< Transcript of Christmas Eve, 2015, Live Broadcast from Mars 1 Basecamp, Galle crater >
(Broadcast opens with Mars 1 mission symbol – a dove settling onto the red planet with an olive branch clutched in its beak – before screen clears to show a close-up of a familiar female face, smiling out from an EVA suit helmet visor, with straggles of blonde hair peeping out from under the rubber skull cap. Text caption to screen lower right identifies camera subject as Mars Mission Commander Beth Lewis.)
(smiling widely) “Greetings, and Happy Christmas to everyone watching across all the countries and continents of the Earth, from the surface of Mars..! Well, I say everyone… Mission Control has informed us that viewing figures for these weekly broadcasts have been falling a little over the past couple of months, so I hope someone’s watching this back there. We’re certainly thinking of all of you – not just our friends and families, though we miss them dearly – as we celebrate Christmas here, half-way across the solar system.
(pause, as Cdr glances down from camera, apparently checking notes)
“I know that you were all expecting a standard mission update, and that will come, but today we have something a little more… special, for you. More than half a century ago, long before any of the Mars 1 team were even born, three astronauts, the crew of the Apollo 8 mission, made a special Christmas broadcast to the people of Earth as they rounded the Moon. They offered, as their gift to the people of the world, a remarkable view – the whole Earth, rising from behind the lieless limb of the Moon, a blue and white bauble shining against the blackness of space. Quoting passages from the Bible, they altered forever Man’s perception of the Universe, and his place in it. Tonight, we hope to honour their memory, their vision, with a special broadcast of our own… and we have not one, but two gifts for you, the people of Earth. But all will be revealed later, for now, let me give you an update on how things are here on Mars, at the end of Day 56 of Mars 1.”
(camera zooms out from Cdr Lewis’ face, to a wide-angle shot showing she is standing in front of the MarsHab module. Her spacesuit is coloured gleaming white, signifying her rank and role.)
(Cdr Lewis sweeps arm across view behind her) “You’ll all be familiar with this view by now, I’m sure… this is our home, the Hab module, which we landed inside the crater Galle almost two months ago, thirty or so kays away from the eastern wall. If Murray can just tilt the camera down you’ll see that this area of the crater floor is a rocky plain, littered with boulders..? (camera view shifts until it is pointing downwards: the ground is brown and tan-coloured, littered with rocks and boulders of all shapes and sizes, all different shades of yellow, orange, caramel and brown. Long, jagged shadows are cast behind every rock) … thanks Murray… but thankfully none of them were big enough to cause us any trouble when we set down. During the day this place is spookily similar to the Arizona desert I think… just missing the cacti, cattle skulls and rattlesnakes… but at this time of the day it looks very different, and it’s easy to believe we’re actually on another planet. Murray, pan the camera up a little, show them the sky, will you?”
(Camera view changes again; rocks slide out of frame, and Cdr Lewis’ face rushes by before sky comes into view. It is a rich orange colour, with washes of purple through it)
“That’s great, thank you… You join us, on Mars, just before sunset on day 56. Look at the colour of that sky..! Beautiful, isn’t it? During the daytime the sky is various shades of yellow or orange, it goes through a whole cycle of colours… peach, banana, apricot, butterscotch… we’re running out of fruits and deserts to compare the colours to! And at night, when the Sun has set, the sky is blacker than black, a huge dome studded with thousands and thousands of stars… the Milky Way looks like someone has airbrushed it across the sky, and because there’s less air here, and less wind, the stars don’t twinkle as much as they do on the Earth, they shine like diamonds or chips of ice…
“But between the two, between the bright day and the dark night, there is a time, perhaps an hour long, no more, when the sky burns with a different, richer colour. Look… see how the purple is starting to come through? Within a few minutes the entire sky will be that colour, like a huge purple velvet cloak thrown over the world, and over us… and when that happens we’ll give you the first of our two gifts. Okay Murray, thank you…”
(camera view shifts again, and Cdr Lewis reappears on screen. She is seen to be standing to left of MarsHab, having walked a short distance aay from it while the camera was aimed at the sky. Another figure can now be seen behind her, working at a large aerial-type structure deployed on the rocky surface.)
“As you can see, the spirit of Christmas is not restricted to Earth, or even to Earth orbit, with all due respect to our friends watching from the Space Station. We have everything we need to celebrate the holiday right here… a dehydrated Christmas dinner is waiting inside for us, in the galley, and the DVD of “Miracle on 34th Street” is already cued up in the player. We all packed gifts for each other before we left Earth and the good people at Mission Control have given us the whole of tomorrow off, for which we are truly grateful. We even have a christmas tree, look! (camera zooms in on figure working behind her: the green-suited astronaut is decorating an umbrella-like communications array with makeshift baubles and tinsel made from food wrappers and packaging.)
“And, just in case any of our younger viewers are worried that we’re too far away for a certain kind, fat gentlemen to leave gifts for, look… here… recognise him?
(camera shakes slightly, as if the operator is laughing, as a third figure bounds into view: a red-suited astronaut, whose suit and helmet have been decorated with white insulation foam to make him resemble a bearded Father Christmas)
“See? There’s obviously nowhere Santa and Rudolph can’t get to…” (camera shakes again). “Santa stopped by here on his way to Earth, before he starts leaving presents for all you good girls and boys…” (camera shakes again, more violently this time). “Thanks for coming all this way, Santa!” (camera shows Cdr Lewis shaking hands with ‘Santa’ before the red-suited astronaut bounces out of frame again.) “I guess having him here means that, despite what the Mission Schedulers have been saying under their breath, we have all been good…” (camera shakes again, for several moments, and laughter can be heard off-camera as Cdr Lewis smiles innocently)
“Now, time to tell you about how we all are. (pause) Everything continues to go well, here on Mars. The Hab you can see behind me is in good shape, no leaks or faults of any note. She’s looking a bit dusty now, not that beautiful blue and white colour she was when we arrived, but we like it this way, she looks more… homely, somehow. We still haven’t been able to repair that busted refrigeration unit though – the one that broke the day after we landed, taking a third of our frozen supplies with it – so we’re looking forward to the arrival of the re-supply pod in three months, time… and again, on behalf of the whole team, I’d like to express our sincere gratitude to the men and women who worked so hard to scramble that out to us. The beers are on us when we get back.
“The ERV is all fuelled-up and ready to fly. We check it daily, just to make sure. Hard to believe that we’ll be boarding it in just under six months and leaving this place… maybe forever. We try not to think about that day though; it still feels like we only just got here, we have so much to do. A lifetime wouldn’t be long enough here…
“The greenhouse is functioning well, though, to be honest, I have to say that the plants are surviving rather than flourishing. But Sonia is confident it’s just a matter of time before she gets the nutrient levels optimised, and then promises us a fit-for-a-king salad with all those fresh juicy tomatoes and apples the mission planners promised us when we signed up for this crazy trip…
“Sonia is loving it here, as is everyone. Everyone has slipped into their surface roles easily and enthusiastically, I am delighted with, and proud of, my crew. Tori, our engineer extraordinaire, is having the time of her life fixing and mending the hundred things which go wrong each day… the words ‘kid’ and ‘candy store’ spring to mind when I see her burrowing into a panel, looking for the latest burntout circuit board… Matteo and Murray, my trusty cameraman for the night, continue to photograph and record every square centimetre of our landing site, and tell me that soon they’ll be able to send back a full virtual reproduction of it for you all to roam around and explore from the comfort of your own armchairs… Doc Yuri… who some of you may have recognised earlier as our Secret Santa… continues to moan and groan about how little work he has to do, and I suspect that if we checked his Christmas list we’d find he’d asked for one of us to break a leg or something, just to give him something to do…” (camera shakes again)
“As for myself… I’m just living in a dream, day after day. I have fallen in love with this planet, I truly have. The colours, the shapes, the textures which surround us… they’re hypnotising, I wake up each morning impatient to get into my suit and outside, hating the thought of wasting even a single moment. Every day here is Christmas Day for me, I swear… Let me show you what I mean… Murray?”
(Cdr Lewis’ face vanishes off screen as camera swings away, panning left. Screen now shows view of landing area, the interior of Galle crater.)
“Even in this half-light you can see why this location was chosen as our LZ. The crater floor ripples and undulates, as if it is covered with sand dunes… but they’re not dunes. If you look over there, you’ll see several ranges of cliffs, which are streaked and marked horizontally with alternating light and dark bands… these, like the dune features on the floor, are layers of sediment, material laid down by the flow of water over this area in Mars’ distant past. The Global Surveyor probe, way back in 2000, was the first to spot features like this, features which proved Mars was once wetter and warmer than it is now, and MGS’ cameras gave us our first real clue where we should go to look for life, living or extinct. MGS guided us here, and every time it dashes across our sky at night, a little, swift spark of light, we offer it our thanks. Okay, Murray, zoom in on the Tent, would you?”
(view changes again to show centre of crater floor, where a small, dome-shaped object can be seen. It appears to be illuminated from within, and shadows can be seen moving within it. Multiple tracks lead away from it in all directions, showing where a rover has crisscrossed the crater floor during expeditions to and from the dome.)
“Over there is our field lab, nick-named The Tent. It’s a small, pressurised dome, fitted out with computers and equipment which we use to study the various rock and mineral specimens gathered from the area. Some are collected the old-fashioned way, by hand, either picked up off the ground or chipped out of the cliffs with hammers… others are mined from beneath the surface withn the robotic drills… inside you can see Matteo and Sonia busily working away on our latest ‘harvest’.
“The scientific challenges we face here on Mars are huge. Six people with a whole planet, a whole new world to explore… all we can do, this time, at least, is scratch the surface, and hope and trust that those who follow in our footsteps will be able to stay longer, do more, learn more… But each challenge is met with good humour, resilience and determination, and I say again how proud I am of eah and every one of my colleagues. All of you, watching on Earth, should feel pride in them too.
(camera begins to zoom in, slowly, on Cdr Lewis’ face)
“But we face more than ‘mere’ scientific challenges here on Mars. There are other challenges too. To live each day surrounded by such overwhelming natural beauty is a challenge none of us had anticipated, it is often hard to concentrate on the task at hand. But worse still, so much worse than any of us had expected, is the challenge of isolation. True, we have each other, and are a remarkably close team, almost a family by now… but it’s impossible to forget where we are, and how far removed we are from those people who matter to us - especially when there is such a vivid, cruel reminder visible to us. Which brings me to our first gift…”
(camera zooms closer on Cdr Lewis’ face as she pauses)
“As you will know, if you have been following our broadcasts, since we arrived here on Mars the Earth has been invisible to us, hidden behind the Sun. We have communicated with you through a network of relay satellites, our signal bouncing between them like pool balls between cushions. Earth has been just a memory for us, a photo on the wall of the galley, a picture in a National Geographic, or on a website, or in an email from home… But now we need rely on memories and photographs no longer, because today Earth emerged from the blinding glare of the Sun for the first time…”
(camera shows Cdr Lewis nodding, and smiling, before the view changes. Her face slews out of frame as the camera pans up, then left and right, searching for something in the darkening sky. Finally it settles on a lantern-bright, blue-green star flashing just above the crater wall hills on the horizon.)
“Here, on Mars, this Christmas Eve, as were the Wise Men two thouand years ago, we are entranced and beckoned by a beautiful star. But our Christmas Star is not a comet, or supernova, nor is it a close conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn… it is the Earth, our Homeworld, the planet of Mankind, shining like an emerald against the deep of night…”
(camera zooms in on the ‘star’, defocusing it briefly into a dancing blur of green and blue light before the image steadies, and the star is resolved into a tiny, fingernail-thin crescent.)
“This is our first gift to you… a view of the Earth none have ever seen before, not even the heroic crew of Apollo 8, or the many missions which followed them into orbit and away from the Earth. We give you this image, this vision, in the hope that seeing your – our – planet reduced to such a tiny, fragile thing will make you realise how precious it is. We are not so naive as to believe that a mere picture on a flickering TV screen will halt the many, terrible wars raging on Earth’s surface, nor do we believe it will silence a single gun. But we hope, and pray, that it will make some of you… of us… stop fighting for a moment, and, looking up at the sky, seek out Mars, and feel, for themselves, the thread which connects us to you across the gulf of space. We hope that seeing these pictures you… we… will realise how fleeting our existence is, and resolve to make better use of it… Watch now…”
(the camera view shakes slightly as the camera zooms in even more closely on Earth, showing tantalising detail on the crescent – hints of white cloud overlaying a land mass which could be Africa, or North America. There is no time to be sure because moments later the crescent is blocked by something between it and the camera, and the camera hurriedly zooms out to show the ‘star’ almost touching the far mountains. Another moment later it has set behind them, snuffed out like a candle flame.)
(camera focuses again on Cdr Lewis, in close-up, clearly moved by what she has just seen, and shown).
“I’ll leave it to each of you, individually, to think about what you have just witnessed… But… we have a second gift to you, this historic Christmas Eve, something which we are well aware will change things, possibly forever.
“We came here on a quest, a quest for life. Following the dreams of astronomers like Percival Lowell and Carl Sagan… following the trail blazed by spaceprobes such as Mariner, Viking, Pathfinder and Beagle… following the visions of bold writers like Burroughs, Bradbury, Clarke and Baxter. We came because for centuries Mars has called to us across the gulf of space like a siren, beckoning us, seducing us… We came because of a need to learn if we really are Alone, not just in this solar systemn, this tiny corner of the Universe, but in the whole of Creation itself… We came here, to this crater, because its features and landforms tell us that Mars was once a warm world, a wet world, a world with rivers and oceans, blue skies and clouds… a world of rain and rainbows… “
(Cdr Lewis glances towards the ground) “Once, the very place where I am standing was underwater, the floor of a lake, or perhaps even an ocean of cool, clear water. Perhaps, one day, it will be so again, if the terraformers have their way and make this beautiful Red Mars blue again. The dream of ‘restoring Mars to life’ is an ancient one, many insist a noble one too, and there are many that insist that terraforming this planet is not only our destiny, but our responsibility, that if we can make it flourish and blossom then we must, for that is Our Purpose, to spread life wherever we can… That may well be so, but it is my opinion, and the opinion of all of us here, that there is no rush, no need for haste. A Mars with oceans and rivers would be beautiful, true, but Mars is beautiful now, today, in its naked state. However and whenever Mars came to be this way, it was Nature’s will, and if in some distant time we are able to bring the waters back then so be it… but for now, let us explore it as it is. There is no need to drown this lovely world, just because we can.
(camera shows Cdr Lewis holding up a battered paperback book, sealed in a plastic wallet.)
“As martian environmentalist Ann Clayborne said in ‘Red Mars’, Kim Stanley Robinson’s epic story of martian exploration – and, coincidentally, the book which is directly responsible for half the Mars 1 crew applying to join the Space Program in the first place – we haven’t even seen Mars… at least, not yet. Not properly.”
(camera shows Cdr Lewis lowering the book and handing it to someone off-camera. She is handed an object which looks like a flat stone, slightly larger than the paperback just seen)
“It is time to give you our second gift.”
(Cdr Lewis pauses to look at the rock. Camera zooms in on her face, shows she is smiling broadly, and blinking)
“Today, whilst climbing the wall of the Mutch slopes, over to the south west of Basecamp, we – that is, the whole team, collectively; no indiviual requires or seeks specific credit – found a rock. (Cdr Lewis holds rock up to camera briefly.) This rock. Hardly surprising, I know, when the whole of this planet is covered with rocks… but this rock is the most important rock found in history – more important even than the Genesis Rock recovered from Taurus Littrow on the Moon, by the heroic crew of Apollo 17. Let me show you why…”
(camera shows Cdr Lewis reaching up to touch a pad on the side of her helmet, activating a spotlight mounted on its top. The light beam shines on the rock in her hand, illuminating it brightly, while throwing everything else into dark shadow. The camera view flares briefly before it zooms in on the rock, showing tiny white features upon its flat face)
“This is what we came all this way to find. These are what we came to find. This is the discovery that all of human development, perhaps even evolution itself, has been leading to. These… (pauses)… are fossils, the fossils of tiny, primitive, native martian lifeforms, laid down in stone thousands of millions of years ago, when Mars had oceans and waterfalls. (Cdr Lewis holds up rock closer to the camera, and the tiny shapes are resolved into delicate spiral-shell structures, and some which resemble miniaturised trilobites). Here, in my hand, is the proof we have been seeking – the proof that Mars was once a living world like Earth, perhaps it was even alive at the same time as Earth, and, for a blink of a cosmic eye, the Sun was orbited by not one but two living worlds… Here, in my shaking hand, is proof that Earth is not unique in the Solar System. One other world has, or had, life. Life found a way…”
“Of course, we know Mars is dry and dead today – or so we thought. (pause) Our seismic probes have shown that the ground beneath the lake floor is not solid, rather it consist of many chambers, like a honeycomb. Perhaps… just perhaps… some of those chambers contain traces of water, and in those pools descendants of this primitive life stubbornly cling on, resisting the planet’s best attempts to exterminate them. Believe me, if it is there, we will find it. And if we find it then we will cherish it and nurture it, and guard it with our lives as we learn from and about it, because while it may be our destiny to return Mars to life in the future, it is our responsibility to protect any life which exists here now, and we will allow no harm to come to it.”
(camera zooms out to show Cdr Lewis flanked on each side by another Team member, all three are holding hands.)
“This then, is our gift to you – a new, we hope, sense of, and appreciation for, our place in the Universe. We are not alone. We never have been. We need never feel alone again, for if life evolved here, it evolved – and exists still, today – out there, in the timeless depths of space.
“We leave you with a thought… and a request, perhaps even a plea. Look at this stone, and think about the message it contains… and then turn your back on your TV- or holo-screen, go outside and, if it is night where you live on the Home Planet, seek out Mars among the stars which are shining above your village, town or city, and think of us, as we are thinking of you. This is Commander Beth Lewis, and the members of Mars 1, wishing you, and all the people of the Good Earth, a Merry Christmas, and a happy, and peaceful, New Year…”
(camera lingers on trio of smiling astronauts until picture fades and breaks up…)
© Stuart Atkinson 2000