For the past 17 years, Pascal Lee, a planetary scientist with the Mars Institute, has spent every summer on an uninhabited island that lies between Baffin Island and Ellesmere, simulating exploration on Mars. Now Devon Island plays a starring role in his first children’s book about the possibility of humans travelling to the red planet.
“When I was growing up people were walking on the moon and I thought that was the most exciting thing possible,” says Lee, who also does research for NASA. “That’s what got me into science and engineering in the first place.”
Lee says he wrote the book to counter the dearth of public excitement about space exploration today, when national programs such as Apollo are a thing of the past. “Meanwhile, we’re preparing for the greatest adventure of the 21st century, which is to send humans to Mars.”
Lee’s book was designed to get kids interested in reading, and the possibility of heading into outer space. “It takes them on a trip to go and explore Mars, and it prepares them for that trip.”
The book is designed like a training manual. The first part is an introduction to Mars, including what’s fun about the planet, and what’s dangerous.
Part two is an actual training program “where kids are shown where they might go to practice to explore Mars. And the best place in the world that I can think of to go practice is where we go every summer, up on Devon Island in Nunavut.”
The book documents some of the research that’s taken place on Devon Island, including testing of NASA’s Mars Rover and how scientists simulate studying life in an extreme environment.
It also includes information on ATVs, which Lee says his research shows are “probably the best way for astronauts to get around.”
Devon Island, Lee says, has already taught science much about space exploration. “It’s really an incredible place and I do believe that one day when humans walk on Mars they can look back at earth and they can think back at Devon Island where they would have gone training before the great voyage.”
Private efforts are now underway to try to reach Mars. Lee says NASA and its partners hope to reach the planet by 2030-2035 — well within the lifetime of children today.
“It’s an exciting time to grow up in,” Lee says. “Even though it’s still far off, it’s not unrealistic.”