Archive for January 4th, 2010


Anxious and busy preparing for an early Friday departure. The radio station in my head keeps playing “Rocket Man,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” and the theme from “Das Boot.” Here’s a random collection of the stuff that’s been rattling around in my head.

Yes, I’m anxious, even though I know I don’t really have anything to be worried about — apart from lost luggage, bitter cold (tonight’s forecast low: 8° F), and the possibility of rolling over my ATV and dying of a fractured skull in the Utah desert. (I had to sign a disclaimer which said, among other things, that I acknowledge that riding on an ATV in the desert wearing a pretend space suit is stupid dangerous.) They’ve had 87 of these two-week rotations so far and I’m sure nothing serious will go wrong. Right? (But I’m not packing any red shirts.)

I’ve been reading The Real Mars by Michael Hanlon and it’s fascinating. If you’ve been wondering “why go to Mars anyway?” you might want to gnaw on this: satellite observations of Mars show surface features which seem to indicate that in the past the planet had substantial quantities of surface water. (There are other theories to explain these features, but this is a commonly-accepted one.) But Mars is now far too cold and airless for liquid water to exist on the surface. If Mars was, indeed, once warm and wet enough for rivers and lakes, what caused its climate to change? The answer to this question could help us to understand, and possibly reverse, our own global climate change. And despite the sophisticated robots we’ve sent, we need close-up hands-on observations by human beings — with their nimble fingers, excellent senses, and ability to change plans on the fly — to really understand the early history of Mars.

For some reason, Mars was weirdly omnimpresent in my life even weeks before I knew I’d be going. My favorite ride at Disney World? Mission: Space, a simulated flight to Mars. The last book I read before getting the email? Mars Crossing by Geoff Landis. The last Dr. Who episode I watched? Waters of Mars. And I’d been thinking for quite a while that our upcoming trip to Australia feels a little like a visit to a recently-colonized Mars.

Don’t forget to vote in the What should David take to “Mars” poll. If you read Spanish, MDRS-88 Biologist Diego Urbina asks a similar question over in his blog. The MDRS-88 Executive Officer, Laksen Sirimanne, has posted the research goals for the mission (which I helped write) on his blog. You can see bios of the crew, and read the daily reports from earlier rotations, on the MDRS web site. And you can see a nice collection of photos of MDRS over at

I think I have all my ducks in a row for blogging and such. I should be able to post here once a day, but I won’t be able to read LJ, Twitter, Facebook, or email. There’s a special email address you can use to contact me if it’s important, which I will be sending out to my email correspondents shortly. (If you don’t get that email in the next day or so and you think you need it, feel free to email me and ask for it.)

Friday’s coming soon. Zero hour nine 7:45 AM. Better get packing.