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.