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Being able to do that kind of outreach was satisfying, but my stay also meant missing important things back home, including my wife’s birthday. (The crew cheered me up by baking a cake and helped me improvise a birthday card to show her over the Hab’s webcam.) And being at the working end of such an involved supply line proved a little intimidating–especially when I caught a stomach virus and wound up shivering on the floor while the crew’s medic conducted checkups and conferred online with a doctor experienced in telemedicine. Fortunately, I recovered after a day, and we chalked it up to the food. We ate primarily freeze-dried rations, which would be standard fare on a mission to Mars. I was the first–and last–one brave enough to eat the scrambled eggs and bacon two days in a row. After switching to a more varied mixture of rehydrated powders (liberally sprinkled with Tabasco sauce), I was able to complete the field research that would find its way into papers my colleagues and I recently submitted for publication.

Life in the Hab was as much like being on Mars as possible, even down to our spare-time activities. We kept track of “simulation breaks” (events that could occur safely on Earth but not on Mars), scoring them as “kills” on a whiteboard. For instance, removing one’s simulated space suit to hunt for fossils counted as a kill. One crew member racked up several kills by opening both airlock doors simultaneously, which would have ended a real mission abruptly. Living with a half-dozen other scientists and engineers also led to spirited conversations about such things as the realism of popular science fiction and whether we’d go to Mars (as we’d all love to do) if we had to stay there for the rest of our lives.

I’d say yes, as long as my wife could come too. And I know she would. I made sure to ask her before we were married.

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Credit: Guy de Carufel

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