FRIDAY 9 NOVEMBER 2001, 19.40 hours

Location: Arkaroola
Written by: Jennifer Laing

Well, all good things have to come to an end. I am writing this while waiting for my flight back to Melbourne after two weeks in the Outback. There is a sense of satisfaction with the work we have done and we have managed to narrow the site for a research facility down to three - Woomera, Arkaringa near Coober Pedy and the Arkaroola region in the Northern Flinders Ranges. The successful site will be announced to the media next week.

Today was a long drive, and Jon did the last radio interview with a Newcastle FM station during a road-side stop. What would we do without that satellite phone? Lunch at a pub at Yunta - bittersweet to think that we would soon be going our separate ways.

Before this trip, I was apprehensive as to how the group would meld together, given their diversity. A group of high achievers in a pressure-cooker situation could result in melt-down. I shouldn't have worried. The camaraderie and shared purpose that developed during the first Jarntimarra expedition will stay with me for a long time.

It was wonderful to see how the group worked in tandem in often trying conditions, with surprising discipline and good humour. Heat, dust and lack of sleep didn't send people off the deep end, which is pretty amazing. I guess the shared vision of sending humans to Mars is what created the bond, but also I think it was just the serendipity of getting a good mix of old, young, experienced and enthusiastic people who complimented each other and ended up working as a harmonious team. I feel pretty privileged to have been able to join them, and can say I've had the time of my life.

What memories will I take away with me? Sitting around the campfire or bundled up in one of the vehicles, swapping stories and backgrounds, those long evening sessions around the laptops, swatting flies, and swigging water from Jarntimarra water bottles (a god-send). Discovering what makes people tick, why they entered their profession and why they are fascinated in the idea of human spaceflight. Realizing that Australia is a vast, wonderful, awe-inspiring, yet harsh landscape - not one to be taken lightly or to encounter without plenty of support and pre-planning. Perhaps that's why Australians are pulled inexorably towards Mars. We know what it takes.