For the last four and a half months, my world has mostly consisted of the same 993 sq ft, the same 5 faces, and the same cans of freeze dried beef crumbles. My world is, for most intents and purposes, very small. It is round with white walls and grey carpeting that looks like it was stolen from an elementary school classroom. It’s chilly at night after the sun sets, and we often find 8-legged visitors cruising around the baseboards. My world is not always glamorous nor comfortable, but it is cozy. My personal pie wedge bedroom is slowly filling up with reminders of “outside” sent by loved ones and received in batches with our resupply deliveries. I have post cards and comics stuck to the walls.
I’ve adjusted to living away from my friends and family a few times in my life and coming to sMars saw most of the same challenges. Outside the mission, I prefer to text or use social media sites with folks spread across the world. But it isn’t as easy to access people from sMars; I’m limited to just direct email and this blog. It sometimes feels hard to stay in touch and it can be especially hard to feel connected to my tribe back on “Earth.” Reminders of home help me feel connected without having to directly engage with folks, but the isolation from my personal community can be hard to shake.
Instead of relying solely on our earthly connections, we’ve built a local community on sMars. It’s made of the crew, our beta fish, and the dead goat carcass we found in a lava tube (he’s a great listener). The crew members each brought our own histories and cultures with us, but we have a unique opportunity to create an independent, sustained community while we are here. I am pretty excited about that. We have inside jokes and funny stories that engage us on a surface level, but we also have our own traditions and habits that define us as Crew V. For instance, a few weekends ago we celebrated our mission halfway mark by building a massive blanket fort in the main room of the habitat. We moved our bedding down from our bedrooms and slept together on the living room floor. This is why we send people to space – so a team of scientists and engineers can have a sleep over on Mars!
Living in the hab is more reminiscent of living in the dorms in undergrad than working with colleagues at a 9 to 5 job. You have access to these friends any time of day or night. You still have to report to the morning group meeting, but it’s okay if you keep your jammies on. You might spend the afternoon debating a difficult technical plan with someone you disagree with and then turn around and cook dinner together for the whole crew that night. It takes a special sort of person to make that relationship work, and it requires a lot of commitment to each other. We all want to see successes in our mission, but we want to make our personal lives function, too. In the dome, there isn’t always a difference between the two.
With less than 100 days left in the mission, I’m grateful for my crew mates and our weird little world on sMars. My eyes are turning homeward, and I’m starting to give serious thought to where I go from here. I’m not sure I’ll ever live this way again, but I hope the spirit of community is something I bring home with me.