Saturday, 8 September 2018

Science Research: Mars Direct

Mars true color

I'm reading Robert Zubrin's book Entering Space for research. Having debunked the idea of a colony on the Moon (see last week), Zubrin turns his attention to Mars. Unsurprising since the blurb on the back cover says that his humans-to-Mars mission plan has been adopted by NASA and he is the president of the Mars Society. At least he was in 1999 when this book was published.

... uniquely among the extraterrestrial bodies of our solar system, Mars is endowed with all the resources needed to support not only life but the development of a technological civilisation. In contrast to the comparative desert of Earth's moon, Mars possesses oceans of water frozen into its soil as permafrost, as well as vast quantities of carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen, all in forms readily accessible to those clever enough to use them. In addition, Mars has experienced the same sorts of volcanic and hydrologic processes that produced a multitude of mineral ores on Earth. Virtually every element of significant interest to industry is known to exist on the Red Planet. With its 24-hour day-night cycle and an atmosphere thick enough to shield its surface against solar flares, Mars is the only extraterrestrial planet that will readily allow large-scale greenhouses lit by natural sunlight. 

Can you tell he's a fan?

The Martian film

I find this information quite surprising in the light of the recent book and film The Martian, which portrays the struggle for survival of an astronaut left behind by a Mars mission. Still, it wouldn't be entertaining if it was easy. In The Martian an unmanned mission has been sent ahead with supplies and equipment, which the stranded astronaut makes use of. Zubrin has a plan he calls Mars Direct which works in a similar way. A robot mission goes first to make fuel, then more equipment and a habitation module, before a manned mission. Once everything is set up, the routine would be two launches every other year, one to land a crew and the other to prepare the site for the next mission. Crew would serve for 18 months, but later volunteers would be asked to stay longer, and a colony would begin.

… the problem of colonising Mars is not that of moving large numbers to the Red Planet but of the ability to use Martian resources to support an expanding population once they are there. 

Zubrin’s description of the progression of the colony from interconnected modules to pressurized buildings the size of shopping malls is truly inspiring. But it relies on the right people to catch the vision and work towards it. The sad thing is that the book was published in 1999 and nothing seems to be happening nearly twenty years later. One more quote:

Exploring Mars requires no miraculous new technologies, no orbiting spaceports, no gigantic interplanetary space cruisers. We can establish our first small outpost on Mars within a decade. We and not some future generation can have the eternal honor of being the first pioneers of this new world for humanity. All that’s needed is present-day technology, some nineteenth-century industrial chemistry, a solid dose of common sense, and a little bit of moxie.

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at

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