Ben Durkee, Crew 236 Journalist
There’s a razor’s edge between being too hot or too cold on EVA. Today was expected to be below freezing, cloudy, and the conclusion to our trilogy of windy days. So I donned a commensurate amount of layers. I looked like the Michelin man under my EVA suit.
It was 2 or 3 minutes into the airlock decompression cycle when I realized I had made a severe miscalculation. I was sweating like a Martian at a Flat Earth conference. My fears were confirmed when I was even melting on the rover ride, our short period of maximum airflow. I tried not to think about my perspirant predicament and the long hike ahead, and immersed myself in my journalistic duties.
West of our stomping grounds resides a magnificent Martian mountain. I’m not well-versed enough in my planetary geography to distinguish if it’s Olympus Mons, but it certainly is of Olympic proportion. To call it picturesque would be doing a disservice to its proud peaks and cascading crevasses. As the crew photographer, it certainly makes my job easier.
So you can imagine my dismay when Kasey, Vladimir, and I descended into Candor Chasma and the mountain faded out of view, occluded by the craggy canyon walls. Fortunately, we discovered that Mars’s valleys can contain just as much splendor as its summits.
The walls continued to grow around us as we walked for what seemed like an eternity into the bowels of the chasm. Some stretches were completely devoid of life, some rife with strange Martian flora, but all of them had lack of fauna and were overcome with a stillness only possible on another planet. We slowly realized the absolutely astronomical age of this world as we observed the diverse colors in the towering rocks surrounding us. An unbelievable quantity of layers on top of layers on top of layers. Like an onion. Or an ogre. Or me, head to toe in insulating garments.
Our goal within the belly of the beast was to scout viable locations for a potential second Habitat, a crucial part of Vladimir’s research. To cover the most ground we took a circuitous route, winding our way deeper and deeper into the abyss. Eventually, we had wandered for so long that we had reached the halfway point of our EVA’s scheduled time. It was time to turn around. It was also at this point that it dawned on me: every step we took into the pass we would have to take back out. And now it was uphill.
I learned a lot about the geology of this alien world whilst descending into Candor Chasma. But coming back out, I learned a valuable lesson about myself. I need to do more cardio.
This time, seeing the mountain wasn’t just eye candy – it was salvation. I slumped into the passenger seat of Spirit, our rover, and I’m confident that in that moment you could’ve fried an egg on my skin. I was one toasty Martian.
While we waited for the airlock to repressurize, we took a look at our path into the ravine on the GPS, and we had barely scratched the surface. What to us was a long-winded test of our endurance and stamina turned out to be an infinitesimally small foray in the grand scale of the chasm. I’m gonna need Heelys or something next time.
After recovering from our expedition, we all slipped into our regular cycle of napping, working on research, and just generally hanging out. Some of us got to talking about what we miss about Earth. We love the Hab and couldn’t imagine a better home on the fourth rock from the sun, but sometimes it’s hard not to yearn for some of the amenities only present on number three. Personally, I’d kill for a hot bath and a gin and tonic.
But we’ve got work to do here on Mars, and we’re not leaving until we see it through. In the meantime, I suppose hot chocolate and the company of friends will have to suffice!