Image of Mari Mogosanu at the Mars Desert Ranch via
My impressions of a would-be life on Mars are largely informed by the 1990 sci-fi classic Total Recall. The scenes of Schwarzenegger muscling his way around the planet saving the mutant citizens of Venusville are firmly implanted in my psyche, and in turn have made the whole idea of settling on Mars seem pretty undesirable. But Wellington-based scientist Hari Mogosanu is unperturbed by crude pop-culture imaginings. Three years ago, the she formed the New Zealand chapter of the Mars Society to support the international organisation in its bid to create a human colony on Earth’s celestial neighbour. Mogosanu’s ties with the organisation have sent her repeatedly to the Mars Desert Research Station in Hanksville, Utah, where a group of society members cram into a capsule and playBig Brother: Red Planet for two weeks. I wanted to know more about what it’s like being stuck in a metal cylinder with strangers and pretending you are on a different planet so I asked Mogosanu to tell me more.
VICE: You went to Utah recently to experience “Mars life”. Can you explain why the facility is there?
Hari Mogosanu: Utah is the only place on Earth that just looks like Mars. There are cows there, so that takes away a little bit, but that’s only in the summertime. I went there in winter, and I have never ever in my life seen anything like it, the hues are all ochre and brown and it just looks like Mars, very alien. I don’t know if I should use this word, but it was almost like a religious feeling when I got there because it just mimicked so much everything I have ever read about Mars. Then, in the middle of all that they plonked down the cylinder that looks like a spaceship. One of the things they are planning to do is send people to Mars in a space capsule kind of thing.
So is the cylinder for travel to Mars as well as living inside once you reach the planet?
Yea, that’s the idea. You launch it, you travel aboard it, but also when you get there you can live in it, so that you don’t have to build your shelter from scratch. You can’t really live on Mars in open space, you have to be protected from radiation, or from ginormous dust storms that blow across the entire planet. You need to make sure once you get to Mars you can survive, because the few people who get there and start building the habitats and colonies of tomorrow.
So how long do you stay inside this capsule-ship thing?
The missions are about two weeks long, so you stay there for two weeks. Everytime you go outside you have to put on these pretend space suits, and they have a backpack with a ventilator, so you breathe through them and they just recirculate the air. And you’ve got a bubble over your head and ski gloves, which are so annoying. And you’ve got a radio, so when you talk to each other you only talk to the radio.
Is it strange to go out in Utah with all that gear on?
The whole environment is so foreign that it looks like Mars and feels like Mars. But on Mars you wouldn’t have life support outside of your habitat, so you can’t smell anything else, you smell your own smell, but that would be it. Here we have flowers and stuff, but imagine there is so much less variety. It’s very restrictive. You can’t see properly, unless someone invents something better, but currently you have to look through a glass. And you can’t touch things properly, because you have those big gloves. People are working to invent more tactile gloves, they might invent something that would send the signal straight from the glove to the brain, I don’t know what they will come up with. It’s awesome and it’s very challenging, and I think it is our future.
What do you eat there? Dehydrated food and stuff like that?
For the study was two things. One was like pre-prepared food you would just put water on it to rehydrate it, and then you eat it. And the other was raw ingredients, so you had like dried ingredients, like dried celery, dried strawberries anything you can imagine dried, and then you rehydrate it and then you cook with them.
What food did you miss the most?
We didn’t have seafood, which is one of my favourite foods, but we had chicken, we had rice, anything you can imagine. They even gave us chocolate. But the thing that I missed the most, and I would have given anything, anything, to have was greens, like a salad or an apple. That made me realise how awesome fresh food is, and how much we take it for granted.
Did staying inside the capsule drive everybody stir crazy?
Yeah, totally. Every time I’ve been there we’ve had tension. It’s not like your 9-5 job and you get to work and there is a desktop computer and you can communicate with people. You are in the middle of the desert in a foreign place and you have food for two weeks, so it’s like Big Brother or Survivor. You are left with the food and you have to do research. You worry if something is going to break, or if the water is going to run out, because you get very little water, and you are forced to shower every three days. Imagine people showering every three days because you have to preserve the water. You are very tired, you are very grumpy, you are in this new environment, and you have to do your tasks. So people were fighting, they were like “I'm out of here, I don’t want to hear from you”. That’s cool when you’re on earth, but what about when you are on Mars?
So what makes going to Mars-life so appealing?
I think Mars is the next step for humankind to go to space, and when we become a space-faring civilisation we will have to do stuff to exist in Mars. But the thing I’ve been thinking about lately, which is a bit controversial, is you know how people talk about what are we going to do on Earth, because there are so many billions of people? Some people talk about birth control, and others talk about killing people, but I think human life is extraordinary and we should protect it. And if an asteroid comes down and destroys Earth we’d be gone forever, I think we have the chance for the first time ever in the history of humankind to protect ourselves and protect our race. When I die I’d like to know that my race will survive, and one way of surviving is going to Mars.
So you are are talking about colonising another planet to ensure the survival of the human species?
Yeah. I would go to Mars if I knew that I could live there and come back to Earth and it would be fine. I’m sure there are a lot of people who would do space travel, and there is a lot of people who wouldn’t go near it, they might go and find a way to live in the ocean, maybe that will happen. But I don’t think you should say let’s take birth pills, or let’s kill people, or let’s have a war. I think we should go to space, there is enough space, on Mars, Jupiter, if we want to go and protect life. That’ show I feel, and that’s why I think Mars is important.
Have you been to space before?
Is that a goal for you?
I’d like to. I think I’m too old now, I’m like 40, but you never know. You have to be 20/20 and you have to be super rich.
But the Mars Society have a goal to put people on the planet?
Mars Society in the US wants to have people on Mars definitely, and Mars Society New Zealand wants to do science. I didn’t create this to be a enthusiasts club like the medieval club or whatever, my dream is to be a science hub. That’s what I want to do. One more question: what’s your favourite film set on Mars?
One is Europa Report, but it’s not set on Mars, but Europa Report if you look at that movie it is the closest movie anyone has made that describes the interaction between crews and this is how I felt when I was at MDRS. I felt like in that movie in Europa Report.
What with the tensions between people?
Yes, but also there are these people who go and die for their science, and I think that’s a very awesome and extraordinary message. It’s a great movie, it’s just so realistic.
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