Couple Who Spent Nine Months in Isolation in Arctic Circle Practically Volunteering for Mars Mission
It Came From Outer Space
In 1989 Deborah Shapiro and her husband Rolf spent fifteen months on Antarctica, nine of which were lived out in total isolation from the rest of the world (and she says if their engine hadn’t broken down, they would have stayed another year!), but the most frequent question they get asked about it is not about what they saw, found, or learned from the experience, but one a bit more cynical:
“Why didn’t you two kill each other?”
But where this falls into the realm of reasonable first questions is when you’re looking to hand over several billions of dollars worth of irreplaceable technology to a small group of folks and ask them to live in isolation and great danger for a very long period of time… like a manned Mars mission.
Shapiro wrote about her experience for the BBC recently, following a call by millionaire space tourist Dennis Tito for couples willing to be tested for their suitability as Mars explorers on a privately-funded flight that would necessarily take 1.5 years to complete. She acknowledges that that kind of environment isn’t for every relationship, and gives some rules of good conduct for not winding up with your hands around another person’s neck. They’re not the kind of rules that should come as a surprise to anyone, but they’re backed up by her not-insignificant real life experience.
For example, number one is to respect boundaries and a person’s need for alone time, not matter how cramped your quarters. Each person should also be someone who’s able to freely communicate affection and caring for another person, to read the other person’s behavior and not just notice, but describe when another person’s behavior is putting a strain on the situation. Conversely, everybody’s got to be able to take it well when that sort of thing is pointed out to them. Shapiro and her husband had lots to do with keeping their boat in good repair while they weathered the Antarctic winter, but still, there was lots of downtime, which they spent playing games, reading to each other, and philosophizing. She suggests:
A likely pair for the trip to Mars would be a loving couple who have been living together a long time, who are technically clever and bright, remain ice-cold under pressure, and are naturally upbeat – and whose main goal is to support each other through every phase of life.
Not her and Rolf, though, and not because they don’t feel the same way they did all those years ago. The big difference between a small boat and a mission to Mars is that the astronauts will have to depend just as much on mission control on Earth as themselves. Putting their lives in so many other hands, she says: “That will demand a special strength.” You can read her entire essay for the BBC here.