The Case For Mars

The Case For Mars

4.8 4
by Robert Zubrin, Richard Wagner

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Since the beginning of human history Mars has been an alluring dream—the stuff of legends, gods, and mystery. The planet most like ours, it has still been thought impossible to reach, let alone explore and inhabit.

Now with the advent of a revolutionary new plan, all this has changed. Leading space exploration authority Robert Zubrin has crafted a daring

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Since the beginning of human history Mars has been an alluring dream—the stuff of legends, gods, and mystery. The planet most like ours, it has still been thought impossible to reach, let alone explore and inhabit.

Now with the advent of a revolutionary new plan, all this has changed. Leading space exploration authority Robert Zubrin has crafted a daring new blueprint, Mars Direct, presented here with illustrations, photographs, and engaging anecdotes.

The Case for Mars is not a vision for the far future or one that will cost us impossible billions. It explains step-by-step how we can use present-day technology to send humans to Mars within ten years; actually produce fuel and oxygen on the planet's surface with Martian natural resources; how we can build bases and settlements; and how we can one day "terraform" Mars—a process that can alter the atmosphere of planets and pave the way for sustainable life.

Editorial Reviews

Dennis Overbye
One of the most provocative and hopeful documents I have read about the space program in 20 years. -- The New York Times
Carl Sagan
Bob Zubrin really, nearly alone, changed our thinking on this issue. -- The Denver Post
Michael D. Lemonick
In this thoughtful, thorough and inspiring book. . .[Zubrin] systematically and convincingly destroys the conventional wisdom about Mars travel. -- Newsday

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Free Press
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5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)

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From the Preface

We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, nor because they are easy but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.... This is in some measures an act of faith and vision, for we do not know what benefits await us.... But space is there and we are going to climb it. -John F. Kennedy, 1962
The time has come for America to set itself a bold new goal in space. The recent celebrations of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Apollo Moon landings have reminded us of what we as nation once accomplished, and by so doing have put the question to us: Are we still a nation of pioneers? Do we choose to make the efforts required to continue as the vanguard of human progress, a people of the future, or will we allow ourselves to be a people of the past, one whose accomplishments are celebrated only in museums? When the fiftieth anniversary arrives, will our posterity honor it as the touchstone of a frontier pushing tradition that they continue? Or will they look upon it much as a seventh century Roman may have once gazed upon the aqueducts and other magnificent feats of classical architecture still visible among the ruins, saying to himself in amazement, "We once built that?"

There can be no progress without a goal. The American space program, begun so brilliantly with Apollo and its associated programs, has spent most of the subsequent twenty years floundering without direction. We need a central overriding purpose to drive our space program forward. At this point in history, that focus can only be the human exploration and settlement of Mars.

Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun, about 50 percent farther out than Earth, making it a colder place than our home planet. While daytime temperatures on Mars sometimes get up to 17? centigrade (about 63? Fahrenheit), at night the thermometer drops to —90ºC (-130ºF). Because the average temperature on Mars is below the freezing point, there is no liquid water today on its surface. But this was not always the case. Photographs of dry riverbeds on the Martian surface taken from orbital spacecraft show that in its distant past Mars was much warmer and wetter than it is today. For this reason, Mars is the most important target for the search for extraterrestrial life, past or present, in our solar system. The Martian day is very similar to that of Earth-24 hours and 37 minutes—and the planet rotates on an axis with a 24? tilt virtually equal to that of Earth, and thus has four seasons of similar relative severity to our own. Because the Martian year is 669 Martian days (or 686 Earth days), however, each of these seasons is nearly twice as long as those on Earth. Mars is a big place; although its diameter is only half that of Earth, the fact that it is not covered with oceans gives the Red Planet a solid surface area equal to that of all of Earth's continents combined. At its closest, Mars comes within 60 million kilometers of our world; at its farthest, about 400 million kilometers. Using present day space propulsion systems, a one-way voyage to Mars would take about six months—much longer than the three-day trip required by the Apollo missions to reach the Moon, but hardly beyond human experience. In the nineteenth century immigrants from Europe frequently took an equal time to sail to Australia. And, as we'll see, the technology required for such a journey is well within our reach.

In fact, as this book goes to press, NASA scientists have announced a startling discovery revealing strong circumstantial evidence of past microbial life within Antarctic rock samples that had previously been ejected from Mars by meteoric impact. The evidence includes complex organic molecules, magnetite, and other typical bacterial mineralogical residues, and ovoid structures consistent with bacterial forms. NASA calls this evidence compelling but not conclusive. If it is the remains of life, it may well be evidence of only the most modest representatives of an ancient Martian biosphere, whose more interesting and complex manifestations are still preserved in fossil beds on Mars. To find them though, it will take more than robotic eyes and remote control. To find them, we'll need human hands and human eyes roving the Red Planet.


The question of taking on Mars as an interplanetary goal is not simply one of aerospace accomplishment, but one of reaffirming the pioneering character of our society. Unique among the extraterrestrial bodies of our solar system, Mars is endowed with all the resources needed to support not only life but the actual development of a technological civilization. In contrast to the comparative desert of the Earth's moon, Mars possesses veritable oceans of water frozen into its soil as permafrost, as well as vast quantities of carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen, all in forms readily accessible to those inventive enough to use them. These four elements are not only the basis of food and water, but of plastics, wood, paper, clothing, and—most importantly—rocket fuel. Additionally, Mars has experienced the same sorts of volcanic and hydrologic processes that produced a multitude of mineral ores on Earth. Virtually every element of significant interest to industry is known to exist on the Red Planet. While no liquid water exists on the surface, below ground is a different matter, and there is every reason to believe that geothermal heat sources could be maintaining hot liquid reservoirs beneath the Martian surface today. Such hydrothermal reservoirs may be refuges in which microbial survivors of ancient Martian life continue to persist; they would also represent oases providing abundant water supplies and geothermal power to future human pioneers. With its twenty-four-hour day-night cycle and an atmosphere thick enough to shield its surface against solar flares, Mars is the only extraterrestrial planet that will accommodate large-scale greenhouses lit by natural sunlight. Even at this early date in its exploration, Mars is already known to possess a vital resource that could someday represent a commercial export. Deuterium, the heavy isotope of hydrogen currently valued at $10,000 per kilogram, is five times more common on Mars than it is on Earth.

Mars can be settled. For our generation and many that will follow, Mars is the New World.

Copyright © 1996 by Robert Zubrin

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