WEDNESDAY 23 JULY 1997, THE ATACAMA DESERT (Llano de la Paciencia)

Today was a relatively quick one for Nomad. After the farming of last night, we got under way again but were unable to continue it tonight since we ended up in fairly nasty terrain; lots of 30cm (1ft) obstacles in the area. So we ended the day with about 10 additional kilometers.

We welcomed the commander of the Chilean Infantry Regiment Number 7 ("Esmeralda") from Antofagasta today. He and his regiment have been extraordinarily helpful to us here. They provided us a place to inspect our equipment and put together Nomad in Antofagasta, helped transport our equipment to the desert, and donated the use of a flatbed truck which is the platform for our operations truck. During the whole summer two of their soldiers have been with us in the desert, guarding their truck and helping us with logistics. We are glad he, his son and two others from the regiment were able to participate in our desert operations today.

We made some more interesting discoveries in the desert today. While out patrolling the area around Nomad, team members Jim Teza and Mike Parris separately found several parts of a weather balloon. Mike found a barometer, and Jim the transmitter. Being the electronics expert, Jim was interested to see just how few transistors were used in its construction. We did not find the balloon itself, but it is hard to imagine how else these lightweight components could have found their way into this part of the desert.

Today was especially good for the team because our newest member filled in as chef for the night. Deepak Bapna prepared a veritable feast of Indian vegetarian delights: Punjabi Chole, Matar Paneer, Navratan Korma, and of course rice. We had joked and dreamed about having our favorite Indian food lunches delivered to us here in the desert; Deepak made it happen. Everyone enjoyed it, vegetarians, former vegetarians, and lifetime carnivores alike. Even the visiting soldiers liked it, though they thought it a bit on the hot side. We were suprised at that, since the dinner table here is usually full of Aji (chili) sauces; both the store-bought kind, and some incredibly tasty salsa made here on site.

In the evening I finally took time to do something I'd wanted to do since we arrived; walk away from the lights of camp into the darkness and watch the stars. The sky here is rich, dynamic, and beautiful. There is always more to see, something twinkling to catch your eye. And persistence is rewarded; keep looking for 20-30 minutes, and you are practically guaranteed to see a shooting star. With the work schedule we keep here I was only able to watch for about 20 minutes before... falling asleep. And by the time I woke up the Moon had come into all its glory, clearly lighting the way back to camp. It was no longer a Full Moon, but there was still nearly enough light to read by. I have never before experienced such dramatic changes in the nighttime sky nor viewed such starscapes, but I do hope one day to do better; to view the nighttime sky in person or via robotic telepresent interface on the Lunar poles or farside.

Last Modified on: Sat Jul 19, 1997