Visit Mars with Curiosity and Kim Stanley Robinson
August 15, 2012
One of the most amazing things about the images coming to us from the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover is that the scenery looks oddly familiar. One NASA scientist remarked that Gale Crater was reminiscent of the American West. Having lived in the Intermountain West, I concur. Take a look for yourself with this interactive 360 degree panorama of Curiosity’s surroundings.
I’ve written of my fascination with the planet Mars and its landscapes on this blog previously. Part of that fascination has been the similarities between Earth and Mars. The weather at Gale Crater right now is about the same as that of Antarctica's McMurdo Dry Valleys in summer, with the exception of a much higher UV index and a much lower atmospheric pressure. Based on this, I can visualize taking a casual stroll across the Martian countryside. Yes, I’d need a pressure suit, but it’s a much friendlier environment than the raw vacuum of the Moon, the hellish inferno of Venus, or the cryogenic cold of Titan.
In 1985, I read Kim Stanley Robinson ’s novella Green Mars in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. Robinson’s tale of a group of climbers ascending the solar system’s highest mountain, Olympus Mons, on a future terraformed Mars kicked my fascination into high gear. Here was a Mars where you didn’t even need a pressure suit!
Robinson expanded on the themes of the novella in his epic Mars Trilogy: Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars. This Hugo and Nebula Award-winning trilogy (and its accompanying short story collection The Martians) is one of the greatest achievements in science fiction. Starting in 2026 with the first colonization mission, Robinson lays out the environmental, political, and technological developments of the next 200 years of human history.
The trilogy’s biggest appeal to me is that Robinson lovingly describes the Martian landscape before, during, and after the terraforming process that makes Mars into a second planetary home for humanity. I reread this trilogy every 10 years or so, just to visit Mars again. My dream is that some radical technological breakthrough will make it possible for me to visit Mars in the near future. I’m not getting any younger, so everybody get to work! In the meantime, I'm about due for another rereading.