The mirrors we wanted on today’s extravehicular activity—EVA—were of a less philosophical kind. We could have used small mirrors on our jumpsuits, at the wrist, so we could keep better track of each as we drove in a line on our ATVs as we headed toward our first destination: an area full of fossils.
Mostly, it was a chance for us to get used to doing an EVA. In the Hab, we had to clean helmets, make sure the air-supply packs were charged, the jumpsuits fit us and the walkie-talkies worked. Josh, Kavya, Peter and I waited three minutes in the simulated airlock before stepping onto Mars. We practiced hand signals. It took some getting used to, having the helmet on. The helmet and suits are not air tight, but standing there in the airlock, waiting for three minutes for the imagined equalization of pressure, I began to really appreciate just how demanding it is to wear a space suit.
Utah. Like backpacking in a bubble. Mars. Dun, red, white strata. For me, a bit like Antarctica. Ten years ago I participated in an expedition collecting meteorites. Wherever we go, we carry our problems and our potentials.
All of those places were mirroring each other today, as we bumped along the road toward the fossil quarry. All around us was the sweep of eroding sedimentary rock, distant plateaus green with juniper, the Henry Mountains behind us. We drove. We stopped from time to time to get our bearings. Josh helped Kavya, who endured a loose-fitting and bouncing helmet.
At the fossil quarry, we tromped along slopes and stood on ledges over a small canyon. We found dinosaur bones covered in white plaster and the splintering columns of petrified trees. We walked among flowers, and I thought this too is like Mars, not the Mars of the present but a possible future Mars, one terraformed for human civilization.
Why do that? Because we are restless and beautiful, and the Earth could use a mirror in Mars. There are those who say that if life is found on Mars we should not try to make it warmer and wetter for an eventual two-planet civilization. I understand those arguments but I no longer accept them. Everything is in flux, and if we have the capacity to remake Mars into a new kind of abode for life, that may be that right thing to do. To increase, in ecological terms, the carrying capacity available to us and other creatures. Science fiction? Sure. Eventuality? Perhaps.
Tonight, some problems with the commode and the water pump. The mundane issues of making a domicile out in the wilds. An outpost. We’re running low on water and will get a resupply soon. Kavya and Peter are busy trying to figure why we are losing water. Earlier today, Crew 140 departed. Crew 141 did some housekeeping. I took a lot of pictures for future research reference as I write about this experience. We set up our rooms, which are shotgun affairs—cozy, functional, not as cold as a tent in Antarctica. Kavya and I were on lunch duty today, and we are all about to settle into a routine that is at once, well, routine, but which features different challenges every day: testing Jorge’s EVA stretcher, doing a pilot run of Josh’s tiny geology rover. Downstairs and in the Greenhab, plants are growing. At night I suspect we all take a look in our stateroom mirrors and we’re not just looking at our faces.
Journalist and Writer-in-Residence