Christmas on Mars


My pal, astronomer, educator and science fiction writer Diane Turnshek, is spending Christmas in a most unusual place. Here she is to tell you what it’s like to have the holidays on (nearly) another planet.


I’m out at the Mars Desert Research Station north of Hanksville, Utah. I’ve been in training for this mission all my life. A couple of science degrees, my motorcycle license, years spent cooking for four kids, and my journalism skills all contributed to being chosen by The Mars Society for a two week stint in their desert base, a small two-story cylindrical Habitat with 4 x 11 foot bunk rooms and a single bathroom for six crewmembers.

We are laying the groundwork for a long-term human habitation on Mars. The Campus Martius crew is number 120 in a long line of inhabitants here. “Campus Martius” is a training field for military and athletes in ancient Greece. From our analog station, we conduct well-planned EVA’s to explore the uncharted regions of analog Mars in search of minerals, signs of surface water and life. In spacesuits, we travel over rough red terrain, which looks for all the world like Mars.

Our crew is blogging up a storm, reaching out to as many young people as we can with the message: this is important; this could be you someday on the surface of Mars.

In sim, we eat rehydrated/dehydrated food, have a 20-minute lag time for communication, spend time in airlocks before going out on the surface and conserve water (Navy showers every three days). A row of parked ATVs out in front awaits us for our more distant EVAs. We have to be careful–the nearest hospital is forty miles away on back roads and there’s no cell service here on Mars. Reports are sent via email to Mission Support every evening in which we have to clearly explain any technical or medical problems and they respond in kind.

I’ve been working in the Musk Observatory, taking CCD photometry of eclipsing binary stars. The greenhouse is due to be stocked during this rotation. Our geologist is in heaven, rocks strewn all over the field lab benches. We are busy every minute of every day.

Christmas will be different. We are hosting a Swiss film crew who is making an indie movie featuring humanity’s future life on Mars. We’ll celebrate good tidings with beef stew, homemade bread, potato pancakes and a brownie dessert.

And the day after, back to the grind of pedestrian EVAs on Mars.


See the reports from Crew 120. See the photos from the crew’s mission. Follow The Mars Society on Twitter. Follow Diane Turnshek on Twitter.

21 Comments on “Christmas on Mars”

  1. For the record, I photoshopped the sky in the picture to give it a reddish tint that the Mars sky would have not too long after the local sunrise. Because I’m a nerd, that’s why

  2. Invoking the vast powers of the Ancient History major!

    The Campus Martius is part of the city of Rome, not ancient Greece.

    It is true that military training happened there when it was a more open area outside the city proper. Now occupied by fun things like the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona, and Giolitti gelato, amongst many others…

  3. Eh, 2 weeks of Navy showers is not a big deal. Being stuck inside for 3+ sols due to Martian show is. I hope Diane and Crew 120 get out soon. I will say that 2 weeks didn’t seem that long. Sign me up for Mars. – Dan Wilcox, MDRS Crew 119

  4. Di, of all the people I ever thought would make it to Mars, you are definitely one of them! And you’re getting close. Very close!

    I hope you actually enjoyed the simulation. We’ll see the real thing someday, I’m sure.

    – joe

  5. Mars is a hell of a long ways to go to observe eclipsing binaries! Nice that they have a well equipped high level amateur/small college observatory there, but realistically, I can’t think of any astronomy that could be done with such a setup that would make it worth transporting to Mars. :) Better to use it in cruise and then leave it with your orbiter to use robotically. Trivia: there is actually a telescope at Mars NOW that has a larger aperture than the 14 inch of the Musk Observatory. It’s the HiRISE instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter with a 0.5 meter aperture (ok, ok, almost 20 inches). Of course, it’s looking DOWN, with great success. Among other remarkable feats, it’s managed to catch the last two landers, Phoenix and Curiosity, while under parachute! Except for the frequency of showers, this doesn’t sound THAT much more spartan than a typical observing run at Kitt Peak, say 20 years ago, but probably a lot less boring!

  6. Ah, Steve, good catch. Why did I mix up Greek and Roman? I knew that. Blame it on my heritage. Everything is always Greek to me . . . fantastic comments everyone, thanks! Re: lack of cats — the film crew’s fuzzy boom microphone looked like a black cat on a stick. (We’ve been awfully giggly.) They’ve been around for a week, but they left last night. Can’t wait to see the documentary when it’s done.

  7. @ Diane

    Blame it on my heritage. Everything is always Greek to me . . .

    O’ my! O’ the humanities!

    Those who do not study history are doomed to errat it. Get it? ‘Cause it’s the Latin instead of the Greek hamartanō? I crack myself up…okay no more awful puns, I promise.

    Incidentally, as I’m sure you know, Diane was the Roman re-branding of Artemis, second most kick-ass goddess of the Greek pantheon. So pedantically…

    In fairness, the Romans pilfered the core of their cultural heritage from the Greeks. Seriously, who even hears about Etruscans these days? Besides, the planet’s name notwithstanding, most of the Martian toponyms are named after stuff from Hellas (AKA Ancient Greece). Besides, you’re practicing for a trip to Mars, not Classical Antiquity.

  8. Yowza. I’ve been through Hanksville. Colder than a Wiccan’s mammary in a Steampunk bra, and yeah it is the middle of nowhere. Courage and warmth to you.

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