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We Failed

©2004 Levite

        "We failed.
        "I'm sorry. I don't know how else to put it. But, we failed. In something under twelve hours from now, those of us that are left after last week's evac flight will all board the Soyuz Two rocket and leave for Earth. Abandoning over two years of work, and three of our comrades who have died here.
        "I have to admit though, I agree with the decision. This base has never paid off in any way. Our gardens are barely more than a curiosity, the water we can bring up isn't enough to sustain us. Even our oxygen conversion never fulfilled its promise. We still import almost everything we eat or drink, or even breathe.
        "But still I'm sad about the whole thing. To admit failure and go home just rubs me the wrong way."

        "We're leaving a fairly large base here on Mars, and we're leaving it intact in hopes that we'll be back. That is, that humans from Earth will be back. We've crisscrossed the Amazonis Planitia flats with roads and wells and shelters. There's a mine shaft into the cliffs near here. I've made several ascents of Olympus Mons and left instruments as well as mementos on its summit. And I've been told that the new space telescope can actually see our base from Earth orbit. There is no denying we've made a lasting impression on the planet.
        "And the planet has made a lasting impression on us.
        "Mike and Charles were killed in a rockslide while exploring a canyon in the Tharsis volcano field. Old George overextended himself building the containment levy around the water seep we named for him and died of a heart attack before we could get him back here. I call him 'old George', he was older than I am by exactly one year.
        "This location has everything we wanted. Active water seeps from the plateau, its close to some of the more interesting features. It's easy to find from orbit, and we're within a few degrees of the equator so we get the best daylight. But even the best daylight wasn't enough. Our plants needed more sun, so we had to use grow lights, which needed electricity, which drove up our energy budget, and so on. The same was true of our oxygen capturing system. There is oxygen in the atmosphere, but getting it out of the air proved almost not worth the effort. Our concentrators would run themselves to death pumping the thin air through and not get enough O out of it to really do any good.
        "Now I look back to the years of planning and testing and see the problem. In the projections it was always said that we could produce a range of whatever it was, water or breathable air or whatever. And the expectations were always toward the middle of the range, the maximum was seen as 'in perfect conditions' and everybody admitted we were unlikely find perfect conditions on Mars. Well, in reality, we've only been able to meet the minimum of that range most of the time. Mars just didn't cooperate. Far from perfect, what we've been working with has been just slightly above their projected worst case scenarios.
        "In short, we worked like devils to make a go of this base, to no end.
        "Maybe it wasn't meant to be."

        "I'm leaving a copy of the log. As well as some of our maps and directions to different things. And a warning poster that the ceiling in the left shaft of the mine almost turns to liquid during seepage. Just in case when we come back somebody wonders what there is to see and do.
        "Maybe I should warn them that during dust storms just to find a good book and wait it out. We tried to go about our business as usual, but in redout conditions there is no going outside for anything. The sand and dust can blast your suit to shreds in just a few minutes. It took us three days just to dig our rovers out after the last one.
        "But we learned how to deal with that, and everything else as best we could."

        "Six hours to go before the launch window opens. And now Surveyor 3 is saying there's a dust storm blowing in from the North. We may have to wait it out before we can leave.
        "Mars did its best to make us leave. Now it won't let us go.
        "Rebecca said something about how we need to placate the local gods so we can make a clean break of it. I'm starting to think that's not a bad idea."

        "The wind is shaking the whole place. It's as bad as the one last year. Well, maybe not, the wind speed isn't quite as high. But it sure does seem like it.
        "I just gave the order to stand down from launch. We thought about trying it anyway, but there's too much of a chance something could go wrong. We have enough supplies for a while longer, we'll wait it out."

        "We're still waiting. If we're going tomorrow the storm has to lift in the next couple of hours, but it doesn't look good. This storm has already lasted a full sol longer than they said it would and we're itching to go.
        "But even in the waning hours of our stay here at Amazonis Base, we're still working.
        "Rebecca and Harris, I'm sorry, Doctors St. Jean and Washington have documented another small tremor under Arsia Mons. Once again Harris had to make his speech that the youngest of the Tharsis volcanoes is still settling after its last eruption forty million years ago.
        "I bit my tongue instead of reminding him what putting those seismographs on those volcanoes cost us. He knows. But he forgets. I can't.
        "His enthusiasm for Martian geology is comforting, but sometimes I wonder if he realizes he'll be able to give his class lectures in person this time next year."

        "The storm is lifting. I've given the preliminary orders to go for launch tomorrow if we can get out of here and check out the rocket sometime today.
        "Alexi assures me the Soyuz was built to withstand a lot more than a little dust. But I still want the thing inspected end to end before I strap myself in. The good news is that we left the concentrators on the pad running through the storm and now there's water and oxygen enough and to spare in the tanks for the return trip. Rationing won't be an issue."

        "Now there's bad news. The Orion supply rocket that was supposed to launch ahead of us to return the experiments and supplies we were taking back with us needs work. The storm managed to work dust into almost every opening on the thing. Alexi and I were just out there cleaning it. The others are taking their turns. We'll get it done. But we're not leaving tomorrow as scheduled.
        "I'm going to go get another cup of coffee. I'll update the log if anything happens before I go back out."

        "Doctor Betisha says it's not serious, and Staci has a sense of humor about it, so it won't delay our launch tomorrow.
        "Let me back up. Staci, I mean, Doctor Statcia Singh fell off the scaffold on the side of the Orion and fell about eight meters. Then she landed funny on the platform. She has a mildly sprained wrist and some bruises. Lucky for her we weren't on Earth, that fall there might have killed her, but here, it was like watching a slow motion replay and she walked away from it.
        "The Orion is ready to launch when the window opens in morning. So we're saying our goodbyes to Mars tonight and having a little party.
        "The forecast for tomorrow is bright pink tinted skies and no dust storms in sight.
        "Now that it looks like we can go. I'm not sure I want to. But, I will.
        "As base commander it will be me that turns the lights off in the command center and shuts the door for the last time."

        "This will be my last entry.
        "The Orion launched right on schedule and looks good so far. We'll be a few hours behind it all the way to Earth orbit.
        "All personnel are either already in the Soyuz or heading that way. Most of them are leaving something behind for the bases 'next guests'. Alexi is leaving some of his personal belongings behind because he is convinced he'll be the mission commander on the next crew that's coming here.
        "Staci is sore, but her wrist is well protected and she says it'll hurt less once we're on our way. Doctor Betisha says it'll heal just fine in zero G although she'll need physical therapy once we're on Earth to acclimate it to the higher gravity.
        "I told her we all will, and she thought that was a great idea. It'd give us a chance to spend some time together on Earth.
        "I made a note to myself to recommend her for a psychological evaluation once we're home.
        "All I've got left is my satchel. Once I call Earth Command one more time, I'm out of here and then, we're on our way.
        "End of log Mars Base Amazonis Planitia.
        "Andů ahhh. Amen."

        "I don't believe it. Now they want us to stop off at Lunar One.
        "I asked command why the detour. They said something about decontamination and made some other excuses. I think its politics. But the Moon is a lot closer to home than we are now, so OK. We'll do it their way, not like I have any choice.
        "I guess it just figures. We get all ready to go, then something changes.
        "Alexi is warming up the fuel pumps. I'm going.
        "Goodbye Mars."


[Editor's note: This story is Fiction. No representation of persons or places, real, dead, or alive, is intended.]
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