Ewa man gives life on Mars a try


POSTED: Tuesday, June 30, 2009

He's described as “;father, marathon runner, scuba diver, aviation enthusiast, tree hugger, home improvement do-it-yourselfer and all-around outdoor sports junkie.”;

The terms “;Mars explorer”; and “;astronaut”; are missing from Brian Shiro's resume, but the 30-year-old is closing in on those.

He made it to the “;highly qualified”; list for the NASA astronaut program before he was cut earlier this year and he plans to re-apply.

Meanwhile, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center geophysicist is headed from Ewa Beach to Devon Island in the Canadian High Arctic for a simulated arctic mission to Mars.

Devon is the largest uninhabited island in the world, with an arctic desert and little life—“;a good analog for Mars,”; Shiro said in an interview before leaving for Canada's Resolute Bay to meet five other crew members.

He's the second person from Hawaii selected for the Mars project, sponsored by the International Mars Society to study how humans would live on Mars. Kim Binsted, a University of Hawaii-Manoa computer science professor, spent four months on Devon Island in 2007.

Shiro said he expects to leave Resolute Bay today for the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station and he'll be there until Aug. 1.

Training before he left home included shotgun practice at Koko Head—in case he runs into a polar bear—and driving all-terrain vehicles in Kualoa Valley.

“;I hadn't shot a gun since I was a Boy Scout at 12 or 13,”; he said.

Shiro, who is participating in the simulated Mars mission project on his own time, will install the first seismic station on the island to measure earthquake activity. He said he'll be testing a Canadian company's “;brand-new seismic system”; that's the size of a backpack.

He plans an experiment using electromagnetic soundings to probe for ground water and he'll be involved in a LIDAR (light detection and ranging) experiment to scan the terrain and make 3-D maps.

Another crew member plans to fly an unmanned aerial vehicle with cameras aboard and Shiro said he'll use it to do some geologic soundings to see what's beneath the ground.

He maintains a science blog and said he will manage a lot of the informational aspects of the expedition. He'll also pitch in with cooking. “;We won't use much water at all, almost none, and will only eat food with a shelf life of at least a year, nothing fresh,”; he said.

The crew members recently spent two days together in Denver.

“;We weren't selected until May, giving us less than two months to plan this and fund it,”; he said. “;I had to scramble and find sponsors.”;

The Mars Society pays for the operation but he still needs money for travel and other expenses. “;Help me get to Mars,”; he appeals on his blog.

Married with a 19-month-old son, Shiro has been interested in science and space travel since he was a youth, participating in space camp, applying for internships and field projects, hiking and climbing across Alaska, traversing an ice field 80 miles on foot and skis and working at three NASA centers.

In graduate school, he installed seismic stations in field projects in the South Pacific, Antarctica, North America and Canada.

Among his many activities, he was principal investigator for a Mars Geophysical Lander mission concept proposal developed with a Jet Propulsion Laboratory team in 2003. He spent the summer of 2005 at the International Space University in Vancouver, Canada, did glacier work in Alaska last year and was Capsule Communicator for the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah this year.

Despite the rigors of living and working in spacesuits in harsh conditions on Devon Island, Shiro said, “;It's gonna be fun.”; He'll be sending out “;Hello from Mars”; post cards.