Outside Hanksville, Utah
By Jim Urquhart
I may be a Red Shirt but I made it to Mars.
According to Urban Dictionary (the finest source of American literature), a Red Shirt is defined as; A character in a science fiction or adventure story whose sole dramatic purpose is to get killed by the story’s villain and/or itinerant monster. Taken from the propensity of security officers on the original Star Trek series (who typically wore red uniform tops) to be killed in the episodes’ pre-opening-credits teasers.
When I was young I wanted to be an astronaut but I never had the discipline to follow through. At one point I wanted to be a scientist but I barely made it out of high school and later dropped out of college but not until after I learned a little chemistry for recreational use in my younger days.
Even with my Red Shirts I have always been wanted to be around people that put their minds and bodies to the test. I even married a woman that has three Master’s degrees and is working on her Ph. D. I have always prided myself in consuming as much science news as possible. To me, the mind and the search for tangible knowledge is the fuel for dreams and will lead you to adventures in life.
So with that said, when I heard about the Mars Desert Research Station in the desert of southern Utah I knew I had to go. I had tried for years to go but my story pitches never made the cut, maybe I wasn’t an experienced enough photojournalist at the time for an agency to trust me with an assignment that took quite an investment to tackle. At times I had thought this place was going to be my Red Shirt assignment.
But now it seems in recent years science and space exploration have become sexy again. I made the story pitch and then I was on the road. Traveling through the desert of southern Utah is always a treat. It is a stark and naked land that has not seen much of the touch of man and at many places is devoid of any life. And as a fan of science, I have always been a fan of movies that dealt with space is some way and Utah has played host to many of my favorites. With those images in mind, I have often found myself pretending in my head that the trail I was hiking was actually on a distant planet and I was searching for signs of alien life.