Tuesday, May 15, 2012

End of an adventure...

Woke up this morning to the following email: 
Dear HI-SEAS applicant,

I am sorry to say you have not been selected to be on the first HI-SEAS crew. Frankly, all of the interviewees were very highly qualified, and all would have made excellent crewmembers. Our final selection was driven by the need for a range of backgrounds and skill sets – and even so, it was a very difficult decision to make. We would be delighted if you would let us keep your data on file for future missions.

If you would like your project to be considered for the “opportunistic research” project pool, please send me a 1-2 page description (cut-and-pasted from your application is fine).

Also, if you have applied to be a NASA Astronaut candidate this year, and would like feedback on your HI-SEAS application and interview, I’d be happy to chat on the phone, with the caveat that it might not be all that helpful or relevant.

Thanks again for applying, and I hope to work with you in the future.

Have sat here for about five minutes thinking about what I want to say, and the only quote that came come to mind is "Well that sucks." When I first applied I certainly thought I had a good chance of being selected due to my wide ranging background and my experiment.

Of the 90-odd job applications I've sent this semester and been rejected for, this one certainly hurts the most. There seemed to be no better time in my life to go on an adventure like this that requires so much time off than right after I get out of school and am unemployed.

Unfortunately it appears the other applicants were more qualified. I would wager the others had more professional experience, or had experiments backed by larger Universities / organizations. Though for someone to have a wider range of backgrounds and skill-sets than me, they would need to be a real life MacGyver.

Those two points (limited professional experience and lack of independent funding) were the major weaknesses in my application. I also had 1-2 weak answers in my interview, as mentioned in my blog post on that subject.

I will submit my experiment to HISEAS for further consideration, but being unemployed at the moment there is little chance I can fund-raise the money to go out to Hawaii to run it without being a crew member.

Back to applying for full time jobs...

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Images of potential HISEAS habitat location

Information on the HISEAS project has been relatively light, with the main website containing little information on the actual field site or habitat. Today I was surprised to find a publicly available 2011 NASA Astrobiology Institute report on the search for potential locations for the HISEAS habitat.

The report includes several photos taken by the Project Investigator of HISEAS, Kim Binsted, with the captions "Potential site for HI-SEAS habitat."

Potential H-SEAS habitat location. Credit: NASA Astrobiological Institute

Potential H-SEAS habitat location. Credit: NASA Astrobiology Institute
A Google Map is included on the NASA Astrobiology website with the coordinates of both of the sites, which are described to be "...on the Mauna Loa side of Saddle Road on the Big Island of Hawai’i".

Google Map image of the area in question:
Google Map of the potential HI-SEAS habitat location.

Personally I am surprised by how Mars-like the side of a volcano can be! As a mainlander, most of my mental images of the Hawai'ian volcanoes are of stark black igneous rocks. But the field site in question seems to be some sort of very red (possibly oxidized?) and black colored rock, looking incredibly similar to some of the Spirit and Opportunity images. (I'm not a geologist, I just play one on "Mars")

The report also includes a teaser of one of the potential EVA activities the crew will be doing, including "...geobiology [experiments] in lava caves."
All of these images, maps, and the report are publicly available at the NASA Astrobiology website:

NASA Astrobiology Website with Report and Google Map

PDF file of the report

(Note: The security certificate on both the report and the NASA Astrobiology website seem to be invalid)

No word yet!

No word yet regarding HISEAS!

Woke up to this email:
Dear HI-SEAS applicants,

The panel needs just a little more time to review your interview recordings. Please be patient. This would be much easier if you weren't all such excellent candidates!
Given this is Mothers Day weekend, I wouldn't expect them to have a decision until early next week.

While we all wait in breathless anticipation, are there any more HISEAS finalists lurking in the shadows of this blog? Already two others have come forward:

  • Ryan Kolbrik - Post-Doc at MIT, Executive Director of Yuri's Night
  • "Ed" -  Air Force contractor and B-52 pilot

Any others finalists out there? Feel free to comment on this post and say hi!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Interview Recap

All of the interviews are finished! According to the HI-SEAS selection committee their last interview was Wednesday and I am now free to talk about what went on in the actual interview.

The interview was conducted via Skype and the panel consisted of:
  • Kim Binstead, University of Hawaii, 
  • Jean Hunter, Cornell University
  • Bryan Caldwell, Cornell University
  • Dean Eppler, Johnson Space Center Desert RATS program 
No surprises in the composition of the panel. Cornell and Hawaii are the host institutions for HI-SEAS, and NASA is the primary sponsor of the study. As I had worked with Jean Hunter in my time at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS), she recused herself from the interview. 

Below are the questions I was asked during the interview and a summary of my answers, paraphrased to the best of my memory.

What do you hope to gain from this experience? 
My answer for this question involved examples on how experiencing a long duration isolation simulation first hand would be useful for my future research and career. I cited several examples such as the crew "mutinies" during the Skylab and Salyut projects where ground controllers had unreasonable expectations of the crews as they had never experienced the situation for themselves. 
What do you believe you can bring to the project? 
Here I focused primarily on my multidisciplinary nature, and experience in analog simulations through the Mars Desert Research Station. 
What are you doing now / can you explain for me why your resume stops in December 2011? 
I've been unemployed for the past few months, ever since graduating with my Masters degree in December. In my answer I discussed the reason for this, the 89 job applications I had filled out so far, and my plans for the immediate future. 
Describe a time when you failed, and how you dealt with it?
This question was the one where I felt most inadequate in my answer. When the question was asked, the interviewer added a footnote referring to health situations, but my mind was already crafting an answer to the question, so my answer came out a little jumbled. 
What they were probably looking for was an answer related to my experience as an EMT-Basic, but my answer primarily involved some failures and problems encountered while doing event management. Not a horrible mess up, but probably my weakest answer of the interview. 
Your experiment involves the voluntary participation of the participants. If someone suddenly decides not to participate, what will you do? 
Without going into detail, my experiment requires all participants to cooperate with the data collection. If they suddenly decide to opt out, the experiment is a lot less harder to complete. 
However as I brought up in my answer this does not mean that participants dropping out of the experiment mid way through the simulation would be a failure, as this would be a useful data point to use in analyzing stress factors and mitigation efforts in isolated environments. 
Do you have any questions for the panel? 
My main question for the panel was about the habitat construction and design. I had some concerns that no photos or diagrams of the habitat had been posted online yet, and asked them some questions along these lines. Not sure if I am allowed to reveal the answers yet, but I was assured that yes there will be a habitat and we won't just be locked in a broom closet at the University of Hawaii. 
Do you have anything else you'd like to say to the selection committee?
*insert generic answer about it being an honor to be considered and thanking the committee for their consideration*

Shortly before the interview we all received a reminder email about the interview from Kim Binstead stating:
Based on the application you submitted, you are highly qualified for this analog mission. Therefore, the primary purpose of the interview is to assess your fit for this particular crew, not to review your qualifications as such.

One of the items we would like to talk about is your project. Many of the proposed projects are not suitable, typically because they confound the primary study. This will not be held against you as a candidate, but it is something we need to resolve before the mission. Please be open to discussing significant revisions to your proposed work.
From the email, I was expecting more questions tailored toward my experiment, (more on that in a later post) but there was only one mention of it in the interview. I surmise from this that my experiment write up was detailed enough that they had a good idea what I wanted to do without needing additional details. Also since they mention that many projects were incompatible, but did not ask me for alternate ideas or if revisions would be possible, my project was likely in line with their goals.

Comparing notes with another finalist, (Ryan Kolbrick, Director of Yuri's Night) these questions were the same for each finalist, with a few "custom" questions based on the resume or experiment. 

According to the timeline we were given the final selections should be announced sometime today (Thursday) or tomorrow. Will tweet and blog as soon as I know! *fingers crossed* 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Interview done!

Well the interview is done!

I can't talk about the exact interview questions as they are still interviewing people, but I can share that they plan to have The Final 8 ( 6 crew members and 2 alternates ) selected by Friday of next week!

One of my answers was not as refined as it could have been, but overall it went fairly smoothly.

Next Thursday after the interviews are concluded I will post a brief summary of the interview, what I knew ahead of time, and my take on it.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Interview arranged!

Just got my interview day/time!
Dear HI-SEAS Applicant, 
Your interview time is set for 5/2/2012 at **** EDT. If this doesn't work for you, please let us know ASAP. If you haven't already, please let us know your Skype ID (preferred) and/or phone number, so that we can call you. 
Looking forward to talking with you, and all the best, 
Kim Binsted HI-SEAS
If allowed, after all of the interviews are over I will post a follow up with what questions it involved to give you an idea of what they find important in an applicant.

Image Credit: NASA
Glad to see that the HI-SEAS administrators are "next gen" enough to use Skype for the interview process. So often in the aerospace community I've run into organizations still using antiquated infrastructure from the 80s and 90s. A phrase heard frequently in the space community, "We can send a man to the Moon but we can't set up a teleconference*!"

* Substitute Power Point presentation, digital projector, coffee machine, or toilet paper dispenser as warranted by your particular company or situation.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Passed my flight physical!

Just passed my flight physical for the finalist stage of the HiSEAS mission and received my Medical Certificate Second Class!

Honestly, when I heard "Class 2 Flight Physical", the little kid in me was expecting something along the lines of the astronaut selection scene in "The Right Stuff":

video

The reality however was what you'd usually expect when you go to the Doctor's office for your normal checkup.

I actually asked the physician what was the difference between a Class 2 and a normal physical. He responded that for my age bracket (21-30) a Class 2 was no different than a normal physical, it was just documented a lot better.

Ex: Pulse, blood pressure, lung sounds, heart sounds, height, weight, vision, color blindness, nose, ears, eyes, mouth, glands, and all the other spots they check in a normal physical.

No surprises in the physical, fortunately. Doctor said I am in great shape for my age bracket.

Next step: The Interview!

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