Missions to Mars

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Packing for Mars

By Mary Roach

Mary Roach, who has previously written about the “life” of a cadaver (in Stiff) and how scientists study sexual intercourse (in Bonk), gets the scoop on how space explorers come up with the answers to questions like “What happens to your body when it’s trapped in a spacesuit for months?” The preparations for the next generation of space travel reveal how far we’ve come since Neil Armstrong first set foot on the lunar surface.

Mary Roach’s Book Recommendations (for Reading on Mars)


The Martian

By Andy Weir

Stranded on Mars after a wind storm kills his crew, astronaut Mark Watney must use all of his knowledge and wherewithal to survive an unforgiving planet and impossible odds.  In pursuit of oxygen, fuel, protection from radiation, and a sense of purpose, Andy Weir’s genrebending new foray into the paranormal is balanced with a realist, slice-of-modern life approach to scouring Big Red, and exploring the perimeters of our galaxy.


Geographies of Mars

By K. Maria D. Lane

Mars has long fascinated us, and inspired a sense of awe in late nineteenth century public upon the release of Mars, a landmark 1895 work of controversial astronomy from author Percival Lowell. As Adam Kirsch wrote in his BNR review of Geographies, a fascinating look at Lowell and his contemporaries’ impressions of Mars, “these fantasies, Lane argues, have much to tell us about the way turn-of-the-century Americans and Europeans thought about space, knowledge, and power.”

Review by Adam Kirsch


Red Mars

By Kim Stanley Robinson

In this, the kickoff to one of the most celebrated of science-fiction trilogies, Robinson provides an intoxicating vision of how we might settle and transform our planetary neighbor. A cast of intrepid colonists are swept up in a truly epic-scale adventure, with a dash of utopian dreaming balanced by the author’s integration of deeply researched science about everything from how to thicken a world’s atmosphere to new drugs and treatments for aging. 


The Martian Tales Trilogy

By Edgar Rice Burroughs

One of the definitive works of science fiction, author Burroughs (famed creator of Tarzan and the Martian Tales protagonist John Carter) way back in 1913 rendered an iconic view of space travel and the potential creatures that ruled just outside of our own globe.  But “Burroughs’s greatest stroke of genius,” writes our own Michael Dirda, “albeit one based on contemporary speculation about Mars, lies in making Barsoom an old planet, a dying world, ravined with dried-up canals and dotted with the crumbling cities of earlier, forgotten cultures.”  Burroughs’ view is an aptly long view of the cosmos, in which the voyage into the antiquity of lost worlds carries as much wonder as space-age technology.

Review by Michael Dirda