November 11, 2014
The bubble wasn’t crystal clear, there were scratches, smears and minor distortions in the heavy duty plastic but from the inside I couldn’t imagine a more perfect scene. Cool air, warm sunlight so deliciously bright to eyes that felt baby new to such intense stimulus, the brain was awed and confused. Why such a gentle breeze when that dust is whipping by so quickly? Hmmm, that’s odd. On further investigation there is quite of bit of force against this body when looking in the direction the dust is coming from. Werid. Only my upper arm and left leg can feel the wind, everything else is getting pretty warm, and stiff, why is this body so stiff. Why is my chest so cold…panic?
Something deeper in the body, deeper in the brain radiates calm as it reminds the physical systems that this is how its supposed to be. “you haven’t had three weeks to prepare for this, you’ve been preparing for this your whole life”
Sensitive eyes … ohhh yes, I haven’t been out in the sunlight for a few weeks, LED’s really cant compare can they?
Stiff body … you’ve gained 35 lbs since stepping outside, that suit your wearing is “pressurized” its going to be a little different than just your normal body…
Air tubes and fans, that’s whats keeping your arms and leg and face nice and cool…
and that cold feeling in your chest, no its not fear, you put that block of ice in the suit to keep you cool. Not as good as the cooling vest I’m sure but you had to do this didn’t you? This is what you were made for.
Wow, you’re right, the suit may be bulky but it should feel that way. The air around me now doesn’t match what I can see but why would it? I shouldn’t be a part of that environment, humans weren’t designed for Mars. The view, now that fits, that’s how it is supposed to be, there’s nothing more beautiful than a vision of Mars from inside a bubble helmet. This is where you belong, in this suit, on Mars.
Allen (call sign Sasha) and Habcom are in my ear, time to get going, pose for a picture and climb the hill. Determination, excitement, and purpose carefully fold around me as the feeling of complete and utter rightness nestles down next to the deep calming voice. We’re doing our first geology EVA, measuring the volume of the ~500 meter long spatter cone rampart directly behind the Hab. It is possible that future mars missions will want to use this material to build shelters and it is a good measurement to get so we know how much radiation shielding and insulation that mission will be able to expect. Such giant leaps always begin with the first small step, and so I excitedly started up the side of the rampart.
Sasha’s suit has a better range of motion and weighs a third of mine, I don’t mind as he takes the lead up the hill. Short, slightly taxing steps get smaller and more difficult as the incline increases, one small step for this woman, tough it out girl this is the job.
Ten more steps, man I’m glad I put that block of ice in the suit, otherwise this would be really uncomfortable.
Eight more steps, I wish I’d taken the time to fix that leg hose and the cooling vest.
Six more steps, stupid crumbly spatter rampart for every step up I take the slope under me crumbles half that height.
Three steps, was that throat mic always wrapped so snugly around my neck?
Two steps, wish I could feel the wind on my face, the air in here is so damp and warm.
One – wait, I should feel wind on my face – step – where is my face fan? WHERE is my nice cool breeze?
WHERE IS MY AIR?
stop Stop STOP
calm down the more you freak out the more air your hyperventilating lungs are going to suck up, relax, control yourself and let the fans catch up
I can hear that nice calm voice but only barely over the overwhelming sound of PANIC
that’s right if you freak out too much they wont let you go back out in this suit
“you’re my inspiration for people who stick with their dreams and actually accomplish them”
good, calm down
“its going to be hard sometimes but you’ve already come so far I know you wont let anything stand in your way”
easy, good, wait for the fan to catch up
“this is what you’ve always wanted and I’m not going to let anything or anybody keep you from doing it, not me, not even you”
The words help, in the ten seconds since this inner dialogue/screaming match started I run through all the things people have said to me since beginning this dome endeavor, Per, Chris, Mom, Casey, and countless others, my mini mantra that keeps the PANIC from overwhelming me. Good Sense, bolstered by that deep steady calm, reasserts control.
Breathing slowly and deliberately I try to force PANIC out of my voice
“Sasha, this is Sophie, I’m having some trouble, can you watch me get the rest of the way up the hill, over”
“Copy Sophie, I’ve got you in sight come on up, over”
One foot in front of the other, one small step after another, each breath sweeter, cooler and fresher than the last, each heart beat more easy. One small step for Sophie, one giant incline for self control and determination.
“Sophie, this is Sasha you okay? over”
I let Sasha know I need a break but otherwise I’m fine, already beginning to feel embarrassed at my freak out. The mission proceeded, we ended up being an exploration team and our data was used by the next team of three to do the actual measurements. We walked about 70% of the rampart, up and down slopes across sketchy loose terrain, a few times PANIC grabbed me again but this time I was ready, I felt it coming, and I knew to recognize my limits within the suit. We would stop and gather ourselves before continuing on with our mission.
I never got rid of PANIC, but I knew how to make sure it never really not another good grip on me. After getting back to the Hab and getting out of the suit I was still processing the whole thing. I felt like a bird who was afraid of heights, actually more like a bird afraid of feathers. During my nap I had nightmares about being stuck in the suit where I couldn’t move. Our medical officer came by to make sure I was okay and said that they could hear my breathing through the voice activated throat mics during the whole mission and he was glad I did so well.
Everyone cared and was concerned, it was a great feeling and that night I didn’t have any nightmares of being stuck in the suit. I had some weird dreams about a normal looking feast but all the food was carved out of candy (imagine a turkey sculpture made out of Nougat and corn on the cob made from banana LaffyTaffy) but I have yet to be able to find any real meaning behind that one.
When I woke up in the morning I was resolved to two things: 1) get all systems operational in the suit and 2) get back in the puffy pants. The deep calm voice was right, I belong in that suit and on Mars and if this is as close as I get to be then I better not let a little fear get in my way, my PANIC is the same panic that people have been dealing with since the dawn of time. It isn’t special, it doesn’t need to be shown in all caps, it is a normal response and there are ways to stay calm and manage it to a normal level.
I’m getting back on the horse and I look forward to sharing my experience with all you readers as soon as it happens. In the forefront of my mind will be all the great things people say to me about this experience, bound and printed into my own personal Mars Hitchhiker’s Guide and on the cover I’ll put that age old expression “Don’t Panic” in large friendly letters to remind me of what I already know.
Stay tuned travelers, we’ve only just begun….