To Live on Mars

When is a doughnut not a doughnut? When it’s a bagel.

Please understand, I don’t mind so much the actual taste of bagels, they’re OK I guess, but I rarely eat them, but only because they are food and I like food. Doughnuts on the other hand are a craving. If someone hands me a bagel, I’ll eat it…but I wander through life seeking doughnuts.

Bagels are a doughnut tease…a vain and cruel mockery of donuts.

So I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t live on Mars. I know, it’s heresy for a vocal space advocate like myself to admit such a thing, but Mars just would not work out for me.

How do I know? Because I’ve already lived on Mars once before and didn’t like it at all…or rather one of Earth’s closest analogues of Mars.

Back in 2001 I spent part of November and December working at the computer-end of a copper mine expansion project in Chile. The valley on the way to the Escondida Copper Mine ( from Antofagasta, and the area near the mine, looked just like those first Spirit Rover photos of the Mars countryside.

We worked ten days at a time at the mine site and then spent four days off out on the coast. The coastal area resembles most any other seaside tourist attraction, but the geography near the mine…and all along the road to get there…mocked that of the mountains and West Desert area of Utah where I’ve lived most of my life…sans any plant life. Seriously, the graphical overlay labeled “plants” had been stripped away and deleted.

Also, the rocks float. No, they don’t float in the air. Your local landfill shreads tires and recycles them, partly because if you bury a tire it might show up on the surface some 10 years or so later. In the Chilean desert, like on Mars near where the Spirit Rover landed, the freeze-thaw cycle floats rocks to the top so that they lay around on the surface of the trackless sand like thousands of tennis balls on a vast, abandoned court.

The area recieved about a quarter of an inch of rainfall a year, so aside from a small tumble-weed-like plant that one might see occasionally in the bottoms of shallow ravines, all that grew out of that fine sand of the Chilean desert were rocks.

So if a person wanted to fake a Mars landing, and needed a good photo back-drop for it, all they would need during that drought in the mountains and deserts of Chile would be a red filter for their camera.

I missed my family terribly when I was in Chile, but the pictures that I kept on my computer back-drop were recently-captured weather cam shots of the snow covered mountains of Utah. Growing up, I wandered those mountains and smelled the air of all four seasons, so much that I might not even need a calendar.

I’ve listened to the rattle of the wind blowing through the quaking aspen trees in the fall.

I’ve cross-country skied across the top of those same mountains under a full moon, then unrolled a tarp and mummy bag on the snow and slept to the sound of icy winds blowing through the bare trees under winter stars.

I’ve seen the dirt ropes left behind in the early spring by rodents after they’ve stuffed snow tunnels with their diggings.

I’ve witnessed the “purple mountain majesties” that confuses city slickers when they sing about it in “America the Beautiful”. It happens when a late frost touches the first buds of spring, turning the mountainside an iridescent violet under the morning sun.

I’ve swam in a mountain lake, loved on a mountain peak, and worn out footwear walking the trails of riverbanks and high desert plateaus.

My work at the Escondida mine brought me great fulfillment and growth. I enjoy challenging computer programming and support tasks. I also like to travel, and my days off in Antofagasta were all very nice. But when the time came to go home I couldn’t get on that plane fast enough. I returned just before Christmas, and as Christmas’ go that was one of my most memorable.

We know that Mars looks like Death Valley and feels like Antarctica. We won’t know what it smells like because we can’t breath the air. A full lungful would likely saturate a person’s red blood cells and tissues with CO2 and unless someone else is right there with pure O2 to bag them with they’d die and then the rest of us still wouldn’t know what Mars smells like. I suppose someone could gather a sample of Mars air in a bag and then go indoors and open it, but that would probably be irresponsible too.

So for all you city slickers who never see the stars, along with all you other folks rearin’ to go, I’ll continue to fight, here on this blog and elsewhere, for your ride to Mars.

But don’t bother holding the door open for me when you board that spacecraft. I’ll just bow to you and wave. Then, after you launch, I’ll head straight to the mountains and fall asleep looking up at the Red Planet with a smile on my face and my ears full of the rattle of the quakies.


~ by Bill Housley on March 17, 2018.

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