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The First Colonist on Mars: Courtesy of the Mars Historical Society

Introduction

The fanfare when the Mars Colonist Project was originally announced nearly drowned out the dissenting voices. People from across Earth and from a wide range of social backgrounds praised the program, and if the thousands who applied to be the first colonist on Mars were any indication, it had the unflagging support of many who were willing to put their lives on the line in order to advance the worthy cause of human achievement.

Those who spoke against the project were a diverse group. They included psychologists and parents, scientists who questioned the wisdom of the venture, and celebrities using the project as a platform for poorly thought-out grandstanding. Children and state leaders, as well as many people in the public, invented stories of overwhelming loneliness. Internet soldiers dreamed of what they could do if they were but transported to the planet, although their gaming background did little to prepare them for a life of physical activity. Adventurers doubted a human's ability to survive the privation and grueling labour, and their applications and interviews for the trip, that are now preserved in the Errores Archive in the capitol, show equal parts envy and awe.

Somehow, out of the thousands, the selection committee picked one applicant who they claimed had the physical and mental stamina, the diverse set of skills, the flexibility, and the self-reliance that would be needed if he were to survive alone on a planet millions of kilometres from everyone he knew.

As the NASA files were declassified after the twenty-five year mark, our researchers on Earth discovered that Errores was chosen as much for his flaws as his strengths. His reclusiveness, which has been remarked upon in many other studies--especially James Merron's landmark biography, Jack Errores, a Retrospective--was apparently seen as his main strength.

The many space agencies involved in the Mars Colonist Project had their own agendas, probes to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn just to name a notorious few, and they viewed the Mars initiative as a result of short-lived media frenzy. They denied that any real data might derive from the project, and as a result, it was chronically underfunded. We know now that there was scarcely enough money to send Errores to Mars let alone another, so they chose a fatalistically inclined man who was resigned to his lot, and whose scientific background was that of a generalist rather than a specialist.

They encouraged the public to believe that if Errores could survive alone for the years it would take to raise enough interest in the project to send more people, then funding would be forthcoming. The following year various world leaders made financing for three colonists a key element of their campaign promises, and one can't help but wonder if they would have kept those promises if economic circumstances had been different. Few could have foreseen the fallow world economy which meant cuts were made to the entire program.

The initial budget called for a yearly supply ship, and the publically-supported World Builder Corp had earmarked money for that purpose. The insider trading which plagued their stock dealings meant the death of the company, but the final blow was the growing public awareness, with the return of the Derian habitat, that World Builder was sending recruits to their death.

In short, bad faith on the behalf of the space agencies who were already jockeying for funding for their pet projects, the public's loss of interest in the mission, politicians making short-term bargains, and the deterioration of World Builder's leadership, meant Errores did not even receive his supply ship the following year. The supplies, according to the original manifests from World Builder, were enough to last a Martian year, or two Earth years, but no one remains of the leadership of the corporation who can prove they were written in good faith or that the cargo was actually placed aboard the ship.

In effect, Errores' food would have run out in just under two years, and so that no one would be privy to his abandonment, NASA and JAXA claimed to have lost his signal. How they came to that agreement, and encouraged the Russian agency Roscosmos, and ESA to join them in their devilish pact, could easily be a study of its own. Although historians interested in the Brave Fifteen have investigated some of their background, there is no full-length study at this time of the earlier attempt at colonization. Those who withdrew support from the Mars Colonist Project were eager enough to declaim the entire business when Errores was abandoned, and they cheered when the signal from the satellite was cut. Others, however, strove to build a ground-based receiver or released cube sats in low-Earth orbit in an effort to hack his radio waves from the background noise.

In hindsight, Errores' daily postings are all the more poignant as we realize that those who knew of his abandonment could never have foreseen how versatile he would prove to be once he was left to his own devices. He records how he waited for a ship which would never arrive, how he received no word from Earth despite his increasingly frantic requests, and perhaps inadvertently, his prose exposes his growing mental instability. Despite those pressures, he kept writing about his adventures, and even as they became increasingly fantastical, his personality continued to shine through. Because of his dedication, we have a record of survival that humanity has rarely witnessed. From one hundred million kilometres away, more isolated than any human being has ever been, even though unheard, Errores kept his connection to human thought and concerns. Even those who spoke against the project must admit, that for all his flaws, he was the correct choice after all.

In the interest of a belatedly full disclosure, now, on the eve of learning the history of the Fifteen Colonists in the second attempt to establish a human presence on Mars, we release for the first time the remainder of Jack Errores' journal entries-if that's what they are-the direct words of the first person to live on Mars. In the past various bowdlerized versions have been produced, and his story has been subjected to an entertaining if scientifically unreliable film, although that is perhaps in keeping with his devotion to the imaginings of early literature which painted Mars as a planet of fantasy.

Although now Mars boasts over fifty thousand colonists, at least half of whom were born here, Errores was the first to endure such adversity, such grueling hardship, and did so with the grace we had learned to expect from him. That he may have ultimately failed in his attempt to survive on the Martian surface is not a comment on his abilities or determination, but rather is a lesson to us all, most especially, perhaps, the agencies that sent him so far away with so few provisions and expected so much.

 

Jack Errores' Official Profile, courtesy of NASA Digital Records

I feel lucky to be selected for this one-way mission of a lifetime. Every day of the six months in my tiny tin can trying to keep up my bone density, I will be grateful to be the one chosen to represent all humanity on another planet. I am Irish, Cree, French, Ukrainian, Spanish and Moroccan. I am you all. I will update this blog as long as I can, as long as I have food or can produce my own. Thank-you for your trust.

Errores' real profile was much more detailed, and is shown here for the first time. Courtesy of NASA Digital Records.

I was forced to sign my public NASA profile into being, but it doesn't really represent me, other than my genetic background. Even that was based more on DNA analysis when I was selected for the mission than anything I knew about my family tree. Now that I am underway, and the moon shines off the starboard bow, I feel like I can tell the truth about my background and reasons for being here. The program doesn't have the funding to abort, even if it weren't too late, so I can say what I want--short of trade secrets and insults, I guess. Likely my reports will be censored anyway, in the event that I go off the rails and say something I shouldn't.

I was born late to relatively ineffectual parents. I remember my father as a smell of weekend cigars while my mother cycled through selves she would like to be, each one of them easily located in publications meant for unemployed women. I grew up somewhere between the smell of burning tobacco and panty advertisements in the glossy back pages of ephemeral women's magazines.

As an only child, I should have had an excruciating amount of attention focused on me. I should have been overwhelmed by the throbbing of helicopter parents, and benefited from educational opportunities that others could not afford. Instead, I was largely left to my own devices. Our house abounded with books that I avidly read, especially the science fiction of the masters who could not imagine a future where men did not smoke in spacesuits and women were doing something beyond assisting in a kitchen.

Soon I was setting off gunpowder in the back yard, using the passing trains to press coins into wafer-thin washers, and collecting lost feathers from wild birds to make my own pillows. I discovered how a parachute worked by learning that my homemade version made from sheets didn't, and when I was forced to dissect a frog, I made a robotic version draped in cast-off frog skin that terrified the biology teacher into nervous collapse and early retirement.

I never imagined humans settling on another planet in my lifetime, probably because I grew up watching the space shuttle go back and forth to the international space station carrying people and garbage. Rather than the most complex machine ever made by human beings, the shuttle was a clumsy bus whose slight dim driver had only memorized one route. I was born too late to recall when the race to the moon was accomplished in under ten years, although like many I pored over the footage from the historic occasion when Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong bounced around on the lunar surface. Their buoyancy was ours, I was convinced through my childhood, and I knew that shortly we'd be settling the moons of Jupiter and living comfortably in huge habitats on Mars.

School for me was largely a solitary enterprise, where I read and spent my time in the library being protected by a wonderful librarian named Karen. She made sure the bullies were kept from the door, even the teachers who had little patience for a student who was interested in learning. I had few friends, although when I became interested in the effect of catnip on humans I cultivated some of my classmates who were regular marijuana smokers. The experiments proved to be fruitless. I had forgotten the most important aspect of human psychology, that even if people are able to discern their own thoughts and feelings, they are liable to lie about it. My subjects began to sway in a drug or ego-induced stupor and complain of the light-headedness I had read to look for, but I had no way of confirming whether the cat's treat had affected their nervous system or they were exaggerating their reports for dramatic effect. Soon I was alone with my experiments again, and although I never mentioned what I'd done to my peers, now that I am writing it out I harbour a secret fantasy that some of them will remember the dry dusty plant I said would get them stoned. It was wicked, I suppose, to experiment on my fellow classmates as if I were following the path of the Nazi Mengele, the James Bay Survey, and Tuskegee, but I was a child and knew not what I did, to paraphrase another great tinkerer.

When I graduated from high school I was the only child whose name the principal couldn't pronounce when he handed me my diploma, but that mattered little at university where I met foreign students and others with whom I had a natural affinity. Some of my fellows went immediately into the workforce, and they crowed about their success when I saw them over summer vacations, their backs bowed already under their boss' profit and their hands and temperament roughened.

Studying astrophysics and chemistry, at first avidly and then later merely dabbling, I continued my reclusive habits. While parties raged around me, I sat in the labs and libraries with foreign students, like them believing the fever of youth would all too soon turn to the speedy expenditure of middle age and then the dotage which meant that I would not have time to answer all my questions. We would leave the university late at night on the final bus, our noses buried in books to the last, and while the drunken revelers reeled home we were setting aside a textbook and falling into the well-earned sleep of the mentally exhausted.

Although ultimately I managed to do very well through my degrees, when I started I was not assured of success. I learned of the existence of the university library and that was almost my undoing. I took out hundreds of books, until I had a revolving collection of two hundred--the most they would lend at a time to one student--and even if none of them were on my stated topics, I read around the clock about what humans had thought and pondered. If anyone had asked me, I could have told them that I imagined the rest of my life in a lab investigating a small aspect of some huge question in a field of study that likely I would not have been able to command. Instead, a call went out for Mars colonists, and my colleagues' idea of a joke--I can admit this now that I am already on my way--verged on the cruel.

I would not have applied to the venture myself. I thought the odds resembled those of lottery tickets and true love. I wasn't even sure, in those early days of hype and scatter-plot excitement, that I would go even if I were offered a seat. I could name several astrobiologists whose names I was sure would top the list, and there were astronomers, planetary geologists, and specialists in one field or another who had studied Mars for years. I should have been the last one on the list, rather like choosing players for sports teams in school.

When I was selected, however, I experienced a change of heart. To the chagrin of those who had clandestinely signed the application forms, I began to study what information I needed for the interview. Some two thousand candidates were made to sit examinations, and although we were told that the psychological evaluations would come later, I was attentive enough in my psychology classes to realize the so-called intelligence tests were really designed to evaluate attitude. Now that I am outside the Van Allen belt, and subject to the first hard radiation in my life other than X-rays, I can admit that school taught me to game intelligence tests. I've always had a knack for guessing what the examiner wished to know, and that stood me in good stead for the initial rounds of tests.

The next sessions were labeled as training, but it didn't take a genius to realize that forty people training for one position meant that we were still under scrutiny. I could have faked social ability and been the life of the party, especially amongst such a group of academics and colonist wannabes, but I thought continuing to be a recluse was a better strategy. In fact, it was refreshing to withdraw into my real self, and I spent my time studying geology and the conjectural science of astrobiology. Even on the basis of nothing, those in the field of astrobiology publish hundreds of articles a year; I found such optimism refreshing and I was behind on my reading.

Although some of the other candidates sneered when I begged off ice-breaking exercises to read and work on the weight machines and treadmill, I knew I would have the last laugh. They mistook the intention of what was called training. They didn't realize that their social skills disqualified them for Mars. They had risen to the top of every other profession they had tried and had trotted out the same tired false exuberance that meant success in the past, but that would boot little when they were trapped for six months in the confines of a spacecraft.

I wasn't surprised when I was amongst the last dozen. The man who said he'd never had sex seemed like a bad risk, the woman who wanted to bring god to Mars, unstable, and the old man who wanted to show the world his importance was no better than the woman who had tired of Earth society and wanted to start a new world. My competitors had been sincere and intelligent people, but they didn't realize that their very proficiency was a risk to their ability to survive. The survivor is one who approaches problems holistically, whose ideas are not confined by a specific field of study.

Before long we were down to ten people, and the media was interviewing us individually. I made no attempt to win people over, since they would not be the ones making the decision. Instead, I spent my time building muscle mass that I was sure to lose on the six-month passage, and perfecting the training and safety exercises which increased in frequency until they were thrice daily. I joked with my fellow candidates, but I could see the fear in their eyes at my nonchalance. I did what I wanted instead of what was expected, and although when that was claimed as a clever strategy I accepted the compliment, I had no more choice than a dog next to a fire hydrant.

Once we were down to eight candidates, the media went into a feeding frenzy. International attention circled us, coming in close for the occasional bite and then drifting out to circle some more. They followed everything we did, our diet, the amount of time spent bulking up, and what we read. Our casual statements about the weather or our feelings became quoted thousands of times online, and Shelly, who likely knew she would not be chosen, made good use of the platform. She's an anchor of space news now, and I see her face more than I did when we were housed together in the test habitat in Antarctica.

Once we were five, major gaming establishments laid odds on who would win. Ironically, Win was the first to drop out, after a death in the family forced her to assume their financial burden. When Olaf slipped in a hiking accident and was hobbling from a minor sprain, the narrow window we had for departure meant he was excluded as well.

I was called to be interviewed constantly, and I only relented when I had bargained the networks into a one-time payment of twenty-seven million dollars, with an option of two percent royalties. I had them deliver the twenty-seven million to three nano-technology labs located in three different countries. That caused quite a stir, especially amongst my relatives, many of whom I'd never met and some of whom I'd never heard of. One of the labs was run by a former fellow student, and I was happy to send some funding her way. I planned to do the same with the salary they had promised, and thus ensure that I made some contribution to humanity having a future even if I didn't.

The interview itself was like the candidacy test. I knew what they wanted to hear so I told them:

I like my own company. My dream is to have a quiet place to work in the lab. I only contact others through a digital connection now, so that won't change. I stay inside most of the time, so I am used to living in enclosed spaces. I like having time to read. I've had sex but I didn't like it. I look forward to showing the next colonists how to live on Mars. I plan to work hard to set up facilities for them.

I kept my doubts to myself. I had been tracking the project's funding and it didn't seem sufficient for another ship for at least a decade. The public didn't want to hear that any more than those who were judging our fitness for the project, however, and I said nothing about the slim chance that my supply ship would come at all, let alone within the stated year.

Once I was chosen for the mission and was the envy of literally millions of people, I think I absorbed a bit of their fervour. I was the first human colonist, the one chosen to take the initial leap that would lead to the stars. Abandoning their multibillion and decades-long plan to build a base on the moon as a stepping stone, NASA, JAXA and ESA sent me directly to Mars, where I would be a scout for human occupation on other planets.

I don't disparage this high calling, and I don't intend to scoff at those who would have gladly traded their fortune with mine on that crowded Earth, but I can also admit now that I never realized what it meant to step into that capsule and be fired toward the surface of another world.

 
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