The view from Mount Olympus

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From my dear friend Wayne Chambliss:

UnknownGiven the opportunity to die on Mars, I’d take it. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about committing the most elaborate, expensive suicide in the history of mankind. I only mean that a trip to Mars is likely to be one-way; the voyage home, a coin one must be willing to pay the ferryman. Since I was a boy I’ve dreamed of scaling Olympus Mons. I mean, think of it. A volcano 15 miles high, 680 miles in circumference, rising from a flat plain beyond the Tharsis dome. A mountain big as the state of New Mexico, three times as tall as Everest, soaring to such an height that at its peak there is less than one millibar of atmospheric pressure. Which is to say, a Martian Sir Edmund Hillary would find himself planting his flag on the very edge of space. And the storms. The atmosphere of Mars is too thin to breathe, but thick enough to produce winds. Absent inhibitory features like trees, grass, and bodies of water, these winds can become incredibly strong, picking up more and more loose dust, converging into increasingly complex systems. Sometimes these dust storms can cover the planet’s entire surface, lasting for months, or even years. Now, imagine yourself sitting atop Mount Olympus. Everywhere you look, you have an unobstructed view of the planet’s actual curvature. And then, the leading edge of the storm: rising from canyons in the distance like a vast swarm of insects, blackening the horizon, obliterating first the surface, and then the sun, as if the planet itself were vomiting night. These are the sorts of the things I see when I close my eyes.

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