22 June 2021 Reviews

Once Upon a Time I Lived on Mars

No prizes for spotting the fantasy element in the title of this book! Subtitled ‘Space, Exploration and Life on Earth’, it is in fact the story of the author’s four months in the simulated Mars environment of NASA’s HI-SEAS (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation) mission.

Along with five others, the author “lived, worked and slept in an isolated white dome, conducting a sleep study on her crew mates [and] gaining incredible insights into… the nature of the boredom, dreams, isolation and irritation that arise despite the promise of scientific progress and glory”. No holiday then!

So how did it go for Greene, a former laser physicist turned poet and essayist? The experience changed her life in many ways: she pivoted from writing journalism to essays and poetry; changed jobs, returned to education and moved across the country. More personally, she admits, “my long relationship with my wife has ended, and I am, for the first time in 14 years, living on my own…”.

This book is a stunningly honest and personal account of what it is like to be cooped up in a proverbial tin can with a group of hand-picked, like-minded people, just like it will be when crews head for Mars.

Readers, however, will certainly not be bored. The author moves seamlessly between the analogue mission itself, relevant aspects of the space industry, her personal life and memories, and the philosophy of exploration.

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