Sim is simulation—that is, conforming to the constraints of what a Mars mission would be like, even though we’re only here for the duration of a shuttle flight. We broke sim because we had to take liability forms to the post office. So Peter and I took the Prius Resupply Vehicle to the Hanksville Lagrange Point and took care of that business, which also included buying some needed supplies (more batteries for the rover, bandanas to make “hippie helmets” to soak up some sweat when we have the helmets on) and, importantly, to get some jugs of water.
On the way to and from the Hab we passed bright green cottonwoods, trees that until we began moving water around in the West at least, grew only along water courses. I love cottonwoods. And though Peter was disappointed we were breaking sim, I thought maybe we weren’t. After we go to Mars—really go, human-footprint-go—and after we study its environment in ever-greater detail, we might want to transform it into a place that supports a wider array of life. So I looked at those trees and wondered about cottonwoods growing on the red gullies of impact craters.
Mission Support reassured us that we’d get a water refill today—D.G. over in Hanksville hauls water and gas in, trash out. And, indeed, he came while Jorge, Humberto, Peter and Kavya were outside the Hab doing an EVA to test a University of North Dakota rover and to test Jorge’s ingenious bike/handcart combo. But we just wanted to make sure we had water to drink.
Now we’re almost overflowing.
Water leads. We just follow it. Water ran on Mars. Rivers, oceans. It may still. Where we are now was once the floor of an ancient ocean. Of course, we’re 90% water. Josh and I watered some fast-growth plants down in the Engineering Bay and just now he yells up to tell me one of them has produced a shoot. We were all a bit on edge last night when the pump was cycling air, and the tank was low. (Water is pumped from a holding tank outside into another tank in the kitchen. The pump’s grinding sound is both reassuring and irritating.) Drink up, we keep telling each other, because it’s dry here. The areas here where we don’t find flowers feel like Mars. For me, at least, the areas where we do find flowers also feel like Mars, some vision of it long after the work of Crew 141 Mars Desert Research is in the vast dataset of how we get there in the first place.
Journalist and Writer-in-Residence