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Mars on Earth - Book Review.


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Mars on Earth.
Mars on Earth - Book Review.

For more than three years, the Mars Society has maintained two research stations to test out what would be involved to send a human mission to Mars. In his latest book, Mars on Earth, Robert Zubrin reveals his journey to get the stations built (in the Canadian Arctic and the Utah desert), diary entries from living and working in the stations, and the experience he's gained about what Martian explorers will go through when they first step foot on the Red Planet.

For more than three years, the Mars Society has maintained two research stations to test out what would be involved to send a human mission to Mars. In his latest book, Mars on Earth, Robert Zubrin reveals his journey to get the stations built (in the Canadian Arctic and the Utah desert), diary entries from living and working in the stations, and the experience he's gained about what Martian explorers will go through when they first step foot on the Red Planet.

Robert Zubrin is best known for his earlier book, Case for Mars, where he laid out a revolutionary, and controversial, plan to send human explorers to Mars at a fraction of the cost proposed by NASA. I'll make an admission right now; The Case for Mars was one of the most influential Space exploration books I've ever read. Honestly, it rocked my world, so I was eager to catch up with Zubrin and see how the exploration of Mars was going. Another Zubrin book, Entering Space, is more future-looking and speculative, but equally entertaining.

After writing The Case for Mars, and learning of the tremendous amount of support for the concept of human exploration of Mars, Zubrin and some like-minded colleagues went on to found the Mars Society. Since they didn't have a $50 billion to send a human mission to the Red Planet, the Mars Society has been bootstrapping their way there through a series of simulated Martian missions in two locations: remote Devon Island in the Canadian Arctic, which is one of the best analogs to Mars you can find on Earth; and a location in Utah which is less Mars-like, but offers nearly year-round accessibility. Mars on Earth is a chronicle of Zubrin's journey from concept to completion of the two Mars research stations and the challenges faced on these first few steps on the way to exploration of the Red Planet.

The first, and largest, part of the book covers the events that led to the final construction of the research stations, and the majority of this is centered around the Flashline Arctic Mars Research Station on Devon Island in the Canadian Arctic. The theme to this part of the book is determination, ingenuity and thriftiness. The Society doesn't have a lot of money, so they had to come up with clever solutions to overcome the inevitable challenges. Zubrin is a skilled writer, and very opinionated, so this part of the book was quite entertaining to read. During the construction of the station, some relationships were strained beyond their breaking point. Since it's his book, Zubrin presents his point of view, but there are always two sides to every story. It would have interesting to hear the point of view from the other side of the conflicts. Maybe I'm being a little unrealistic.

The second part of the book consists of a series of status reports that Zubrin filed for the Mars Society and MSNBC while he was working at the two stations over several seasons of research and exploration. These are essentially diary entries covering daily activities on the station and various accomplishments. Since these are already available on the Internet, some readers will have already seen them. It's nice to have them in one location, and Zubrin connects the reports together with additional information, but some people who followed the Society's exploits on the Internet might feel a little cheated for content.

The final part of the book is the shortest, and it deals with the lessons he's learned from his time in the research stations. When you consider the complexity of a human mission to Mars, where the explorers could be on the surface of the Red planet for more than a year, there's a mind boggling number of details to consider. If found it really interesting to see Zubrin's conclusions after having tested some of this stuff out for real. What kind of rovers worked best; communications systems; how stuff broke down; the right role for robots; crew personalities... oh yeah, and bring a bread maker. This stuff is gold. If I had any complaint, it's that it was too short. Either Zubrin doesn't have the data gathered yet, or he didn't want to bore people on which kind of canned meat people like better, but I find these kinds of "lessons learned" very entertaining. It can and should be a book all on its own - maybe a revised edition of The Case for Mars would do the trick.

All in all, I enjoyed Mars on Earth. Zubrin's enthusiasm for the subject is infectious, and it was very entertaining to read the trials and tribulations he and his team had to overcome to build a little piece of Mars here on Earth.




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