Episode Description

Mission Three botanist Patricia Holzer describes the events of a disturbing week in which the vital trust between the 12 ISA astronauts on Mars is damaged by an act of vandalism. Now an official ISA podcast. The ISA is built by people like you! Tune in live every Tuesday 4:00 PM UTC to chat with Emma, ask her questions… and read some cryptic internal ISA messages…? All through our official transmission channel: https://discord.com/invite/colonizemars

Episode Transcription

Hello everyone, and welcome to the Red Shift - your connection to your piece of the sky!

I'm your host, Emma Miller. First off, I want to say a HUGE thank you to all of the new shifters for making our very first official ISA broadcast one of the best ones yet. I cannot wait to continue to give you exclusive content. Speaking of, it's time for us to hop right into our ISA announcements!

This week, we will be releasing an astronaut bio of one of our first four astronauts and our mission Four Commander, Mithi Mabaya. I think you'll find that there was a very cool reason that she was handpicked by Adan Luzuriga to lead the mission. And I can't wait for you guys to all find it out. Coming very soon!

Also, I was told I can't talk too much about it, but I do know that there is something exclusive coming for you stakeholders very soon.

And that does it for our Isa announcements for the week! Now, as promised, each week we are going to get some juicy stories from real ISA personnel, whether that's folks at Mission Control Two in Seoul, onboard the Alliance 4 convoy in transit, or, like this week, a direct report from an astronaut actually on the red planet. I know - so exciting!

The round trip lag makes it difficult to hold a real conversation back and forth, so we've asked the astronauts to send a quote-unquote Mars diary. And the first entry is from… drum roll, please… Mission Three botanist, Patricia Holzer!

One of the things that I like most about Patricia is that she tells it straight. If this were a regular PR effort, they'd try to tie it up with a pretty pink bow, but the truth is that there's some conflict in the colony, and Patricia is not the one to let a sleeping dog lie. As you will hear. Keep in mind that everything you will hear will be in Patricia's own words.

I think that's enough introduction, so let's get right into it. This is Patricia's Mars diary.

Patricia’s Mars diary

So wrong is it, that I think we should have accountability? Other people might say it is not so important, I know, but to me it wasn’t glass that was broken only. It was trust.

I say this from the start: Three days ago we made something beautiful, here on Mars. A piece of glass, made from Martian sand. And then last night one of us smashed it. One of the twelve. Who? I think I know, but nobody will say. 

Others, they say it’s a small thing, let it go. But for me it is not so small. Most of them, they have always been safe. Been strong. They have never had someone break into the house. Write on the walls. Break a window. Take a bike. When that happens, you are scared. People say, oh, well, it is only a little money, you weren’t hurt, they stole not much. Get over it. But you don’t. Because you are not safe.

They say, “Holzer, let it be.” I say, until we know the truth we are damaged. The lock on our house is broken and we won’t be safe until we find who this person is and why they did what they did. 

You say if you think I am wrong, or right.

I did not make the glass, but in a way I started the whole project. 

You see, in the long run, we can’t have all our food dependent on inflatable greenhouses sent from Earth. Any time they wanted, they could stop sending new ones and wait for the old ones to break or wear down and then we starve to death. People say Earth would never do that, but my mother was a refugee so I know what happens when you let someone else have the power of life and death over you.

One day I was talking with Ida. Back in the early days when we were on the ship, maybe we did not get along the best. She is very quick, very adventurous. I am just patient: one thing, the next thing, and so on. Ida, you know, she was on TV, the one they did interviews with. The face of Mission Three. I am not the sort of person that is the face of anything.

But on Mars, she worked hard. She earned our trust. She had great energy all day and then at night she would tell stories about racing cars or teach us dirty Italian drinking songs.

She left someone back on Earth, another astronaut, who would not come until Mission 4, so they would be separate for two earth years. First times, I think she didn’t miss him so much. Too much to do. Too many adventures to have. 

But then he got cut from Mission Four. She took it hard.

After my family left Bulgaria we moved to Bremerhaven, to a rough part of town. My brother got picked on, so I got in a lot of fights. I learned this about getting hit: the shock is first, like lightning, and then pain is the thunder that comes behind. That’s what it was like for Ida. You could see it in her eyes.

This is what I have been telling you, I said. You let your life depend on what someone decides 60 million kilometers away, and then: oh, so sorry, some important person somewhere made a decision and you are a refugee now, living in a hard place where you don’t know the language and nothing grows. 

It was this time we became good friends. Maybe I am not so funny as some of the others, but I knew what it was like for her, a little bit. I know what it is like to be alone.

Now she was always trying to figure out what day it was, back on Earth. I told her to forget earth time. Live on Mars time. If it is Carnival in Venice or Christmas in Rome, who cares? It is a discipline for me, the only calendar I have is a Mars calendar. This is what is real now.

Then suddenly on Earth there was an accident. Her man was back on Mission Four! She opened up like a flower. She said to me I am so happy! Patrizia - she always says it with that “tz!”, PatriTZia - how can I make you happy too?!”

So I said I wanted to make a vegetable frame - one we could build on Mars, so even if another rocket never came I could make some cucumber, some tomatoes, some quinoa and beans. And Ida asked if a frame was like a tiny greenhouse and I said that was close enough and she said to make such a thing you need glass. To make glass you need sand. And sand? Mars might not have a magnetosphere, or oxygen, or all the water you want - but sand? That we have.

How we made the glass, this might be too much science, but Mithi said it’s okay and people can just skip this part if they don’t care but maybe it gives you a sense of the kinds of things we do here - how hard it is to make a world from only twelve people and red rocks.

The Colony’s power - and I just want to interject really quickly and say that Patricia wanted to make it very clear that it is a colony, and not a base, like some of the others still call it. She said, and I quote, “We must learn to say ‘colony’. Mars and I are very patient. We will win”. Pardon the interruption, back to the story!

We make energy for the Colony in a molten salt reactor. One of the things it runs is an electric furnace. The furnace was specced to bake bricks and even smolt the ore Alex is supposed to find, so it runs very hot. To melt sand, for our furnace this is not a problem. 

To make things you need a workshop. If you don’t want to work in a spacesuit all day you need to keep it pressurized. Back in Mission Two, when it was just Mithi and Aurore and Alex and John, the workshop was in a hab, and keeping it a good pressure was every day John’s personal nightmare. Too high, it costs energy to maintain and you increase the risk of leaks. Too low, you have to add lots of oxygen to the mix to breathe, and the things you do in a machine shop make sparks, so high oxygen is bad.

The way the reactor works, you boil salt and run it through pipes to a room where there is Mars ice. The ice turns to steam and drives a turbine. The turbine sends the power. Then they have to cool the water down - transferring that heat is how we keep warm. Basically, the whole colony has nuclear radiators. Maybe it’s because the workshop is close to the turbine, or maybe it’s because John Alvez is from Brazil and hates the cold, but the workshop is always the warmest place in the colony. The engineers wanted to call it Vulcan’s Forge, but now we all just call it Vulcan. They say the next workshop will be Romulus. We’ll see.

So: to make glass you need two things only: one part sand, and what they call “flux” which is some kind of carbonate. 

The sand part, this is easy. For the flux, Ida said, we could recycle our old CO2 scrubbers. New, these are made from lithium hydroxide, but they turn into lithium carbonate after use.

She announced the plan at dinner. Hanzou said we could make glass stones for a game of go, and Ida said Martian Glass, that’s a souvenir the colony could sell for big money back on Earth, and then Aurore said we could make glass plates and bowls because nobody with a soul wants to eat off plastic. 

But John Alvez said no. John always sees what could go wrong. He said, what if Mission 4, there is some disaster, it crashes or something and there are no new scrubbers coming. Then we will need to recycle these ones. And then Alex said if Mission 4 crashed we were going to have bigger problems, and John said not being able to breathe is a pretty big problem.

Also John said if he had a soul it would have died from eating meatpaste from a tube for five years. But Mithi said Ida could go ahead as long as she got her scheduled work done first and Mithi is the mission commander so that was that.

The first time we tried the glass came out lumpy and full of bubbles. Also green and you couldn’t see through it. Alex said it was green because of all the iron in the sand but he had an idea about that and also if we wanted to see through the glass we would need borax and he had an idea about that, too. 

Before he was an astronaut, Alex was a chemist for a mining company. Of all of us, Alex and Ida are the ones who leave the camp the most. Ida takes any excuse to drive, but Alex is always out looking for ice or minerals or… well, the rest is his business. 

But two days later he came back from a trip with borax or actually tincalconite, which is borax that has dried up. It is very dry on Mars. So many nights I dream it is raining here as it used to do in winter in Bremerhaven, but when I wake up it is always dry, dry.

So Ida tried the special sand and the tincalconite and this time the glass was like pale gold and you could see through it. We took it outside and looked at the world, which turned gold, and turned us gold, too, so in our spacesuits we looked like angels, or aliens. A special nice thing we didn’t know would happen: it is more protective against UV than Earth glass. I think this is maybe because of all the iron in the sand, but Alex said maybe Mars knows what we need and is trying to help us. I don’t think this is true, but it is a nice idea.

With some help from Mithi, Alex also found a new mix of ‘martian adobe’ (this is a kind of concrete actually, made with sulphur and Martian soil). The adobe could hold a pane of glass for my vegetable frame snug, but not too tight like the lead they used to hold the first stained glass windows in Augsburg Cathedral more than four hundred years before Galileo made his telescope and saw the moons of jupiter. So the first piece of our martian cucumber frame was a shining golden thing, like a piece of stained glass from a church window a thousand years old. 

That night I poured out the little batch of beer I had been making. We toasted that with only a computer and one nuclear reactor, Alex had pulled Mars into the Iron Age. Then we sang a very naughty Italian song and John Alvez drank as much as anyone and more than some.

The next day we went to find a spot to make a vegetable frame and found a place with good sun and left the glass there overnight to see if it would crack in the cold. The next day I was tending my beans when Ida came to say there was a miracle and I had to come see. She took me to the greenhouse spot and Alex, too, and John came because Alex was going and Aurore because she likes to help and also to make sure nobody is breaking the rules. 

The “church window” was where we had left it. It had not cracked in the cold. Instead, it was covered in strange marks and patterns. Ida said it was a sign - of what, I don’t know - and you could tell that her head was joking but her heart was not.

“It’s frost,” John Alvez said.

“I agree,” I said. “But it’s not like any frost I ever saw.” (There is not so much where John grew up in Brazil, but we had not so much money when I was a girl and the local boys used to throw rocks at our windows because we sounded funny when we talked, so in the winters we had to patch them with plastic wrap. So I know what frost on a window looks like.)

“It’s not water frost,” Aurore said. Aurore is a scientist. “Water crystals are hexagonal, but CO2 crystals are cubes, like salt.”

“See?” I told Ida. “No miracle. Just science.”

“Maybe this is how THEY talk,” Alex said. Alex likes to joke about the aliens on Mars, how they are playing with us. “We use our breath to speak - maybe they use theirs to write!”

Then Ida laughed and they bumped helmets, which we do sometimes like a kind of High Five, except for John Alves. You can hit these helmets with a sledge hammer and they won’t crack, but when Alex goes in for a head-bump you can tell John thinks it’s going to smash like an egg.

Then we looked at the frost and said what we saw, like children seeing animal shapes in the clouds. Alex said he thought it was a Martian poem of greeting. To me, it looked like strands of kelp. Aurore said it looked like carbon dioxide crystals. Aurore is quite precise. Ida said it reminded her of the Madonna and Child. John said he saw a rain of debris falling on a bunch of unprepared astronauts, but at the time I thought he was joking. At the time, it felt like we were bonding, yes? We were here in this place, Mars, and we were sharing something nobody on Earth would ever see and that made us close. 

Which was why it felt so bad the next day when I went back and found our glass broken. Not cracked - smashed. I could see the rock someone had thrown through it. 

Now everyone says they don’t know what happened - but someone is lying, of course. I went to John to talk about it and he brushed me off. “Things break, Holzer.” When he first got to Mars he called everyone by their last names, like he did in the Air Force. Now he has loosened up, but when he calls me Holzer it means I should shut up, toe the line, act like a soldier. “It’s just a piece of glass,” he says, ”we have other things to worry about.”

Yes, so, there are always other things to worry about. This is Mars. But is there anything more important?

It’s not just the meanness. It’s the lie. Hanzou, he’s the other botanist, we talk in the greenhouses. He says there are only a few of us, we depend on one another so much, we need to get along. He says I should let a little thing like this go.

To me, it is the opposite. My life depends on eleven other people. How can I trust them if they can’t be honest about something like this?  

I think we need to find out who broke the glass and hold them accountable.

Am I wrong?

End of Patricia’s Mars diary

Wow. There is a lot to chew on there, folks. What do you all think? Is Patricia right to want to get to the bottom of this? Or is it more like one of those things where your little brother is being a brat but going full witch hunt just makes everything worse?

I know I have my opinion, but I really wanna hear YOUR opinion. So, after our break, and our word from our sponsors, and our Martian weather report, we'll be back to talk about what we think. Who do you think is in the wrong? Should Patricia just let it go. Let's talk about it!

Commercial break

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To become self-sustaining, Mars will need new inventive ways to find raw resources and turn them into the building blocks of mankind’s next home. Engineers trained at ISA-Vulcan will lead that charge.

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Weather report

And now, for the weather!

Notable last week was a small cluster of seismic events with a big shock at almost 3.1 on the Richter scale centered 380 kilometers away from Mars base, followed by a scatter of smaller Mars quakes. No damage to the base, but an engineer on a scouting expedition did report the emergence of a new sinkhole about 15 kilometers from the base. It's unknown whether this was related to the seismic activity or not.

Next week models predict nighttime lows around 70 degrees below zero Celsius with daytime atmospheric temperatures around minus 35. Although ground temperatures in the sun may approach minus 5 to 10. 

Q&A

All right, well, that was our weather report for the week, which was very exciting, I'm glad to hear that things are looking a little bit warmer for our astronauts. But I think it's time that we hop into talking about our letter from our astronaut this week!

I really loved getting to share that with you all. I hope you guys enjoyed this story. I, uh, I don't know, I'm so torn. I don't know how you all feel about this. I think I side with Patricia. I don't want to, like, I don't wanna be too negative, and I don't want to assume the worst, but it does feel like it's important for someone to take accountability, right?

Do you feel like someone should really step up and say, “Hey, I put a hole through this pane of glass”? I feel like they really can't move forward until they have that sort of understanding of, you know, what the situation was.

But what do you all think? Are you guys feeling like they should just let it go? I can understand if you are agreeing with John Alves in terms of, you know, maybe there are more important things to deal with currently on Mars. If you have any thoughts, you're welcome to share them! If you just comment in #ISA-comms, all you have to do is forward slash ask and then send a message, and then I'll be able to read it, see how you're feeling.

I do see that there's something weird going on in #ISA-comms, though. I don't really know what's happening. It looks like some kind of message, but I– I'm not sure. Maybe you guys can figure out what the messages are saying? I'm not so sure I can figure it out. I certainly won't be able to figure it out while we're live together.

Oh, I'm very interested to see what they're saying, though. I– I wonder if… I wonder if there's a way for someone to maybe, like, take the blame for the shattered pane of glass. Like, even if John Alves didn't do it, which it kind of sounds like he might have, if he even stepped forward and just said, “Hey, this was something that I did” and took the blame, maybe it would help to patch the, kind of, broken hole, literally broken hole. I'm not sure though. I'm curious to hear your guys' thoughts.

It's a little bit hard, I think, to– to pass blame, maybe on, uh, who is in charge or who is, uh, responsible for this?

Um, oh, I do actually– Sorry, while I'm looking at the #ISA-comms channel, Minnie - looks like, maybe - is figuring out what the messages are, which is amazing, cause that will be huge if we can figure out what those messages are.

You have a decoder? I think… Wow. It's cool to see you writing back! Hopefully the, uh, whoever's writing to you is understanding what you're writing back to them. If you have a link to a decoder, I'd probably take one of those too. Maybe you can figure some things out.

Oh, I'm so– I'm so intrigued! If I wasn't running a radio show, I would be right there with you, trying to figure out the messages!

[Emma laughs] “Should I though? I like the suspense,” well, that's up to you. You don't have to tell me if you don't want to tell me, but it is fascinating that you're figuring it out! Hopefully figuring it out, I don't– I don't know if you're figuring it out or not. It sure looks like you are! The suspense is nice though. I- I-- I understand, and I appreciate that. Always a good little bit of suspense thrown in there.

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