Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos may harbor multibillion-dollar dreams of sending millions of people to live on Mars, on the moon and inside free-flying space habitats — but a newly published book provides a prudent piece of advice: Don’t go too boldly.
It’s advice that Kelly and Zach Weinersmith didn’t expect they’d be giving when they began to work on their book, titled “A City on Mars.” They thought they’d be writing a guide to the golden age of space settlement that Musk and Bezos were promising.
“We ended up doing a ton of research on space settlements from just every angle you can imagine,” Zach Weinersmith says in the latest episode of the Fiction Science podcast. “This was a four-year research project. And about two and a half years in, we went from being fairly optimistic about it as a desirable, near-term likely possibility [to] probably unlikely in the near term, and possibly undesirable in the near term. So it was quite a change. Slightly traumatic, I would say.”
Throughout the 20th century, multiple proposals have been made for the crewed exploration of Mars. These include the famed “Mars Project” by Werner von Braun, the “Mars Direct” mission architecture by Robert Zubrin and David Baker, NASA’s Mars Design Reference Mission studies, and SpaceX’s Mars & Beyond plan. By 2033, two space agencies (NASA and the CNSA) plan to commence sending crews and payloads to the Red Planet. These and other space agencies envision building bases there that could eventually lead to permanent settlements and the first “Martians.”
This presents several major challenges, not the least of which have to do with exposure to radiation, extreme temperatures, dust storms, low atmospheric pressure, and lower gravity. However, with the right strategies and technology, these challenges could be turned into opportunities for growth and innovation. In a recent paper, a Leiden University researcher offers a roadmap for a Martian settlement that leverages recent advancements in technology and offers solutions that emphasize sustainability, efficiency, and the well-being of the settlers.