Postcard: Greetings from Mars
September 10, 2023
Most nights, over the past few months, I am on Mars.* I travel by rover, from tent city to tent city, those vast pressurized dome habitations where we can ditch our helmets and insulated suits and stroll down simulated boulevards, through stone medinas, and along lofty corniches overlooking dusty canyons. In gravity a third of Earth’s, I am light on my feet, somewhat wobbly, if not drunk on the unimaginable experience of life on Mars. In this time, humans have colonized the red planet and, like on Earth, we have labored to change it, to make it into our own image of what a habitable planet should and could be. On this Mars several decades into the future, we have warmed the atmosphere, altered its gaseous composition to be nearly breathable, melted the subterranean glaciers and pumped the water into great seas and outflows, bioengineered species of lichen and alpine vegetation to survive and reproduce in the chasms and crevasses. We have mapped it, given its topographical features names like Hellas Basin, Olympus Mons, Vastitas Borealis. In a word, we have terraformed a new world. And, as always, we argue about how much is too much, when to push versus when to hold back, and where lies the line between preservation and exploitation on the path to remake the planet to feed our desires. In the back of our minds, with each breath of artificial air, the dull numb of a brutal memory: remember what we did to Earth, all we had that we lost, our beautiful Terra?
* My Mars is the Mars of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, part sci-fi invention, part geological inventory, part extrapolation of all the technological advancements and Martian scientific documentation available at the time he wrote the books in the mid 1990s. The postcard image above was acquired by NASA's Mars Perseverance rover on Sept. 10, 2023 (Sol 909) at the local mean solar time of 10:25:14. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech