Book Review: Driving To Mars

Driving to MarsTrial and error is for tinkering. Simulations and analogues replace them for when grander projects are contemplated. William L. Fox in his book, Driving to Mars: In the Arctic with NASA on the Human Journey to the Red Planet gives us his experience in one of the Mars analogue sites situated on Earth. And, his writing shows that it’s humanity’s sense of being that is as much a subject of investigation as Mars itself.

Mars is the flagship target for NASA. The ongoing development for a lunar mission is a precursor to placing humans on Mars. Dates are bandied about, but hopefully, within a few decades, plans will become reality and human footfalls will descend on the red surface. Then, some of our compatriots will be able to point back at Earth while they’re traipsing over the Martian ground. Even though well into the future, there’s much that can be done in preparation. For, it is only with in-depth preparation that we will make the most of what will be an extremely costly voyage.

Using our knowledge of the Martian surface and environment, we’ve identified locations on Earth that should bear striking similarities. One of these is the Haughton Crater site on Devon Island. Here, NASA’s testing out methods and processes and it is here that Fox was a writer in residence. His book is thus a first hand account. He uses interesting points and counterpoints throughout. As such, Fox considers our upcoming voyage from many vantage points. He shows there’s advantages of having humans present. There’s the technical challenge of journeying across unknown and formidable terrain. And, there’s the concern about what we do with the planet once we hold it under our sway. Thus, NASA, and Fox, are at the Haughton crater analogue filling in some blanks.

Though NASA’s making technical preparations, Fox is a writer and doesn’t have the same agenda. His vision is understandably much different than that of an engineer. For instance, Fox expresses very little detail about temperatures, pressures and tensile strength and puts more into human expression and emotion. The underlying theme in his book is the consideration about why humans constantly push themselves. Yet, Fox presents it as if straight from his journal. Forays into manifest destiny, proprioception and terraforming come in conjunction with light hearted anecdotes of sticky mud and evening entertainment. Inuksuks, ATVs, weather forecasts and local politics keep the contents broader than straight technical talk.

And in accord with traditional works by writers and artists, as opposed to technicians, they expect the recipient to interpret. Fox does this no less. In his book, no butler is found guilty of a crime nor questor complete their journey. Instead, Fox chats about painting styles, differences between the Mars Society and the National Space Society and numerous mini-biographies of colleagues. He leaves it to the reader to bring these together and make a conclusion as would any good artist.

Yet, this divergence is also a weakness. It’s obvious that Fox has completed extensive research prior to writing this book. But, his research comes at the reader from disparate angles and the angles don’t always have a common vertex. True they are all applicable in some way or other with our upcoming voyage to Mars, yet so is most of humanity’s history. Thus, this book is not for a reader looking for a definitive consideration of voyaging to Mars. Rather, this book is for someone who’s interested in voyaging to Mars as much as they are interested in humanity’s voyage in self-discovery.

Mars orbits far away, but it is within our sites. William L. Fox in his book Driving to Mars: In the Arctic with NASA on the Human Journey to the Red Planet treats us to the fun of an earthly analogue helping to pave the way. He also shows that achieving footfall on Mars will be just another, significant step for our species.

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