We do the time warp to December 21, 2026. The spacecraft Ares sends one hundred colonists rocketing toward Mars; among them is Maya Katarina Toitovna, the official leader of the Russian contingent.
The ship goes into a spin, using centrifugal force to produce pseudo-gravity of .38 gs (or thirty-eight percent of Earth's gravity). New Year's weight loss goal is in the bag.
Maya joins a cocktail party for the maiden (and only) voyage of the Ares, thinking to herself how she hopes this "marriage" will work out better than her last one since there's no divorcing this lot.
At the party, she locates her "opposite number" (2.2.11), Frank Chalmers, the American captain. She asks him if he thinks this'll be fun. Frank says only if things go well.
After the party, Maya gives herself—and readers—a tour of the ship. And believe us when we say that no amount of summary can do credit to the research Robinson has done here. Brilliant.
The next morning, Maya thinks on the course her mother's life took and then about her own and how it led her to having a relaxing breakfast en route to Mars.
Maya, her friend Nadia, and a guy named Arkady discuss making the Ares a little less cliquey by doing a room switch and integrating the Russian and American tours. They manage to make the ship "a little more cosmopolitan" (2.2.28).
Maya meets John Boone, the blond, friendly, and natural leader American-type guy.
She notices Frank and John have an… unusual relationship. Frank is technically the American leader, but Boone plays the role in actuality. They never seem to talk to one another but seem to have an unspoken bromance all the same.
One day, Ann Clayborne and Sax Russell are caught arguing over whether or not they have the right to terraform Mars (i.e., make the planet more Earth-like).
Ann thinks they don't, but Sax thinks their very presence will alter the planet, so why question it? Then again, shouldn't they have hashed this out before they were a million-plus miles away from Earth?
Maya thinks about life on Ares: their work, workout schedule, life-sustaining efforts, and leisure time. In other words, she gives us the day-to-day details of space life.
Oh, and then there are the simulations. Arkady runs the simulations and throws some pretty hair-raising scenarios at the crew, resulting in a ton of simulated deaths. Maya finds these fake deaths less permanent than true death but disheartening all the same.
These simulated disasters grant Arkady quite the reputation on the Ares.
Although scientists, the crew are still human and make the Ares the most expensive dormitory ever built—in other words, let the space sex begin.
Maya has a brief, albeit poorly managed, affair with Frank. She believes Frank considers their sexual encounters as conquests, though, and so she ends it.
The chapter ends with a brief aside that discusses how, in the process of traveling to Mars, leaving Earth is the hardest part thanks to its gravity well.