First Landing

First Landing

4.5 13
by Robert Zubrin

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From renowned Mars visionary Zubrin comes his much-anticipated debut novel following humankind's first manned mission to Mars. The race is on, not to see who will get credit for the mission but who will survive.


From renowned Mars visionary Zubrin comes his much-anticipated debut novel following humankind's first manned mission to Mars. The race is on, not to see who will get credit for the mission but who will survive.

Editorial Reviews
The Barnes & Noble Review
Dr. Robert Zubrin, who wrote the nonfiction book The Case for Mars in 1996, sets up an intriguing and convincing scenario for human exploration and colonization of Mars in the near future. His mastery of scientific detail carries over into the fictional First Landing, but it is also amazingly accessible to the terminally nontechnical, such as myself.

The year is 2011, and the five-member crew of The Beagle has just landed on Mars. The three men and two women will be spending more than a year studying the planet, and trying to answer the nagging question: "Is there life on Mars?" But ten months in close quarters has taken a toll on the crew's unity, and Colonel Andrew Townsend is struggling to keep differences in social backgrounds, mission priorities, and faith from breaking up his team. A romantic attraction causes mission historian Kevin McGee to side with beautiful, brilliant, and arrogant Dr. Rebecca Stanton against good-old-boy geologist Luke Johnson and prickly flight engineer Gwen Llewellyn. When a series of suspicious equipment malfunctions threatens their lives, the personality conflicts erupt into open hostility, as each side accuses the other of sabotage.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, an anti–space colonization group has spread the rumor that the astronauts have been exposed to a deadly organism, and protesters are demanding that the crew not be allowed to return to Earth for fear of contagion. With an election coming up, the president of the United States is persuaded to give in to popular pressure. The team is then challenged to work together to get themselves home.

The account of their various successes and setbacks as they struggle to survive in a totally inhospitable environment makes First Landing a very satisfying read. (Kim Corradini)

Gregory Benford
A Ken Follett-like Mars novel...with the ring of authority.
Kim Stanley Robinson
A real page-turner with lots of conflict and excitement.
Dennis Overbye
Zubrin knows how to make things work, and he sees possibilities and alternatives everywhere...ingenious. —The New York Times Book Review
Buzz Aldrin
Zubrin shows how a flight to Mars has progressed from fantasy to...a reality that can be achieved by us. Zubrin is showing us the way.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-An entertaining, fast-moving, and thought-provoking tale of the first Earthlings on Mars. They don't have an easy time of it-but not because of flaws in the expedition plan itself. They are sabotaged by politics back home and even subverted, for a time, by their own lack of cohesiveness as a team. Beginning with a spectacularly bumpy landing, the entire mission is plagued by a series of inexplicable mishaps and thrilling escapes. At first, pursuing a scientific mission, the astronauts make some significant geological and biological discoveries. But soon the extent of the sabotage becomes apparent and they must direct all their talents and energies toward survival, growing food and creating fuel from Martian resources. To complicate matters, the two women and three men are highly individualistic people whose personal, religious, and scientific values are in many ways incompatible-scientist and military commander, hillbilly and preppy, intellectual and religious fundamentalist. But despite (and eventually because of) their differences, they don't just survive but far exceed the original vision for the mission. The author is known for his leadership in the cause of Mars exploration (his The Case for Mars [S & S, 1996] detailed a realistic plan for an expedition in the near future-a blueprint actually adopted by NASA). Readers might expect "harder" SF from such a writer in his first fiction outing but though its science is indeed interesting, First Landing is chiefly a story about people and their vision for the future, a utopian adventure that many teens should enjoy.-Christine C. Menefee, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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First Landing, Chapter One

Chapter One

The Beagle whirled silently through the void. Round and round she looped, suspended by centrifugal force at the end of a mile-long tether from her long- expended propulsion stage. Lit by the sun on one side, and an eerie red Marsglow on the other, she looked more like a big tuna can riding on an oversized plate than a daring ship of exploration. But brave explorer she was, and the plate her shield and only protection against the incandescent blast of her imminent Mach 30 entry into Mars' atmosphere. A technological marvel, her inner workings included overten thousand mission-critical electronic circuits. As she approached her trial by fire, all but one were working perfectly.


OCT. 26, 2011 14:22 CST

"Oh, Houstonnn, we've got a problemmm," Luke Johnson drawled in a Texas accent with a singsong pitch.

Beneath the Beagle's primary electronics console, Major Guenevere Llewellyn overheard the comment and set her mouth in a grim line. He could say that again. She rubbed her hands on her grease-stained NASA flight suit and stared up at a world of wires and fuses, circuit breakers, capacitors, switches, voltages, currents, resistances, temperature readouts on pyro bolts-and a clock with twenty-seven minutes left on it.

As she tinkered furiously, Gwen muttered half to herself and half to her anxious crewmates. "It doesn't make any sense. Why aren't the pyros firing? We've got plenty of power, and three redundant circuits for delivering the ignition spark."

Shortly after launch the better part of a year ago, when Mission Commander Townsend had separated the spacecraft from the upper stage, the burnt-out booster rocket had remained connected to the Beagle by a mile-long tether, dangling like a long counterweight on a string. After firing a small rocket engine on the Hab module, Townsend had set the craft spinning; at the end of its tether, the whirling upper stage produced enough centrifugal force to provide the crew with sufficient artificial gravity for their long journey to Mars.

But if Gwen couldn't disconnect the tether in time, the Beagle's Mach 30 aeroentry would be uncontrollable, and the ship would be burned to a crisp.

Stumped, she tried to think of anymalfunction that could have caused the breakdown. "The pyros are a new type, designed to prevent inadvertent ignition by static discharge. Maybe this close to Mars they got too cold, chilled below their ignition temperature. If I shunt over some extra power from the life-support system, that might warm them enough to light."

"Worth a try, but better hurry," Colonel Townsend said. "Do it."

Gwen swiftly threw some relays, switching the surplus LSS power into the pyro prewarmers. In seconds, however, it was obvious that the move would be ineffectual.

The flight mechanic crawled out from beneath the control panel and faced the mission commander. He wasn't going to like what she had to say. "Colonel, there's no choice. I've got to go EVA and pull the manual release."

"Major, no one is going EVA around here until I give the order. That's a last resort. Now try shunting the backup power from the RCS actuators to the pyro ignition system."

Gwen sat down at her control station. She knew it wouldn't work, but arguing with the bomber-jacket-clad ex-fighter jockey would waste precious time. If she made quick work of it, there would still be time for the EVA. Barely.

``Aye, aye, sir." Gwen sat down at her control station. Townsend gave her a grin and a thumbs up. That's not going to do it, Colonel. Townsend flipped the switch to de-safe her board. ``Okay, fire on five. it!"

On Townsend's order, Gwen hit the firing switches.There was no response. Townsend cracked his knuckles in an unconscious admission of stress. She could see he didn't want to let her go EVA, but he'd have to, and soon.

``Colonel, I've got to suit up." Gwen started to rise, but the colonel's hand shoved her back down into her seat.

``At my mark..." Townsend said, ``fire again." She could see the sweat on his creased forehead.

Gwen hit the switch. ``No go, sir" she reported. Twenty-four minutes.

``All right, shunt all the life-support power to the igniters. Switch to batteries for the lights."

The last alternative to EVA. Gwen's fingers flew overthe power regulator controls. ``Aye, aye."

The internal lights of the habitation module dimmed. Ruddy Marsshine illuminated the cabin interior.


Gwen stabbed down on both power switches. No response.

``Try again...Fire!....Fire!...Goddammit!"

The colonel is losing it, Gwen thought, startled by his uncharacteristic language. Twenty-three minutes left. ``Colonel. Thisisn't going to work." She turned to him, trying to keep her own professional cool. ``The only solution is for me to get out on the roof of the Hab module and release the tether manually. Now."

``There isn't time." `

`Luke's got a Marsuit all ready. It's the only way."

Townsend drummed his fingers on the control panel while his chief engineer felt precious seconds ticking away. ``All right then, Major. There's no time to verify with Houston, and I won't waste time arguing about who's best for the job. It's my prerogative as commander to approve your suggestion. Go for it."

``Yes, sir." Gwen leapt across the cabin toward the spacesuit locker. Big Luke, the mission geologist, had her Marsuit waiting. Marked with her old army helo unit insignia, it was thinner, more flexible, and much easier to don than a standard spacesuit. Designed for field work on the Martian surface, Marsuits were not rated for space. But despite the qualms of the NASA safety mafia, everyone who had ever worked with them knew they were the best choice for fast EVA work as well.

``Don't try to play hero," Townsend warned. ``Just stay cool."

Gwen took it on faith that Luke had checked out the suit correctly; there wasn't time to do it herself. Twenty-one minutes.

It took her seconds to strip off the NASA flight suit, revealing an athletic body clad in an Atlanta Braves T-shirt and cutoff blue jeans. The geologist helped her wriggle into the EVA gear, then strapped on an auxiliary cold gas jet pack.

The Marsuit fit like a second skin. ``If my pants were as tight as this suit, they'd never let me into church back home," she commented wryly. Luke chuckled as she took the transparent globular helmet from him. ``Okay, folks, I think I'll take a little stroll outside."

``By the book, Major," Townsend said.

As she crossed the cabin, Gwen could hear Townsend giving instructions to Luke and Rebecca Sherman, the excessively sophisticated ship's doctor and chief scientist. ``I'm going to start programming in emergency maneuvers. You two, take your emergency stations at consoles two and three. As soon as Gwen goes outside, you watch with the multi-cams. If you see anything that looks even the slightest bit odd, I want you to scream. Is that clear?"

Professor McGee, the other egghead on board, was nowhere in sight. Probably off somewhere dictating to his journal. As mission historian, there wasn't much else he could do. We'll all burn up in a little while if I don't get this done, Gwen thought. Not much of an ending to his story.

``Okay, Major, it's your play. Good luck."

With a practiced hand, Gwen crossed her two red braids behind her neck, removed her Atlanta Braves cap, and clamped the helmet down to seal the Marsuit. Then she entered the airlock, closing the hatch behind her. Through the viewport she could see Dr. Sherman making double- sure it was dogged shut.

Gwen checked the airlock readouts. Praise the Lord, at least this system was in working order. ``All secure inhere. Commence pump down."

Twenty minutes.

``Pumpdown initiated." Townsend's voice was muffled inside Gwen's helmet. The lock began to hiss. Because the Beagle's cabin atmospheric pressure was kept at a modest five pounds per square inch, no prebreathing was necessary, and the depressurization operation proceeded swiftly. As the pressure dropped, the Marsuit began to stiffen.

Gwen looked out the window into space as the hiss and throb of the evacuation pumps grew fainter. As she stared open-mouthed at the wild profusion of stars, with nothing to do but wait, a poignant memory of a long-ago clear night in rural North Carolina briefly possessed her.

She was twelve, looking out her bedroom window on a cricket-haunted night, the full moon hanging peacefully above her apricot tree. Pebbles rattled against her window. ``Gwennie, let's go," whispered the boys from the neighboring farm. She climbed down the vine and crawled past the kitchen window,where she could hear her parents talking about her: ``I don't know how Gwen's ever gonna get herself a boy if she keeps acting like one. Did you hear how she beat the tar out of the Nichols boy in the schoolyard last week?"

The kids had listened for a bit, giggled conspiratorially, then sneaked off into the barn, where they jumped out of the loft onto haystacks, yelling ``Geronimo!" When it was Gwen's turn to leap, it seemed as if she hung in the air for minutes, her heart pounding, while the moon and stars spun around her.

It had been her first taste of weightlessness, of space....

Finally, the hatch opened, and the last bits of air puffed out of the airlock, sparkling with instantly rozen specks of water vapor. They looked like gold dust in the harsh sunlight of outer space. Time to top holding your breath, girl. Only eighteen minutes left. Gwen gingerly edged out onto the exterior white-painted skin of the habitat module, her magnetic boots clanging hollowly.

Up the ladder. Gwen made her way to the tether-deployment unit, slowly unreeling the umbilical safety line that would keep her attached if her magnetic boots slipped off the hull. There's the windlass, just a few more steps. Uh-oh. The umbilical is too short.

Sixteen minutes left.

There was only one thing to do and no time to argue about it. Better not even tell Townsend. Gwen detached the safety umbilical from her suit. Okay, now take it easy.

She grabbed the handholds onto the roof of the Hab. The unobstructed view of Mars from the slowly rotating spacecraft was spectacular, but it made her dizzy. Feeling like an ant crawling across the outside of a yo-yo, she paused, feeling nauseous.

Townsend's voice practically shouted inside her helmet, scratchy with static. ``How's it going, Major?"

``Almost there, Colonel."

``Well, get to it. We've only got fourteen minutes before aeroentry."

Gwen scrambled forward and grabbed the windlass. Made it. ``Ready to initiate manual release."

``Proceed, Major."

Gwen put her hands on the lever, braced her boots under the windlass baseplate, and pushed down hard. No give. Dammit, is the stupid thing vacuum-welded?

She tried again, but the manual stillwouldn't budge. She considered trying to cut the cable, but discarded the idea. The spectra tether was overthree inches thick. With her sheath knife as her only cutting tool, hacking the cable would take far too long. A secondary set of pyro bolts held the windlass to its baseplate. The bolts had refused to fire-but maybe they could be detached entirely.

Gwen took a wrench from her tool belt and hesitantly placed it on the bolt's hex. If that bolt fires when I twist it, I'm fried. But if we don't get loose,we're all fried. She put both hands on the wrench handle and braced her feet on the windlass. ``Okay, stand by me, Jesus." Then she pulled with all her might.

The brittle bolt broke with a snap but no explosion. The force of the push hurled Gwenaway from the windlass, but she caught a handhold and swung herself back to the Hab roof. Okay. Now for the other three bolts.

``What's going on upthere, Major?"

``The manual release won't move, so I'm snapping off the pyro bolts."

``You're what?"

``Snapping the bolts. One down, three to go."

``Major, Gwen, try something else. If those bolts should fire-"

``No time, sir." She continued with her work.

``Major, this is an order-"

Gwen cut him off. Okay, number two. She braced, pulled, and got another snap. Catching her handhold, she swung back onto the roof. Ten minutes left. Better hurry.

The third bolt broke free with eight minutes remaining. Then, confident, Gwen placed the wrench head around the final hex and pulled. But this time the boltwouldn't give.

``Come on, break, damn you!" She had one trick left. Fully braced, she kicked down on the wrench handle with all the force she could muster.

Everything changed in a blink. The bolt snapped, the whole windlass tore free of the Hab module-and Gwen lost her footing. She grabbed for a handhold, but the Beagle was now separating from her at a velocity of fifty meters a second. She tumbled off into space.

Watching the ship recede into the distance, Gwen whispered ``Geronimo," her voice echoing strangely inside her helmet. Then she fired her cold gas jets to negate her spin. For a moment, she hung weightless with the entire panorama of Mars, the diminishing ship, and a vast, star-studded sky surrounding her.

The spell lasted only a second before she realized that Townsend would feel obligated to maneuver the ship and come after her. With only six minutes left, the risk was too great. She switched on her suit radio.

``You're home free, Colonel; suggest you prepare for aerocapture."

``Major, where the hell have you been? Where the hell are you?"

``I've separated from the ship, sir."

Townsend's voice was hard and no-nonsense. ``What's your bearing?"

Gwen looked at the ship, then in the opposite direction.

``You'll find me in Pegasus, sir, butthere's no time."

``Pegasus? Gotcha. Hang in there, Major,we're coming for you."

Gwen knew it was useless to argue. That colonel was a damn fool; he'd lose the mission to try to save her. She saw a retro flare on the speck representing the retreating ship, and felt a tear forming in the corner of her eye.

He'd never make it. Still, it was good to have friends.

—From First Landing by Robert Zubrin. (c) July 2001, Ace Books, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc. Used by permission.

What People are Saying About This

Kevin J. Anderson
Dr. Zubrin has devoted his life and career to Mars. Not only does he tell a first-rate adventure story of survival and human ingenuity, his compelling realism makes this novel stand out among others.

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First Landing 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A silver shecat with light blue eyes padded in. May i join?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"We should go ahead and make it. Daddy should be able to find us!"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yes you can.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Yes, I would. I don' know about your father, though." He meowed, looking at Redfury, then back to Pevblekit.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The mars lander beagle is headed to mars with a crew of 5 when its tether fails, setting the stage for a harrowing si-fi adventere. Not for every one, but those who like si-fi will love it.(and it could happen, too)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sex on mars ? Having a baby on mars ? Leaving 2 astronauts behind on Mars. Get real ! NASA can barely get a shuttle off the ground without safety concerns. Thought this was gonna be a serious novel about landing on mars. What a joke
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is absolutely ingenious. Theres just no other way of putting it! The plot is very good, very exciting. The feeling of the ending is very satisfying and well done. Speaking of the ending-- remember the last few pages of the book? The part about Mars Direct, how the United States could accomplish a mission to Mars in ten years if it would only have NASA do it? It's absolutely true. On to Mars!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the first fiction book by Bob Zubrin, author of the highly acclaimed book 'The Case for Mars'. As with writers such as Isaac Asimov and Sir Arthur Clarke, Zubrin displays a huge talent for writing BOTH science AND science fiction, and First Landing is a great showcase for this talent! I would argue that Bob Zubrin is also one of the greatest visionaries of our time, someone whose work should NOT be missed. First Landing tells the story of the first human landing on Mars. It's an intriguing tale, made all the more plausible and realistic by the fact that Zubin is one of the leading scientists working on plans to explore -- and settle -- the Red Planet. After Hollywood trash such as 'Red Planet', First Landing is a breath of fresh air! If only they had (or perhaps they will or should!) turn First Landing into a movie. It would be fabulous. If you have any interest whatsoever in Mars or in human space exploration -- or even if you are just looking for a book that will portray a thought-provoking glimpse of the future, I can definitely recommend First Landing. (I also highly recommend Bob Zubrin's other books, 'The Case for Mars' and 'Entering Space'. If you haven't read those, pop those books in your cart along with First Landing!)
Guest More than 1 year ago
From the first page, Bob Zubrin's latest book pulled me in and wouldn't let me go, and I see I'm not the only one! Don't start this if you're not ready for a wild ride through space, science and the human spirit. If you share the Dream of bringing Life to Mars (and Mars to Life!), read this book and be re-inspired. If you don't, read it and find out why everybody's talking... about Mars!
Guest More than 1 year ago
¿First Landing¿ is a quick reading no-brakes story (I devoured the 262 pages in a couple of sittings) about humankind¿s first landing on Mars that packs a shocker of an ending to boot. ¿First Landing¿ is the tale of a team of five Americans (three men and two women) that make the long the and perilous journey to Mars only to find themselves stranded by the vagaries of public opinion and a few nasty surprises. As a result they are forced to rely on themselves if they are to survive. Wasting very little time with exposition Robert Zubrin (president of the Mars Society) jumps right into this story and never slows down until the end. His detailing is quite effective if somewhat limited. Despite the speed with which the story unfolds his characterization is sufficient for me to have rapidly made an emotional connection with main actors. In an interesting addendum the books epilogue is Zubrin¿s contention that the type of mission he details in ¿First Land¿ is what he sees as a blue print for real manned mission to Mars by 2011. In that limited space he makes a convincing case for a more ambitious Mars program than the one currently being undertaken. On the down side, I wished there were a bit more to this book. I would have liked to have spent more time getting to know these characters. Further, the swiftness with which things unfold leaves a few holes in the motivations of certain key actors that a longer novel could have addressed. However, if you are fan of Mars fiction you will find ¿First Landing¿ a fun and fast read. It¿s not as detailed or plot heavy as Kim Stanley Robinson¿s ¿Red Mars¿, ¿Green Mars¿ and ¿Blue Mars¿ trilogy. But it definitely put a smile on my face when I finished
harstan More than 1 year ago
After a year in space, the five-person team on board the Beagle are getting ready to land on Mars. The landing, like everything else that follows, does not go smoothly but it does get the astronauts there in one piece. Within the first few weeks there, they have found a gemstone that is harder than a diamond and microorganisms that prove there is life on the red planet.

The astronauts are elated by their discovery of life on Mars but on Earth, hysteria sets in, fanned by a popular writer and a televangelist. They fear that the astronauts will bring back some pandemic disease to earth. A fuel line leakage leaves them stranded on Mars and the president, who is up for reelection, is not pushing a rescue mission. This means that the five stranded Americans will have to find a way to get themselves off planet or die when their air and food runs out.

Robert Zubrin has written a science fiction that measures up to the works of Author C Clarke and Robert Heinlein. The politics that are involved in a space mission are astounding to behold and the interactions of the five stranded people who have been cooped up together for three years ring true (ever share a house with another generation?). FIRST LANDING is a work of hope, written by a visionary who sees the possibilities in the not too distant future.

Harriet Klausner