Whenever I hear about going to Mars, I instantly think of Dave Chappelle doing the Black Bush skit and it makes me laugh. And then I grow up a bit and get down to the “Man, it would be so cool to go to Mars” thinking. Not as in ME personally going (although if it was happening now and I had no one in my life I would miss a ton, I’d consider it), but as in I would really love to see humanity making trips to Mars before I die a little old lady.
I’m already a fan and supporter of space travel. I don’t think that it’s prioritized enough in our government – SO much information, research, and boosts in technology could come from further exploration of space. So I read this book more because Robert Zubrin outlines how exactly we could put in a motion a manned mission to Mars, with current technology. I wouldn’t recommend this to the average reader who wants more of a “WHY we should go to Mars” type of read. He absolutely touches on that and makes a lot of valid points, but this book is more about how exactly we would carry that out, with a lot of technical lingo in it.
The Mars plan that Zubrin helped to create is called Mars Direct, and he spends most of the book discussing how this plan would be carried out – the technology used, how we would get there and back, how we would explore Mars and do search on it, how we would build a permanent base there, all the way to eventually terraforming Mars – turning it into a warm, wet planet once again over the course of decades. He also tackles what he calls the “dragons and sirens” – things that people use as a reason to not go forth with humans exploring Mars, and why those reasons aren’t valid points. (I particularly enjoyed his discussion of how the risk of radiation is there, but overstated, and if the astronauts themselves are willing to take that increased risk of cancer, why would we refuse to let them go?)
One of the most interesting chapters was at the end, in which he talks about the biggest obstacles standing in the way of space travel right now – politics, and money. He discusses two “models” of getting Mars missions under way. One was the “JFK model”, in which the current president rallies the cause and the government funds everything. The second was the “Sagan model”, in which we team up with other countries and work together to fund an international manned Mars mission. And the third (and possibly the one I liked the most) was the “Gingrich model” – the government offering cash prizes to private people/companies who can accomplish certain Mars-travel related missions, leading to the ultimate prize for being the first to send a manned mission to Mars. I like this model because it leads to private innovators all working on the same thing, but separately and essentially funding it themselves. And if these innovators fail, they don’t get the prize, which means zero taxpayer money would be used unless someone actually accomplishes something. That’s a plan that pretty much anyone can support, since there’s no “the government shouldn’t be wasting money on this” argument there.
Anyways, I enjoyed this. Zubrin seemed a tad over-confident sometimes, but overall he was clear and explained things well. Too well, in fact – like I said earlier, he used way too much technical jargon. I’m absolutely interested, but I’m not a scientist or engineer – I don’t need to know the exact chemical formulas for creating rocket fuel, ya know? If Zubrin’s mission is to attract the average curious reader and get them excited about Mars exploration, he might lose them when it gets SO information-heavy.
Overall I’m glad that I finally read this book (I’ve had it on my radar for about 2 years) and I’m definitely keeping it on my shelf.
Sarah Says: 3.75 stars