There was no contingency plan for it because no one at NASA’s Office of Risk Management ever dreamed it could happen. So when astronauts Deke Culpepper and Carla Winsome blasted off from Cape Canaveral on January 20th 2025 there was every expectation their 5 year historic mission to Mars would be completed by those 2 astronauts – and those 2 astronauts alone. No one anticipated they’d be returning to Earth with a little bundle of extra-terrestrial joy courtesy of a botched vasectomy. The birth of this little male space dividend on the Martian surface, and his subsequent return to earth added credence to the widely held belief that, men are from Mars. In the end though, this event demonstrated something we already knew about forces of nature – that although there is no gravity in space, the attraction between the heavenly bodies of Deke Culpepper and Carla Winsome proved irresistible.
January 20th 2025 was an historic day in America for 2 reasons. The eagerly anticipated Mars mission was launched and 43-year-old Chelsea Clinton was inaugurated as our 46th President succeeding her 77-year-old mother Hillary. The Mars mission captured the imagination of an American public usually focused on celebrity misbehavior. Perhaps it was the catchy code name of the mission: “No, We’re Not Kidding. We Really are Going to Mars” that reeled in both the space junkies and the Comic-Con crowd. The project had been in the planning stages for decades; spearheaded by a consortium of NASA nerds, Elon Musk’s Space-X and the Mattel Corporation who’d paid billions in action-figure licensing fees. The Learning Channel even produced a reality TV series based on the mission called Keeping Up with the Cosmonauts.
No less than the celebrated astrophysicist Stephen Hawking weighed in on the possibility of Martian colonization, “I believe we have a greater chance of seeing Queen Elizabeth in pigtails, than we do of seeing Mars colonized. But if we do go there I recommend we take Uber.” He then ended the interview and continued working on his latest book A Brief History of Cheese.
An event of this magnitude deserves a thorough historical analysis and I’m sure some day it will receive one. Meanwhile allow me to cherry pick and reexamine some of the more salient events surrounding this mission. A mission that held a nation spellbound until the Cubs finally won a World Series. I mean who doesn’t remember where they were on January 20th 2025 when the Mars-bound rocket ship was launched from Cape Canaveral? I’ll never forget where I was – at home in July of 2015, sitting in my favorite chair writing it.
What began as a modest Martian mission whose sole purpose was to give that creaky, old Mars rover Curiosity a little push over a troublesome hill, evolved into a comprehensive attempt to land on the Martian surface, terraform the planet for future colonization and then safely return to earth. Terraforming is the process of transforming a hostile environment into one suitable for human life – like what they’re trying to do in Alabama right now. But in this case, the goal of terraforming was to create livable infrastructure on an inhospitable Martian surface – a forbidding place so primitive the surface comes in any color you want as long as it’s red.
The crew would be outfitted with everything they’d need to make their mission a success including 2 Swiss Army Knives, some duct tape and, of course, a case of Top Ramen Noodles. A separate unmanned cargo ship would be launched 2 weeks earlier and contain all the infrastructure and tools the crew would need in creating a hospitable environment for future colonization. If something was forgotten, Amazon space drones would deliver the rest. The mission, as planned, was to last 5 years. The outbound trip to Mars would take about 220 days employing the traditional method of using chemical rocket engines to follow minimum energy transfer orbits (I’m probably describing this mission in more detail than is necessary considering this is a work of fiction.).
Once in orbit the Mars lander would separate from the Mars module and descend to the surface where it would become home base for 3½ years while the 2 astronauts worked on various schemes to terraform the planet. After successfully establishing themselves on the Martian soil the crew would begin creating this interplanetary turnkey operation. They would build livable structures, create self-sustaining food and oxygen supplies while fashioning a reverse osmosis water recycling plant. And, in an effort to attract upscale colonists, a Sharper Image was planned – it was felt a little brick and mortar retail might appeal to Techno-Yuppie space tourists looking for something exotic to experience during their two year sabbatical from the burdens of Silicon Valley. At the very least the dramatic backdrop of the Martian landscape would make for a very cool Facebook “Check In.”
Upon successfully completing the 3½ year mission on the planet, the Mars lander would then blast off from the Martian surface, leaving a completely habitable, human-friendly biosphere intact. Easily piercing the thin Martian atmosphere, the lander would then dock with the Mars module, jettison the lander (once the astronauts had clambered into the main module) and complete its inbound return to earth in about 250 days. Once in the friendly gravitational pull of Earth, the craft would reenter the atmosphere and splash down in the newly renamed and corporately-sponsored Pacific Ocean presented by Apple. You’ll remember the corporate naming craze had spread mightily in the mid-20’s resulting in such mismatched sponsorships as The Viagra No-Longer-Leaning Tower of Pisa, The Depends Hoover Dam and the Lincoln Lincoln Memorial. In addition to the United Nations selling the naming rights to most of the Earth’s imaginary lines, parents began selling the naming rights to their children thereby populating the Earth with babies named Robitussin Evans and Kotex Kardashian.
As expected there was much wrangling over the exorbitant cost of this fantastic interplanetary project. No one really knew how much “exorbitant” was until the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) estimated it would cost more than an aircraft carrier, but less than a Super Bowl commercial. Many citizens felt this kind of money would be better spent screwing things up right here on Earth rather than trying to screw things up on Mars. We had already demonstrated great skill in squandering money on our home planet. Did we really need to risk trying to repeat that same success on Mars? Eventually cost overruns became so rampant, the mission’s price tag simply became known as “Don’t ask. Don’t tell.”
The corporately sponsored rocket ship was aptly named Mentos One. Creature comforts were very much in mind in this Elon Musk-inspired design. After all, this tin can would be called home by 2 astronauts for 5 years and livability was a paramount concern. Mr. Musk, drawing from his visionary arsenal of practical magic, modeled the interior after a classic Winnebago floor plan. No detail was too small for this intergalactic space camper. Get this – the pilot seat actually swiveled to face the main cabin and a galley window slid out to provide even more interior room. But rocketry was Mr. Musk’s real genius. The 12’ X 25’ RV-like living module sat atop a technologically advanced Tesla V Electric Rocket engine supplying a thrust of 6,450,000 lbf (pounds of force). Of course in order to propel this 5,550,000 lb. missile up to the escape velocity of earth’s orbit, it required a cord almost 200 miles long to provide an uninterrupted power supply to its electric motors.
Once beyond the gravitational tug of Earth, the plug would be pulled from its Cape Canaveral outlet and Mentos One would then fire its internal slow fizz, Coca-Cola activated rockets as it continued its journey to Mars. Within the craft there were separate sleeping accommodations for each crew member whose sleeping billets would be tethered to a slumber pinion. The galley had both a microwave (for heating micro-trays) and a macrowave (for heating macro-ni & cheese). The entertainment center featured a ridiculously complicated zero-gravity pool table that also doubled as an incredibly impractical bookmark.
Astronaut Selection Process
From a large and very deep pool of over 100,000 wet applicants, NASA and Mr. Musk would select 2 preeminent candidates. For politically expedient reasons it was prearranged one man and one woman would be chosen for this high profile mission. There were strict criteria for the selection process. Candidates had to be physically fit, college educated and, most importantly, able to withstand the psychological rigors of operating in close quarters for a protracted period of time. Therefore prohibited activities included air guitar and sex. Definitely no sex. This latter prohibition was twofold: 1) It would prevent the risk of any rockets firing prematurely and 2) It would eliminate the possibility of pregnancy.
This is why the selection of Deke Culpepper (test pilot with a vasectomy in 2020) and Carla Winsome (presumed lesbian with a PhD from Wellesley) made so much sense. Additionally the usually infallible Minnesota Multiphasic Personality test indicated they were beautifully simpatico in the manner of a brother and sister. Of course sometimes the best laid plans of behaviorists and coordinators go awry. Woe unto ascribing infallible indicators to man-made tests. Mr. Culpepper and Ms. Winsome were high-flyers of the first order. Mr. Culpepper was a Marine aviator who needed only 4 weeks to get through his 12-week Basic Training at Parris Island. He was a graduate of The Citadel and was voted “Most Likely to Kick Chuck Norris’s Ass.”
Ms. Winsome was a Wellesley legacy whose mother, Professor Winifred Winsome, went on to head the short-lived Caucasian-American studies program at Howard University. Carla had been asked to join the Mensa Society after discovering a fossilized hominid in a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Dr. Winsome was a careerist in the mode of Condoleezza Rice or J Edgar Hoover – dedicated public servants married to their jobs and not spouses. Careerists just never seem to get around to marrying (ahem). Ms. Winsome had been Virgin Airlines Chief Pilot ever since Sir Richard Branson bestowed the position on her after hearing her lecture Women in Aviation: It’s Not Just a Cockpit Anymore. Ms. Winsome had a seat on the board of Lockheed-Martin as well as a chair out on her patio.
NASA put the 2 candidates through days of closely observed activities mimicking the forces they’d be subjected to in the vast solitude of space. For example, supplied only with water, some kibble and a sanitary chamber pot, they were placed in an 10’ diameter sensory deprivation sphere and forced to uncomplainingly watch a Netflix marathon of the venerable TV series Gunsmoke (20 seasons 635 episodes) without resorting to playing tag (“No, your ‘it’ now!”) or I-spy-with-my-little-eye (“You can’t keep doing the chamber pot.”). When they emerged 2 months later with smiles on their faces and their tales wagging NASA knew they were ready. They’d have to be since they’d essentially be kenneled in a tin enclosure for 5 years and then crated at night. So in a sense, even though they had won the competition they were still in the doghouse.
Launch Day and Beyond!
On that august day in January when Mentos One slipped the surly bonds of earth and headed skyward, the hopes of America were bound up in its success. All systems were go as the eerily quiet electric rocket penetrated the stratosphere and sliced through Van Allen’s belt causing Mr. Van Allen’s pants to fall down. Mentos One gracefully broke free of Earth’s gravity and stretched its power cord to the limit. A NASA mission specialist was then signaled to unplug the cord from its outlet located at the base of the launch gantry (if you can call a mouth-breather in a jumpsuit named Osgood a mission specialist).
The Mentos One spacecraft was now ready for initiating Stage 2 of its propulsion system. As the now useless electric cord dropped harmlessly back down to earth, the spacecraft activated the hyper-drive portion of its journey to the red planet as mega-density Mentos tablets were carefully introduced into a column of super-cooled Coca-Cola thereby beginning a controlled chain reaction propelling the rocketship Mars-ward. President Clinton saluted the crew in her inaugural address with an eloquent tribute. Even former President George W Bush chimed in with an earthy, “Yer darn tootin’.” The Chinese News Agency Xinhua also expressed magisterial sentiments as the Mars bound spacecraft streaked across the sky: “<– in the interest of political correctness this hilariously funny quote has been dereted. – >.”
It was a propitious beginning to a mission exhaustively planned. There were a few minor hiccups like Commander Culpepper forgetting his moustache comb and Commander Winsome forgetting hers. Overall though the mission proceeded smoothly as the two crewmates settled in for their 220 day journey to planet #4. As their time together passed, attachments began to form and the 2 crewmates grew closer. They’d been knocking boots since the mission began, but only by accident when their space boots bumped into each other while conducting flight checks. One time they tried playing spin the bottle, but soon tired of it because once spun, the damn bottle would never stop spinning.
By late February not only were they beginning to finish each other’s sentences, they finishing each other’s breakfast. Some of this bonhomie was due to their proximity, but most of it was due to a fast developing and bizarre mutual affinity. For example, he’d shower and she’d get clean. She’d have her period and he’d eat chocolate. They’d always been amicable. The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality test predicted as much. But what it didn’t predict was that on day 23 the 2 stalwart commanders would begin playing “hide the laser pointer” in the cozy confines of their little Winnebago in the sky. Soon they were sleeping together bundled snugly in one satin sleeping bag tethered to the slumber pinion which, incidentally, is the same place where they now hung their discarded promise rings. In short the 2 unmarried space cadets had become happy campers shacked-up in their little tin can love nest.
Around day 25 as the sun rose for the 140th time outside the space camper, the 2 ardent souls docked successfully and lustily exchanged genetic information through God-given portals. In fact this became a regular occurrence since it sure beat checking the telemetry 96 times a day to ensure they were on course. Eventually they fell in love. Deep interstellar love. Carla swore she was seeing stars and Deke was absolutely over the moon – and that was just when they looked out the window. They asked Mission Control if there was any Astroglide on board and Mission Control admonished them against any more such unscripted dockings as being incompatible with the mission, however compatible it may have been with their desires. Mission Control would have liked to toss a bucket of cold water on the coital couple, but the water would’ve just atomized into thousands of dangerous zero gravity droplets menacing the ship’s electronics.
As they neared the red planet, Commander Winsome altered their trajectory and prepared for a flyby of the Martian moon Deimos. Looking down Carla thought she saw a strange bump where she had never seen one before. Deke saw it too. At the time they were both looking at Carla’s distended belly and that could only mean one thing. Jumpin’ Jupiter, they had conceived a space baby. An alien. An extra-terrestrial. This kid would be positively out of this world – his birth certificate would read Place of Birth: Mars. It would be a one-of-a-kind answer to a password security question. But now they needed a way of gently breaking the extra-terrestrial news to Mission Control, so Carla succinctly formulated a soothing, yet direct way of informing them that their situation had changed: “Uh Houston, we have a baby.” After a long pause she added, “You didn’t happen to pack a pressurized onesie did you?”
That’s One Small Baby for Man, One Giant Headache for Mission Control
2025 was a difficult year for the young couple. Not only were they with child, they were also 27 million miles from the nearest Babies-Я-Us. And because there were no natural rhythms in space Carla had morning sickness 4 times a day due to the sidereal day of their rotating capsule. She also had a craving for pickles and insisted, “Deke go out and fetch me some.” She suffered from prenatal hallucinations and commenced to talkin’ like a hillbilly: “You listenin’ to me Deke Culpepper. We never go anywhere any more. I’m always cooped up here in this trailer. It ain’t even a double-wide Deke. Plus them ‘possums is keeping me up at night.”
Clearly the mission was in jeopardy as Carla began slipping into a country-fried pregnancy. They needed to land in a hurry and set up shop to prepare for the baby. As Mentos One began preparations to land on the Martian surface Carla was about 7 months pregnant and aching to feel God’s green earth between her toes. The best she could do however would be a Godless red Mars beneath her boots.
Deke, being a gallant southern gentleman, did the honorable thing and proposed marriage to Carla. This was a once in a blue moon moment – which wasn’t saying much as the Martian moon Phobos appears blue every night in the Martian sky. So one romantic evening as they moored themselves to some galley pipes for an elegant meal of beef paste and strained peas, Deke slipped an engagement ring (his repurposed promise ring actually) into Carla’s tube of strained peas. When Carla squeezed the paste into her mouth and bit down on the band she knew something very special had happened – not only had Deke popped the question, but she’d also cracked a bicuspid saying “Yes.” It was a beautifully tender moment as they embraced passionately, trapping a tube of beef paste between them, and inadvertently squirting ribbons of bovine protein all over the cabin.
By now the couple’s story was the biggest thing in the solar system if you excluded Donald Trump’s ego. Deke and Carla had become the equivalent of intergalactic royalty and requested that none other than Oprah Winfrey (who by now was Secretary of State in Chelsea’s administration) be the officiant at their tele-wedding. In order to economize on the cost of this interplanetary Skyped ceremony, Caitlyn Jenner was both the Maid of Honor and the Best Man. On October 22nd, from the Rose Garden of the White House Oprah pronounced the married astronauts “Man and Woman.” As expected the newlyweds honeymooned on Mars.
The much anticipated delivery of li’l Astro Boy finally occurred on November 15th 2025 when he floated out of the mothership without so much as a peep. Deke deftly alerted Mission Control to their new status: “Uh Houston, we have a baby.” The newlyweds expressed their gratitude to Ms. Winfrey by naming the little alien Stedman. Due to a mix up during the delivery however, an out-of-his-element Deke presented Carla with a neatly swaddled placenta and left Stedman drifting all alone up by an exhaust vent. He was a precocious child even though he never really learned to walk. In fact he didn’t even learn to crawl. He didn’t have to. Instead he simply floated everywhere. The baby thrived in this cozy habitat and by 6 months had taken his first spacewalk. By 14 months he’d learned to use the space toilet for both numbers one and two. This was a real advantage to Carla and Deke because now they wouldn’t wake up to a galaxy of Stedman’s nocturnal land mines floating everywhere in the space camper.
As the years passed and the terraforming expanded, the little colony flourished. By 2027 it had surpassed Alabama in Fodor’s Livability Index. By this time the toddler Stedman was accepted into a tele-preschool located in Berkeley, CA. Berkeley was chosen because of its similarity to Mars in also being an outlier community. At times Stedman felt alienated, which was justifiable considering he actually was an alien. On school days Mr. & Mrs. Culpepper would tether the boy to the learning shackle in front of the preschool screen while they savored a few hours of “mommy and daddy” time in their conjugal sleeping sac.
Being emotionally advanced, Stedman skipped the terrible 2’s and went straight to a mid-life crisis at age 3. He was, of course, an only child – as in the “only” child within 60 million miles. He had no playmates, no playdates and his only toy was the little Mars rover Curiosity which he drove around till NASA engineers remotely drove it far, far away from his injurious, boyish ways. Fortunately young Stedman entertained himself with Teletubbies and mastering the “pull-my-finger” trick.
Although Stedman’s body was surrounded by a barren Martian landscape devoid of flora and fauna, his heart was surrounded by a nourishing parental lovescape of Carla and Deke. The Culpepper’s were careful to lavish enough attention on him so he’d develop a feeling of healthy self-worth and were careful to administer enough oxygen on him so he’d develop a feeling of healthy respiration. In doing so they provided for both his mind and his body.
We are in Kansas Anymore
Their work on Mars completed, the young family returned to Earth aboard Mentos One in 2030. The trio were celebrated to a NYC ticker tape parade in the famed Canyon of Heroes now rebranded the Snickers Canyon of Heroes. They were also feted at a state dinner at the White House hosted by 77-year-old President Bush – Jeb Bush, who’d defeated Chelsea Clinton after the discovery of her affair with a White House intern named Melvin Lewinsky. By now 4 year old Stedman had an agent and was preparing to star in his family’s reality show, Keeping Up with the Culpeppers. When asked how he could’ve possibly impregnated Mrs. Culpepper in light of his 2020 vasectomy, Commander Culpepper admitted, “I did have a vasectomy alright, but I only had it done on one testicle. I just couldn’t go through with the second one. The doctors called it a case of getting ‘cold gonads’.”
To think that it was only 2025 when man first set foot on Mars. And now here in 2035 Mars is all grown up with a population of 80,000, an outlet mall and even a homeless problem. The evolution of Martian culture has been punctuated with peculiarities. For example the band Cheap Trick faded stateside decades ago, but they’ve enjoyed a renaissance of sort on the red planet where they’re wildly popular, particularly in the Japanese prefecture. In Martian arrondissements Jerry Lewis is a beloved figure. Go figure. Those French are nutty wherever they’re transplanted.
If the Culpepper’s experience on Mars has taught us anything…I’d be surprised. I do believe however, that it’s a very short walk from labeling little Stedman as an extra-terrestrial, to labeling we Earth-birthed as extra-terrestrials. After all, from the perspective of the billions of planets in the universe, we Earthlings are all extra-terrestrials. To all those celestial bodies in the sky, seen and unseen, anyone hailing from our unremarkable blue marble is an extra-terrestrial. We just happen to be on the inside looking out and therefore still believe we are the center of the universe and everyone else is an alien. We don’t even have language yet to describe this phenomenon: Earthocentric? Bigotearthed? Chauvinearthstic?
As for me, I think we have plenty of terrestrials right here on Earth – I don’t know where we’d even put any extra terrestrials. Maybe Alabama, where they’d fit right in.