Unearthing: A Story Based on Port of Mars

Updated: May 23

by Patrick Rivers

Note: This is a work of fiction. This science fiction artefact was created by Patrick Rivers under the eLearning in Space pilot project of the Interplanetary Initiative at Arizona State University. The stories will also be featured in a simulated Mars habitat on a "SolarSPELL" device by the 5 Senses in Space team of the Interplanetary Initiative at ASU. These accounts describe the formal and informal learning experiences of interplanetary settlers, and give us insight into what resources, methodologies, and delivery systems will be needed in an interplanetary future.


Unearthing is the first significant artifact on the Port of Mars, the first established settlement on Mars. This log details the day-to-day (or on Mars, "sol-to-sol") activity in the Research Wing and the settlers’ learning habits.

The journal is written from the perspective of Olympia Lebedev during Project Substratum, which improved the Port’s structure leading to its further expansion. She is a Russian environmentalist, chemist, and physicist who has been living on the Port for 8 years. Olympia, along with the rest of the settlement, is part of Generation Zero, the name given to the first thousand “non-astronaut” settlers on Mars.

The journal also details the lives of four other settlers who were frequent users of the Research Wing and its Martian SolarSPELLS, which stores information ranging from emergency situation protocol to music theory. Kyla Gusto, Xingyu Chen, Rodrigo Pedro, and Edison Gulzar are all featured in the journal for their educational habits and their assistance in Olympia’s observation.

Ares Corporation, the company responsible for developing the Port, requested the analysis of the Research Wing in order to properly understand the learning habits of the settlers. What makes Olympia’s journal more unique is the personal observation she brings, with both Project Substratum as well as other observations and ideas she states in her entries. Unearthing laid the foundation for future research and development in Martian education and future settlers have Olympia to thank for her achievement.

This Journal and Its Discoveries Were Achieved For

We Thank and Honor Olympia Lebedev For This Piece of Martian History

Note from the Translator: If something is typed in [brackets], it was not written by Olympia but added during the translation for smoother reading.

Earth Year of Port of Mars Establishment: 2049

Olympia Lebedev’s Personal Log (Translated from Russian)

Earth Date: September 9, 2057

End of Week 1 of Project Substratum

Project Substratum has been long overdue. Despite another 50 travelers arriving earlier this year, we still have not expanded the Port since Y4 [Year 4 since the Establishment of Port of Mars in 2049], which is only half the size of the Valles. The tasks of collecting information about the red planet, as well as constant system repair, detract from setting expansion as a priority. This past week, I began researching solutions to make the Port safer and more secure with its structure.

While everyone continues learning repairs and EVA training, I believe that medical, agricultural, and environmental studies are just as important. When the system's health varies so much from sol to sol and 5 to 10 technicians are on call, it’s frustrating for someone like me, who was really excited about the expansion of this new world. The approval of Project Substratum has reignited my passion, so I am excited to truly leave an impact on this civilization and perhaps even lead the way into the expansion of the Mars settlement.

This is the first time I’ve spent the majority of a sol in the Research Wing. Out of all the wings and rooms on the Port, I think it's where I’ve spent the least time. It’s not that I haven’t utilized the SPELLs and their information, but as one who provided a significant amount of the information held in the devices, I just use it whenever I can’t remember something rather than to learn something new.

The R-Wing design is somewhat similar to the Scientific Library of MSU [Moscow State University], except of course that it’s very compact and has far less physical literature. I decided to set up shop at the closest holo station near the exit, in case there was an emergency situation on board. I have been leading most of the repair missions up until this point after all.

It became increasingly aware that Project Substratum would not be a simple task, and it was difficult adjusting to a desk environment once again. After years of repairing and relaying information back to the Ares Corp on Earth, I think I will be less stressed in researching. The idea of exploring and continuing to traverse this incredible planet’s terrain is inspiring to me. The work it will require is no small task.

Kyla Gusto, a former senator in the States, has helped me get accustomed to the R-Wing. There’s a reason why she was the tour guide in the “Hello from Mars!” edu-vid. She has time and time again been a blessing for us scientists, as her passion for our discoveries is contagious. In fact, she is probably why I kept requesting this, despite being denied so many times.

I sometimes worry for our safety during repair missions but we’ve always had the tools to fix it and I believe there are several capable settlers on board that can also lead the missions. Additionally, Kyla knew I wanted to do more than gather materials and hand them over to the historians on board. She continually surprises me with how much information she knows about everything, despite only coming from a law background from the United States. I promised I’d leave any prejudice I had against other countries back on Earth. It’s one thing to say it while it’s another to actually mean it. All jokes aside, I truly do think the idea of a fresh start without national identity is not only beneficial for the whole team but also ideal for the start of a settlement on Mars. We are all Martians now.

I’m excited to see where the next week takes my work.


Earth Date: September 16, 2057

End of Week 2 of Project Substratum

The research is going well, with potential solutions lying in the form of radiation shielding. I’m looking into possible material that may be able to simulate the Earth’s magnetosphere, which of course is what deflects solar particles and therefore repels the radiation of space: GCR (Galactic Cosmic Rays) and SPE (Solar Particle Events). Needless to say, building something that simulates a natural occurrence on Earth will be a giant undertaking, so I decided to halt that thought and work towards a solution that is more plausible: a better material for the Port’s structure devised of natural substances found here.

On the topic of repair, it seems that the Earth-favorite Perseverance Rover is experiencing difficulties again, and it may be out of commission for good soon. Perseverance has not been used for research for many years now, but it continues traveling around the Port and scientists on Earth still check in with the rover. Speaking without any emotional attachment, Perseverance, despite its historical significance towards Mars research, especially in the 20s and early 30s, has been a symbol, rather than a utensil, years before the Port of Mars was established.

Sometimes you need a symbol to survive. Perseverance represented a new step towards the establishment of my new home. I was only 10 when I saw the landing online. It still fills me with excitement thinking about the possibility of sending something to Mars, even now as a Martian. Lots of Zeroes [slang name for individuals in Generation Zero] like to refer to Perseverance as “Old Yeller,” so I guess it was a matter of time before a shutdown was to happen. Xingyu Chen, a brilliant mechanic from Shenzhen, China, has been assigned the project that will determine the next step for Perseverance, whether it be using its parts for something new or studying how the environment of Mars has affected its structure.

When we develop a new longer-lasting material for the Port, I expect Xingyu Chen to be the first to thank me. Every time system health takes a drop, Xingyu is the first to come check it out. Despite my working relationship with them, I can’t seem to recall a time where either of us initiated any sort of conversation that didn’t start with “what’s the problem?” Maybe it has to do with the language barrier between Russian and Mandarin. Translator devices are easier to use in more casual situations rather than times of repair.

Xingyu has occupied a space near the back of the R-Wing for their research, which has a connector to the outside that is convenient for whenever they need to peer in on Old Yeller. From what I have observed, Xingyu spent most of the week interacting with the rover outside the Port rather than at their desk. Learning by experimentation it seems. Except for yestersol, where I saw them using one of the S.E. [Space Exploration] SPELLS to research the rovers of the past century. That led them down a path from learning about the history of famous space explorers from Neil Armstrong to up until recently with Diana Sarabhi. Seeing Xingyu’s curiosity grow was something to behold, I couldn’t help but momentarily stop my work to watch them. I assumed most of the Zeroes know all about the history of space travels, but that seems to not be the case. The R-Wing has been a nice change of scenery so far.

I’m excited to see where the next week takes my work, as well as Xingyu’s.


Earth Date: September 23, 2057

End of Week 3 of Project Substratum

The importance of the 3D printer cannot be overstated. They have made creating and testing potential devices and structures incredibly simple. I’ve used them countless times during my life and studies, but it still amazes me that I can develop a blueprint and give it to the printer to devise. Technology is something huh!

Rodrigo Pedro, a lead developer of the Martian SolarSPELL, has been helping me use his SPELLs to develop these test devices. We’re really lucky to have him on board. Rodrgio along with his parents are the reason why there is so much information on board and it certainly helps the whole colony’s communication by having another polyglot on board.

While he was helping me with printing prototypes, I inquired about the lingual SPELLS and the effectiveness of their programs. He responded, “tak ya vyuchil vash yazyk” [that is how I learned your language]. I don’t know why I thought up until this point Rodrigo learned all these languages from school or travels, but it would be odd for the child of the founders of the modern M.S. to not utilize their own device.

I’ve decided to use some break time along with down time during my E-wing (Exercise wing) session to start learning Mandarin. I think it's irresponsible on my end to have never had a real conversation with my neighbor Xingyu who I’ve worked so often with.

I’m excited to see what I encounter next, both in work and in observation.


Earth Date: September 30, 2057

End of Week 4 of Project Substratum

I have to admit, I did not make as much progress on Project Substratum as I had hoped. One sol this past week, I had to help with a repair in the E-wing, but my lack of progress was due to distraction. It was a welcomed distraction.. I have been researching possible Martian material for a new foundation for the expansion of the Port, but I also have been observing the R-Wing more and more. The Ares Corporation does ask all researchers in the R-Wing to document activity in the wing so technically me being distracted is part of my work. There are Zeroes that come in and out for information, ranging from how food growth works here to how to deadlift correctly. But then they are regulars such as Xingyu and the younger Zeroes who are referred to as the students on board.

I believe there are four people on board younger than 30 Earth years who all gather in the Edu-Room of the R-Wing for classes. But the youngest by far, Edison Gulzar, is always there the longest. I’m surprised it has taken me this long to notice.

Edison is the “baby-on-board,” as the other Zeroes call him. From what I know, he is from the U.K. (at least his accent is) and was one of Earth’s brightest stars, labeled the most successful young musician since Billie Eilish of the States. I don’t know what about space and Mars intrigued him and his mother, but all I know is that they were able to travel here, and they have been caring neighbors of mine. It’s unclear if Edison is required to take more education or not due to his age, but I remember two sols ago seeing him in there before I got there and him staying after I left.

Additionally, Xingyu’s work on Perseverance seems to be going slowly but studying. I think they’ve identified that the rover will need a new purpose to keep its presence in the Port. I think they’ve been mostly focused on repurposing its parts but they are struggling to figure out the necessity behind that process, since technology has advanced so heavily since its creation. Xingyu has also gone from Space Explorers to Earth explorers in their recreational research. Ronald Amundsen, Nellie Bly and a few others I saw appear on their holo. I’m glad I’m not the only one distracted in my work. I’m still practicing Mandarin too, so I’m hoping one day I’ll be able to talk to their progress on Perseverance about it in their natural tongue.

Wishing there were more hours in the sol.


Earth Date: October 7, 2057

End of Week 5 of Project Substratum

After lacking the necessary “flare'' of motivation most of last week, I’ve decided to make my project and Xingyu’s into a friendly competition. Xingyu doesn’t really know about the competition, and it’s hard to compare the two projects’ timeframes. In reflection, I may be using Xingyu’s work ethic as inspiration for my own; but regardless of whatever one may call it, it’s made me work harder than I did the previous week. Competition, inspiration: I’m making progress and that’s all that matters.

I also tried to have a simple conversation in Mandarin with them the other sol. I started with a simple “Nǐ hǎo ma [how are you]” which I knew previously to my studies, and I’ve said that to them before; so I think Xingyu thought nothing new of it at first. Then I followed that up with “Yánjiū jìnzhǎn rúhé, [how is the research coming (along)]” which resulted in quite a reaction I can only call pleasantly surprised, but equally confused. However, I made the awkward error of assuming they would respond simply like “Hǎo de” [good] or the always honest “Qiángdiào de” [stressed/stressful]. I’m still not sure entirely what words they responded with but it wasn’t a simple answer, so I interrupted them saying I was still learning. They were really understanding, thankfully, but I can’t say I wasn’t embarrassed for not being able to have a conversation yet. They also seemed so excited to talk to someone new in Mandarin. I am working on Project Substratum after all, so I have to give myself a break for not knowing a whole entire language after four weeks.

Kyla came by the R-Wing more than usual this week. She always comes on S3s [Sol-3, which is the third day of the week, similar to Wednesday] and researches topics like various countries’ independences and establishments and even early civilizations. Kyla has been a great organizer and leader on the Port, and that stems from her genuine care for people. She loves telling me about all the possibilities for the future of the Port. And because of her bright energy and passion, I can’t help but listen to it. This week, she seemed stressed under her natural optimistic self. She believes the Port with more arrivals will become more distant. She and I loved the togetherness of the first few groups of arrivals, but some of the newer arrivals feel, well, not as close. It’s not cliquey like a high school lunchroom, but it feels like there’s some divide in comfortability on the Port, as well as with one another. But like Kyla, I don’t want the togetherness to dissipate. That’s why it felt like such an easy decision to try and learn Mandarin. I hope I can help Kyla with everything she wants the Port to be. Both now for the Zeroes and all the future generations of Martians.


Earth Date: October 14, 2057

End of Week 6 of Project Substratum

Although it feels like this week has my busiest, I still find time to observe the R-Wing. I’ve made steady progress experimenting with various material and structural designs. I’ve also gained a curiosity for the process of how younger Martians are learning here. Edison specifically.

There’s a small divide in age and experience between the younger generations on board and the older. Except for Edison, I believe he turned 19 on his travels here. He also seemed to be thriving on Earth in a medium that is heavily rewarded financially and publicly. He also barely makes the legal age that allows him legally to be part of a “Ares Port Expedition.” I know I’m witnessing some sort of history in the music world but I can’t help but think it may be irresponsible for someone so young to commit to this highly codependent and potentially dangerous life.

But he doesn’t seem to be lonely from what I’ve seen. I mean he’s physically alone studying when not in his classes, but I think he shares that space with the music he listens to. In those moments, he’s together with the song and artist. After each class, he picks out one of the music SPELLs and listens at a holo station for a few hours.

I asked Rodrigo if there’s a way to see what music he has listened to. I didn’t realize how foolish this question was until he responded, “No, we don’t let users search other users’ SPELL history.” I apologized but he just laughed. “Okay I can see how that would be an issue,” I replied. But I do have to ask him what he listens to. I haven’t discovered any new music really since my youth, and I seem to have one of the best musical talents on Earth now on Mars. Actually, I should probably ask to hear his own music first; or better yet, introduce myself. Let’s start with that, Olympia.


Earth Date: October 21, 2057

End of Week 7 of Project Substratum

Kyla is amazing. She’s simply amazing. The sol to sol operations of the Port, as one may already expect, are very dependent on collaboration to overcome challenges. Although the importance of technological development cannot be overstated, it’s what we decide to do with said technology that helps advance our settlement’s ideas.

Without Kyla, I believe there would still be consistent conflict between a lot of the “type As” on board. Because the Ares Corporation selects extremely diligent and intellectual individuals for the initial settlement, organization and process is much needed. And that’s where Kyla comes in with her system of idea sharing, where each settler’s proposition is equally presented, considered, and respected (as long as it keeps the interest of all settlers in mind, sometimes individuals can be selfish in this new territory). When research for Project Substratum is completed, there is already a task force assigned to further develop and put ideation into creation into completion. Most settlers already understand this; but we as Martians must set aside any personal desire for the sake of the settlement’s goals. As Kyla says, “We the settlers are the brain, and the Port is the heart; everything the brain does must be to protect the heart, or both shall cease to be.”

I believe this is not a new philosophy for Kyla, as she’s incredibly well-versed with conflict resolution. Unfortunately, there will always be selfish people. The Port may pride itself on consensus building and togetherness, but if we reach our goals of expansion, there will be a day that togetherness will no longer be required for some people’s survival. Kyla is trying to avoid that sol by building this foundation now; and although she does everything brightly and beautifully, I’m skeptical about her hope. Her quote can persuade both the selfless and selfish, since every problem affects everyone. But when Mars reaches a point of comfortability way into the future, will this togetherness still be present? Or will it devolve into the alienation and distance I felt so heavily on Earth?

This is the only time in human history where a civilization’s foundation is rooted in intersectionality and diversity: where each settler is respected and accommodated for by one another. I pray to the stars that it stays that way in the future.


Earth Date: October 28, 2057

End of Week 8 of Project Substratum

I don’t usually like to write about the emergency situations on board; there are already several settlers whose job it is to rePort those back to Ares. But this week felt heavier and more dire than usual. Luckily everyone ended up safely this past S2, but what could have been the start of an air pocket was discovered and could have been detrimental to the entire south side of the wing if it were not identified so early. Every sol is a blessing, and I don’t want any rePort of my research or observation to distract from how thankful I am for everyone aboard this Port, not just the individuals who help me personally with my work and research.

I believe my mother Katina raised me in her image, or rather, what she wanted her image to be if she were immortal and could live multiple lives. I’m blessed to come from a family of scientists and entrepreneurs, who take in pride in our rich family history. She was no different. She became an integral part of Russia’s climate task force and helped preserve the Earth, as well as serve as an advocate for all human rights. She is the reason why I am in the position I am.

I am forever thankful for the training and wisdom my mother taught me. It’s why I’m here in my career and can be a part of human history. But I also wouldn’t be here on Mars if it weren’t for her passing. It sounds dark when I put it into writing, but I would not have made this decision had she not passed away. I don’t know how many other settlers are in similar situations with their family and friends, but it’s quite a commitment to leave everyone you love on Earth. It’s an easier decision when there isn’t anything or anyone to leave behind.

I understand a few settlers have had the privilege of their friends being in fields eligible for Mars travels. There are even some settlers that arrived together and had a relationship on Earth. But I can only imagine for many others, their relationships on Earth have been altered forever. The communication wait time is long and much like how Project Substratum was delayed, fixing that is not a priority for us on board. We have resorted back to videos sent back and forth that feel more like a 20th century way of communicating, like letters.

This is what made me so frustrated with the postponement of the Port’s expansion time and time again. The idea of a new world is exciting; it could bring together families and friends as well as create opportunities for new relationships. I touched upon this last week, but we never know if we can build a utopia that learns from all the mistakes of Earth if there isn’t enough space to build it. This light seems to reignite in me each week.

This work could lead Mars to what Mom always wanted Earth to be.