How We’ll Live on Mars

by Stephen L. Pe­tranek. Si­mon & Schuster, 2015. 77 pp., $16.99.

Air & Space Smithsonian - - Reviews & Previews - DIANE TEDESCHI IS AN AS­SO­CIATE EDITOR AT AIR & SPACE/SMITH­SO­NIAN.

THE BOOK A smartly writ­ten ex­am­i­na­tion of the path hu­mans must fol­low if they are to set­tle the Red Planet.


I could see that the most ex­tra­or­di­nary and most dis­rup­tive event in hu­man history—the col­o­niza­tion of Mars—was about to oc­cur far sooner than any­one could guess. I felt a jour­nal­is­tic ur­gency to start the dis­cus­sion of what that will mean—as soon as pos­si­ble.


Do you think a tele­vised Mars land­ing would be as watched as the Apollo 11 moon land­ing?

It would likely be the largest TV au­di­ence in the history of broad­cast­ing, if only be­cause ac­cess to TVS is so much greater now than in 1969. Imag­ine the sense of pride in ev­ery­one on the home p planet when they re­al­ize that hum hu­mans can ac­tu­ally do this— s set­tle on another planet in our so­lar sys­tem.

A Are there any phys­i­cal traits th that would be fa­vor­able to liv­ing on Mars?

Hu­mans seem re­mark­ably adapt­able to cold cli­mates, which will be use­ful on Mars, and we now know that some hu­mans can with­stand ra­di­a­tion ex­po­sure, both so­lar and cos­mic rays, far bet­ter than oth­ers. Ra­di­a­tion ex­po­sure is the most dif­fi­cult prob­lem we face on Mars. Any­one choos­ing to go there will also choose a shorter life­span due to ra­di­a­tion.

How quickly would adap­tive Mar­tian char­ac­ter­is­tics emerge in the de­scen­dants of the first set­tlers?

I don’t think we’ll wait around for ac­ci­den­tal mu­ta­tions in our genes. I think we’ll be­gin edit­ing the genes of our Mar­tian off­spring long be­fore we nat­u­rally evolve to live on Mars.

When will the Amer­i­can public grasp the need for es­tab­lish­ing a per­ma­nent pres­ence on Mars?

When they be­gin to un­der­stand how threat­ened we are by the whims of the uni­verse. A gi­ant so­lar flare or an all­out nu­clear war be­tween Pak­istan and In­dia could wipe us out. If noth­ing else gets us, we will be­come ex­tinct when our ag­ing sun be­gins to en­large. We can­not sur­vive with­out be­com­ing a space­far­ing species.

Some­one drilling for wa­ter can­not dis­cover half­way through that they have failed to an­tic­i­pate a spe­cific prob­lem—a min­eral de­posit that re­quires a spe­cial drill bit, for in­stance. For sur­vival to be a rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tion, ev­ery cir­cum­stance must be an­tic­i­pated.

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