Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Last First Trip (a review)

Ground control to Major Tom.
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
You can? Good. Or bad, I mean. Bad news, that is. We have a new president.
Yup. That's the one. She's cut the NASA budget to smithereens.
Smithereens? Sorry, vernacular. It means you can't come home.
Nope, never.
That's right. Sorry, Major Tom.
Oh, yes. That's guaranteed. your wife will receive the full pension.
Uh...you're welcome. Goodbye, Major Tom.


The above conversation, or something similar, might well take place between Earth and Mars in a future installment of “Marshab”, scifi writer L. Probus's new series following teams of Earth scientists trying to develop a habitable human environment on our nearest planet neighbor. Their challenges include differences in gravity, atmosphere, soil and politics—the latter a perennial earthbound question mark for any program that depends for its success and, in some cases, its very survival on federal funding.

In the first installment, TheFirst Last Trip, we arrive with Erik and his team at a deserted post on the Angry Red Planet. The team that is supposed to greet us is nowhere to be found, pinned down by one of Mars's infamous storms, we learn. Almost as soon as we set foot in the Martian dust, our youngest teammate, Adam, plunges to his death when the crust at the edge of a cliff gives way. The first night we learn the project has been canceled. Some of the team decides to return to Earth, but Erik and several others are determined to stay and finish their work. Their hope is that a new political regime will renew interest in the Mars habitation program.
Erik is a scientist who has an aesthetic side to him, as well. He reflects on the beauty that stretches before him that first night. Gazing at the stands of prairie grass planted by the teams to create oxygen for the environmental domes future colonies would inhabit, he reflects: “They laid down in a pale bluish green against the rust red soil.
The storm had passed, and as the dome cooled, a light wind picked up the tallest stands in the distance. We would send the first data back with Amos, who could tell what it had been like to stand in the grasses of Gusev Crater. I hoped he could convey the beauty of that sunset. I knew I would not miss another one.”
Goodbye, Major Tom.

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