“Hey, Chilly, what’s going on?” Jody Tinsley asked, looking over my shoulder into the pot of simmering soup. “What did you say?” Peter Lee asked. “Chilly — that’s one of my names for April,” said Jody, understanding Peter’s confusion. “AC, Chilly Bean — those are the main ones. She doesn’t have many for me, but when she’s put out, she calls me Mister.” Unlike Peter, I hadn’t even noticed the familiar expression of affection. It’s as right to me as breathing. But later it got me thinking. It’s no coincidence that Jody and I are here together at Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station.
WHEN WE APPLIED to serve as volunteers at the Mars Society’s research stations, we applied as a team, as husband and wife. We wanted to share this experience with each other.
As it happens, our application was timely. There’s a real debate going on in the space community about how having a married couple on a crew might affect crew morale and crew interaction (this is a question for the human factors researchers). I don’t envy the folks back on Earth who make the tough decisions about who should serve on a crew, who would work well together.
Some say that putting a married couple into the mix could result in dissension: an “us” against “them” mentality.
The couple could vote on crew decisions as a bloc, essentially limiting the individual voices of the others. The couple could whisper together in corners, making others feel uncomfortable — or bicker about some personal matter during extravehicular activity, putting a mission at risk.
I won’t debate those scenarios — they could happen. Currently, married couples do not serve together on space missions. But why not let a couple serve on a simulation crew and see what happens? This, fortunately for Jody and me, was the decision made by the Mars Society. Put a couple on a Mars simulation crew and see what happens. So we were invited to the Mars Desert Research Station last March, where we served on Crew 15. We — and our fine crewmates — survived those two weeks together, and then the call came: Would we like to be the first married couple at the Arctic station, just as we were the first married couple at MDRS? Oh, would we! I remember hopping up and down in our driveway when Jody told me that the invitation had come (sometimes I get excited).
MARRIED ON MARS
And so here we are. We are a married couple on Mars — or at least at a Mars Arctic Research Station. That fact makes us different from our crewmates, different from any crew members at an analog space station, different from any crew members on any space mission. We like to think we have been good ambassadors for the cause.
I hope that we have shown that a husband and wife can think individually (we took opposite sides on the most important crew vote of the mission: whether the crew should push to the coast on the appointed day, or wait 24 hours), that a couple can work together well (we’ve been out on some of the same EVAs), and can work separately, each teamed with others.
The only thing that has distinguished us from our crewmates has been that we open the same stateroom door when we go to bed at night. I hadn’t thought of that as an advantage, but when the subject came up at supper tonight, our commander Steve McDaniel chortled, “Twice the work for only half the space!”
Ella Carlsson asked us at that same supper what meal we’d each have when we first returned home. Sushi, said Steve. We’ll go to a Chinese restaurant in Montreal, said Peter. Ah! said Ella, I’ll go to this shop near my house that has the best potato salad and shrimp salad, and I’ll get a taste of each one. Digby Tarvin asked, “Are you talking about at my home, or in New York where I’m going next?”
InsertArt(1971056)Jan Osburg said his wife would prepare something wonderful. Jody said we’d have corn on the cob, and tomatoes, fried okra, and maybe hamburgers. And chocolate cake for his birthday at his mother’s, I suggested.
This conversation got me to thinking. Come Aug. 3, we’ll all be going our separate ways — Steve to Texas; Peter to Montreal, then Boston/Providence; Ella to Sweden, then to California, where she’s going to do research for her thesis at NASA’s Ames Research Center. Digby is going to New York, then London, then Siberia; Jan will return to his wife and daughter in Georgia; and Jody and I — well, Jody and I will wend our way home via Montreal and Boston. But this winding road takes us together at last to South Carolina.
And that’s what I was thinking about. We have been to Devon Island, in the Canadian Arctic, “our Mars,” together, and we will leave it together, talking about our experiences in the past tense. The time is close when the Twin Otters will come, lifting us high above the landscape we have all come to love so well. Our time in sim ends tomorrow night.
Where does the time go? That’s what we are asking ourselves tonight as we look out the window at the snow whipping sideways by the Hab window. It seems like only yesterday that I was going out to fuel the generator wearing a T-shirt and shorts — today when we got up, the thermometer was covered in snow. It has snowed and snowed all day, sideways, backwards, hard, soft, down, sideways.
The weather has been very fickle lately: bright sunlight one minute, complete fog the next, rain after that, and then bright sun again — all within an hour. Devon Island is throwing off her summer wardrobe and pulling out her winter one.
Only Steve and Ella have been outside in this fickle weather — they are out of sim, the water-gatherers and the trash burners. The rest of us have been both snug and trapped in the Hab: we are in sim, so we can’t go out to experience the weather firsthand without EVA suits and radios. Suiting up requires a good 20 minutes and generally the assistance of one other person; we have to have someone minding Hab Com when we leave the station. My point is that it’s a lot of trouble to go outside, for ourselves and others. So instead we look at the world from the window, shivering at the sound of the wind, wishing we could feel it for ourselves.
Winter here in the Arctic is just around the corner, and Madam Weather is giving us a pretty good preview of what she has to offer if we stay here too long. As I write this, it’s 34 degrees and snowing; the wind is shaking the antenna tower that Jody is supposed to climb tomorrow to retrieve the Iridium antenna. The temperature will drop much lower as the months pass — much, much lower. We won’t be staying too long, of course. We have other lives that call to us, other places to go.
© 2003 April Childress. Licensed by the author to MSNBC.com.