Is there Triggertrap on Mars?


Earlier this year the Triggertrap team received a curious email from someone trying to use Triggertrap Mobile to take a timelapse on Mars. Ross Lockwood tells us all about how he used photography to document his time in the HI-SEAS Martian habitat.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a PhD candidate in Condensed Matter Physics at the University of Alberta, an Assistant Instructor for the PADI recreational scuba diving agency, and presently a crew member on the NASA funded Hawaii Space Exploration Analog & Simulation (HI-SEAS.org).

Where does photography fit into your life?

As a physicist, I am trained on a transmission electron microscope, generating images of silicon quantum, which are so small they are measured in nanometers. Additionally, I was the teaching assistant for the University of Alberta Observatory, where my interest in astrophotography got started. You can say that photography fits into every aspect of my life, from the smallest collections of atoms, to galactic collections of stars. I also do underwater photography as a scuba diver, so you can add the underwater world to the list of images I’ve generated.

Observatory high-altitude balloon image from the edge of space.

Observatory high-altitude balloon image from the edge of space.

Some of Ross’s underwater photography.

Some of Ross’s underwater photography.

What is the HI-SEAS project and how are you involved in it?

HI-SEAS is a high-fidelity simulation of a future Martian habitat. We are simulating life for a small crew on the surface of Mars on the volcanic slopes of Mauna Loa in Hawaii, reflective of the Tharsis region on Mars. The primary goal of this HI-SEAS mission is the evaluation of psychological factors of Martian crews, which will ultimately help select future astronauts for long-duration space missions.

How long is the HI-SEAS project?

HI-SEAS is a multi-year project that consists of many missions. The mission that I am currently part of is a 4 month long mission, ending the last week of July, 2014. The next two HI-SEAS missions will be 8 and 12 months respectively, so we are laying the groundwork for the successes of those missions.

What were you most excited to be working on during HI-SEAS?

I’m playing the role of the Chief Systems Engineer here in the HI-SEAS habitat. We are managing power, water, heat, and communications through a sophisticated array of sensors and monitoring devices. We are able to differentiate minute details in the crew’s life, such as running water and boiling a kettle to make tea, from the raw data alone.

How does photography fit into your time at HI-SEAS?

Photography plays multiple roles in my life at HI-SEAS, primarily as a recording tool for my personal experience here. It is also playing a vital role in our public outreach efforts to get schools and the public at large interested in analog missions like ours and the future of space exploration. Finally, photography is being used in some of the plant studies here in the habitat. We are recording plant growth in our customized light studies, through still comparison and timelapse photography.

What have you been photographing with Triggertrap and how?

Triggertrap has been indispensable for photography on the simulated Martian Surface. The most important aspect is the ability to remotely operate my camera through the app-interface. I’m shooting most of my timelapse and astrophotography with an Olympus OM-D EM-5, and as an M4/3 camera, the buttons and controls are rather small. This is an important distinction, because when we are outside of the habitat simulating a spacewalk, we are wearing bulky spacesuits! The gloves alone make manipulation of the controls difficult, but the spacesuit itself is bulky enough to frustrate anyone. Triggertrap allows me to set the defaults of my camera before suiting up, and I can use my iPad mini with a stylus to snap shots and set up timelapses. That makes it much easier than trying to manipulate the camera!

For skywriting messages, I’ve been using the Simple Cable Release option in the Triggertrap app, allowing me to generate images like this:

The Timed Release option has been indispensable for astrophotography, although I’m still very much an amateur as far as the images I’ve generated so far. The spacesuits make precise alignment of a camera and telescope with astronomical objects almost impossible, so I’ve stuck with wide angle photography as much as possible.

The HI-SEAS dome under the stars.

The HI-SEAS dome under the stars.

Blood moon lunar eclipse!

Blood moon lunar eclipse!

Finally, I’m taking some pretty incredible timelapses with the Triggertrap’s Timelapse option. Although we are simulating Mars, the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii is throwing us tremendous shows throughout the days that I am happy I can capture. My goal before the end of the mission is to create a Star Trail timelapse and Bramping timelapse using those modes in the Triggertrap app.

A preliminary star trails attempt.

A preliminary star trails attempt.

Can you tell us a little about these space-flown NASA seeds you will also be photographing?

We are growing space-flown seeds from NASA’s LDEF satellite. They were flown from April 6th, 1984, to January 20th, 1990. Unfortunately, due to the rigours of space, and perhaps from the radiation they sustained on their flight, we were only about to germinate 3 of the 10 tomato seeds that we started with. They are currently being grown in our plant growth chamber, and we are hopeful that those 3 will produce delicious fresh tomatoes for use to eat here.

Space seeds

Space seeds

Plants in the Orbitec plant growth chamber

Plants in the Orbitec plant growth chamber

What other Triggertrap projects can we hope to see in the future?

With any luck the projects I’ve been working on here we will convince the project managers to include the Triggertrap hardware on the future missions for the next crews to use. Particularly now that the Triggertrap Ada is finishing production, you can expect all sorts of projects: from time trials in EVA suits using the laser module, to perhaps even some geological assays using the sound module!

For more news on the HI-SEAS project and Ross's work, check out his website spincrisis.net. You can also follow him on Twitter at @rosslockwood.

Thanks to Ross and his awesome photography skills, maybe we can get a Triggertrap kit on Mars some day!

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