Space Cowboys and Frontierswomen

If you grew up in the 1960s and ’70s, you are forgiven for thinking that we would all be living in space ships by now, eating vitamin pills instead of actual food, and communicating using only our minds. We had it on good authority (after-school television) that each home would have its own robot named Rosie who would make our bed, and then presto-change-o get us dressed in snappy, super-modern space clothes, and wryly solve our families’ problems.

Or, you may have been expecting a robot named Robot, who sees danger everywhere and has an odd attachment to scheming, middle-aged whining men and young boys named Will.Toy robot buddies over white background © Carsten Reisinger - Fotolia

A few of us eschewed dreams of living in outer space and went with the stranded-on-an-island-after-a-3-hour-tour approach to life. I was probably in that group. On the island I would at least have bona fide food to eat, even if it was just fish and coconuts every day. I doubt that I’d have been stuck on the island for too long, though. Boredom is a powerful impetus to problem solving and I think I could figure out how to get off the island. Plus, I’m a good swimmer.

A while back I got to thinking about those old episodes of “Lost in Space” while listening to an All Things Considered program replayed on National Public Radio about a candidate for a one-way trip to create a permanent settlement on Mars. As much fun as the adventures that Will Robinson got into seemed, I had zero interest in heading space-ward. It looked gray and either monotonous or dangerous, depending on whether Dr. Smith was acting demented or sane that episode and worse, the food looked bland. Bad food is not something I’m willing to organize my life around. You might remember that the food is one of my main reasons for staying out of prison.

Heidi, the woman interviewed on All Things Considered, has had a life-long dream of traveling to Mars, despite the food and the problem of it being a one-way trip. When she was 8 years old, she told her parents that she planned to be an astronaut and go to Mars. I wonder how that conversation went? I was 6 when I told my parents they’d better not plan on having any grandchildren through me because I was never having kids. Ever. Like normal parents, they chose not to believe me, and I have a feeling the future Mars settler’s folks didn’t believe her either. My parents got the drift of my plan eventually when I continued to eat only for one and never bought a single stick of baby furniture. No word on how long it took Heidi’s folks to realize she would hang on to her aspirations long after she turned 9.

rocketship taking off

Personally, I think Heidi is out of her damn mind to go to Mars, but I entirely understand her desire. I assume she and the other future Mars residents are smart, interesting people who are probably real hoots at a party, if their facebook page is an indicator. If it weren’t for explorers like her, willing to risk deprivation and loneliness and true danger, much of the world and the universe itself might remain undiscovered. And while you could argue the merits of keeping places undiscovered, that pioneering spirit is a big part of being human. From those frontiersfolk on the Oregon Trail to the nomads of the Sahara and sailors on the high seas, there are human beings for whom the concept of home means something different than it does for a large majority of other human beings. For them, home is somewhere yet to be discovered.

I am firmly in that camp and like to think I’d have signed up to be a frontierswoman heading west across America in a wagon train if I had lived in the mid-1800s. It must have been hellish work for everyone involved, but picture making the trip in a skirt and bonnet. The discomfort level goes up exponentially, I reckon. Every mile would have been punishing. The stress of keeping your children safe, finding fresh water, cooking food you have either carried for hundreds of miles and is probably full of weevils or that you shot and gutted while wearing an apron, all while searching for a spot to live in a place you’d never set eyes on before and then building a home when you got there? Those pioneers were tougher and crazier than we can imagine. Their’s was a one-way trip too, likely because who would want to make the return trip?

Heidi’s space cowboys have a lot in common with those pioneers of 200 years ago. They practice living on Mars by hanging out in a remote part of Hawaii or the Antarctic but they can’t really know for certain what to expect. They are going with hope as their primary fuel.

I could swim to there!

I could swim to there!

Recently I followed up on Heidi’s quest to catch the red eye to the red planet and discovered she did not make the cut in the latest round of selections for the trip. In her latest interview she sounds undeterred though, still hoping to get to Mars in the next group. Heidi is just 26 years old, so she is still young enough for it to be feasible. I believe we need people like Heidi, crazy as they seem, to show us that the impossible is maybe only improbable and just a lot harder than most people are willing to put up with.

Travel is like that for me. I tend to plan trips that inevitably involve tough times and tight budgets. Brian and I were talking just the other day about making a quick trip to Central America and for a minute and a half, we though it would be fun to go to a resort somewhere, lie around drinking rum or whatever was served up, and read books all day. Then we realized, once again, that boredom would eat our brains after a couple of days and we would find away to get into some sort of shenanigans. If only we had Dr. Smith to help us find some trouble, Robot to warn us before we were arrested, and Will Robinson to figure out how to get us back safely.

Barbara Gabriel

Writer. Day Stealer. Chronic Traveler. Raised along Highway 61 in Minnesota, I ran away to sea & messed about in boats. I curse like a sailor and love travel, food, most people, and a well-fitting pair of boots. I try to combine those any chance I can.


  1. I love that you are so adventurous, Barbara. I have not taken many risks in life. Wish I had traveled more when I was younger. I enjoy your blog.

  2. Or perhaps, you could maybe wait until I get around to that part of the world and we could meet in South America. I promise not to let you get bored and to maybe serve you a rum drink or two.

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