Recently, I launched a novel called Mars Endeavour that takes a realistic view of life within a colony on the fourth planet. The tagline for the story is, “NASA prepared us for every eventuality on Mars—they never prepared us for what could go wrong on Earth.”
In the course of writing the novel, I was privileged to get feedback from Dr. Andrew Rader, who works in the US space industry. Dr. Rader was kind enough to write the foreword for this novel, and I’ve reproduced it here for your enjoyment.
Foreword by Dr. Andrew Rader
As a scientist, engineer, and Mars enthusiast, I was thoroughly delighted with Mars Endeavour. Throughout the book, Peter pays a great deal of attention to scientific and engineering detail while at the same time telling a compelling and plausible story, placing Mars Endeavour amongst the ranks of classic hard science fiction titles like Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001:A Space Odyssey, Rendezvous with Rama, and Hammer of God.
Although no dates are given, the level of development in Mars Endeavour suggests a timeframe that would be achievable within about the next 50 years or so, assuming a sustained human effort aimed at Mars. Mars is the only other world that we have the technology to reach today which possesses the full spectrum of resources necessary to support long term human settlement. Humans to Mars is a goal that we can achieve with existing and near-term technology, and (I would argue) is the primary purpose of sending humans to space. The effort of sending humans to Mars, even in the large scale portrayed in Mars Endeavour, is fundamentally an engineering challenge. Unlike many of the challenges we face on Earth, there are no scientific breakthroughs required for the human exploration or settlement of Mars – only engineering effort and widespread dedication to the goal.
In Mars Endeavour, Peter lays out a highly realistic vision of what life in a Martian settlement would be like. Great effort has been made to capture what it would be like to live on and explore the Red Planet, in terms of base construction, robotics, in-situ resource extraction, Martian geography, surface features, extravehicular activity, and crew interpersonal relationships in relative isolation. The base is built within naturally occurring lava tube caves for ease of construction. Such caves also exist on Earth, but with the lower gravity on Mars (38% of Earth’s), they should be much larger on Mars. Subsurface conditions within a lava tube cave would be significantly more benign than on the surface, in terms of temperature variations (swings of up to 150 °F or 80 °C in a day/night cycle), shielding from radiation, and protection from dust storms. These underground environments are also a likely potential habitat for past or present Martian life, making them excellent targets for exploration.
Mars is one of the best candidates for off-Earth life in our solar system, along with some of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. It seems clear that Mars was once a much warmer and wetter place. Billions of years ago, Mars had a thicker atmosphere, and by virtue of the greenhouse effect, this higher pressure and temperature may have supported surface oceans and an Earth-like environment. As described in Mars Endeavour, the surface of Mars is a very old environment. Considering that environmental changes probably took place over millions of years, that liquid water still persists under the Martian surface, and that we find life even in the harshest and most isolated environments on Earth, it is likely that there may yet be pockets of existing Martian life to be found today.
Finding life on Mars would have extremely broad implications, especially if life on Mars had a different origin from Earth life. Do all worlds with a friendly environment develop life? We know from recent planet-finding missions like the Kepler Space Telescope that planets are extremely common, and many of these seem to be about the right distance from the Sun to support liquid surface water. Indeed, there seems to be at least eight billion Earth-like planets in our galaxy alone—one for each human on Earth. So a question arises—do most or all planets capable of supporting life develop life, or is Earth a rare phenomenon? We currently only have decisive experimental results for a single planet: Earth. A single 1 out of 1 result is statistically meaningless, but finding even signs of extinct microbes on Mars could indicate that life is abundant throughout the entire Universe, and we are probably not alone.
Establishing branches of human civilization on other worlds would not only sustain our species in the case of disaster, but it might go a long way towards preventing it. Human spaceflight and sustainability engineering are just two sides of the same technology. I can’t think of any project that would have greater leverage than going to Mars in terms of teaching us about zero-waste living, energy and resource conservation, and closed-cycle life support. The mere act of sustaining humans on another world would dramatically impact our water, energy, and food production, and recycling. Although at first many supplies would have to be sent from Earth, there would be a huge incentive to produce as much as possible locally. Providing for people on Mars is a logistical challenge not so different from providing for people in harsh environments on Earth.
Whereas Andy Weir’s The Martian captured what it would be like for an individual to live through a small-scale disaster on another world, Mars Endeavour expands the scale to tell the story of a multi-planet catastrophe in a compelling and realistic way. How would people in a fledgling colony on another world react to a life-threatening disaster? Would they split into national factions, or come together in commonality and shared mutual interest? Above all, Mars Endeavour is a human story about how we react to a crisis: as cultures, nations, groups, and individuals. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Andrew Rader, PhD Aero/Astro Engineering
Facebook: Andrew Rader
You can find Mars Endeavour on Amazon for only 99c during the month of September