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BOOK REVIEW: How We’ll Live on Mars by Stephen Petranek

| 5 October 2015 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: How We’ll Live on Mars by Stephen Petranek

Simon & Schuster UK
July 2015
Hardcover, $16.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

7.5/10

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Many years ago, when the various Mars orbiters and landers were but drawings on paper, NASA made an important decision – to “follow the water.” The goal wasn’t to focus on colonizing a planet; it was intended to help in the hunt for alien life. No water, no life. It now seems a bit ironic that NASA’s insistence on investigating whether or not there is life on Mars has in fact led us to a completely different understanding: that there can be life on Mars – human life.

Stephen Petranek offers a crash course on humanity’s history with Mars, including details of the beginning of  rocket science, all the way through to the steps we need to make in order to secure a future for our species on the red planet, all while being a relatively easy read which is unlikely to go over anyone’s head.

Recently, after one of his rockets exploded just above its launch pad, Elon Musk wryly tweeted: “Rockets are tricky.” He’s right, close to two-thirds of all the attempts to get probes to Mars have failed.

Nevertheless, the development of two different spacecraft that could get humans to Mars – SpaceX’s Dragon capsules and NASA’s Orion – has changed the basic question that’s been floating around since Das Marsprojekt was written: Can we get to Mars? The answer is yes. The new question: Can we live on Mars? The answer to that is yes, too, but as Elon Musk might say, it’s tricky.

The space race is on once more, with private companies (driven by iconoclastic entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Sir Richard Branson); Dutch reality show / space mission Mars One; NASA and the Chinese government among the many groups competing to plant the first stake on Mars and open the door for human habitation.

Petranek manages to give readers enough information regarding various methods of, a) getting people to Mars, and b) turning the planet into a place where future generations can flourish, while not focusing on any one method long enough for the everyday reader to grow bored, but still offering references for further reading, should we be so inclined.

For a book that is based on an eighteen minute TED talk, Petranek manages to pack quite a lot into this little volume, and delivers a scenario from the very beginning of our space exploration through to the conclusion of a green Mars.

And that is where this reader starts to have her issues.

While the things within these pages are fascinating, a lot of the methods presented are towards turning Mars into a back-up Earth.

This strikes a wrong cord with me, as a lifelong fan of the beauty of Mars. To have it turned into a back-up anything, and to have the very atmosphere of the planet changed in order to suit our needs, is akin to the disquiet I feel at the declassification of Pluto as a planet.

In short, it’s a really interesting read, well put together, and there’s not enough to it to make your attention wander but enough to get you interested, but I’m having a hard time coming to terms with my own emotions regarding the projected plans to change of Mars into a second Earth.

You’re still a planet to me, Pluto.

 

Stephanie O’Connell

Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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