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on August 28, 2000
Hmmm... this is a difficult one to review.
This book is basically an advertisement for the author's "Mars Direct" scheme for manned mars missions.
On the one hand I laud Zubrin for all the time and effort he has placed into thinking up his "Mars Direct" plan for manned mars missions. The idea is certainly appealing and contians much that had never been presented before. Most interesting is his idea to live off of the land to minimize the need for bringing unneeded supplies and fuel.
On the other hand, it is apparent on first inspection that there are no shortage of technical shortcomings for the Mars Direct plan despite it's advantages. Much (if not all) of the hardware that would be required for Zubrin's plan does not exist today or exits in a format that is so far from practical application that for all intents and purposes it cannot yet be applied to this idea. Zubrin seems to assume that everything will work smoothly and that one mission will just flow smoothly into another. Both the US and Soviet space programs have clearly shown that hardware mishaps occur, usually with disastrous results. Zubrin's dependence on unmanned vehicles to go on ahead in advance and land safely as well as on target time after time is very unrealistic. If these unmanned vehicles malfunctioned or crashed everything is on hold for months or years until the problem can be fixed. The text does not even mention possible problems with the Mars Direct approach, a serious editorial oversight.
I don't mean to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Zubrin means well, and if more of us gave this problem the amount of effort he has, we would have been on mars 20 years ago. Read this book for it's novel ideas, but don't buy into them hook, line, and sinker.
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on September 1, 1998
This book is one of the few books that I have read on the subject of Mars exploration that has been written by an expert in the field. It is therefore well informed and Highly Interesting. Robert Zubrin put forward a convincing plan to bring man to the red planet. Unfortunately in the second part of the book the author goes a bit beyond his field. The economic arguments for colonizing mars are at time doubtful and naive. The plan to terraform Mars appears to be more science fiction than science. Finally the philosophical reason for the colonization are a matter of opinion that might not be shared by all. Over all the book is interesting, but one feels that the author should have more to the subject he knows well and not venture out to much into speculation, which blunt the overall effect of the book
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on August 13, 2003
It's easy to get caught up in Zubrin's excitement as he describes a way to send humans to Mars within 10 years, leapfrogging NASA projects and cutting NASA cost estimates by 90%. But then you start seeing the holes in his Mars Direct plan. The launch vehicle we would need (the Saturn V) hasn't existed for 30 years. Restarting production would be difficult and expensive. Alternatives are little more than conceptual art. If we were to get the first stage to Mars, it would have to land on its own (something we haven't had much luck with lately) and then set up an atmospheric distillery that would operate perfectly for months without any maintenance. While Zubrin has proven the distillery is technically possible, his model looks like something you would see at a high school science fair. If we get this far, we would send 4 astronauts on a 6-month journey in a tin can with space limitations so severe the inhabitants will envy maximum-security inmates. If the astronauts are able to land successfully, they have a 6-month stay ahead of them followed by a 6-month return journey. Zubrin doesn't want any doctors on the trip so these people will need to be perfectly healthy for 18 months in some of the most severe environments mankind has ever tested.
But why go to Mars? Zubrin tries to tie going to Mars to man's need for exploration and future economic benefit. It's an intriguing argument, but it fails. The only real reason to go to Mars now is to determine if there is or has been life there. Actually, finding no life will make the most people happy. If no life is found in a particular spot, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist somewhere on the planet and another mission is justified. Not finding life also allows religions to still claim that life only exists on Earth. Actually finding past or present life would throw humanity into a quandary it probably isn't ready for.
Latter chapters of the book deal with setting up colonies and terraforming the planet. Surprisingly, Zubrin doesn't address native life on Mars at all. If life is found, do we have the right to set up colonies or take steps that may wipe out Martian life only for our own good? Did we not learn anything from the American west and Native Americans? While it may not be Zubrin's place as a scientist to worry about such problems, if he can speculate on selling Martian land without anyone being on the planet he certainly has the responsibility to address issues related to actual Martians.
When we do decide to go to Mars, let's make sure it's for the right reasons. Those reasons are lacking in this book.
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