Archive for December 25th, 2009

I’m going to Mars!

Well, not the actual Mars. But pretty darn close.

As faithful readers will no doubt recall, back on December 7 I posted a blog entry in which I listed my space travel wish list, starting with an actual stay in orbit ($35 million) and ending with a zeppelin ride ($500). #2 on that list was to participate in a simulated Mars mission (cost unknown, time commitment substantial).

See, the Mars Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the exploration and settlement of Mars, maintains a couple of simulated Mars habitats — the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in Utah and the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station (FMARS) in Canada — where volunteers perform real research on geology, astronomy, and medicine in a simulated Mars environment (complete with space suits).

Well, my old college friend Steve Sywak commented on that post that he knew someone in the Mars Society. We exchanged emails about this, the end result of which was that on December 22 I sent an email to one Ed Fisher wondering if there was any possibility of me spending a week or two on “Mars”. He replied on December 23 that he was no longer involved with the Mars Society but “I’m sure they would be interested in your application for a crew position. … The current season is underway, so you would probably need to wait for next season; however, it can’t hurt to apply now, because sometimes there are crew cancellations for various reasons.”

The application process was quite simple but it did call for a resume, and for a variety of reasons I hadn’t updated mine since 2001. However, with the benefit of distance and a “what the hell” attitude, the usual resume-updating angst was absent and I was able to update it (and shorten it from three pages to two) in only about an hour. I sent off my application to the Mars Society on the evening of December 23.

I awoke on December 24 to an email from Artemis Westenberg of the Mars Society. Even the little snippet of the message I could see in my inbox made me go “Guh?!”

I have no idea how flexible in dates you are
but for crew 88 we indeed have an opening (9-23 January 2010)
the lady who was supposed to be part of that crew works at Johnson Space Center in Houston
and her bosses told her very recently that she can not be part of that crew this season
I have read your resume and would like to invite you to be part of that crew

I took a few hours to think about it, but really there was no question. I accepted the invitation at noon on December 24 and bought my plane tickets that night.

So in less than two weeks I will be on my way to “Mars” (actually a stretch of desert near Hanksville, Utah), where I will spend two weeks as a member of MDRS crew 88. The other members are Commander Stephen Wheeler (Professor at DeVry University, Texas); Health Officer Bianca Nowak (High School Teacher, Belgium); Astronomer Paul McCall (Graduate Student at Florida International University, Florida); Biologist Diego Urbina (Electrical Engineer, Bogota, Columbia); and Engineer/XO Laksen Sirimanne (Biomedical Engineer, California). My own crew position is Journalist. I don’t yet know what experiments this crew will be performing or exactly what my duties and responsibilities will be. This has all happened so very fast and I don’t anticipate it’s going to slow down soon. I’ll keep you posted.

You know the character who joins the mission at the last minute? The non-expert — under-trained, ill-prepared, and in over his head — who gives the reader someone to identify with and the author a perfect excuse to info-dump? Well, that’s me.

I am excited, honored, and rather stunned.

For more information on MDRS, please see the MDRS web page, especially the press kit and photos. Laksen has a blog and has posted information on the location of the MDRS.

My mind is strangely bifurcated. On the one hand, I have two weeks to prepare for a two-week camping trip in the desert with five people I’ve never met, and there are lots of practical details to arrange.

On the other hand…