Saturday, October 10, 2015


     My obsession with space began about ten years ago, when I first had the idea of writing a novel about a girl with an imaginary moon-sister.  The Hom were an advanced race of moon people who spent their lives in a system of underground chambers and tunnels, from where they closely monitored Earth and its inhabitants.  To write about the Hom, I had to read a lot about the moon, and I got hooked.

     The problem was that everyone who read my manuscript tried to convince me that the Hom part of the story just didn't belong in, and in fact detracted from, what was otherwise a contemporary realistic YA novel.  For years, I dug my heels in and refused to listen because... the Hom.  Those ten-foot-tall featureless spheres, each one identifiable by its signature color.  Rolling through their tunnels, projecting their own light, unspooling tubes from inside their bodies when arms are needed to perform tasks, or when they want to communicate with other members of their pods.  I know the Hom.  In a way, I am the Hom.
     It's only this year that I finally accepted reality and banished the Hom from the book.  No more Hom.  (Well, not in the book, anyway.  But you can't tell me they're not still out there.)  No more moon-sister.  But my feeling of kinship with the moon hasn't lessened.  Nor has my belief that planetary exploration is absolutely necessary for the human race, because without a doubt there is going to come a time when Earth is going to become overpopulated, or run out of fossil fuels, or we'll find some other way to destroy it (we're already doing a dandy job in that direction).  Or, even without our help, it will experience a natural disaster that will render it either temporarily or permanently uninhabitable, and our descendants are going to need an escape hatch.  A place to go.
     And now Mars has become the Cool Planet.  The next frontier.

And I want to live there. So then the question becomes: why?  I have a nice house right here on Earth, with everything I need right at hand.  Supermarket a mile away, CVS right down the street.  Fresh water flows through pipes directly into my kitchen and bathroom.  I can make the house warm in the winter and cool in the summer without having to know shit about the science involved.  Reliable WIFI.  I even have a generator in the garage in case the power goes out for more than a few hours.  Why would I want to leave?
     And it's not like Mars is hospitable. In fact, pretty much everything about it is inimical to human life.  Liquid water is great and all - it definitely beats NO liquid water - but then you think about transporting a desalinization plant there, and it gets tricky. EVERYTHING is tricky, beginning with mere survival.  But the night after I dragged my husband to see The Martian, I was too excited to sleep.  I couldn't stop thinking about the habitat, the rover, and the sheer Marsness of it all.  (Although, let's face it.  If you were the commander of a Mars crew, waiting anxiously at the end of a tether to catch a  crew member whom you unwittingly abandoned and who's survived alone on the planet for over a year and who is now in uncontrolled bodily flight in your direction - wouldn't you at least put out BOTH hands???  But I digress.)
     Oh, sure, you went to see THE MARTIAN too.  But did you later download NASA's 36-page report entitled "NASA'S JOURNEY TO MARS: Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration?"  If you didn't, allow me to recommend it, so that you too can revel in sentences like these: "Current MAV designs require a minimum lander size of just under 20 mt, assuming propellant can be generated from the Martian atmosphere via ISRU."  Those space scientists do love them some acronyms, don't they?
     But I couldn't pinpoint the source of my Martian obsession.  And then I remembered the Swiss Family Robinson.  (Whose name, by the way, wasn't Robinson.  That was for Robinson Crusoe.) How when I was a little girl, all I dreamed about was living like the Swiss Family Robinson, on a previously uninhabited island, having created an adorable treehouse and ingeniously added all the comforts of home, with (conveniently) someone else there to do all the sciencing.
     The images in my head of this idyll were so vivid, but thinking about it over the last few days, I couldn't remember where they came from.  I was pretty sure I'd never read the book, but had there been a movie I saw as a child?
     I looked it up.  The book was originally written in 1812 by a Swiss clergyman with four sons who wanted to teach them the virtues of industry, resourcefulness and self-sufficiency.  So he invented a family with four sons - go figure - that gets shipwrecked on a deserted island, and is fortunately able to rescue barrels and barrels of undamaged supplies from the ship, not to mention all the miraculously unharmed livestock, and they create their own little paradise.  Over the years, the story went the 19th-century equivalent of viral, and was adapted so many times by so many other writers so that it ended up becoming sort of a public-domain fable. 
     And then along came the 1960 Disney film version.

     Seriously, who could not want to live in that treehouse?  Who could not want to have a pet baby elephant in the front yard?  I know I did.  All this, and window curtains too!!

     Looking at those weirdly familiar 55-year-old movie stills, I know for sure that my parents must have taken 5-year-old me to see that movie, and that scenes from it have been forever burned into my brain.  And that is why I now want to go to Mars.  With a lot of scientists.  And a baby elephant in a customized space suit.  And window curtains.
     Obviously, I'm not the only one to have made that connection with space.

     It's actually kind of a no-brainer.  So.  Want to join me on the Red Planet?  But first - how good are you at practical science?  Because I'm a lawyer and a novelist, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to need some help with the tricky parts.


  1. I wouldn't be any good to you re the tricky parts :) of course would love to come along for the ride...

  2. Nila: That would be SO awesome! The NASA people will take care of the MAVs and ISRUs, I'll go out exploring with my trusty baby elephant, and you can stay in the habitat writing poems and making curtains!! Is it a deal?

  3. Space family Robinson? Hmmm. That's new and interesting! My kids came home from school telling me way more about Mars then I was taught.

    1. Tammy, our teachers could only teach what they knew, and back when I was in school, nobody knew much of anything about Mars! I still can't comprehend that there might be "boots on the ground" in my lifetime. What amazing times we live in!! Thanks for stopping by.