Road to Mars. AAG Virtual DEN 2020.

2020 Sammler K. The Road to Mars. AAG, Denver, CO⋄, 6–10, Apr (⋄Moved to virtual).

TITLE: The Road to Mars

AUTHOR: Katherine Sammler

ABSTRACT:NASA’s supplies virtual reality (VR) goggles to astronauts, offering relief from monotonous Martian landscapes of flat, red, rocky rubble. These cadets are isolated, only six people in the habitat dome for an eight-month stretch. They only communicate back to headquarters and loved ones with a 20-minute delay, the latency of a signal crossing a distance of 54.6 million kilometers through the vacuum of space. However, these astronauts are still trainees, potential future Martians. They are not yet on the red planet, but right here on Earth. Their dome habitat is located on Hawaii’s Moana Loa, where the landscape’s materiality and the imaginary of island isolation and island as laboratory are meant to simulate Martian colony.

NASA’s undertaking is meant to study human behavior under extreme conditions of solitude. The New York Times (NYT) has been documenting this project with their own VR experience, where readers can join the astronaut trainees in the dome and witness their VR therapy through NYT VR. This virtual reality within virtual reality is a layered, meta representation. It is a simulacrum of a potential future colony in a place of violent historical colonization and contemporary neocolonization. On an island often imagined as a placeless utopia, paradise, this project is living in the future, communicating with the past. In addition, Maunaloa’s sister peak, Maunakea, has been the site of vociferous opposition to the building of another large telescope atop Wākea, a sacred mountain to Native Hawaiians. This research explores relationships between science, colonialism, and island and outer space imaginaries.

Keywords: Islands, colonialism, simulacrum, virtual reality, anticipatory futures, temporality