on November 4, 2003
This book was an engaging, entertaining read on Mars exploration that I couldn't put down, finishing the dense 339 pages in two nights of reading. It primarily describes the activities of the Mars Society (led by the book's author) in setting up and running manned habitats at various Mars analogue sites on Earth. The purpose of these habitats is to simulate living, working and exploring under the constraints of a manned Mars mission. Among those constraints: spacesuits are worn when leaving the Mars station, communications with mission support are delayed and water is strictly conserved. All of this is necessary for conducting the group's research into how a real manned Mars mission should be designed and executed. The work is fascinating. And the descriptions in this book provide us a glimpse at what the first Mars explorers will experience.
But for a few notable exceptions, many of the technical results reported in the book are probably not all that useful. It is apparent that many of the author's technical conclusions are based on his personal opinions and not the result of any form of objective scientific inquiry. We will have to see what makes it into peer reviewed journals and conference proceedings to determine what this research really accomplished. Undoubtedly the Mars habitat water consumption and recycling information is important as are some of the exploration strategies discussed. But it appears as though the Mars Society is still developing an understanding as to what kinds of research can best be pursued at their habitats. Proving you can do various tasks in a very low fidelity spacesuit simulator is of extremely limited value.
Enhancing the book's interesting subject matter are the descriptions of the various personality conflicts among the Mars researchers and Mars Society members. One might assume that such a like-minded group of scientists and engineers could work together in harmony, but you would be wrong. At times, emotions clearly override logic during the course of the research. As described, one of the disputes, between two of the key players, leads to a major rift in the humans to Mars community which must be the reason why there is now a Mars Society and something called the Mars Institute. It is really a shame that folks with such a common goal cannot work together.
I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in space exploration and the future of the human race. You will learn about the human Mars mission work that is being conducted, right at this very moment, by a group of dedicated and knowledgeable individuals. Due to the shortsightedness of NASA and other major space agencies, this work has primarily fallen on the shoulders of volunteers who believe humans must go to Mars. The 2000 and 2001 Mars Arctic work documented in this book will certainly be remembered as humanity's historic first steps off the Planet and onto Mars. Enjoy the adventure!
on October 20, 2003
It is easy today to despair of the world and its future: The dot-com debacle, loss of 10% of the jobs in Silicon Valley, a terrorist attack on New York City and the Pentagon, two wars in the Middle East, Arabs blowing themselves up on public streets, the loss of another Shuttle craft.... Yet in this same period, the four years since 2000, the Mars Society has built three research stations and already operated two with thousands of crew person-days of simulated Mars missions. Hundreds of scientists and engineers have generated a copious web site of beautifully illustrated mission reports, produced Discovery Channel and National Geographic specials, published dozens of articles in trade journals such as Scientific American and Popular Science, and presented many inspirational talks in schools and museums.
All that since 1999, about 1500 days. All that while the world looked to be going to hell, when it seemed so easy to give up, to conclude that humans are indeed too limited, too battle hungry, too lost in vanity, greed, and nationalism.
Robert Zubrin and the Mars Society have shown another way. They have shown how to set a vision, creatively finance projects, endure physical challenges-and perhaps most difficult of all, work past their own emotional weaknesses and thirst for control. This group has actually built something: exalting futuristic "habitats" rising out of the Arctic and Southwest Desert. These research stations (Flashline Mars in the Arctic and the Desert Station in Utah) are not only symbols-for that they are, on a grand scale-these are places where real work has been done, where practical engineering and ideals have moved us measurably closer to living on Mars.
I claim that this step, what the Mars Society has done, is nothing less than a clarion call that we can defeat what is bad about humanity, that we can set a goal and a mission that makes life worth living, and gives real meaning to our time.
For in fact, all that the Mars Society has done in these four years, admirably well-told by Zubrin in this scholarly book, is a reminder of how far humanity has come in ten thousand years. The forces of the night have been defeated and can be set asunder, or we would not have come this far. Our ancestors have proven again and again that the ignorance and pettiness of the lizard brain within are no match for the spirit of human imagination, no match for the power of an enchanting vision, the cry of exploration and adventure-here, the thought of searching for fossils, walking on Mars.
The Mars Society and its thousands of supporters in universities, schools, media, and inside the space industry, have demonstrated faith and capable clarity of mind. These people, described throughout this inspiring book, are among the true leaders of our age. We meet Joe, an Inuit who guides us on Devon Island; Christine, a Canadian Chemist who plays Mozart in the hab, and Jim, former head of Kennedy Space Center's public outreach, who arranges to display a hab to 100,000 Cape Canaveral visitors. "Mars on Earth" tells of many more unbridled volunteers-architects, contractors, NASA scientists, reporters, giving their best. Despite moments of fear, equipment failure, and poor judgment, they pulled together, raised the habs, and filled them with imagination. I am proud to have participated, and in awe at the range of talent and creative joy I have found in the Arctic, in our habs, and conferences and local meetings.
If you don't know the story of the Mars Society, read this book, and you may discover a new meaning for your life. It is nothing less than that. And then go to [...] and join. Meet some of the best friends you will ever find. Show by your actions and support what humanity can be.
on December 29, 2003
I was hoping that Bob Zubrin would bring up to date his compelling book, The Case for Mars, and here it is! While centering on the drama and learnings of the historic Mars simulation projects, Zubrin also recaps in a frank and insightful way the rise of interest in "humans to Mars," the subsequent Mars Direct plan, and the interpersonal costs of this quest. I found the sim diaries intriguing, not tedious, as they brought to life the crew experience of Mars on Earth. I also appreciated Zubrin's personal summary of learnings from the projects to date -- ESA and NASA take note! I forgive Bob for his relentless optimism -- he has kept the vision alive and kicking in a most tangible way. This book appears at a crucial opportunity to rethink and recast the direction of human spaceflight. Let's get our act together, folks. Let's insist on humans to Mars in the near term. Do your part -- get informed, get excited, get active. As Bob says, "Join us."
on November 13, 2003
Dr. Zubrin's recollection of the events leading up to the formation of the Mars Society, the construction of the arctic and desert research stations, and the occupation of those stations to do real scientific research "in sim" takes the reader along in 1st person. For anyone interested in Mars exploration, or more generally anyone interested in how the scientific process can be faithfully applied to a problem, this book provides the reader with a page-turning ride from beginning to end. Zubrin's vision may not have always agreed with others involved in the Mars simulation research project. But his presence as a strong leader and dedication to conflict resolution during the expeditions certainly contributed to their overwhelming success. If your interest in this project has at all been piqued by the Discovery Channel specials, then this book will fill in all the blanks. Well done!