Should I go back, should I go back, should I?
I hope I won’t forget you
– from “Asthenia” by Blink-182
Today’s my cooking day, and, dressed in my finest University of Texas Longhorn garb, I’m simmering a pot of my famous and controversial sMartian chili (apologies to Erin and Kev, but it’s got beans today), while blasting various ZZ Top tunes from my laptop. I’ve decided to keep things Texan in the kitchen today, because this is my last kitchen shift on sMars. One week from right now, I’ll be standing “back on Earth”.
As the end approaches, I find I’m met with a mix of emotions. Of course, there’s plenty of excitement! Soon, I’ll see my wife and family once again. I’ll be able to mourn those who have passed on in the last year, and celebrate those who have joined us. I’ll be able to spend time with friends I last saw over a year ago (I’ve learned a few skills while I’ve been here, so I might ask to join you in the kitchen for the next game night Ryan!), and I look forward to long days and even longer nights at the local board game conventions. I’ll once again climb sunward, and dance the skies on laughter-silvered wings. I look forward to seeing where the next steps on this journey called life will take me and what opportunities will be opened by my participation in this mission. There’s definitely much to look forward to!
But, perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s some trepidation as well. There’s a sorrow felt by many explorers as their great journeys come to an end. And there’s an anticipation of a sort of psychological reentry shock: the readjustment to life back home. In the beginning, many adventurers anticipate that there will be some adjustment to a new and unfamiliar way of life, but what is sometimes unanticipated is the equal and opposite adjustment required at journey’s end. During the journey, what was once novel has become normal, and vice versa. Routines long forgotten must be remembered; skills long lost must be reacquired. Seemingly simple things, like looking both ways before crossing the street or a parking lot, driving a car, or even shopping for groceries, can’t be taken for granted after coming home.
I’ve encountered these before, after my HERA mission last April, and I feel I have the tools and awareness to cope with them. However, there’s one aspect I still find most intimidating about coming home, above all others. A constant, intense undercurrent, one most have become almost numb to, but one that reaches a cacophony once you become aware of it: the constant, unrelenting beating of the war drums.
You see, here on sMars, we’ve been isolated. Not only in a physical sense, but in other ways as well. In particular, we’ve been separated from the news and daily goings-on of planet Earth. On a more jovial note, that means we’ll have a lot of pop-culture to catch up on! Jokes, music, and memes that have become a part of your culture in the past year are essentially unknown to us. The six of us have a lot to catch up on! But, perhaps somewhat mercifully, we’ve also been separated from all of that negative news that tends to dominate headlines.
Of course, we’re not in complete ignorance – occasionally, a world event is so significant that we feel the shockwaves a world away. Terrorism in France. The attack on a nightclub in Orlando. Although certainly atrocious to most, here on sMars, events like these take on an additional, almost alien quality, as alien as the planet Mars seems to most Earthlings. For here on sMars, there is no war. There are no killings and no crime. Needless violence is an aspect that is essentially absent from our world.
As I mentioned before, back on Earth, we’ve gained something of a numbness to it. The negativity pervades the world, intensified by almost constant exposure and saturation through the news and social media we’ve been sheltered from for the past twelve months. Wars without end. Violent crime. Mistreatment of those less fortunate or of lesser means, and fear of those that are different from ourselves and that we don’t understand. Being pulled from that world and placed on another – that perpetual drumming stripped away – results in something akin to a calm silence. Having to return to that terrible cacophony is a frightening proposition.
So, I end this article with a plea. On August 28, I ask everyone on planet Earth to celebrate our reentry. For one brief day, I ask that you lay down your guns. Disarm your bombs. Remove your explosive vests, and take a moment to reflect upon and enjoy the chance to be alive on our home planet of Earth. If studying the planets of our Solar System has taught me one thing, it’s this: the Earth is a remarkable, vibrant, and wondrous place, unlike any other place we have ever seen, visited, studied, or known. Take a day to contemplate and view that world in the way that I – and countless space travelers before – have come to view it: not as something to fight and hurt each other over, but as something to appreciate and enjoy.
Of course, I’d recommend a nice, delicious bowl of chili, too.
I leave you with a photograph, taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1990 after passing beyond the orbit of Pluto, and some associated words by Carl Sagan:
“We succeeded in taking that picture, and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there – on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.
To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”