A Private Race to Mars?

Last Summer the folks at Mars One announced plans to land humans on Mars by 2023.

Now it appears Dennis Tito will announce an American effort to get humans to Mars by 2018.  Some might remember him as the first space tourist when he visited the ISS in 2001.

Apparently we’ll get details next week.  Notice that I wrote “humans to Mars by 2018″ and not “humans on Mars”.  Early word is that it’s a flyby mission.


I’m currently re-reading Jim Aikin’s Walk the Moon’s Road, a book I’ve only read once before, about eight or nine years ago. I really liked the book back then and wondered how it would hold up against my recollection.

So far, so good.

What I liked about it the first time (as well as now) was the world-building involved. The setting for the novel is a world colonized in a forgotten past by humans who are only now approaching a level of technology comparable (in many but not all ways) with about 1700AD Europe. Over an unknown number of years, the human colonists mutated into at least a half-dozen physically distinct human types who share the planet with two other native indigenous sentient species.

Naturally, in addition to having physical differences, each of the human types has (in one central case quite dramatic) social and cultural differences as well. Aikin does a good job in describing each of the different groups, such that it’s pretty clear what each group is like, what their interests are, how they are prone to behave, how they relate to each other, and so on. What’s better is that he doesn’t resort to lazy Star Trek writing by making each character a representative of their culture’s monolithic stereotype – each human type has good and bad members and outliers who don’t fit the mold of their respective group.

In short, he successfully builds up a “alien” world that is plausible, layered, and engaging. It may not be as complex or deep as Dune, no, but it’s still (ahem) worlds better than a lot of popular science fiction in this regard.

The dialogue is a little more stiff in spots than what I remember, and he seems to try a little too hard to be flowery in some descriptive passages, but not so much that it’s off-putting. It’d be nice to see Aikin maybe give the novel a scrub to improve these things and issue a new edition.

For that matter, it’d be really nice to see Aikin write more new material. His Wall at the Edge of the World* remains one of my all-time favorite novels, and I’m disappointed that he hasn’t written much fiction in the twenty years since.

* — The astute reader will catch a prominent (and not a little disturbing) reference to this book in our description of Port Lowell.


Speaking of Things That Look Like Settings From the Book…

This image at Wikipedia bears a striking resemblance to how I pictured the Ares IV “homestead” site in the simulation at the beginning of Chapter I, minus the “rump” portion of ERV Lilith.

Mars Direct base artist impression - N. Oberg
Mars Direct base artist impression – N. Oberg

You can almost imagine the suited figure as Amber preparing to fire up her jetpack.

NASA’s Mission is not Safety

ISS; NASA via flickrUSA Today has published a great opinion piece by Rand Simberg, who boldly states that “NASA’s mission is not safety“.  [Phil Plait agrees.]

I couldn’t agree more. Safety cannot–and should not–be the top priority if we are going to have a program that is affordable and actually accomplishes anything.

Does that in any way trivialize the lives and well being of astronauts?  Absolutely not.  It’s a recognition that space exploration is inherently dangerous:  risk will always be there, and safety goes too far when it blunts our ability to actually do anything meaningful. 

Respect for the bravery, sacrifice and achievement of explorers is a central them of In the Shadow of Ares.  We honor them by pressing on with the mission.