A Message Home

< 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


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