After looking at the photographs of the surface of Mars, an idea comes to mind: our Atacama Desert is not so different. The similarity is conciliatory, but erosion and the non-living as common ground present themselves as a warning about resource management in relation to the development of contemporary cities as consumers of various ecosystems.
As dubiously tectonic mantles of unattainable celestial bodies, planetary surfaces are transformed into landscape through the lens of the machines that have managed to move the human eye outside our planet, helping us, from our terrestrial experience, to interpret other desolate plains [as yet] unreachable through our footsteps.
The robot Rover Opportunity was sent eleven years ago to Mars and remains active until today. The robot- laboratory Rover Curiosity moves over the dunes of the red planet, at the same time as the space probe Mars Reconaissance Orbiter [MRO] (1) monitors it analytically from its gravitational field. These devices, to name just a few, have exposed us to panoramic and aerial views, textures and materialities, making us travel through successive images and series of images propose a spatiality close to three-dimensionality. At the same time, they reveal landscapes that, as composition of forms and matter, are distant from fiction. They exhibit fragile soils that at first sight transmit infinite desolation and acquire meaning and order as they move away from the monotony through their rocky, steep and exposed geology that generates shadows, added to the dust covering of reddish, ocher, gray and blue colors. These elements build a static scene due to their inert and permanent characteristics, but in turn this scene evokes topographic formations that speak in a language known to us: rocks, soil, cracks, horizon, dunes and gravity. Then another association comes to mind: that our Atacama Desert, the most arid of the earth’s surface, is not so different.
(1) National Aeronautics and Space Administration (2015) <www.nasa.com [mars.nasa.gov]>
Then, a double reading of this Martian-Atacameño link can be made. On the one hand, the similarity is conciliatory: our red neighbor has a surface that relates to desert sectors of our Planet Earth. It is a familiar territory that offers feelings and technical possibilities of dominance. But, on the other hand, erosion and inert material are seen as a warning related to resource management and the development of our contemporary cities and their effects on various ecosystems. It is a warning that leads us to wonder if it is possible that with mismanagement of the territory − with conquest through an uninformed control − the unavoidable destiny is aridity and desolation.
There is a concept related to the conquests of distant sites dating back to the arrival of the British colonies on the east coast of North America in the seventeenth century, the so-called wilderness (2). This concept, which refers to the forested, dark, wild and impenetrable area or place, possible to dominate through agriculture, changes its meaning in the human conquest of Mars, where subjugation is based on the importance of finding and then exploiting possible flows of liquid water in a desolate territory without − apparent − animal or plant life. It is not the impenetrable forest that must be opened because it does not meet the expectations of soil for cultivation and with it for the development of human life, but the lifeless dust that one yearns to nourish, and the lack of water, which it is expected will be debated to understand the red neighbor as eventually habitable. The idea would be to establish a prosperous landscape like the one we still have and like the greenest and most recondite one we long for.
(2) See Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001 ).
The images offered by NASA are suggestive because they present us with the possibility of establishing an idea of landscape in remote places, prompting us to question the concept of nature as that pristine territory associated with that pastoral imaginary or Eden. In this sense, that area untouched by man is shown as desolation, the arid, the rough and the unchanging, where the traces of dynamism are the impacts of meteorites (3) and possible salt flats with antifreeze of iron flowing on its surface (4). Thus, the aspect of greatest interest is based on the discovery about how that distant place has material characteristics that do not escape the laws of physics, as it is represented in scenes of films such as Tatooine of the saga Star Wars, whose scenes were recorded in the desert of Tunisia, one of the largest in the world, but that does not exceed our Atacama Desert in aridity (5).
(3) See https://mars.nasa.gov/
(4) See https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-confirms-evidence-that-liquid-water-flows-on-today-s-mars
(5) Tatooine is the desert planet of the Movie Star Wars, with a hot, arid climate and sandstorms, where the only way to obtain water was by extracting it from the atmosphere. See “Tatooine Biography Gallery” in Star Wars (2015) <http://www.starwars.com/tatooine-biography-gallery>
So, more than a new landscape, Mars is a hyperbole of earthly aridity, which leads to understanding territory outside our earth when one thinks about the need to find new places to urbanize and that drives us to question both practically and theoretically the future domain of remote landscapes, an exercise we already did on our own generous planet, just a couple of centuries ago.