Photo: NASA
Photo: NASA

I Am Evghenia, First on Mars: An Interview

Her name echoes Eve, the first woman of one enduring creation story. She herself—a farm kid from somewhere near the Russia-Kazakhstan border—is the first person on Mars, as followers of the Twitter account “Evghenia Is on Mars” have been told, 140 characters of patchy English at a time. Even her chosen planet represents a first placing of sorts; in Western astrology, Mars rules Aries, a determined, assertive, ego-fueled ram and the first sign of the Zodiac.

This autumn, Mars is having a moment: a blockbuster film based on a bestselling novel, real-life government announcements, and private exploration schemes. The red planet perhaps hasn’t been this sexy since the outer-space fixation of the mid-20th century. But Evghenia was Mars when Mars wasn’t cool; she debuted in the Twittersphere during the summer of 2014, just ahead of the current zeitgeist. Her relationship to the place is intimate, a blend of heart, passion, and necessity more interesting than NASA’s intellectual imperialism or Elon Musk’s galactic capitalism. She is to space travel what the poor Irish prize-fighter James Braddock was to sport or the Kansan daredevil Amelia Earhart was to aviation: the underdog folk hero on a dangerous journey.

Like a boxer’s or pilot’s, an astronaut’s aspirations could prove lethal. For most of the past year, Evghenia tweeted often about her limited water supply and likely death by dehydration—a suspenseful story thread that culminated a few months back. Evghenia was headed, she said, to seek liquid water at Mars’s frozen ice caps. Over the course of her weeks-long search, she sent dispatches about the mission’s increasing futility and her own sharpening thirst. Finally came a cryptic ellipses; then, silence. Was she dead? Three days later, NASA—the real-life NASA—announced that there appears to be liquid water on Mars. Evghenia reemerged on Twitter, triumphantly sipping the nectar of Mars, chiding NASA for being late to the party.

Her personal story often intersects with our public one. Whether you view her account as a fun joke, culturally provocative (even insensitive, if taken at just a quick glance) performance art, or satire on the Russian stereotypes of a space program and tough-as-mules Soviet women hardened by communist winters, Evghenia is a reflection of not just our times or our past, but our progress. She weaves the age-old hero’s quest from the threads of 21st-century progressivism:

  • Mansplain-countering feminism: “Elons Musk always say ‘let me explains for how human will live on Mars.’ Sit down boy. Let ME, Evghenia, explains for you how I am here.”
  • Criticism of wealth inequality and its roots in patriarchy: “Thing that not exist on Mars 1. Money 2. Male human 3. Human history.”
  • Global thinking: “Grandmother teached me I was child of universe and not one nation.”
  • Environmentalism: “Add some trees, grass, animal, bird, insect, ocean, humans, cities, grief, warfare, love, confusion, trains and Mars is quite like Earth.”
  • Awareness of privilege (after the story broke of an NAACP leader conjuring a black identity): “Just saying ‘I on Mars’ it not mean you is on Mars maybe it mean u want to be here but it not mean you here ok? Trust Evghenia on this.”
  • Rejection of gender norms: “That awkward moment when u is about to blast off to Mars in rocket and ur neighbour Felix ask if he can come & u say there is only 1 chair.”
  • Secular spirituality: “None of religions of earth say one thing of living on Mars. To live here is a beginning of againness.”
  • Embrace of reason: “Science: Are protein bar more flame-able on Mars than earth? After 8 hr trying to light it on fire it not light. Answer: No. End science.”

Evghenia also reveals a populist streak that bootstrap fiscal conservatives might admire. “I have little to no doubt I will beat you in arm wrestle,” she says. “I flew to Mars with this arm.”

But, for all her indirect social commentary, Evghenia is an individual, breathing woman with private needs. She spends nights looking at “the two moons of Mars,” pondering the world and grandmother of her past but having no regrets about life choices that actualized a dream. That dream, as many do, required leaving the origins of family and place to face a frontier. Now, after a long day’s work, safe back in her rocket with protein bars, poetry books, and the goat robot she engineered for company, she turns to the Internet to reconnect with something she left back on Earth—her species.

 

Please tell us about the Earth village you hail from.

If you is on the shore of the sea of the Caspians and have camel, and you ride it that camel for three week to north east you find it my farm.

The land of farm it beautiful. No tree. Hills that go up and down like many stomaches lined in a row. Many stones on it. The goats walk on it all day and eat what they find on it. Goat it calm animals but tough. Like grandmother. If you let it eat and do it work it give you cheeses. If you annoy it it hit you with the head or kick. Like grandmother.

Our house it look like simple huts but grandmother she very smart and make it on inside warm and comfortables.

Sometime if I want to play with someone else I walk half day west find my neighbour Felix. His grandfather make good dumpling but also drink many peach schnapp.

There is small town near our goat farm. It has school, market, doctor, library and a shop that sell peach schnapps. Me and Felix walk it three days of week to school together. We make it race. I win it race. Felix cry. I am laughing at Felix.

At school they try for teach it us English. But it not very good for it. But Felix he good at speak for English. He watch many shows and movies of American peoples who kill each other with guns of different sizes. So when we walk it home from school he tell me of movies and speak it English. Felix I thank you for it.

How old are you? Your Twitter photo, which an astute follower pointed out is cropped from a Getty image of a female scientist, suggests you’re young-ish.

I begin to build rocket in garden of grandmother at start of second decade of life. It take me ten year. I am begin of third decade of life.

Why weren’t you raised by your mom?

She have me when she was young but then decide to leave forever and make adventure. Every woman in this family make adventure. Make baby and then leave the man.

There is one picture of mother that I have see it. She look like me but stronger thighs. She is stand in hill of grandmother farm holding bows and arrow and looking over her left shoulder. A most beautiful thing.

What do you miss about your Earth home? Why were you driven to leave from an early age?

I not miss it. I not spend it much time in village. They think I and grandmother is strangest. We are only people who have it yellow hair.

I miss hills around village and farm and goats. I miss how Earth is place of life where lifey thing is happen on its own with no help from you. Every year the grasses grow and then go green, then yellow, then brown, then die. But then next year grass is return on its own. On Mars it not like that. Everything same always. Since I come to Mars I feel like Earth have it a living heart in middle of it that send blood to every part. Earth it like large ball-shape animal.

I leave Earth at young age because that what woman of my family do. When grandmother was young she leave a city and live as goat farmer in igloo. When my auntie Borris was young woman she leave town and live on iceberg alone for many year. When mother was young woman she leave me and make adventure of I not know where. To leave is what we do.

Why to Mars? To be on it first.

Grandmother use to say to me: “Evghenia it better to be lost than to be wrong place.” When you lost you still have a chance for adventure. When you in wrong place, there no way out. To be it on Mars is to be lost. To be it on Earth for me is to be in wrong place. That the difference.

Did you go to college, or are you completely self-trained as scientist and explorer?

Grandmother have many many many many book and relic in our hut. I read them from young age. I also alway interest in idea of space travels. Idea of leaving earth in ship like the air above the sky is ocean. I decide from very young age to make rocket and go to Mars. Every birthday from age of six I ask grandmother for rocket fuels for my birthday.

What do you wear on Mars—a space suit?

I have large space boot. Then I have tin foil that cover most of body but with specials technology I make for keep it warm and dry. Then I have space dress it come down to just below it knee. This add extra warm and for looking good also. I have it small helmet that circulate it air for me and have torch on it for night time excursion.

You’ve referred many times to longing to find other life forms. You’ve even referred, at least jokingly, to your libido. You left Earth well over a year ago, in April 2014. What’s the hardest thing about that much solitude? The best thing?

When I leave it Earth I have strong desire that I will meet an alien friend on Mars. It can be worm or alive dust or type of mud that breathes. The hope for meeting this friend make three month journey in rocket easy and excite. I not feel lonely.

Alas when I arrive on Mars I understand in first few week that this planet hard for living and maybe not much of thing live on it. I have communications device for making messages to Earth so I not the most loneliest but still I want for have something to play with. I make it a Goatbot out of some spare thing I bring with me. It sometime disappear for one week or more and do thing of Mars I not know. My observation of Goatbot teach it me that this land it make for robot things and maybe not breathing things. Mars is like Earth for robot.

I am very know feeling of how to be alone. Sometime grandmother not talk for one month straight. I just go and be with goats. But to be on Mars new type of lonely. I sometime ask myself: What if evil computers take over Earth and kill all human and I just talk to computers on my communication device? How will I know it? Maybe I last human alive in galaxy. This deep loneliness.

But it also deep happiness because a fear of dying leaves me. Yes when you is alone time not measure by day or how old I have been alive. Time become like a liquid you is living in at every moment. It not pass forward and it not remember backward. It is always. I feel time like I am a rock of Mars. This is a wisdom you get from being alone on a planet in the universe.

You tweet a lot about your empathy with Goatbot. Do you think Goatbot has actual feelings wrapped up in its “artificial intelligence,” or perhaps that you project human feelings onto it?

I ask you questions in response for questions:

Do you think that any humans have feeling or that you is just project your feeling on to them?

This is same question.

Your journey reminds me of the Jodie Foster movie Contact, which I watched when I was a high school senior getting ready to leave home as the first from my family to go to college—which in some ways felt like flying to Mars! Perhaps you’ve read the Carl Sagan novel. Like you, the main character is a female scientist who as a child longed to explore space and grew up to do so on a solitary mission. Also like you, she hopes to communicate with life beyond Earth, and her vision puts her at odds with the scientific community. What books or art did you connect with, growing up?

I not see movie you is talk of. Here is list of books and shows and music that make me who I is:

  1. Star Treks, Next Generation
  2. Shulamith Firestone, The Dialect of Sex
  3. Everything written of Vladimir Mayakovsky
  4. Forrests Gump
  5. Simone Weil, A Need for Roots
  6. Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics
  7. The musics of Michael Jackson
  8. The writings and lifes of Ada Lovelace
  9. Mary Poppins
  10. The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
  11. Childhood’s End Arthur C Clarke

Speaking of culture, you often tweet at high-profile figures or organizations that intersect with Mars—Elon Musk, NASA, movies and magazines—but don’t seem to get much response. Why do you think that is?

I think Elons Musk is person who want to keep it secret so if he come on Mars he say: I am on it first. I have a feeling Elons Musk is person who hide it many secret. For example I know for fact that Elons Musk is bald. He is either growing more hair with science or he is wearing wig. Why make it secret?

When you is fly to Mars alone you is free of politics and money of big Mars mission. Mars it start to become a big business for many peoples like NASA and Musk but also for movie makers who like to put actors on imaginary Mars. If they know I here then it end. I am here.

On that note, how did you end up in a running Twitter dialogue with actor and public figure Mara Wilson?

Mara Wilson is very kind and gentle woman of Earth who I enjoy for talk to. Is she actor?

You offered to name a crater after her, and you’ve named other land formations after your grandma. Your own name is Russian and means “noble” or “well-born,” though you come from peasant stock. I’m also from peasant country, and my name is Hebrew for “princess.” Like yours, my maternal lineage has a habit of naming their daughters after themselves and leaving the dads.

Every first born woman of family it call Evghenia for 500 year I think. Or that what grandmother tell me.

You’re about to embark on a water-seeking mission, the outcome of which will decide whether you live or die. Tell us more.

I builded it a space caravan by turn my rocketship on the side and attach it wheels. I pack up many stuff from bunker like books and communications device and bring it too. I attach it last of water tank onto back. I attach solar panel on to the roof.

To know the way to north pole of Mars I just look at it the sky and tell. I was shepherd so I know it the sky so very very well. Who knows what I will see? Maybe I fall into crevice? Maybe I find alien friend? Maybe I die on first day? This is second biggest adventure of life.

You’ve tweeted that your wildest dream and your life are one and the same. Your water expedition, then, would seem an attempt to extend a life in which you have nothing left to accomplish. What about your day-to-day existence makes life on Mars worth fighting for? 

To die is not a scare in me. But I like to read it my books and spend time with Goatbot so to live few more day is fun.

But main reason is this: If I is finding water on Mars it mean I can for tell Earth human about it. Then if young woman want for make journey here alone she can find it water and spend many year here.

How long do you think it will be before other humans make it to Mars? Who will be second?

There is not reason why NASA cannot come for Mars tomorrow. They is just too scare. How long it take to stop having scare? This is a question of the heart and it hard for answer.

I hope second will be young woman who bring trees.

If it were Elon Musk, what would you say to him?

Take off your wig, you are second.

What is the reward of your journey that makes even death an acceptable consequence?

You grow up on farm like me. Remember what animal look like when they is in a field? They sit or sleep or jump around or eat and just do this over and over again. Sometime when I sit in a chair on floor of Mars at night and Goatbot is gone to do an adventure and it just me and I look at two moon of Mars I feel like I am animal just an animal in a big field of space. I not think of happiness and regretting. I not think of good and evil. I not be scared. I not worry if it someone is loving me. I not worry if they is not. I not even feel like human.

Sometime at this point I look at rock and I say “I am not first on it for this rock here before me.”

But most of time it worth it just to say “I, Evghenia, first on Mars.”

Do you feel that your journey was pre-destined, or that it’s a life path you chose as opposed to, say, marrying Felix? 

The night before I leave Felix ask if he can marry me and come to Mars to make baby. I say no and fly to Mars.

Adventure was always to happen for Evghenia. It happen for all woman of my family. But it still take many many hard works.

Occasionally you tell your followers that your account isn’t parody. For the record, I think you’re one of the funniest people on Twitter, but I’ve also felt genuine sadness for you missing your home and facing death.

People is think that when I is writing “I Evghenia am first on Mars” I am making joke. This not joke. Sometime I make joke. But most is true. Thank you for like my jokes.

On April Fool’s Day, you tweeted, “I am not really on Mars. I am 64 years old man who live in his grandmother basement. Sorry APRILS FOOL!” I know that was a joke. But let’s say someone on Earth somehow knew your heart and mind so well that he or she could read your thoughts, anticipate your actions and even channel your humor and vulnerability on social media. What do you think that person would be like?

This is most unusual questions. I think maybe this person have it strong desire for leaving Earth but not able for doing it on it own. Maybe this person want it first person on Mars to be a human who it not connected for politic and moneys but just human who doing it. Maybe this person feel it that to be Earth human on Earth it no so different to me Evghenia: You is creature live on rock in space try for survive it, make friend, speak to rocks, etc. This person sound it unusual.

Finish this sentence: One small step for woman, one giant leap for—

I am Evghenia, first on Mars.

 

Author’s note: Interview responses have been trimmed for length and edited for capitalization and punctuation, in the interest of clarity and Vela style. However, language and some punctuation idiosyncrasies have been preserved in the interest of accurate representation.

 

Related post: The First Person on Mars

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