Book Review: How To Live On Mars

Article written: 28 Jun , 2009
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
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With all the probes recently landing on Mars, it’s no wonder we feel that the planet is close enough to vacation there. Robert Zubrin has such a scheme already in place for his book entitled “How to Live on Mars – A Trusty Guidebook to Surviving and Thriving on the Red Planet“. Though vacationers are welcome, he much more expects the arrival of immigrants who are ready and raring to put spade into ground for a homestead of the future.

Even though people have yet to land on Mars, our probes peer down, crawl upon and drill into all parts of the Martian surface. From them, we’ve a good understanding of the atmospheric make-up, the surface composition and likely sub-surface material. And, results indicate that people could exist on that planet, but it would be anything other than a comfortable existence. At least at the beginning.

Though the future’s not certain, Zubrin’s book takes the possibly optimistic view of a wise Martian resident providing glimmers of hope for new immigrants. Using an active, present tense, his book dollops up words and ideas of wisdom, such as selecting an appropriate space suit, deciding on the best location for a space hab, and fine-stepping through bureaucratic shenanigans. A humorous slant on the decision making and a slight bend toward technical details make the reading fun and informative. Occasionally, the reader may forget that the book’s proverbial vantage point occurs sometime about a hundred years in the future.

Were this book only providing a light and possible view of human activities in the future, it would have made for a very enjoyable read. But, Zubrin can’t seem to resist throwing darts and arrows at apparently favourite targets of NASA, big business and government bureaucracy. An occasional jab would have grounded the book into mainstream opinion. But, Zubrin takes every issue in the guide book and glamorizes his decision at the expense of “the charlatans of NASA” and corrupt governments. Thus, even though the perspective is from the future, the book seems a critique of the present.

Yet, Zubrin has a lot of experience in the space field, including living at a Mars analog. This experience comes alive in the book, whether from the viewpoint of people on Mars who soar with flying chickens or who safe habitation modules from marauding goats. And yes, with a lot of people on Mars, there will be need for governments and some corruption will likely exist. After all people aren’t perfect. But, we still have to get there, and reading this book may help place us all a little closer to living upon that not so far away planet.

Once we have the vehicles to carry our bodies to Mars and once a substantial number of people live there, then we will need guidebooks on how the rest of us can join in. Though perhaps jumping the gun a bit, Robert Zubrin’s book “How to Live on Mars – A Trusty Guidebook to Surviving and Thriving on the Red Planet” presents one particular view on people’s needs to living on that little red speck that we see in the night sky. Perhaps with more people imagining our presence there, then we won’t have to wait so long for the eventuality to occur.


7 Responses

  1. damian says

    Building a (comfortable) spaceship or planetary habitat isnt impossible, just too expensive. The best design we have for a spaceship is our own planet, thats where we should start our designs.

    Lets face it, tin cans in space just are not going to cut it.

    Personally my thoughts are that we wont readily create colonies on other planets if we figure out how to live in space. Why go back?

    Just an aside to the article, interesting sounding book, will seek it out.

    Regards
    Damian K

  2. Dark Gnat says

    The only way that real colonization will occur is if there is financial motivation.

    If rare materials are found on Mars, Ceres, Io, Europa, and Titan, then colonization might occur. Especially, if these bodies have something that is very rare on Earth.

    I can also see Mars as a place to alleviate the overpopulation of Earth, which is becoming a critical problem. Still, any colony must be self sustaining in order to work.

  3. Lawrence B. Crowell says

    A manned mission to Mars with 5 to 10 people will cost in the $trillions. Imagine how much it will cost to loft hundreds of millions of people to Mars. It will not happen any day at all soon, if ever.

    This all makes for a nice StarTrekkie sort of dream, but reality seems to always intrude. The costs for such expansive space exploration, and frankly space exploitation, would staggering. In order for a space colony to be sustainable it has to support itself in terms of energy and economics. So a small to modest Martian colony would have to generate multi-trillions of dollars in economic throughput to support itself. So a 1-10,000 person colony would have to act economically as some super-Hong Kong or mega-Dubai in space.

    None of this is going to happen, at least not at all soon. I suspect that Mars 100 years from now will be more of lress as it is now, but with the addition of a few dozen robots and landing craft. Most of these will be interplanetary junk of sorts.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  4. Dark Gnat says

    I should point out that I don’t think colonization will be guided by NASA or any other space agency.

    If it does happen, it will be the result of private industries, who can develop their own technolgy, such as modular launch vehicles and hibitation. Private companies would be in competition with each other, which could also speed up the process.

    Again, they probably wouldn’t do it unless there is something valuable to mine or research.

  5. Spoodle58 says

    I totally agree with what Bob Zubrin wants to do with Mars and I have read most of his books but I thought this one wasn’t the best, the humour in the book was a bit silly but still I thought it worth a read, anything Mars related is 🙂

    I would recommend A Travelers Guide To Mars by William K. Hartmann as a better guide book to the red planet or even Bob Zubrins Case For Mars for some further Mars Reading.

  6. Spoodle58 says

    In response to Lawrence B. Crowell.

    In the 1890’s in London, people predicted that by the year 2000, 8 meters of horse manure would fill all the streets of London.

    Then the car was mass produced.

    Who knows what the future will bring, but right now we can still dream, that is something we will always have.

  7. Andy F says

    Hundreds of years from now, – I can’t see humans being restricted solely to the Earth. Granted, space travel, as Sagan stated in Pale Blue Dot, may not be the panacea to population increase, but I’m sure manned flight will eventually reach into our solar system and then the stars beyond.

    I’m sure that any audacious plan to mass colonise even Mars will really need new materials, technologies and even new physics, but if we don’t destroy ourselves either accidently or on purpose in the mean time, it will happen. It’s evolution.

    It is very difficult second-guessing future technology, but as Spoodle58 says, who knows what the future will hold? Remember that in the early 20th century, many physicists were fairly certain we had just about discovered everything. Who knows where, when and by whom the next major discovery will happen. Often it is someone from outside mainstream science, like Einstein who can think “out of the box”.

    Zubrin should be commended for keeping dreams alive and for his passion. I look forward to reading this book.

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