The things we carry…into space

Abby Knapp

Proponents of “living small” will appreciate our interplanetary lifestyle. We each have a “room” barely big enough to fit our own bodies in, and we were each allowed one carry-on when boarding the Ibn Battutah. Just one. On the up-side, all luggage fees have been paid by the MacArthur Foundation.

A few days in, we had a show-and-tell session where each of us revealed what it was we chose to bring. We’d discussed our choices extensively before take-off, but for lack of anything more compelling to do out here in the void, we opened our suitcases (standard issue) and each displayed at least some of their contents.

Interestingly, each of us brought at least one book. It seems like a waste of weight to launch hard copies into orbit, but we’re all writers, and we all turn out to have physical books that are important to us. I brought a signed Housekeeping first edition that I bought in Iowa. Rona brought a Clive Irwin poetry book, the first book her press ever published. Amber has her favorite issue of the Stars & Bleeding Hearts comic.

We also each brought at least one piece of clothing. I brought my favorite sweater. Emma brought lingerie—she doesn’t like the government-issued underwear. Scott brought a scarf. Apparently clothes are brought very commonly, and there’s practically a thrift store’s worth at the colony already. One colonist is trying to crowd-fund her own clothing line using synthetic fabrics, although there’s no immediate prospect of anything other than Martian crust samples being shipped back to Earth.

Luke actually brought less than his allotment would have allowed: a physics reference book, seven copies of his favorite hat, and something he says his mom asked him to bring that he doesn’t want to share with us.

Rona brought a piece of Earth: specifically, a rock. She says she deliberately didn’t try to choose a special rock. She walked down to the bank of the Mississippi River and picked up the first hand-size rock she noticed. Choosing a rock that looked unusual or that had special value, she said, would just have reminded her of humans’ problematic relationship to their home planet.

I chose my belongings—the bag of items that now, for all practical purposes, are my only belongings in the world—by process of elimination. I piled all the things I thought I might want to bring into a heap on the living room floor, and one by one I removed the least essential items. When I was left with enough to fit into my bag under the 20-pound limit, I packed it up.

It was liberating to free myself of all the detritus that seemed so essential to my life for 30 years. I don’t need keys any more, or a phone, or a wallet or a purse. I don’t need furniture. I don’t need jewelry. I could have brought some—Rona and Amber and Emma did—but there will never again be an expectation that I’ll have a necklace or earrings to wear to an event.

Of course, we’ll find new trappings to cling to on Mars. Within a few years, we’ll be able to have almost anything on Mars that we had on Earth and that we really want. We just won’t be able to have everything, we’re told—as if, on Earth, we ever could have.

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