Diaries from Analog Mars, Part 2: Arrival

Welcome to the second edition of a special MarsLog series!

Diaries from Analog Mars is a sequence of personal entries from Mars Society of Canada Director Jin Sia, who has deployed to the Utah desert to conduct analog space exploration activities as part of a select crew of engineers, biologists, journalists, and others.

In part 2, we follow Jin’s journey as he arrives in the desert. Enjoy!


The dust gets into everything. It snakes its way into the grooves of your fingerprints and forms a fine peach-colored patina on floors and tools. But the austere beauty of this place has enchanted me. I don’t know if it’s despite the harshness of the terrain or because of it.

I met Lindsay and Inga at the Day’s Inn at Grand Junction on Saturday night, after over twelve hours in transit. “You’re real!” I exclaimed. We hit it off immediately.

I slept light that night – perhaps a combination of excitement and being transplanted to a new location. Even then, that fear lingered; that fear that somehow, something would derail our plans at the last minute and catapult the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) into the future yet again. Perhaps that’s why it hasn’t sunk in yet.

I woke early, at about 7 AM, after sleep interspersed with half-conscious awareness of raindrops pattering against the curtained window. After a fruitless half an hour of trying to return to sleep, I decided to start the day with a morning walk. I turned left out of the Day’s Inn and stopped in my tracks when I saw the mighty landscape of buttes and mesas rising in the distance. I definitely wasn’t in Ontario anymore.

Dave met us later that morning in the CrewCar, the traditional SUV used by MDRS crews to reach the station. He regaled us with stories of witnessing the launch of Apollo 11 with his own eyes and of meeting Buzz Aldrin at a Mars Society Convention. We drove out of Grand Junction and out into the mesas, mountains and hills. The ochre landscape was soon rolling by, getting progressively grander as we approached MDRS.

Utah Desert Mars
Awe-inspiring views at a rest stop – photos cannot do them justice (by author)

We crossed the border from Colorado into Utah and became totally immersed in a sea of breathtakingly beautiful desert formations. The deeper into Utah we got, the redder the rocks became. We passed vibrant orange-red mesas streaked with perfect, seemingly paper-thin white strata.

After we passed Hanksville, tarmac gave way to an unpaved dirt road. We passed through what I think is called the Rock Garden: two hills towered over both sides of the road, and the comparatively small CrewCar threaded the needle in between. The sides of both hills are littered with massive boulders of shattered rock. These crowd the landscape almost oppressively, like local Martians coming out to see the trespassers. We had left the domain of cities and unlimited running water and entered the realm of desert rocks.

Dave expertly guided the CrewCar through the narrow, meandering road. The peach-colored landscape was so far out of my normal experience that I felt like I was driving through a movie set, or through a particularly elaborate attraction at Universal Studios.

Then, I saw the observatory.

Then, the MDRS’s solar array.

As the curtain of rock pulled away, the ScienceDome came into view, then the GreenHab, and finally, the Hab itself. I lost myself somewhere in the excitement and don’t quite remember what I said, although I do remember laughing uncontrollably, either in relief or in shock. Looking back at the video I recorded as the CrewCar came in, it
still doesn’t click. It seems like a video shot by someone else, at another time.

As the CrewCar rolled to a stop in front of the Hab, Dr. Shannon Rupert, the longtime Director of the MDRS, and her Space Dogs came out to welcome us. Three years of waiting was released in our excitement as hugs went around abundantly.

The text written on the top of the Hab towered over me: “MARS SOCIETY DESERT RESEARCH STATION.”

We walked through the door and were greeted by the Mars Society NorCal’s beautiful new spacesuits, with brand-new faceplates. The Hab seemed bigger than I expected from time spent studying its Matterport tour online.

Mars Desert Research Station
The first view out of the main window on the Hab’s upper deck. (by Author)

However, as we got right to work preparing the campus for simulation, the excitement dissipated. I turned my attention towards inventorying and inspecting all the health and safety supplies for my pre-mission checklist. Dr. Rupert talked us through setting up in between fascinating stories from behind the scenes. As we listened to her over a late lunch, I felt like I was getting a peek behind the veil – the primary sources, the narratives the media won’t report because they simply aren’t in deep enough to understand what they mean.

The first day on campus ended late, with all of us exhausted from the day’s work. I stayed up about half an hour later than the rest of the crew, inventorying the first-aid supplies. As I left through the Hab’s rear engineering airlock to inspect the first aid kit in the RAM, I looked up and experienced what David Bowman must have felt as he fell
into the Monolith.

My God, it’s full of stars.

Without clouds or light pollution, a riot of stars had overtaken the night sky. A broken misty band wrapped around the bowl of the heavens, which I think was the Milky Way. Even so, Jupiter was piercingly bright. It was in that moment that I really understood why the ancients saw their heroes in the sky, how they drew the shapes of the constellations, and why they believed Jupiter to be the king of the gods.

My next thought was: “I wish the rest of the crew were awake to see this”.


If you enjoyed this first diary entry, standby for the next Diaries from Analog Mars, as Jin recounts his first days in the desert! Sign up for our newsletter, and never miss a post!

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Edited by Evan Plant-Weir

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