From the November 2002 issue

Music on Mars

It wasn't all science at a simulated Mars base in Utah last spring.
By and | Published: November 11, 2002 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
When earthlings finally do journey to Mars, the trip will be a lot longer than a drive to grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving. Yes, there will be science to conduct and chores to do in transit and on the martian surface, but there will be some downtime. The space travelers will need entertainment to keep their spirits up during their historic but challenging endeavor.

In the spring of 2002, a crew of six camped out in a remote Utah desert to find out what life might be like on Mars, physically isolated from the rest of society. They recognized the role music plays in our everyday lives on Earth, so the Utah-based “martians” made sure music was a part of their experience as well.

The sixth crew of the Mars Desert Research Station contained three musicians, Sam Burbank, Kelly Snook, and Frank Schubert. They also solicited musical input from their teammates, International Space Station Senior Human Factors Scientist Ephimia Morphew, exobiologist Penny Boston, and biologist Steve McDaniel. They conducted a unique experiment to test how music could play a role in entertainment and communications on a long Mars mission.

The station residents would write a song in their canister-shaped habitat (“hab”) and record it digitally using two guitars, one bass guitar, one microphone, a keyboard, a small drum machine, and a small bag of percussion instruments. They would then uplink the music via satellite to one of five studios around the world where musicians would add to the music (with other instruments or voices) before sending the result back. The delay time was sometimes up to a day (as it would be for a crew on Mars).

Snook and Morphew logged the crew’s reactions to the music exchange. “It was like getting emotional care packages from home,” Burbank comments.

The team concluded that, on a real mission to Mars, music could provide needed entertainment and distraction for the crews on their years-long expedition.

You can listen to two of the songs created by “The Extremophiles” during their stay in Utah. Click on the jukeboxes below to download MP3 files of “Miss You” and “Mr. Robinson.”

Miss You, 8.5 MB
Music ©The Extremophiles
Miss You
This is one of Frank’s songs, something he had been sitting on for nearly 20 years. It was written to a person, but to the rest of the crew the song seemed more a love letter to Earth.

Kelly’s synth sound on this one was a crew favorite — haunting sounds to accompany the surreal environment. Sam and Frank recorded the main vocals from about 3 to 6 am on one of the last nights in the hab.

Frank Schubert: Guitars, Percussion, Piano, Voice
Kelly Snook: Synths, Voice
Sam Burbank: Lead Vocal, Bass, Percussion
Steve McDaniels: Voice

Downloadable File(s)
Mr. Robinson
One of Sam’s songs, this is written about writer Kim Stanley Robinson (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars), Sam’s favorite on any planet. Mr. Robinson’s books have been the inspiration for countless people becoming involved with the Mars movement. This song typifies the kind of back-and-forth collaboration the Extremophiles had with musicians “back” on Earth.

Frank Schubert: Bass, Harmonica
Kelly Snook: Piano, Bells, Vocals
Sam Burbank: Guitars, Vocals

Collaborators on Earth:
Scott Myers: Violins
Joshua Burbank: Drums, Percussion
Andy Moraga: Miscellaneous Samples

Downloadable File(s)