GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

December 11, 2009

From frozen adventures to final frontier

Panelists discuss possibilities of living on Moon, Mars by examining Antarctic experiences

By Gail McCarthy

Veterans of American and Soviet missions to Antarctica will be part of a public panel discussion tomorrow from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Rockport Public Library — with much of the focus on yet another frontier.

The free program is titled "Settling the Moon and Mars — Insights from Personal Experiences of Living in Antarctica."

The experience of the panelists cover decades.

As the panel discussion unfolds, the participants will consider lessons learned on both the physical and psychological challenges anyone faces before pursuing any long-term mission to the moon and Mars, according to Bill Waller, an astronomer, educator and author who lives in Rockport and organized the event.

The first panelist will be Charlie Bevilacqua (US Navy Seabee - Retired) who will share his experiences and lessons learned from Operation Deep Freeze, where he helped build the McMurdo and South Pole stations from 1955-1957.

Valeriy Spitkovsky, a former Soviet scientist and space advocate, will talk about experiences from long-duration scientific missions at Mirny and Vostok stations from 1962-1964. He is an advocate for developing a "moon and Mars base analogue" in Antarctica. Waller explained that this means that Spitkovsky supports the idea of testing out the various technologies in Antarctica before deployment into space.

Ed Schwalenberg, a former MIT and University of Nevada researcher, will share his experiences from a winter-over at Palmer Station in Antarctica in 1977, where he developed a weather radar facility. His talk includes the issues of limited resources on the Moon and Mars, costs of shipping provisions, and psychologies of small groups in isolated conditions, said Waller.

John Drews, an ITT Construction contractor, will share experiences from building a water desalination plant at McMurdo Station in 1984, as well as the challenges working when encumbered by bulky clothes and dealing with construction debris and trash.

The final panelist will be John Briggs, an astronomer and historian who teaches at Dexter & Southfield Schools in Brookline. He will show slides and share his experiences from a winter-over at South Pole Station in 1994. He will also talk about the physical and psychological challenges to "settling" Antarctica, the moon and Mars.

The event will also include a question-and-answer session.

The program is co-sponsored by the Cape Ann Science Alliance, Old Antarctic Explorers Association, New England Chapter, and Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium.

Waller, a Rockport resident, helped organize The Cape Ann Science Alliance, to foster collaborative projects related to science and science education.

Spitkovsky, a former Soviet astronomer, is a longtime friend of Waller.

Waller recalled that his friend was a refusnik — the term used when a Soviet citizen was denied permission to emigrate to the United States. But Queen Elizabeth intervened on his behalf and Spitkovsky was allowed to come to the United States, according to Waller who first met the fellow scientist when both were working at the Boston Museum of Science.

At the time, Waller was working on a NASA education project. The two have also worked on other projects together, including when they convened a panel discussion at the museum in 2006 titled "Pioneers of Space," which featured American and Soviet veterans of the space age.

Waller is trained as an astronomer with degrees from the University of Arizona, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the University of Massachusetts.

He has taught as a professor at the University of Washington and for 12 years at Tufts University. Waller also noted that he was a NASA scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

He also co-authored the 2003 book "Galaxies and the Cosmic Frontier" with Paul Hodge.

Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3445, or by e-mail at gmccarthy@gloucestertimes.com.