Oh, no. I just accidentally broke into a stranger’s home…again. Is the police on their way? Is this how my career dreams end?
This was a common string of thoughts that ran through my mind as a teenager every time I walked into what seemed to be an identical copy of my mother’s home from the outside, but was indistinguishable from the house I left that morning before school on the inside. I would mindlessly walk the path ingrained in my brain – up the stairs, around the corner, and into the first door to my bedroom. I would lower my backpack to the floor and let my wandering mind return and begin panicking at the realization that I may have walked into a strangers home. The second wave of shock came in realizing that this was indeed my home and that the now teal-colored room and bed with Portuguese rooster bedding on it was also my bedroom. It just happened to be utterly unrecognizable now.
This happened much more often than I would have liked. An entire floor of the house might be swapped with another, couches and tables in different orientations, or floors suddenly changed from carpet to wood or tile. This would beckon obvious questions: Where am I? Why is there a bidet and porcelain dollar-store statue next to my bed? When did I decide to replace my bedroom pillow with a microwave?
I’m joking, of course. It was a microwave-toaster.
The opposite is true in the hab. Here, things don’t physically change all that much.
Occasionally, we move a piece of furniture or workout equipment to accommodate new equipment or to maximize our available space as we change routines. Sometimes we’ll designate a new place for recyclables or where we perform certain experiments, but these are all minor adjustments. I certainly don’t worry about accidentally breaking into someone’s house out on Mars. If anything, I wonder how to react if a stranger wandered in.
Our external sensory input is limited here, and from time to time I get the urge to create something or fix a piece of broken equipment we’ve had laying around for a while. These can range from useful projects such as repairing a treadmill motor for exercise to building an Iron Man reactor replica in my recreation time just so I can wear it on my EVA suit. I have spent an entire weekend day organizing our workshop, making sure every piece of equipment has their place and optimizing the area for my 3D printing. There’s something comforting about putting things in order or making small changes that suit your personality, and I strongly relate with Amélie’s father from the French film as when he removes everything from his toolbox, cleans it, and neatly returns all the tools.
I eventually realized that all of the furniture moving around and structural changes in our house as a kid had nothing to do with aesthetics. In reality, it was a reoccurring, unfulfilling grasp for change. Over time, pointless clutter became more common than useful appliances. It wasn’t long before Chinese vases filled with fake plastic flowers became a main decoration in our Portuguese home. The itch to move things around persisted throughout the years – a new room, a fresh paint job, the couch against the far wall instead of the close one.
Of course, none of it made a difference. In reality, the change necessary was going somewhere new, or trying something different. It wasn’t about changing the house. It was about leaving it – Experiencing a new town, overcoming a fear and getting on an airplane, or even feeding pigeons at a park. It didn’t need to be grand, but it required presence.
You don’t need to be on Mars to live very isolated or never leave home. Lack of change -of stimulation – can create a stale environment. Human curiosity beckons for change. Our crew have a relative lack of change in here for 8 months. Some people experience that for decades.
Inside the habitat, the location of the treadmill matters much less than silly or introspective late night conversations during a power outage. The walls remain plain white and our EVA suits hang on the same hook after every outing.
Instead, the dinners change as we fake freeze-dried food hibachi, tossing spatulas in the air and catching them an embarrassing small percentage of the time. The weekends change from huddling all together like kids watching Aliens to participating in a highly competitive and invented human chair curling Olympic game. The outdoors changes by exploring lava tube caves just because, and the hab changes when 6 highly educated adults build a tent fort inside of whats essentially already a giant tent for a sleepover. We ourselves change as we understand how to better work, live, and play with one another because for this short time – we’re all we have.
The need for change cannot be fulfilled externally, and not all change is created equal.