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Look back and ahead....

by Suzanne M. M. Young

September 15, 2007 -
Greetings from seaside, Cape Cod, actually on a long weekend of holiday!

Funny - I live on NH coast and walk by the sea nearly weekly and there are great galleries and gifts shops near me and there’s a wonderful vineyard just a few miles from my house…..and yet, we come down to the Cape for all of that!  But it’s tradition - my 36th year and my mom’s 60th year here.  And right below our balcony is the rock jetty at the end of which I used to read and design houses as a child.

Last week we finally met with our “Mentees.”  There are 13 of us from the Phoenix Science Team who mentor.  We each have a high school science teacher and 2 of his or her top students.  Sam and I at Tufts combined in doing this.  Together, we are seeing a group from Massachusetts, quite local to Tufts, and a group from New Hampshire - a bit farther north and inland than I live.  I think they are excited and wonderful kids.  This program will be a nice one for them.  But it’s rather challenging to coordinate times.  I think we have identified a day, but I wish it could be earlier, so they have some time to do stuff.  We will find some ways to involve them, even if it means sending them home with stuff.

Just had a birthday last week - it’s a biggy! - a new decade. My lab staff was just incredibly kind to me.  They made it a week long collection of surprises.  They took me to brunch, took me to dinner, had cake at group meeting.  They put a gorgeous purple and white orchid in the sunbeam where I sit in lab.  It’s just stunning - beautiful colours and such nice flowers. Sam gave me a spectacular Mars globe with amazing detail.  I can’t believe how many kind and wonderful thoughts were extended to me by all of them.  I feel so special!  

I’ve got my place all arranged for operations.  I spent 3 days calling absolutely everything on the list from mission control.  We’ve been given command now to find our dwellings for next summer.  We land 25 May, but need to be there for work a week before the actual landing - so that, plus the whole summer for our 90 days of Ops, we need accommodation.  I’m actually amazed at how expensive most of the options in Tucson are for the summer.  It hits 115 degrees there!  I’d think more locals flee than holidaymakers or workers come to town!  But, I found a very small, but just fine, wee one-bedroom pad with all the furnishings and options I need, applied, signed, and put my deposit.  It seems to me there’s going to be quite a lot of us looking very soon and the lower cost ones will go pretty soon!  Some thought to try for places together, but in every place that even offered multi-bedroom places, the cost went up by as much as it would cost to all live alone - so there’s a major sacrifice of space and privacy without saving a cent. I know this since I lived in fields and countries for this type of time period before.  I spent 4 months in South Africa - lots of it in a large farm house while doing field work.  And I lived in England several times to lecture at some universities or to work for a mass spectrometry company while on sabbatical from Harvard.  Four months is really living, not visiting.  And to work 12 to 15 hours per day, at odd hours, then rest then go back again for more….one really needs some fast relaxing time to stay at one’s best and always be fresh and ready to attack the next day with gusto.  So I know I’ve made the right choice.  It’s a city with lots of options, not the outback with serious constraints.  I’d never do my yoga in stretchy clothes in front of my colleagues or take long a bubble bath with them outside the door!  My privacy is essential!

I’ve got my car arranged too.  I was going to drive all the way out from NH so I had my own car….but I have a New England car - dark car, dark interior, no darkened windows!  It’s not exactly a-summer-in-the-desert car.  And a very wise colleague took me through the calculations and demonstrated to me it would cost almost exactly the same amount to just hire a small light car as to cross the country in a car….and sure is faster to pick it up at the airport!  And I’ll be walking distance from a favourite food shop and good pubs and restaurants as well.  I’ll share my info to help all my other colleagues now, since it was hours and hours and hours of calling - over 50 calls to Tucson to get every price and option possible.  It was a fair chunk of work!  I wonder who my neighbors will be.  Some other early birds from the group have already booked into my chosen place and others have called to check it out.  The owners told me that much, but, of course, can’t give out names!  It does feel good to have that all sorted, so I don’t have anything hanging over my head….just to get all normal work done that I’ve promised, but live and living is sorted out.

I probably should have brought a novel to the seaside, but all I brought to read were two astrobiology/origins of life of Earth - molecular evolution books. We are starting to have the Science Theme Group meetings more regularly now in preparation for our next ORT (Operational Readiness Test) in a couple weeks.  Carol Stoker leads the biohabitability group.  (She’s an amazingcolleague!  She’s been in this biz since before perhaps any other women were and she’s super bright and beyond super cool. She’s had amazing experiences from fieldwork to research to missions…..we just have an astoundingly talented crew on the Phoenix Science Team.) I find the biohabitablity aspect of our Phoenix work very exciting.  My Ph.D. was in Amino Acid metabolic mechanisms and isotope chemistry, but this work is a real thrill and I just can’t know enough to help that theme group.  I realize that finding it would be incredible serendipity…but I so hope and must help recognize it if we do.  Actually, EVERYTHING we do is just awesome.  We explore the next frontier and attack the very core questions of life itself.  It just doesn’t get better than this!

So…..next trip is the ORT, I’m sure you’ll hear from me in October on route home from that adventure!  I never have time to write from lab - I have a list of 53 things to do, and then  so many unexpected things hit me in a day, I barely cross 3 off the list, never mind get a chance to write to you!  Hence….tons of early mornings and late hours just trying to work through the ever growing lists, when no one can give me surprises!  

We are bringing 2 members of my lab staff to the next ORT for the first time, also, because we will stay on for some special MECA training days with the entire group of TECP, OM, AFM, and WCL.  I’ve spent significant time teaching how ORTs work, what takes place and when and why and how - what to expect, what to do….etc….and all it does is get me all excited to think about more of this work.  I can’t wait and I love more than any work I’ve ever done.  Given the way the 2 students are reacting, I think my enthusiasm is entirely contagious!

You know I’ll write to you all when I can…..keep very well!