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Week #5: Creative Writing Challenge – Falling Out of Love

February 7, 2021

You were on your way to see a doctor who promised to know the secret to making yourself fall out of love with someone.

Christmas Star – Jupiter and Saturn Dec., 21 2020

Transcript from senate hearing on the EROS PROJECT, March, 10 2055. Lead investigator – Senator Markus Fresnick, Scientist in charge of the EROS PROJECT, NASA – Dr. Donald Hamlin:

SENATOR MARKUS FRESNICK: Welcome all. We are here today to investigate the use of the EROS PROJECT in past and future missions to Mars. The EROS PROJECT was a classified operation funded by NASA’s special projects division, and has been in use for the past 10 years. The project was brought to the attention of this body after a failed procedure resulted in unauthorized communication between an astronaut and a person on Earth. The goal of this investigation is to learn more about the science and ethical implications behind the EROS PROJECT. Shall we proceed? (a pause) As our first expert in this investigation, please introduce yourself, your background, and your role in the EROS PROJECT.

DR. DONALD HAMLIN: Hello. I am Dr. Donald Hamlin. I have Ph.D.’s from MIT and Stanford in neurochemical signaling and radiation oncology. I have an MD from Emory University. I did a fellowship at the Mayo Clinic and completed residency at Yale University in neurosurgery. For the last 12 years I have worked with NASA to develop and implement the EROS PROJECT in our Mars missions.

SENATOR MARKUS FRESNICK: Thank you Dr. Hamlin. Before we get into EROS PROJECT specifics, can you tell us about the physical and mental challenges that a mission to Mars might require from NASA’s astronauts?

DR. DONALD HAMLIN: A trip to Mars generally takes about 6-8 months depending on the alignment of Earth and Mars when the mission departs. Because of the current technological constraints on fuel, these are one-way missions designed to build habitations, do basic scientific explorations, and experiment with terraforming technology. This is all in anticipation of someday building a lasting human colony on Mars. Physical demands of the job require that astronauts are all in peak physical shape, and have the training necessary to operate all spacecraft and tools. Missions are limited to 5 people because of space constraints while traveling to Mars and limited supplies once the shuttle gets to the surface. The biggest mental challenges that the missions have faced are astronauts coping with never coming home, living in close quarters with others, anxiety associated with dangerous operations, and a shortened lifespan.

SENATOR MARKUS FRESNICK: Please expand on what you mean by “shortened lifespan”.

DR. DONALD HAMLIN: To be frank, these are one-way trips with limited supplies. Our astronauts leave Earth knowing that they will never come home, that any number of disasters could impede their travel or exploration on Mars, and they know that the chance of failure is high.

SENATOR MARKUS FRESNICK: Do the missions ever overlap? The next crew comes with more resources to save the previous crew?

DR. DONALD HAMLIN: Missions launch every 2 years based on the funding that NASA currently receives. NASA does not have the time or resources to send aid if a mission has failed. A mission has never arrived in time to see the previous mission.

SENATOR MARKUS FRESNICK: So you mean to tell me that every astronaut we have sent to Mars has died within 2 years?

DR. DONALD HAMLIN: Yes. 25 astronauts have given their lives in exploration of the universe, providing us with an untold amount of information that will help in future endeavors regarding setting up a colony on Mars.

SENATOR MARKUS FRESNICK: And this known, and expected loss of life, is okay with NASA?

DR. DONALD HAMLIN: I can’t speak for NASA as a whole, nor is that the topic of today’s inquiry, if I’m not mistaken.

SENATOR MARKUS FRESNICK: You are correct Dr. Hamlin. Apologies for getting off topic. Please tell us about your role in the Mars missions and the EROS PROJECT.

DR. DONALD HAMLIN: My area of scientific interest is… how to put in in layman’s terms? I am interested in how to disconnect a person’s emotions from memories. Some have so grossly pointed out that I am essentially interested in making people fall out of love, but that’s putting it crassly. Neurologically, every memory of a person, place, or thing is connected to a specific emotion in the brain. If that connection were severed somehow, that person would not associate the two, freeing them from the mental anguish of memories and letting them better focus on the tasks at hand.

SENATOR MARKUS FRESNICK: So you can make people forget about things?

DR. DONALD HAMLIN: No. The process doesn’t cause memory loss, it just dissociates memory from emotion.

SENATOR MARKUS FRESNICK: So how does this “interest” relate to the EROS PROJECT?

DR. DONALD HAMLIN: I was approached by NASA special projects director Dr. Thomas Pillbery about 12 years ago. He had seen some of my research on the subject and offered me a job to develop the technology for NASA’s Mars missions. Like I said earlier, one of the biggest mental challenges for astronauts going to Mars is the idea that they are leaving loved ones, and other things that they love behind, without the possibility of ever seeing or interacting with them again. Early long-haul space missions showed that astronauts suffered deep depressive episodes related to leaving Earth and their loved ones. Antidepressants were not successful in relieving symptoms. Surely you remember the failed manned-mission to Venus in 2038. The crew stopped following instructions from NASA headquarters and decided to use their “last resort” pills while orbiting the planet. NASA was looking for a way to make the long-haul journey mentally easier for astronauts. The idea was that if they were not missing loved ones or things on Earth they would be able to cope better with their situation and be more productive. The EROS PROJECT was the fruition of this idea.

SENATOR MARKUS FRESNICK: Can you provide more details for us? What does the process entail? When do the astronauts go through the process? Do they have a choice in the matter?

DR. DONALD HAMLIN: Astronauts train for Mars missions for three years leading up to launch. As soon as they start training in earnest, they are no longer allowed contact with their families and are sequestered to the Mars training site in Houston, Texas. About 6 months into training, when they clearly understand the risks and sacrifices of the mission, is when the EROS PROJECT process begins. The process involves three treatments. The first treatment uses a very sensitive functional MRI (it can distinguish neuronal bundles) to determine which neurons fire when the astronaut thinks about different things. We map out their brains, paying special attention to neurons firing in response to self-disclosed loved ones, loved things, and loved places. The second treatment uses stereotactic radiosurgery to target those neuronal areas identified in the first treatment. This radiosurgery is non-invasive, yet very precise, and kills cells in the identified areas and limits blood supply so the neurons connecting memory centers and emotional centers are destroyed. The third treatment uses conventional neurosurgery to remove any neuronal connections that were not destroyed by stereotactic radiosurgery.

SENATOR MARKUS FRESNICK: That seems rather invasive. Do astronauts have a choice in the procedure and what are the side effects?

DR. DONALD HAMLIN: All astronauts sign a waiver from NASA saying that they submit to any procedures that are deemed necessary to their success for the mission.

SENATOR MARKUS FRESNICK: That isn’t really an answer. Please answer the question.

DR. DONALD HAMLIN: I am not a lawyer. The exact wording of the waiver document is unknown to me. For my part, I have been instructed to explain the procedure itself to each subject, but it was indicated to me that I should not give additional details about the purpose behind the procedure.

SENATOR MARKUS FRESNICK: Were you given those instructions in writing?


SENATOR MARKUS FRESNICK: Please continue. Side effects?

DR. DONALD HAMLIN: The procedure is done fairly early in the training cycle, so we have almost 2 years to assess any impacts. We have close to perfected the procedure with very little damage. Some of the side effects we have seen include: loss of specific memories, mild headaches, mentally tiring more easily, and irritability. In no case were these side effects significant enough to impact technical ability or interpersonal skills to a degree that they would affect the mission.

SENATOR MARKUS FRESNICK: So what do families have to say about this?

DR. DONALD HAMLIN: Astronauts live at the Mars training site and are not allowed contact with their families, even if they wanted to. But the procedure ensures they have little desire for contact and are highly productive in their training. There has been no knowledge of the EROS PROJECT outside of the Mars mission team until now.

SENATOR MARKUS FRESNICK: Yes, a member of the latest Mars mission, Adrian Logos, placed an unauthorized communication to a NASA staff member, who then leaked the story to newspapers. Can you explain scientifically what went wrong with his procedure?

DR. DONALD HAMLIN: Based on our documentation for Adrian, the procedure went perfectly.

SENATOR MARKUS FRESNICK: Well something went wrong. Can you speculate?

DR. DONALD HAMLIN: Without examining Adrian, I don’t feel like speculation is appropriate.


DR. DONALD HAMLIN: One possibility is that the procedure did work as planned, but in the two and a half years after the procedure and before launch, Adrian formed strong attachments to the NASA staff member whom he contacted from deep space. Like I said earlier, the procedure does not prevent a person from forming new memories and emotional attachments. Another possibility is that the neurons in Adrian’s brain formed new synapses to bypass the damaged ones associated with emotion, essentially allowing Adrian to keep semblances of his previous connections. Maybe the NASA staff member was the only one he could think to contact that would publicize the story. You should really ask her.

SENATOR MARKUS FRESNICK: Yes, she is on our list of witnesses over the next few days. Dr. Hamlin, could you describe any feelings that were vocalized about the EROS PROJECT by those working on the Mars missions team?

DR. DONALD HAMLIN: There were not many people on the Mars missions team that knew specifics about the EROS PROJECT. There were always whispers about changes in the astronauts after the procedure; less talk about their families, a surprising vigor in which they attacked their training, and a general aloofness. But many just chalked it up to a better understanding of what they would be up against and a motivation to succeed.

SENATOR MARKUS FRESNICK: There was an email exchange between you and a co-worker, a Rachel Li, about the EROS PROJECT from 2053. Please tell us who Rachel Li was and what the email exchange was about.

DR. DONALD HAMLIN: Dr. Rachel Li was a talented radiation oncologist that I knew from Stanford and brought her into the EROS PROJECT in 2050 to help perfect the stereotactic radiation part of the procedure. We had been friends since our time at Stanford. After a couple years of working together, Rachel was starting to question the ethics of our project. She advocated, verbally and in emails, for telling astronauts about the purpose of the procedure, confident that if they really were invested in the mission that they would willingly go through the process. She thought it was a violation of their rights to essentially remove their loved ones from their heads, regardless of the mission. Love was a basic human emotion, she said. If we couldn’t explore the universe without love, we didn’t deserve to succeed. Rachel became more and more outspoken, and even went above my head to Dr. Pillbery to advocate. Directly after that, Rachel quit, and then two weeks later she was in a fatal car accident.

SENATOR MARKUS FRESNICK: In your opinion, as a scientist, what are the ethical dilemmas associated with the EROS PROJECT.

DR. DONALD HAMLIN: As an impartial scientist, which, as the leader of this project, I am not, there are several ethical implications involved in the EROS PROJECT. First and foremost: Is it ethical to dissociate memories and emotions at all? If we were looking at cases of PTSD, I don’t think any would argue that it would be a huge benefit to those that suffer if painful experiences could be dissociated from the emotions associated with those experiences. But we’re talking about the memories and emotions associated with loved ones. Many think that the ability to form attachments and experience love is essential to the human condition. Is suffering not also essential to the human condition? Second: To what extent are we willing to go to ensure success in a Mars colony? It’s clear that the damage we have done to Earth will not be fixed in our lifetime or any human timeline. Ensuring our survival as a species means expanding the places we call home. Mars is the closest semi-habitable planet and our survival might depend on success in setting up a colony there. We are in our infancy regarding space travel. It is dangerous, but should we not risk it just because it’s dangerous? Third: Putting these two together, Is it ethical to dissociate memories and emotions if it increases the chances that we succeed in ensuring the survival of our species? (pause)


DR. DONALD HAMLIN: I think ethics is all about the timeline. In 100 years, when half our land is underwater and humanity is facing famine, will this even be a question? Maybe we’ll have another technological revolution, and can figure out how to travel both ways between here and Mars, but more likely is that our money will go towards saving people here on Earth and we won’t have the funds for space travel. Now is the time to help our species survive. Is that not worth the ethical concerns?

SENATOR MARKUS FRESNICK: Is it worth surviving if our moral and ethical capacity is compromised? Humanity won’t be the same.

DR. DONALD HAMLIN: Even humans are subject to evolution.

SENATOR MARKUS FRESNICK: I think that’s all the questions we have for today. Thank you for your time Dr. Hamlin.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Yael Kisel permalink
    February 8, 2021 3:43 pm

    Seriously scary! This feels like it would do well in a sci if short story magazine 🙂

    • Yael Kisel permalink
      February 8, 2021 3:43 pm

      *sci fi

      • mlwattsupp permalink*
        February 13, 2021 9:02 pm

        Yeah, super scary. I think this kind of theme is going to start showing up a lot more frequently in sci fi stories.

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