Posts Tagged With: Mars

Mars Awaits

This month, Mars moves into the best position for observers on Earth since 2003. What Mars book are you reading to welcome the Red Planet?

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Long Road to Mars

Mars has beckoned us since ancient times. The red orb traveling across the sky, stoking imaginations around the world. Then came the telescope and sightings of shifting dark areas and “canals.” Armadas of robots would reveal a desolate world, once wet and dynamic, laid waste by some cosmic catastrophe. Yet it was writers that kept us looking to the Red Planet.

From the epic John Carter adventures, to The Martian Chronicles, to the more recent The Martian, there has been a steady stream of visions of Mars. Now comes J.C.L. Faltot‘s The Road to Mars.

Decades from now, Mars has been colonized, but war came between the planets. Earth was left in a ruined state and its people blame Mars. Darion and his daughter Olivia travel through the ruined cities, looking for a way to leave. He believes life on Mars is better, like Earth once was. But there is more.

The Darklight is destroying Earth. Shadows lurk in the darkness. What is the Solfire? And do those who lived before the Pulse, know the truths of both worlds?

The Road to Mars, part one of a trilogy, begins differently than most Mars novels. Here we are in a dystopian landscape, and a father and daughter fight to survive, somewhat reminiscent of The Road. Elements of Light versus Darkness lurking in the background and simmering under the surface, remind me of Chris Walley‘s The Lamb Among the Stars series. Combined, these create a fresh new story of survival, choice and destiny.

Road is a compelling journey with well-realized characters, who don’t all end up quite as one would expect. All this before anyone reaches Mars, so you will be anticipating book two and what lies among the red sands.

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Epic Sci-Fi…From 1933

It seems that many authors think that their sci-fi or fantasy books must run 200,000 words to qualify as a world-building epic. As we discussed before, that isn’t always the case. There are many lengthy books that are must reads, but many others that fail to let their stories breath and trust their readers’ imaginations.

Older sci-fi tended to be much shorter, such as Otis Adelbert Kline’s The Swordsman of Mars and The Outlaws of Mars. A contemporary of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Kline wrote in the same vein of swashbuckling adventures.

Does the short nature of these books mean they lack detail? No, you quickly find yourself on the red world, immersed in another culture. for a short while you are there on a world that never was. I have often argued that just enough detail can go along away to implanting images in the reader’s mind. Describing every last button and rock along the trail just slows down the journey.

A writer must learn when to detail and when not to. Where to pause and give more, and where to forge ahead and trust the reader. Surely reader preferences may come into play, but most want to be pulled in and stranded in a fantastic adventure.

The Red Planet is a good of a place as any to start.

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Under the Moons of Mars

Mars has always weighed heavy on man’s imagination. Since ancient times, the red planet has hung in the sky taunting us. Before space probes revealed it to be a dead world, it was where many authors set their adventures. Even afterwords, it has still lured writers there. First Burroughs and Bradbury explored the races among the red canyons and hills of the dying world. Even much later, Ben Bova’s manned mission to Mars found hints of a lost civilization.

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Perhaps the allure of Mars stays strong, in spite of being empty of cities and canals, because it still is seen as the most livable planet after Earth. That’s not saying much, considering how quickly one would die on its surface. But as planets go, it has resources that can be converted to fuels and supplies. And even better, perhaps it can be terraformed into a livable planet as outlined in Kim Stanley Robinson’s epic Mars Trilogy (starting with Red Mars). Robert Zubrin, in his The Case for Mars, describes how we can get there and why we should.

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Recent years have seen a growing armada of robots to Mars. It is obvious that its ancient hold on us has not gone away. While many people can’t break away from their televisions, the distant red sands still call on that part remaining inside of many humans that wants to explore and push our race forward out of the mud. Yes, there are those alien enthusiasts who get excited every time a rock looks like a “bone” or something and then conspiracy theories come out of the woodwork. Sorry, as much as we would like otherwise, Mars has not been hospitable to complex life even in the best of times. In fact, the universe is likely very barren. Most people look out at all the stars and think, “There must be millions of worlds out there teeming with life!” Yet, even statistics must yield to physics. The requirements for life are so specific and narrow, there are few places out there that could harbor others like us (or unlike us).

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Some think it depressing we may be all alone. Others still think advanced aliens are flying here in little ships that buzz cars in remote locations and crash a lot. Then perhaps, as many have suggested, maybe because we are here against impossible odds, we are special after all?

Even after all these centuries, Mars still calls on us to find our place and purpose in the universe. That is why writers will still explore the red sands until others finally set foot where water once flowed.

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A Pioneer Looks to Our Future

I’ve long been a supporter of space exploration. It is often one of the few bright spots in the world of government-funded programs. However, I have come to realize that it’s that same government that has crippled our ventures in the final frontier. Nearly every new president rolls out a new “vision” for NASA, often discarding whatever the previous leader had promoted. Funding is just potential “get votes” for visionless Congress and has largely been stagnate as they prefer to send money to other countries or bailout only the companies that support them. So space exploration moves along in fits and starts. I was pleased to see that Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin largely shares these views in his new book Mission to Mars.

For decades, Buzz has championed our expansion in space and in this new book discusses how our government-run program has both succeeded and failed. He also sees the recent growth in private efforts in space travel as a new turning point on the frontier. This is indeed correct, and creating an environment where these efforts can continue to thrive and expand is critical. NASA has already begun relying on private industry to supply the International Space Station. Soon they will deliver astronauts and companies have begun using the facilities that once launched the shuttles. NASA has laid the groundwork, now the people must take over. If they do, space will no longer be the realm of the few.

Buzz details how NASA shouldn’t be tied up in returning people to the Moon. Certainly they should be involved in technology transfer, training, design and U.S. participation, but their main thrusts should be elsewhere. They went to the Moon 45 years ago. Time to trailblaze elsewhere. And that place is Mars.

The Apollo veteran outlines his cycler design which would put spacecraft in continuous flight between Mars and Earth. It’s an ingenious design that uses physics and reusable vehicles. Is it the only option? No, and he briefly mentions the Mars Direct plan that Robert Zubrin laid out years ago. It uses current technology and in-situ use of resources on Mars to drastically lower costs of a mission. It was the baseline for NASA plans for a time. Buzz’s plan has some overlap with Zubrin’s, though I think both can be used. Mars Direct is still the simplest way for early missions to reach Mars. Later, it could be used in tandem with cyclers to increase travel opportunities to Mars (and I’m sure technology will improve both methods, see Case for Mars for more on Mars Direct).

We also read on the potential of mining asteroids and the real need to detect and deflect ones that threaten Earth. Buzz’s plan to first land humans on the Martian moon Phobos before Mars seems an unnecessary detour, though the satellite does have potential for the outposts he describes. He implores that whomever is president in 2019 to use the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11 to commit to a Mars mission. I think this would be another empty vision from our politicians who cannot see past another election cycle. There is no Cold War to drive the project. Just as the people are taking over spaceflight, travel beyond our world will be up to them as well (perhaps Mars One).

NASA will surely be a part of it and maybe enough forward-thinking people exist in our government to support it. They can justify it anyway they want to: Jobs, technology, education, exploration, resources. It would certainly be a huge step forward against all of our steps backwards.

In 1989, Buzz stood on stage as President George Bush put forth a plan to reach Mars in 2019. The poorly conceived plan went no where. Now we are talking about announcing a mission in 2019 that won’t even happen for many years after. That, to me, isn’t very visionary. We need to get past the government-style pushing off the future to some indeterminate time that often never arrives. Buzz asks, “America, do you still dream great dreams?”

Do you?

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Mars: A New Hope

NASA’s most ambitious Mars probe is set to land late today (or early tomorrow, depending where you live). NASA is one of the few government programs that actually invests in a major — and important — industry that supports high-tech jobs and science and technology advancement. However, the geniuses in Washington has been throwing NASA under the bus as of late. They’d rather bailout unsuccessful ventures. But I digress. At least NASA is finally relying more on the commercialization of space. Now if they only would do that with the International Space Station.

Man’s obssesion with Mars has been detailed by many authors in great fiction. Ray Bradbury’s classic The Martian Chronicles showed us the ruins of a dying world.

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ swashbuckling John Carter series is an amazing adventure series decades ahead of its time.

Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy is a detailed epic on man’s settlement and terraforming of the Red Planet.

There are many others, but these are of the best. Even though Mars is a dead world, it still draws us to it as one of the most dynamic — and mysterious — worlds in our Solar System. As unfolds in Robinson’s novels, it’s the most likely world for humans to colonize if we can ever begin to look further than next week. Robert Zubrin’s The Case For Mars explains the reasons and means for exploring the Red World.

In an era where the politicians lack any vision, and most people wander aimlessly through life, maybe Mars will inspire a few to raise the bar.

Especially in this election year with the same empty promises and waves of deception, Mars could be just what we need.

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But What of Our Future?

Here we often discuss history, but what of our future? I wonder this as the shuttle program ends and after reading the The Case for Mars. The exploration of space is adrift, blown about by the shallow whims of politicians only interested in making it to the next election.

Will the lessons of history that tell us of the perils of short-sightedness ever impact the feeble minds of Washington?

Rome. China. The Middle East. All, often for centuries, turned their backs on the future for many regrettable reasons. Space travel held so much promise in the 1960s to turn people away from killing each other and enter into a prosperous adventure exploring a new frontier. Even though Apollo was largely born out of Cold War politics and launched on military technology, it was of such scale that it had Earth-changing potential.

Then it was ended.

Nixon canceled the last missions even though most of the hardware was already paid for or built. Then started decades of going nowhere, trapped in low-earth orbit. Nearly each president releasing a “vision” for the future then abandoning it. Plan after plan with no purpose other than to secure short-term votes only to have the next leader trash it. Note how they put goals so far out in the future that it would not matter if it failed or not. One of President Obama’s current “visions” is men visiting asteroids by 2025.

2025? This could be done by 2017. Asteroids are rich in mineral resources, yet as long as the government runs the show with their fake plans, we will never get there. The Moon has enough helium-3 to fuel the world for generations. Yet we still fight over gas and oil and hope for the best.

When will a politician come along with real vision? Not worried about making it to the next election? Someone who can explain why the final frontier is valuable and attainable? A person who pushes the government out of the way and lets the people take control?

Certainly the shuttle had its successes. It was an amazing vehicle that flew for three decades. It was also an engineering nightmare with too many compromises. Too much promised and too many eggs in one basket. The technical marvel, the International Space Station, is also an achievement. It also is underutilized and without direction. It almost became like, “Let’s get it finished, have it orbit a few years, then figure something out.” Its value as proving ground for private space efforts or Mars exploration is grossly unused.

Not that it is needed to go to Mars. The Case for Mars proved that. It also proved it doesn’t take decades or unimaginable amounts of money. NASA briefly pursued it and for a few short years began to embrace simpler, commonsense approaches to exploring Mars and the Moon. Then the superbrains of Washington intervened once again.

The government bailed out companies and banks that did everything wrong, but what of the space workers? The people who invested in our future? The people that did everything right and what was asked of them? The people who wanted to do so much more?

There are glimmers of hope as the private space industry finally emerges from underneath the crushing weight of the government and industry giants (i.e. SpaceX). But will someone in this election year actually stand up and provide a real vision? Not another fabricated feel-good plan that requires us to start from scratch again?

This isn’t new or hard. We did it over 30 years ago. Let’s leave our children something other than crushing debt and a legacy bereft of any forward-thinking.

Who will answer the challenge?

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John Carter of Mars

If you’ve seen the movie previews of John Carter and the name is not familiar, you’ve missed out on an epic sci-fi series. The classic eleven-book series from Edgar Rice Burroughs, written decades ago, was ahead of its time. During the era when Mars was still the subject of many a fantasy and full of life, Burroughs created this swashbuckling adventure. John Carter, earthling and Civil War vet, finds himself somehow on Mars (Barsoom) in the midst of a war. Fantasy, sci-fi and high adventure form these best of Burroughs’ works, even though he is often better remembered for Tarzan and The Land that Time Forgot. Hopefully, the film-makers do the first book justice and we can look forward to more.

All eleven books in four volumes: Books 1-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-11.

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