Life on Mars – The Space Station

Back on the NASA road, having negotiated the battalions of crabs we had the weather to contend with.  The mist came rolling back in, but as the road twisted and turned its way around the back of Green Mountain, we went higher and the vegetation was greener – plenty of spots for a picnic but don’t put the rug down on the “grass” as it covers the knobbliest set of rocks you can ever twist your ankle on.


The Old NASA tracking Station

One last stop before our destination.  Out on the right is the Devil’s Ashpit; like our visit to its namesake Riding School, the fog gave it an eerie cold hell like feel. Deep pits in lightly consolidated lava coloured in oranges, blacks and greys made me sure the Devil had only recently put the furnace out.  We could not determine how far the pits went on in the fog, and given there were likely to be steep cliffs or precipitous screes at the coast we did not venture too far. I’ve since been back and in the sunshine they looked quite innocuous but on that day the closest it came to charm was the colour of the crabs foraging around its edge.

And so to a car park at the very end of the NASA road, and the run down NASA tracking station looking grey and lonely in the mist.  Edsel and i found the door open and took a look around inside.  It was a peculiar sensation to be in a building that was probably alive with activity in the 1960’s, but now stood largely derelict.  There was enough furniture, bits of crockery and pots and pans, to give the idea of the Marie Celeste.  You could see where the wiring had been, but apart from some rooms used by the Ascension Island Scouts, it was hauntingly empty.  In one corridor we found a picture of a space shuttle, crudely drawn with the American and British flags as a background.  The station had been more active as part of the Apollo missions, again Ascension’s convenient location in between the continents made it ideal to pick up gaps in coverage as spacecraft orbited the earth, or the earth itself blocked out Houston’s contact with the moon missions.  We went out and down to the housing for the dish which must have picked up all the signals.  The wind was blowing in from the south east with nothing to stop it, and we caught glimpses of the south east corner of the island. I have been back here many times since and on a clear day it is one of the most magnificent tapestries of geological rocks you could imagine.

White ash rock on the mountains, black and red lava flows and orange plateaux, all surrounded by deep blue sea crashing bright white breakers onto the cliffs.  The road stopped at the NASA site at that time and the only way down there was to walk.  Fortunately, working with the Conservation Group there were many opportunities to go to the quieter, less accessible corners of Ascension Island, and immerse oneself in their amazing work to monitor its unique fauna and flora, but I leave that for another chapter.


Letterbox- the less accessible reaches of Ascension Island