Life on simulated Mars

I read a longish article in The Guardian today by a doctor, Sheyna Gifford, who is one of six people living for a year (started August 2015) in an environment that is intended to simulate what living on Mars may be like. They are actually living in a dome on a red lava field in Hawaii, but in all other respects it “is” Mars.  (Of course, actually getting to the real Mars may be the tricky thing.)

I was drawn in by the articulate and thought-provoking way she wrote.  As a doctor, she makes an interesting point: without the benefit of a fully equipped clinic and operating theatre, she has to rely on the essentials of a healer’s medicine-chest – her own knowledge and her own skills plus listening to her patients and reassuring them. I was particularly taken by the thought that all communication with “Earth” has a delay of 20 minutes between communications to simulate the time gap over millions of miles.

The most interesting thing – and too bad if it sounds banal of me – was her comment that, with so few people and objects and absolutely no money, “value is based solely on usefulness: of an object, a task, even a person”. It sounded brutally teleological at first, but on second thoughts it does make sense. It’s even perhaps a more human way to live than in a crowded city where people and objects are more often to be avoided than engaged with, but I think she understates how the presence of other people must surely reflect your humanity back to you.

When they don’t get on your nerves, of course . . .

It made me wonder about living in confined spaces with the same group of people – such as a ship or a submarine – or living in an isolated place with only a handful of other people. In the case of a submarine, I assume everyone is assessed for their suitability. Dr Gifford mentions the importance of group dynamics and individual psychology in the success of their mission, and you don’t want to think about a “misfit” in a tiny group living in a dome that you can’t leave without a spacesuit. In the case of the “handful of other people” such as a tribe – well, I guess it’s just pot luck.

A propos of nothing, I suddenly recalled the end of “Electra” by Henry Treece, which I must have read 15 or more years ago. By then, the aged Electra and her husband live alone in an isolated valley with only their animals and see hardly anyone. A passing visitor – a doctor, I think – comes by and Electra tells him her story. I recall my impression that that isolation and unvaryingness of her life at its end seemed a worse horror than the war and family murders that had preceded it.

Well, I’m glad to have it settled that I’m not cut out for life on Mars.

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