A new book available now, How We’ll Live on Mars by Stephen Patranek is the latest addition to the greatly increasing debate about Mars. Not that this is a new topic, the father of the US space missions, Werner Von Braun wrote about getting to Mars Das Marsprojekt probing people were thinking of this since the 1940’s, however Patranek is one of an increasing number of voices decrying the failure to use current technology to do the job now.
The book isn’t long, just less than 100 pages, but it may be an effective motivating call for space enthusiasts everywhere to begin to make this hot topic more mainstream. Like the Mar’s Society’s Robert Zubrin, Patranek argues that we’ve had the technology for the job for some time, and it’s been the lack of political will where the failure lies. Also, like other Mars enthusiasts, Patranek see this topic in the broader narrative of a destiny for mankind to be an interplanetary species in order to survive further into the future beyond the life-span of our own planet.
Patranek is clearly a fan of Space X and Elon Musk, and the book contains much praise of Space X’s efforts and advancements with reusable rockets, and the Dragon spacecraft. Of course Musk’s efforts have always been with the declared purpose of going to Mars, and so it’s perhaps natural that this is a feature in this book too, but Patranek is capable of putting this into context with changing opinions more widely, at NASA and elsewhere.
Patranek makes comparisons between the first Mars settlers and the early settlers in North America. It’s one that is often used, but it’s fertile ground for the imagination. Many settlers in New England were wiped out by the first winter there because they had no idea how brutal it would be compared to the milder (but admittedly damp) climate they had come from in Britain. There will be many pitfalls for the early Mars settlers, and it strikes me that this is at the heart of an interesting element in this topic – the need for government agencies and others to ‘sanitise’ colonisation of Mars; for it to only be acceptable once we have mitigated every imaginable risk. While this is an impossible task anyway, it’s flatly against the pioneering spirit in any adventure, and certainly had nothing in common with the settlers in North America. People dies on voyages that lasted months, perished in harsh winters, starved to death: most of the early settlers to New England failed. This is history not much talked about perhaps in a modern nation that is now the richest in the world, but the fundamental nature of being pioneers maybe isn’t for national agencies, and as ever, it can only be down to the tenacity of individuals and risk-takers. This is the world of the private companies and individuals such as Space X and Elon Musk, so it probably is hard to overestimate the impact such people are having on this possible future for mankind.
A broad array of topics are covered in this brief book, for example the import aspect of the economic feature of a Mars settlement-rush, from mining to reality TV, and of course touching on terraforming, but Patranek is clearly an optimist and see the endeavor of settling Mars and something that can and should inspire us, not as an escape from problems on earth, but as part of the solution. Well worth a read for anyone with an interest in Mars, or even environmental and social issues here on Earth. Find it at the usual places, on Amazon here, and Google play books here.
Review by R. Adlard