Like Yousef, I have had a love affair with the Utah desert. I’m jumping on the blog post wagon (even though I haven’t actually left yet for this year’s adventures) because Yousef’s last post totally struck a chord with me.

It has been just about five months since I was last in Utah. Canyon country is, for me, even more than a humbling, stunning wilderness. It’s Mars on Earth. I spent my winter break out there, living in a 24-foot-wide cylinder–half landing pod, half glorified tin can–as a crew member at the Mars Desert Research Station. read about it here | see photos here

Buzz Aldrin famously said about the moon: “Beautiful, beautiful! Magnificent desolation.”

Desolation. That’s what excites me. I’m interested in things that might be living in places we once thought inhabitable … including Mars. Astrobiologists study the prospects for and origins of life throughout the universe. Here on Earth, we study the life in extreme environments because those terrains are the most like extraterrestrial environments. By studying what thrives in very cold or very dry areas on Earth, we gain insight into what might be necessary for life elsewhere in the solar system, where it’s even more difficult (by our standards, anyway) to survive.

My interest in astrobiology (along with a desire to wear a spacesuit and cavort around the canyons on ATVs with other space geeks) is what brought me to the Mars Desert Research Station last December. In the next eight months, my passion for studying life at all ends of the Earth will take me on a series of adventures from the Arctic to the Antarctic. In store for me: drunken parties with NASA scientists, nearly two months without a sunset, penguins, glaciers, pirate ships, icebreaker ships, lots of Dramamine.

T-minus two and a half weeks.

Ready as hell and counting down,

Zena Cardman

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