As a group of people doing something that’s undeniably strange to any normal individual, we tend to attract attention. I’ve answered questions for Japanese Game Shows (really), foreign news networks, and students of varying ages around the country.
Children are usually just curious about life in here. The younger they are, the less coherent and more enjoyable their questions are. Those tend to be our favorites.
Media outlets are typically trying to find some sort of new angle. Some are as uncreative as simply asking “What’s something about the mission you haven’t shared with anyone else?” Perhaps one of the strangest questions we’ve received is “how do you deal with romance?”
Well, my answer to that is that I’m only romantic with my EVA suit. It keeps me warm and takes my breath away. We occasionally get all sweaty together, at least twice a week, and I never leave home without it. It’s a lot taller than me, which I very much dislike and requires a lot of attention, but it’s always there for me when I need it.
The question that seems to come up most often, though, is:
“What surprised you the most, or what didn’t you expect?”
Consequently, it’s one I’ve had to think about most often, so here are a few of the most surprising things about the mission so far:
I Don’t Mind Touching Poop.
Our compost toilets require emptying once a week, a chore that not only have I become accustomed to, but is often my favorite since it’s a shorter one. We turn a crank to slowly deposit chucks of poop/pee/pete moss mixture into a drawer that we then dump into a large trash bag. The experience is a nice creative exercise for teammates to come up with great terms such as ‘crap-burgs’ (like ice-burgs), which are eventually hilariously mistaken for crap burgers – something else entirely that’s much worse than powdered chicken.
Sometimes we are asked if we are satisfied with our limited variety of sensory experiences. I never hesitated to answer “of course!” until we received an orange tea with a wonderful natural scent. I soon caught myself, on several occasions, walking around with an empty tea bag attached to my face like a clown nose, huffing the orange aroma as if I were a tea leaf addict. I wonder if it was a good thing I didn’t find the sharpies and Elmer’s glue first. I guess I’m a bit less satisfied than I had previously realized.
Lack Of Internet Is Amazing
One of our main challenges is having virtually no internet access and relying on whoever happens to be on mission support to help solve problems. This can be a blessing or a curse.
Rather than drowning in western life’s unrelenting passive media, I have to seek out desired news in limited places. In this way, I’ve gotten all the news I’ve wanted, which is to say nearly none, but still enough keep up with all the terrible events in the world that work to make us afraid of it. It’s a great balance.
Perhaps the most liberating aspect has been freedom from social media. Freedom from pictures of perfect lives, unshakable relationships, and infinite career successes. The self-comparison and doubt-driving notifications are gone. My new goal when I get back to Earth: Figure out a way to keep my Facebook stream for space and job opportunities without needing to see my ex-girlfriend’s new dog or new girlfriend’s old fling.
I May Have Developed A Temporary Fear Of People
The crew is dedicated to staying in simulation. That is, we all want to follow the parameters of the experiment: remain isolated, perform geology tasks with high quality, etc. One day while out on EVA, one of the crewmembers noted seeing what they thought was a stranger (and was actually a rock) in the distance. You would have thought we were in a post-apocalyptic movie, ducking down in our modified hazmat suits under the mist in an attempt to avoid contact with another member of our species lurking in the wasteland.
In another instance, while in a virtual reality environment, I saw people walking in the distance. Although it was fake, it was a reminder of forgetting the need to wonder how to react seeing strangers walking in the distance, going about their day. The general public has been 100% absent from my life in the last 5 months. I have an odd feeling that the first time I walk into a Walmart or McDonald’s after this, I may have a panic attack.
Learn, Baby, Learn
I’ve been cultivating a lot more skills in here than I had expected, at it’s delightful.
Sure, there’s plenty of social skills to learn when living in close proximity with 5 others. Those aside, I’ve learned to confidently pilot drones in difficult terrain and weather, model and 3D print items, film with 360 degree cameras, work with big media organizations, and explore lava tube caves on a sacred Hawaiian volcano. As usual – stepping out of my comfort zone meant growing.
Oh Gosh. Traffic Is A Thing That Exists.
There are a lot of day to day factors absent of life on Mars that I sometimes forget exist at all. Just the other day, crewmembers filled my heart with anxiety via a conversation about one of the thing: traffic.
It all came rushing back – the loss of hope in humanity that comes with people racing down the breakdown lane of a backed-up highway, or the hyper-awareness of your life’s time bleeding away as you inch your car forward on 95. My heart raced at this realization as I considered the options. Perhaps I should ditch space and become a traveling gypsy, walking and hitchhiking from place to place while living off wages from random jobs and the $30 I received from selling my dying car. Maybe Europe and its wonderfully integrated public transportation system is my only option, and I could spend my days writing about all the strange people I saw on the trains while nonchalantly sniffing an empty orange tea bag.
I’m surprised at…well, how much I’ve been surprised with so far. This is nowhere near a comprehensive list, but a good snapshot into the answer of one of our most common questions.