” Sam demonstrates the movement.  “This signal is one of the easiest ones since it is natural to do this when you are cold.” Sam explains.

“The signal for come here is” Sam shows her palm flat, pointing up and then fingers curling in.” Slow down is similar” Sam demonstrates by turning her palm down and slowly moves the palm down. “You can use one or two hands for this signal.” Sam and Bangoura both repeat the motion.

“Ok! This is a lot to remember.” Bangoura says. “I definitely need to practice these tonight.”

“It will come with practice” Chris says encouragingly. “It also takes time. I know you have this.” Chris repeats one of his favourite sayings.

Without skipping a beat, Sam continues to describe other important hand signals for Bangoura to remember, “If you would like another diver to hold their position, hold you palm up facing them.  More technical and experienced divers may close their fist. This is another demand response signal, where the person giving the signal is expecting you to repeat it so you can tell them you understand.” Sam tries to explain this type of hand signal by saying, “Often your dive buddy will ask you to look. To do this, make the peace symbol in front of your eyes.  This hand signal is useful when a diver wants to show a specific skill or ask you to go in a specific direction. Also remember, when pointing in a specific direction use your whole hand – not just your index finger – which could be confused with look.  So, open your palm flat to the person that you would like to give a direction to and point your hand in the direction you want to point like this.” Sam demonstrates the hand signal to Bangoura and Chris who imitate her. “At the end of your dive, simply give the thumbs up. This is the reason why you are not allowed to use it to say ok.  It is also the universal symbol that demands a reply so that the person sending the signal knows that you understand that the dive is over. “

“Are there hand signals to describe ocean life that you are seeing?” Bangoura asks.

“Of course! For example, the hand signal for shark is having your hand flat with your fingers pointing up or vertical, then touch either your forehead or your chest. Manta Ray looks as though you want to imitate a seagull or a bird. Simply wave your two arms on either side of your body as though you are a bird.  A seahorse signal is similar. Just pretend you are on a horse” Sam says with a smile. “All of this information is also found on the Internet. Many companies post fun videos of SCUBA divers demonstrating the various hand signals for ocean life.”

“Cool! I’ll check that out while reviewing the booklet. Thank you for teaching us these steps.” Chris says.

“Do you have any other questions before I talk about buoyancy?” Sam asks.

“As a first time diver, do you have any tips I should follow while in the pool?” Bangoura asks.

“Yes! Wearing the equipment may be difficult to get used to, especially wearing the mask.  Like driving a new car for the first time – you will have many blind spots.  You may feel as though you have tunnel vision and can not find your diving buddy when you need him or her.  In these cases, just move your head around and look right and left, up and down until you spot them.  This sensation will quickly go away.  Another fact to keep in mind while wearing a SCUBA mask is that all objects appear 33% closer than they are.  A new diver will find this troubling the first time you enter the water.  The easiest way to train your brain to discover where objects are is to touch the wall or bottom of the pool.  Since you will not experience an open water dive, you do not need to worry about touching any fish, coral, or other aquatic life but it is good practice not to. “ Sam instructs.

“What do you do if you need to use the washroom in the middle of a dive?”  Bangoura asks.

“It’s smart to use the facilities before putting on your suite.  It is common for divers to have the sensation that they need to urinate.  In open water dives, divers will urinate in the water. Please do not do that in our pool. Simply end the dive and use our facilities.” Sam answers Bangoura “Do you have any other questions at this time?”

“I think I’m good. I know I’ll have lots of questions once we have the equipment on and we are in the water.” Bangoura says.

“I’m good as well” Chris answers.

“Remember, diving for the first time can feel like sensory overload.  You will experience weightlessness, you could have difficulty with depth perception and field of vision,  and breathing through a regulator. There is a great amount of information to process. Please don’t feel bad if you suddenly forget any of the hand signals I’ve just taught you. Your diving buddy will be happy to bring you to the surface to explain someone above the water for you.”

“The next topic I would like to teach is buoyancy, which is an important principal to learn to SCUBA dive. Buoyancy is an upward force that is exerted on an object that is either wholly or partially immersed in fluid. While diving, the water is the fluid exerting the force. Buoyancy not only acts in an upward direction but also caused by differences in pressure acting upon the opposite side of the divers as they are immersed in water. To float, for example, you are less buoyant than water and the upward pressure is greater than the downward force of the combined weight of you and your equipment. To sink, you are negatively buoyant, the downward pressure of you and your equipment is greater than the upward pressure of the water.”

Chris interrupts to describes why this important.  “Buoyancy is an important principal to understand because part of the equipment you will wear today is called a Buoyancy Control Device.  It is typically a vest that connects to your tanks and weights that you wear. The equipment that you wear helps you control your vertical movement under water. Your state of buoyancy is in direct proportion to the water that surrounds you.”

“Thank you, Chris! You are correct although there are many different styles of BCDs, today you will use a vest that holds your air tanks. When we start our dive today, I will motion thumbs down to start the dive.  At this signal, I will want you to reduce the amount of air in the bladder or BCD. To do this, all you need to do is release air using one of the dump-valves or air-deflation valves.” Picking up the BCD that is on the table, Sam points to the air-deflation valves and continues, “This will control the amount of air released from the air bladder and you will sink.” Sam says while laying the BCD on the desk.

“Only release a small amount of air each time to slowly decrease your buoyancy” Chris warns. “We do not want you touching the bottom of the pool today” he says with a grin.

“Actually, I wanted to mention that there are three stages for our dive.  The descent, bottom time, and ascent.” Sam explains. “Throughout a dive you will need to manage the amount of air in the air bladder to correct and control your buoyancy at each of these three stages. The descent is when you will need negative buoyancy.  Bottom time is when you need to be neutrally buoyant. At the end of the dive, I will give you a thumbs up signal. At this time, press the air-inflation valve to let more air into the bladder. “Sam picks up the BCD again and points to the air-inflation valve. Continuing with her lesson, Sam says, “Again, I recommend that you take small amounts of air into your bladder to avoid over inflating and floating to the surface too quickly.  You can correct this mistake by dumping the excess air using the air dump valve.”

“I’ll need to practice these maneuvers to remember where all the valves are. As you said – I think I’ll get them mixed up the first time in the pool.” Bangoura admits.

“Do you have any questions about Buoyancy? “ Sam asks.

“How does the type of water impact my buoyancy?” Bangoura asks.

“That is a fantastic question” Sam replies, “As you probably know, everyone is more buoyant in salt water than fresh water.   The difference in the weight of salt water compared to fresh water is what matters here. Naturally, you need to wear more weight in salt water than you would need when diving in fresh water. The number used to calcite the difference between salt and fresh water is 1.03 or we can say 1 L of salt water weights a bit more than 1 kg. Buoyancy takes a while to master.  The placement of your weights is important. For example, you could wear your weights on your tank, ankle, waist, or a different configuration all together. Over the next five days we will practice different weight configurations to determine how you can achieve neutral buoyancy.  Be patient because it may take us a few tries to figure it out. For some divers, it takes twenty times or more to figure out what works best for them.”  Sam answers Bangoura’s question.

Chris asks the next question: “Do you have any recommendations for Bangoura to improve his buoyancy during his first dive?”

“Thank you, Chris!  Yes! The best advice I can give you is to focus on your breathing. I’ve seen the same mistake taken by countless of new divers. Most new divers tend to hold their breath while diving.  This will mess up your buoyancy.  Focusing on your breath has many benefits. It calms you if you are feeling anxious.  It will also impact your buoyancy.  If you are holding your breath, you will definitely need more weight to hold you down as you descend, which makes the entire experience of diving awkward and uncomfortable. A logical result of focusing on your breath is that your dive will last longer, which is a bonus.” Sam explains.

“If there are no other questions about buoyancy, I’ll review the safety procedures of the pool before we start our dive.” Sam states.

After reviewing the safety procedures of the MNBF, Sam walks to the door of the classroom and holds it open for Bangoura and Chris. They again enter a long corridor with grey concrete walls and sparkling white flooring.  The hallway is lit by florescent lighting from a single row of lights down the center for the hallway ceiling. The lighting makes the floor sparkle and gives the impression that the facility was freshly cleaned. At the end of the corridor, Chris steps forward to open the door for Samantha and Bangoura.

Walking along the pool, Sam says “SCUBA equipment is pretty easy to put on and it is important to have a comfortable fit.  Some issues that new divers come across is their mask fogging up and having issues with breathing through the respirator.  So, do you know the easiest way to prevent your mask from fogging?” Sam asks while picking up a mask from the shelf at the back of the pool.

“Yes!” Chris jumps in. “I believe spraying with defogging agent will help.”

“Yes and no!” Sam replies. “Surprisingly, the age of the mask matters. You need to treat old and new masks differently.”

“Really? I’ve had masks for years.” Chris says surprised.

Sam replies, “I learned that the defogging agent works well on older masks that have already been treated to remove the manufacturing residue. New masks have residue from the manufacturing process.  No matter how much defog you use on your new mask – this residue will cause issues. Surprisingly, tooth paste is the best trick to remove the residue.  The simpler the toothpaste the better. Avoid using tooth paste with bleach or plastic confetti.  Also, avoid toothpaste with abrasives since they may scratch your mask.  It is best to rub the tooth paste with your fingers and leave it overnight. Be careful to use a smooth cloth to remove the paste in the morning.” Sam advises. “If you have a new glass lens mask, you can try the flame method as long as you are careful not to melt the plastic around the lens.  If the lens is plastic, don’t try this trick because it will melt.” She says smiling, “Simply put a flame close enough to the glass so that the residue turns black. Once the glass has cooled – brush off the residue. Applying a flame to a new mask about 2 or three times should do the trick to remove the new residue.” Continuing her description of caring for the mask lens, Sam says “If you do not have defogging agent before you dive, you can spit in the mask, but it is important that the saliva stays wet. If it dries, this method does not always work.  It is important to do this just before you dive into the water. Other things that divers often carry with them would be a small bottle of baby shampoo, glycerin soap, and dishwashing liquid.  It is important to use only biodegradable soaps when diving to protect ocean life. “

“I heard a crazy idea” Bangoura adds “I remember reading somewhere – I can’t remember where – that some divers will cut a potato and rub it inside their masks.  Weird – but is it true?” Bangoura asks.

“Yes – I heard that too. I think it is an urban legend, but it does not hurt to try it. It is biodegradable and cheap. Why not?  You can always spit into your mask if you have an older mask if the potato does not work!” Sam says with a smile. “Anyways…”Trying to return to the topic, Sam says “Having a clear mask is important for several reasons.  Do you know why?” Sam asks.

Bangoura replies” Well, don’t you need to communicate with your diving buddy?”

“Yes!” Sam confirms with great enthusiasm. “Yes! If you can’t see your surroundings, you might miss an important thing that your diving buddy is trying to tell you, that could save your lives. Why else?”

Bangoura guesses “You want to see the fish and marine life?”

“Yep! That is very true. Most people SCUBA dive to see fish and coral. Having a foggy mask will kill the experience – for sure!” Sam agrees. “I’ll give you the final reason – you need to track your buoyancy and your surroundings at all times.  I’ll cover how to do that a bit later.” Walking over to where the wet suits were hanging, Sam says, “The next item needed for a dive is the wet suite. You want the suite to fit comfortably.  The suit is meant to keep you warm so it needs to conform to your body. If it does not, water will enter the suite and will prevent you from staying warm.  If the plastic is stretched too far, and you can see that it is thin – then the suit is not fitting properly. Also, if it feels uncomfortable around your neck – it is probably too small. Ideally you will want to put the wet suit on while you are in the water.” Sam recommends. “When you are on vacation in the Caribbean – the sea is warm, and the suit should be easy to put on over your bathing suite. If you need to put the suit on when you are in a cold climate, people use water-based lubes to help put the suits on. Even though it might be tempting, remember never to use dishwashing soups or liquids that are not biodegradable.  This will spell trouble for you and your suit.  It is also important not to use oil-based lubricants because the neoprene can be damaged.” Sam states. “Ok! Let’s see which of these suites will be a good fit” Sam looks at the racks of wet suits hanging in the storage area.

“Once you are done your training, use the wash basin and soak the suite for 15 minutes.  Unfortunately, it does not count to stand in the shower for 15 minutes. Turn the suite inside out.  Please inspect the zippers to make sure they are not corroded.  I have a bottle of white vinegar and a toothbrush over there,” pointing the corner of the room from which they entered, “that you may use to remove corrosion on any zippers.”

“Be careful to remove any sand from the zipper area as well.  If the suit smells – please use a bit of soap to wash, then rinse it.  Hang the suit inside out on these wide hangers to prevent creases from forming.  Tomorrow, I’ll come bye and turn the dry suites, inside out to dry again.”

“Sure thing!” Bangoura says. “No problem!”

“Did you bring cycling shorts with you?  They are the easiest shorts for men to wear while SCUBA diving.  Typical swim short tend to bunch up in areas making the suit uncomfortable.” Sam recommends.

“I didn’t bring cycling shorts with me. “Bangoura turns to Chris and asks, “Did you?”

“No, I just brought a bathing suit. Next time!” Chris replies.

“Ok! Thanks for the tip. I guess I should have thought of that.” Bangoura replied.

“No worries! If you can bring cycling shorts for tomorrow’s training, I think you will feel a difference. Let’s talk about the regulator next.” Leaving the rack of wet suites, Sam walks over to another shelf at the far right of the pool to show Bangoura and Chris the tanks. She begins teaching again by saying “It is literally the lifeline between you and the air you breath while you are under water. The tank that holds the air you breath and the regulator make up the self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA).  The tanks that hold the air you breathe underwater while SCUBA diving is compressed and under pressure. The regulator lowers the pressure in the tanks so that you can breathe the air comfortably and safely through the connected mouthpiece while your are at great depths. Do you have any questions?” Sam asks.

“Yes! How does it work?” Bangoura asks.

“The regulator is always a two-stage system. There are three purposes of the regulator:  to provide air at a comfortable and safe pressure, to compensate for the decreased pressure in the tank as air is used, and as you change depths, which changes the ambient water pressure. The way it works is the first stage is outside of the tank. The pressure in the tank is about 3,000 pounds per square inch (psi). The regulator lowers the tank pressure to an intermediate pressure for release into the hose that leads to the regulator’s second stage.” Lifting the mouth piece, Sam says, “The second stage of the regulator is the part that fits inside of your mouth.  The purpose of this mechanism is to reduce the intermediate pressure in the hose to the inside of your mouth, making it comfortable and easy to breathe. The first and second stage regulators contain a piston or diaphragm construction which starts and stops the airflow.” Pointing to a button on the mouth piece, Sam says “Here is the emergency purge valve, the exhaust valve.  The exhaust valve lets the air escape into the water when you exhale. This valve is important because it is one-way. It does not allow water to enter from the outside. When in an emergency, the purge valve forces air to flow continuously to the second stage chamber to force any water out of the mouth piece through the exhaust valve.”


“What happens if you become disoriented and end up becoming sick while the mouth piece is in your mouth? I can not imagine how gross that would be but what do you recommend I do if that occurs?” Bangoura asks.


“Simply press the purge button. The mechanism is able to wash the vomit away without you having to remove the mouth piece and accidently inhale water. The mechanism is well thought out so that you can survive even when conditions are not the best.” Sam says with a smile. “Let’s suit up and we will hop into the pool and practice breathing!” Sam directs.


About 20 minutes later, Sam, Chris, and Bangoura are standing in the shallow end of the giant pool, dressed in SCUBA wet suites.

“So – breathing underwater will feel weird the first time you do it.   The important thing to remember is that you must exhale fully each time you breathe. As I’ve repeated several times today, it is critical that you focus on your breath while diving.  We will practice breathing through our mouths with the regulator above water until you feel comfortable.”

Bangoura fit the regulator in his mouth and started to breath.  Initially he forced himself to breath only through his mouth by pinching his nose. As Sam told him – it felt weird.  He practiced for about 5 minutes and then gave her the thumbs up indicating that he was ready to try breathing under water.

“If you start to feel anxious during your dive, just breath slowly. Your rate of breathing will tell you how you are feeling. If you are breathing quick shallow breaths, try to take deep breaths. This practice will calm your body, your mind, and your fear will decrease”. Sam recommended to Bangoura as they moved deeper into the pool.

With the oxygen tank on his back, he was surprised how heavy it felt.  Bending over, Sam put her face and the water and breathed so that Bangoura could mimic her movements.  Taking a deep breath before putting his face in water, Bangoura exhaled into the water.  Surprisingly, he heard a rush of bubbles as they escaped the regulator making a terrific noise that startled him. Bangoura thought to himself, “I thought diving would be a peaceful experience!”  He continued to breath underwater until he felt comfortable breathing only through his mouth. 

Taking a break, Sam asked “How does it feel to breath under water?”

“To be honest – very strange and surprisingly loud but I am getting used to it. I am glad we are practicing in the shallow end. I think I would panic in the deep end of the pool.” Bangoura replies.

“That’s why we take baby steps when learning to dive.  There is so much to cover, and we want you to feel as comfortable as possible especially when you are in deep water. The last thing we need to happen is to have an inexperienced diver panic and hyperventilate.”  Sam warns. “In a large pool like this, you will not need to worry about currents as you would in an open water dive.  It is impossible to fight water so the best advice I can give you is to adapt to your environment.”

Chris nods in agreement.

“If you are ready, let’s go swimming so you can experience weightlessness.”

With their heavy gear on, Sam, Chris, and Bangoura jump into the pool. Immediately, their heavy equipment becomes light.  Bangoura take a deep breath and exhales completely.  Sam gives the thumbs down signal to indicate that the dive is starting. Bangoura presses the air-deflation valve to sink into the pool further.   Bangoura watches as bubbles escape as he sinks into the pool.

Published June 10, 2021

#dearMoon Audition video

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