“Some stories only make sense in retrospect, the looking back giving foundation to where we now stand. This is the first of what will hopefully be a series of essays to describe the path from a Good Sam’s campground in 2011 to in some way, helping develop the first community on Mars.” –kai

It starts long ago, beneath a stair case in the basement of our family home in Columbus, Nebraska. Friend Jason Zach and I covered the underside of the stairs with plywood, cardboard, a dead monochrome CRT, and myriad electronic components, wires that stimulated Radio Shack switches, piezoelectric sirens, and LEDs and wires that went nowhere. In that spacecraft, we journeyed across the galaxy, venturing to the shores of distant planets whose inhabitants had never before seen humans. Jason was an expert marksman, never afraid to attack. I was keenly interested in obtaining samples, studying the cultures, and welcomed Jason to cover my back.

Many years later, while camped at a Good Sam’s, in Seabrook, New Hampshire on August 2011, I returned to that child-like sense of belonging to a distant place and time. As described, I believed I gained some insight as to how isolated communities might evolve on space stations, Mars and asteroid outposts, even among the stars.

Later that same year, I returned to Holden Village, an isolated village in the Cascades of Washington State. In those months late in the year, the retreat of summer saw the last of the guests depart down the sixteen miles to Lake Chelan. Those of us who remained, counted by dozens, shifted our daily routine from that of a more finite task to general support of the village. Files had to be stoked in order to heat the buildings, snow shoveled, and the water driving the hydro-electric generator kept from freezing, else the electricity would fail.

In those crisp, cold, mostly dark winter days that followed, Holden was a true Village. While a hierarchy of command remained, we became more egalitarian, sharing in the responsibilities of maintenance, even survival should a heavy snow storm bury the pathways and building exits or make impossible a medical evacuation. It was then that my interest in village (communal) living was again stimulated, and the journey to Mars re-ignited.

For five months in 2012 I worked as a photo journalist and documentary filmmaker in Palestine, where a sense of isolation from the world was applied not a mountain village, but the confines of geopolitical boundary that has the power to contain people from birth to death. I witnessed first-hand how the skilled craftsmen and capable artisans were the backbone of an economy of trade and negotiation in place of the familiar currencies of exchange. I learned how much individuals depend upon each other, especially in the challenging times.

I was building a sense of what it meant to live with the challenge of an isolated environment.

On an isolated ranch in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado in 2013, I lived for six months—up to six weeks without face-to-face contact with another human being. In those months I gained from the challenge and ultimate reward of true isolation; a chance to discover who I am without the influence of others, without opportunity to attribute my success nor place blame on the actions of others.

In 2014 I joined MarsCrew134 at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) as the seventh member of an isolated, Mars analog crew. We lived for two weeks in the confines of a simulated Mars lander, a two-story vehicle just large enough to contain individual sleeping quarters, two airlocks, kitchen and crew commons, toilet and shower, lab, and minimal storage. We departed the structure only while wearing a spacesuit, the visor scratched and needing replacement; the radios dodgy at best. The crew came from six countries, representing seven nationalities and more than a dozen languages spoken. It was not always easy, and at times far from fun, but we made the best of those two weeks, focused on our research, data collection, and surviving the simulation. We came away friends for a life-time, even now traveling far to see each other again.

It was then that I became invested in a study of village life. In part because I realized that is where I felt most at home; in part because at least for the first generation, that is how humans will once again live when we finally place boots on Mars.

This week I submitted a proposal to the Interplanetary Initiative at Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) for the research and development of a mathematical model of a scalable, isolated model of an off-world community (SIMOC).

Now we wait …