Ralph Kern interviews Peter Cawdron about Mars: The Lonely Planet.
Thanks for joining us here at SFFWorld for the next interview on the themes, technologies and events which feature in an author’s work.
In this interview, I’m joined by Peter Cawdron, the international best-selling author of twenty science fiction novels, novellas and short stories. So far, his stories have taken us on odysseys through the plains of Africa, out to Saturn and far beyond the plane of the Galaxy.
Today though, we’re going to focus on our closest neighbor where his next novel, Mars Endeavour is set.
So, let’s start at the beginning, Peter. To the glance, Mars is a barren desert. If I were to pick any destination to visit in the Solar System, just why would I want to go there?
You wouldn’t. If you could choose any destination in the solar system, there’s lots of other places that are far more visually spectacular, places that are potentially better science targets, like Europa around Jupiter or Enceladus around Saturn. The problem is distance.
Mars varies between roughly 40 million and 225 million miles away depending on the orbit, whereas Saturn is 750 million miles away at its closest approach, reaching up to 1.2 billion miles. It’s not just that it’s 18xs the closest approach of Mars, but that the need for fuel and the difficulty of such travel increases exponentially. Getting humans to Mars will be extremely difficult. Getting humans to any of these other tantalizing locations borders on absurd by comparison.
When it comes to travel, there’s a concept known as payload fraction. For aircraft, this is around 50%. For spacecraft, it’s well over 90%. The Saturn V that put humans on the Moon was rated at 95.7% meaning the crew and Lunar Module, etc, accounted for less than 5% of the launch mass. When you look at a space rocket sitting on the launch pad, MOST of the mass won’t leave Earth—it’s mainly fuel needed to simply escape Earth’s gravity well. To get anywhere in the solar system, we’re going to need to build and/or fuel a spacecraft in orbit, in much the same way we’ve built the International Space Station. And as you can imagine, the cost and difficulty in doing that is going to be insane.
So if we could go anywhere, we probably wouldn’t settle primarily on Mars as there’s far more interesting targets elsewhere, but Mars gives us the opportunity to build an outpost. And thanks to the abundance of perchlorates on Mars, mining rocket fuel should be possible, meaning Mars may become the stepping stone for humans to reach Europa and Enceladus.
Mars is kinda like a gas station on the way to Disneyland. Mars has lots of interesting science targets, but none quite as rich and promising as the moons of the gas giants.
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