There's No Good Coffee in the Martian Lowlands
I should be working, not blogging, but my boss is the biggest idiot in the solar system, so I must vent. I’m busting my ass on a manuscript because he wants to tell the Project Interim Review Panel that it’s under review at Nature Arescience. Please. We’re a year behind, we should be surveying SEC sites on the western foothills of Tharsis Montes by now, but Roger’s hung up on a mudslide on the south face. People have been finding ancient mudslides for decades, but Roger thinks that this particular find will justify our delays. Sure, the first 5,000 year-old mudslide discovery made the cover of Nature, but since then all of the mudslide finds have been in middling-impact places like Journal of Martian Morphology (on a good day). And, yeah, the paper showing that correlated isotope signatures at different mudslide point to a global wave of hydrological activity in 2,500 BCE made Proceedings of the Interplanetary Academy of Sciences, but we don’t have that. All we have is really unusual silt composition. So? That won’t make a Glamour journal.
I should have taken that postdoc offer at Armstrong Colony University, instead of joining a SEAR contractor for the Superconducting Equatorial Cable. I’m getting all the “my boss is crazy and the money is soft” downsides of a postdoc without the creature comforts of a college habidome. Have you tried getting Szechuan tacos or good coffee in the Martian lowlands? I’m lucky if I can find a decent pizza.
How did I get sucked into this? I thought I wanted to “see the world” after all those years in school, and here was my chance to literally circle the globe! Roger and his buddy Worf got the contract for a chunk of Western Lowlands and hired me, fresh out of my PhD, to join the racket that is government contracting. Get a piece of that sweet “Scientific Exploration and Areological Record” money. It’s silly, really. The melting ice caps and daily microcomet bombardments are covering half the northern hemisphere with a new ocean, erasing a few billion years of areological history, and the Habitability Engineering Consortium worries about documenting the areological history of a dinky strip of land around the equator before they bulldoze it? This is what happens when you elect Blue Future Coalition to parliament. Well, a job’s a job, and at least I can tell my family I’m helping us get a magnetic field (finally!).
I should move to Earth. Agriculture’s recovered, the gravdaptation treatments are painless these days, and we Martians are tall enough to rule the basketball court. My grad school classmate Fiona says that aquifer engineering in Nevada is an easy transition from Areology.
Anyway, this is all Roger’s fault for relying on Worf. Worf is from Miner stock, so he’s too frail to set foot on the surface. Still, he can run drone support remotely, and the rules favor subcontracts with Miners because Blue Future gets votes from the orbiting districts. You’d think that it would be enough that all of the superconducting wire suppliers are Miner-owned companies, but no. The result is that ground-based projects subcontract with people whose ancestors underwent genmods for zero-g work in the asteroid belt. Total spoils system, but that’s government contracting for you. Most people just subcontract back-office support and exotic materials to orbiting companies, but Worf is Roger’s buddy, so he gets mission-critical operations.
So Worf is running drone support, for some loose definition of “support.” I’m in the hopper pod, with the full complement of sample grabs and drills, but site selection and real-time evaluation requires integration of data on nearby sites in about 10 different imaging channels. That’s what Worf’s drones are for. There’s no other way for a measly twenty contract teams to survey all the “interesting” stuff on the entire equator in eight years. Except Worf’s inefficient, because he has no understanding of rock formations. The only rock formations that he’s touched with his own hands are on Phobos. Not the same. Not even close. So I’m training Worf rather than collaborating with him; he doesn’t really “get” that when I’m sampling cliff walls I need data on what’s downstream, even if it isn’t on an SEC site, more than I need data on an adjacent branch of the delta. He’s never walked a lava field and doesn’t appreciate the cues for picking features out of those fractal landscapes. I kept begging Roger to hire a second drone coordinator and Roger kept giving shifty answers about budgets.
A month ago, though, Roger went into full panic mode. HEC announced new rules for Project Interim Reviews, and Roger is suddenly obsessed with showing “advancement of public knowledge via high-impact dissemination.” So not only are we behind on surveying, now we have to show that what we do have is attention-getting. That did, however, give Roger an “out.” He just has to show that we’ve been emphasizing quality over quantity. His solution? Send a paper to Nature Arescience. Getting published is Not Happening, but if we avoid a desk rejection then Roger can make up some story about a “highly interested” editor to keep from getting sunk in interim reviews. As long as it’s sent before the reviews and gets rejected after the reviews, we buy two years. Two years is a long time on Mars.
So, here I am, procrastinating from this manuscript, because knowing that Roger will bug me in the morning just isn’t motivation to write. On the bright side, in the time that it took me to blog this, Fiona got my message and replied. After I tease her about Vegas debauchery I absolutely MUST get back to work.
Copyright Alex Small, 2015