March 30th: Robert Zubrin on Why We Must Go to Mars

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365DaysDate: March 30, 2009

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Title: Robert Zubrin on Why We Must Go to Mars

Podcasters: John C. Snider and Carlos Aranaga

Organization: SciFiDimensions.com

Description: Robert Zubrin, the world’s most enthusiastic booster for human conquest of the Red Planet, makes the case for why Earthlings need to establish a foothold on our planetary neighbor sooner rather than later. Zubrin’s latest book is “How to Live on Mars”. He is interviewed by John Snider from the SciFiDimensions podcast.

Bio: SciFiDimensions.com is a science fiction magazine published online since 2000. The SciFiDimensions Podcast debuted in February 2008, and focuses on interviews with science fiction writers and other personalities who influence the genre.

Today’s Sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by www.alienskys.com, the only space news archive in English and Swedish languages, in association with The Planetary Society Volunteer NetworkSweden, promoting Space awareness throughout Scandinavia. Just go to www.alienskys.com and follow the link.

Transcript:
JOHN C. SNIDER: Hello and welcome to the 365 Days of Astronomy Daily Podcast. I’m John Snider…

CARLOS ARANAGA: …and I’m Carlos Aranaga. We’re with the SciFiDimensions Podcast.

SNIDER: You can visit us online at SciFiDimensions.com. Well, Carlos, March is named after Mars, the Roman god of war, and it seemed appropriate to me that, as the month is wrapping up, that we talk to one of the foremost cheerleaders for human exploration and settlement of the Red Planet. That man is Robert Zubrin. He’s the founder and president of the Mars Society, and he’s best known for his 1995 book The Case for Mars, in which he outlines his Mars Direct plan.

ARANAGA: His latest book is called How to Live on Mars. The book’s a satire, a sort of do-it-yourself guide to making it on Mars. I found it in the Barnes & Noble in the Science section. But it’s not a story, it’s a first-hand account by this 22nd century Mars real estate speculator and raconteur writing under the pen name of “Robert Zubrin,” the same as the actual author, one of the forerunners of Martian colonization – when, and not just hopefully if, we get there. So it’s a fictional guidebook based on real-life science as we understand it today. The book is full of practical advice on getting started on Mars, with chapters like “How to Stay Alive on Mars,” “How to Get a Job that Pays and Doesn’t Kill You,” or “How to Avoid Bureaucratic Persecution.” What it really is, is very hilarious, and that’s because the narrator is a rogue. He’s a wheeler-dealer and an unabashed libertarian with no use for central authority except when it’s absolutely necessary. His asides on our own time cut right to the point; he’s got very little use for NASA, for instance. And it’s very realistically rendered – it’s not the Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs or Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy. Zubrin’s Mars colonists don’t waste any time fretting over the ethics of terraforming – they just get to work. For any would-be Mars colonist, I think it’s the next best thing to being there.

SNIDER: I haven’t laughed so hard reading a science book in a long time. I had an opportunity recently to talk to Dr. Zubrin about his new book, and I asked him to give us his best pitch for why we still need to go to Mars…

* * * * *

SNIDER: Dr. Zubrin, welcome to the podcast.

ROBERT ZUBRIN: Thanks for inviting me.

SNIDER: Tell us a little about your book How to Live on Mars.

ZUBRIN: Well, this book is science humor, is how I would describe it. The book is set about 100 years in the future, and it’s a guide for immigrants to Mars, from an old hand. There’s a lot of technical information in it: he explains how all the gear works, how to deal with the Martian environment. But he also tells how to put one past the NASA bureaucracy, how to get a job that won’t kill you (since many of the open jobs will – that’s why they’re open), how to score big bucks in selling real estate on Mars, where to go to get favorable evaluations for mining claims so you can sell them at a good price. So there are elements of science fiction in it, and it’s set in the future. It’s very hard science fiction, since all of the technology is real, and certainly what is said about Mars is real. But there’s also a certain vision of what future human society on Mars might be like, and the funny situations it could lead to.

SNIDER: We’ve got a new president, and we’ve had one president after another making promises to accelerate the program to send human beings to Mars, but we really don’t seem to be any closer to making that happen. So now that we have a new president whose agenda is going to be dominated by the need to repair the economy, to restructure our military obligations overseas, and our diplomatic relationships. But if you had a few minutes with President Obama, what would you say to him to convince him that we need to put men and women on Mars *now*.

ZUBRIN: I would say that an Apollo program to reach for Mars before the end of his second term is exactly what is needed to stimulate the US economy out of the slump it’s in. That’s what the first Apollo program did. The US economy was in recession in ’61, ’62; in fact, the stock market fell 30% in September 1962, the same month Kennedy gave his famous speech “We choose to go to the moon not because it is easy but because it is hard.” Apollo stimulated the economy. We had 6% rates of economic growth in this country in the mid-Sixties, significantly because of Apollo. Not only did it stimulate the US economy in the Sixties, it has stimulated it ever since, because what it also did is to inspire millions of young people to go into science and engineering. We actually doubled the number of science graduates in this country in the 1960s at every level – high school, college, PhD. And we’re still benefiting from that intellectual capital today. The 40-year-old technological entrepreneurs who built Silicon Valley in the 1990s were the 12-year-old little boy scientists of the 1960s.

SNIDER: Is there currently a rough estimate for how much a manned mission to Mars might cost, in current dollars?

ZUBRIN: I believe if we adopted the Mars Direct program, which I lay out in my book The Case for Mars, we could have humans on Mars within ten years of program start at a cost of around $50 billion in today’s money. At the time I wrote The Case for Mars it was around $30 billion. But that’s the nature of it – very small money compared to these giant bailouts and other things which ultimately are not going to do anything for the nation. Intellectual capital of the nation is its true wealth.

SNIDER: You mentioned The Case for Mars. It’s been 13 years since The Case for Mars was published, and in it you laid out – as you mentioned – the Mars Direct plan for getting people to Mars. But in those 13 years our knowledge of the Red Planet has grown exponentially, and the Mars Direct plan goes back almost 20 years, which is an eternity when it comes to our knowledge of the solar system. Given the current state of knowledge about Mars, what would you change (if anything) if you were writing The Case for Mars today?

ZUBRIN: Well, based on discoveries just last week we now know where there are hydrothermal vents on Mars, and I would target those sites for exploration. They announced the discovery of methane vents on Mars, and those could either be created by life living in hydrothermal vents, or it could be created by geothermal activity of the hydrothermal vents themselves, but either way, you’ve got a hydrothermal environment underground. That means geothermal power; it also means the best possible place to look for life.

SNIDER: So, do you have any other projects we should keep an eye out for?

ZUBRIN: Well, of course, I’m also involved in the whole effort to achieve energy independence. I have another book called Energy Victory which people can take a look at. I have a website called EnergyVictory.net. Otherwise, the Mars Society international conference is going to be at the University of Maryland this year, July 30th through August 2nd. People should come. It’s gonna be great.

SNIDER: Dr. Zubrin, thanks very much for coming on to the podcast…

ZUBRIN: Thanks a lot, John.

SNIDER: Thank you.

* * * * *

SNIDER: That was Dr. Robert Zubrin, founder and president of the Mars Society, and author of the book How to Live on Mars. It’s published in trade paperback by Three Rivers Press. Well, since we’re a science fiction podcast, we can’t pass up the opportunity to talk about our favorite books that are set on the planet Mars.

ARANAGA: Gosh, how to pick a book. There are so many books set on Mars. For a while, it seemed like Mars was getting overdone. It became a campy thing. Books dealing with Mars with a tongue-in-cheek quality that I really liked were, for instance, Philip K. Dick’s The Martian Time-Slip, or Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan. But for today I wanted to cite a lesser-known work that’s totally in-synch with Zubrin’s view of a Manifest Destiny in Space, and that’s Sylvia Engdahl’s Journey Between Worlds. Engdahl is a Newberry Award winning young adult fiction author, back before it was cook for adults to read YA fiction. Journey Between Worlds is from 1970, but it was republished and updated in 2006. It’s like Kim Stanley Robinson or Stanley Kubrick, but without all the bombast. If you like YA fiction, or if you’ve got a bright kid you’d like to introduce to sci-fi, then this is a good book to do it with.

SNIDER: I think any science fiction fan worth his salt should read Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, even though quite frankly I think his stories could have been set anywhere; they really didn’t have to be set on Mars. But I think my favorite among hard science fiction novels would be the Kim Stanley Robinson trilogy – Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars. Robinson thoroughly researched the best science on Mars available at the time he was writing, which was in the Nineties. He gives us a cast of characters that are believable and very human; he also spends a lot of time with an environmental or ecological sensibility to describe Mars as it’s being terraformed over several centuries. I would also recommend Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars books – those were published in the early part of the 20th century. If you’re going to read the first three volumes – A Princess of Mars, Gods of Mars, and Warlord of Mars – you’ve probably read the best of the series. The rest of them are fun reads but they do become a little repetitive and formulaic. Well, that’s it, another installment of the 365 Days of Astronomy Daily Podcast. We hope you’ve enjoyed our contribution, and we hope you’ll visit us at SciFiDimensions.com.

ARANAGA: Thanks for listening!

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
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The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is produced by the New Media Working Group of the International Year of Astronomy 2009. Audio post-production by Preston Gibson. Bandwidth donated by libsyn.com and wizzard media. Web design by Clockwork Active Media Systems. You may reproduce and distribute this audio for non-commercial purposes. Please consider supporting the podcast with a few dollars (or Euros!). Visit us on the web at 365DaysOfAstronomy.org or email us at info@365DaysOfAstronomy.org. Until tomorrow…goodbye.

About John C. Snider and Carlos Aranaga

SciFiDimensions.com is a science fiction magazine published online since 2000. The SciFiDimensions Podcast debuted in February 2008, and focuses on interviews with science fiction writers and other personalities who influence the genre.

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