The morning of the first day of the mission, everything felt just a little bit different. For the first time in training week we were given a few hours of free time. Most of us decided to continue running around anyway, this time trying to complete last minute tasks that would require regular connections to the outside world.
As I dipped in and out of our various rooms and houses, my ears would catch a few words of conversations with friends and family. Kind sentiments and emotions filled the room, occasionally sprinkled with the attempt to explain what it was that we are doing.
Most of these conversations didn’t register for me, since I was having my own. I called not only family, but friends who had been there for me in big and small ways alike (often the same thing), and I wondered why I don’t do this type of thing more often.
It all reminded me of a familiar sweet sting of some temporary goodbyes and their ability to remind you of just how much people mean to you, have invested in you, and how easy it is to express it in these times.
In the meantime, the researchers and team leads were busy making us a delicious breakfast.
Admittedly, my last drink on Earth was a mimosa. My only regret.
Eventually we received our ‘final call’, loaded our things into the van, and headed towards what would be our volcanic home for the next 8 months. I fought the urge to close my eyes in exhaustion, but was still unable to take in the scenery the way I wanted.
With each passing mile was a new scene that I would not witness for the better part of this next year: Gardens, forests, sparse desert-like areas. Even paved roads, homes, and ugly shopping malls seemed to have some aesthetic value on this drive.
Around me, people read out news articles that had been sent out around the world. No pressure.
In the meantime, urban landscapes turned to tropical ones with ocean waves in the far distance. These morphed into open farmland and hilly terrain that eventually became nothing but volcanic dust and rock. We drove along the increasingly bumpy road, which seemed to match the feelings in my gut at the time.
We distracted ourselves as children would, playing backseat car games. We utilized our new knowledge from training and tried to identify types of lava flows around us.
The ground was no longer just an amalgamation of different colored rocks, but a long history of eruptions. Each patch of minerals was as story waiting to be translated.
We finally arrive to the habitat. The large white dome was bustling with people getting last minute systems in place. The crew and I joined in, occasionally running out for interviews with journalists that had flown to the island. Then as tasks and filming were completed, people began to trickle out. And eventually it came again, a final call.
It was time to go in and close the door.
It felt odd even to say goodbye to the people we had been training with. Even though it had been a short time, they were kind and intelligent individuals. Additionally, they were the last people we would see outside of our own crew until the end of the mission in September.
We all walked outside to take in the fresh air in our lungs and beautiful view of Mauna Kea without a visor one last time, and reminded ourselves of why we are doing this.
Then came the official walk in. We shook hands with our support team, stepped over the threshold, and waved goodbye as we close the door behind us.
Cheers and energy overwhelmed, and we savored our first moment alone.
I looked around the room. The 5 people around me would play nearly every role in my life for a while.
They would be colleagues, friends, and family.
The afternoon was oddly like any other afternoon in a new place. We got our rooms and common areas set up, and had a nice dinner. You’d be surprised the meals you can make with dehydrated and freeze dried meats and veggies (More on this later).
5 nights have now passed in the habitat. The busyness hasn’t slowed much, and we’ve all been working hard to get everything up and running. Thus far, it’s been a great experience.
There hasn’t been much time for emotions outside of joy, and of course the frustration over computer issues. It’s no different from Earth, really, except without the Apple ‘geniuses’.
So far, every night has ended the same – with a crew member sending a final communications check, calling out to ground support:
“All is ok.”