If you've ever fantasized about going to Mars, you've no doubt thought about how you'd get there, how long it would take, and how you'd survive the planet's frigid temperatures. But you probably never considered things like how to invest your money on Mars, how to have a social life, and where to get a job there. In his new book, How to Live on Mars, Dr. Robert Zubrin moves beyond the idea of humans taking a brief exploratory mission to Mars, and considers what it would take to actually live there. Zubrin is the founder and president of the Mars Society and president of Pioneer Astronautics, an aerospace research and development company in Colorado. Popular Science correspondent Laurie Schmidt recently sat down with Zubrin to discuss his new book and his philosophy about the prospect of humans settling Mars.
I wrote it to excite a new and younger generation. I grew up in the Apollo era, and there needs to be literature to capture the imagination of the new younger generation. In the book there's a vision of a future civilization living and growing on Mars -- it's about creating a new branch of human civilization. As I see it, that new branch will have many of the positive and some of the negative aspects of America when it was young -- a place where the rules haven't been written yet. I think that when humans get around to exploring and building cities and towns on Mars, it will be viewed as one of the great times of humanity, a time when people set foot on another world and had the freedom to make their own world.
There are many different approaches you could have taken to writing a book about living on Mars. You chose to take a lighthearted, humorous approach -- can you tell me why?
It was a new way to reach an additional audience. I told it straight in The Case for Mars, then I told it in the form of an adventure story in First Landing. So this time I decided to try science humor.
Why do you think it's important for humans to colonize Mars and make it habitable?
I think that this freedom to be the maker of your own world instead of simply being the inhabitant of one that has already been made is a truly grand form of human freedom. We had that during the period from Plymouth Rock through the closing of the American frontier in the late 1890s. There's a famous quote from a great historian, Walter Prescott Webb, that says "People will miss the frontier more than words can ever express. For hundreds of years they heard its call and bet their lives and fortune on its outcome." This is why we still look back today at the time of the American frontier as a great time, despite the fact that it was filled with all kinds of harsh experiences and heartbreak.
So with Mars, there will be grand successes and there will be heartbreak. Not everyone will strike it rich, but everyone will get a chance for a new start. There's a reason why millions of people in the Old World sold everything they had to get a ticket on a ship to get them to America. And for some of them it didn't work out so well. But it did for enough of them that they're still coming today.
In your keynote address at the Mars Society annual convention in August, you said: "The space program needs to be doing what it was doing in the 1960s, which was breaking unprecedented boundaries." Why do you think Americans, generally speaking, have become uninspired by the U.S. space program?
For us to say we can't go to Mars today is to basically say that we've become less than the people who got us to where we are today, and that's something that we can't afford. The risks associated with a human mission to Mars, given what we know today about Mars and about space technology, are much lower than the risks of the Apollo moon program were.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.