We are the 18th Mars settlement crew, and—thanks to the generosity of the MacArthur Foundation—the first crew to consist entirely of artists. The existence of this mission represents Earth’s affirmation that artistic expression is at the core of the human experience.
Nearly a century ago, recorded music was included on the Voyager spacecraft so that any beings who might encounter it would understand that we are a species that makes art. Our mission represents the next stage in that journey, as we venture forth committed to using all our powers to document our experience in writing: the most substantial commitment yet to ensuring creative expression—at the highest levels—is an integral part of our space exploration program.
That documentation has already begun, with initial essays by three of our six crew members. Though we’ve demonstrated the ability to work together constructively as a crew, we’re all quite different in our approaches to writing—so you may expect a colorful array of dispatches from our small craft and, ultimately, from Mars.
That said, for my part I am choosing not to share any original poetry until we land. My method must change as my circumstances change, and I can’t imagine being comfortable with any newly composed verse until I am comfortably situated in my new home.
For the duration of these eight months, I will focus on straight reportage—not as much of a novelty to me as you might imagine, given that I’ve written innumerable letters, reports, and grant applications. To me, this feels like merely the latest edition of my monthly e-mail missive to supporters of the Press—without the request for donations (that may come later).
While Scott is correct that my logistic responsibilities are few, I do take them very seriously—as do I take my symbolic responsibility as the first among equals, the spokesperson for our small band of interplanetary literary explorers.
Among our number there is a professor of English literature, author of one of his generation’s most acclaimed novels; a penetrating essayist whose audience has expanded rapidly in recent years; a graphic zine artist who brings a unique do-it-yourself aesthetic and an important voice; a fiction writer who specializes in reimagining characters and situations created by her peers and predecessors; and a young prodigy who is as capable in science and mathematics as he is in writing.
Free expression is our mandate, and our privilege, as we traverse the finite yet almost incomprehensible distance between Earth and its planetary neighbor. There will doubtless be dashes of humor in addition to meditations on the profoundest of subjects.
Please know that in the mere act of reading these dispatches, you support our historic mission. If you find them of interest, please consider sharing them with others. While we’ve been pleased to have widespread attention and support, in today’s hectic media landscape there’s always something new to turn one’s attention to, and I know I’m not alone in fearing that we may drop off the radar, so to speak, as we slip away from our native planet.
One’s mind cannot help but reel as one contemplates the vast void surrounding our tiny craft, which we have chosen to name the Ibn Battutah in honor of the 14th century Arab explorer who was perhaps the first travel writer in the sense we understand that practice today.
We were pleased to discover that the most prominent previous vessel bearing that name was an early 21st-century dredger (pictured above) from the tiny, landlocked nation of Luxembourg. We can only hope that our craft shares its namesake’s qualities of workmanlike efficiency and merry absurdity. Let the journey begin!
Photo: Ibn Battuta, via Facebook