The best books about how to not die on Mars

Christopher Wanjek Author Of Spacefarers: How Humans Will Settle the Moon, Mars, and Beyond
By Christopher Wanjek

Who am I?

I am an author and freelance health and science writer with expertise is in health, nutrition, medicine, environmental sciences, physics, and astronomy. I try to address all these topics with healthy skepticism, realism, and a sense of humanity and humor. I am the author of three books: Spacefarers (2020), Food At Work (2005), and Bad Medicine (2003). I also have written more than 500 newspaper, magazine, and web articles for periodicals such as The Washington Post and Smithsonian Magazine. My upcoming book concerns the engineering of the NASA James Webb Space Telescope (MIT Press, 2022).

I wrote...

Book cover of Spacefarers: How Humans Will Settle the Moon, Mars, and Beyond

What is my book about?

More than 50 years after the Apollo 11 moon landing, humans still have not settled on the Moon, let alone done anything remotely interesting in low-earth orbit aside from raising ants on the International Space Station and doing zero-gravity flips for school children. Why? Because space activities are difficult, expensive, and nearly pointless. Yet this is getting easier and cheaper. The book Spacefarers explains the profound challenges and practical limitations of space habitation as we search for a solid reason not merely to visit space but to live on the Moon, Mars, and beyond. A must-read before you start your migration to the stars.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must

Why did I love this book?

If there's a roadmap to Mars, it is Robert Zubrin's classic The Case for Mars. An aerospace engineer by training, Zubrin describes with exceeding clarity every detail needed to set up a rudimentary camp on Mars with the long-term goal of human migration and Martian terraforming. Zubrin's plans include a novel rocket launch approach called Mars Direct, which sends cargo in advance before the crew and establishes a cycle of launches every two years. Unlike most advocates for Mars settlements, Zubrin doesn't pretend the journey is simple. As with settlements at Jamestown and Plymouth, most migrants will die en route or shortly after. Most interesting is how NASA's plans for Mars for 2040 looks remarkably like Zubrin's Mars Direct circa 1996. Yes, we've wasted decades not even starting.

By Robert Zubrin, Richard Wagner,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Case for Mars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Case for Marsmakes living in space seem more possible than ever in this updated 25th anniversary edition, featuring the latest information on the planet's exploration and the drive to send humans there.

Since the beginning of human history, Mars has been an alluring dream—the stuff of legends, gods, and mystery. The planet most like ours, it had long been thought impossible to reach, let alone explore and inhabit. But that is changing fast.

In February 2021, the American rover Perseverance will touch down on Mars. Equipped with a powerful suite of scientific instruments—including some that will attempt to make…

Book cover of Vacation Guide to the Solar System: Science for the Savvy Space Traveler!

Why did I love this book?

Whimsical but devilishly accurate, authors Olivia Koski and Jana Grcevich take you on a journey through the solar system as told from the perspective of an overzealous travel agent. Ski Mercury's volcanic sands; paraglide through Venus' clouds; explore Europa's deep-sea oceans. Vacation Guide to the Solar System is the "official" guide from the Intergalactic Travel Bureau. Although the book is written tongue-in-cheek, filled with campy illustrations reminiscent of 1950s travel guides, you will learn critical details of our neighboring planets and moons. There's so much to see and do on Mars. But danger lurks: Although you'll feel only 38% of your weight climbing the cliffs of the Valles Marineris (the largest canyon in the solar system), you can still fall to your death, as they are four miles high. 

By Olivia Koski, Jana Grcevich,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Vacation Guide to the Solar System as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Packed with real science and fueled by imagination, a beautifully illustrated guide to traveling in our solar system

Imagine taking a hike along the windswept red plains of Mars to dig for signs of life, or touring one of Jupiter's sixty-four moons where you can photograph its swirling storms. For a shorter trip on a tight budget, the Moon is quite majestic and very quiet if you can make it during the off-season.

Packed with full color illustrations and real-world science, Vacation Guide to the Solar System is the must-have planning guide for the curious space adventurer, covering all of…

Book cover of Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier

Why did I love this book?

During his speech at the World Government Summit 2018 in Dubai, Neil deGrasse Tyson confessed that his original title for the book Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier was Failure to Launch: The Dreams and Delusions of Space Enthusiasts. The publisher rejected this title. I would have purchased this book either way, but the original title is on the mark. Tyson is one of my greatest sources of inspiration because he is so clear-eyed about practical challenges in space travel: from the physical and biological to the political and philosophical. Space Chronicles is one of many fine entry points into his brilliant mind.

By Neil Degrasse Tyson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Space Chronicles as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Neil deGrasse Tyson is a rare breed of astrophysicist, one who can speak as easily and brilliantly with popular audiences as with professional scientists. Now that NASA has put human space flight effectively on hold, Tyson's views on the future of space travel and America's role in that future are especially timely and urgent.

The Martian

By Andy Weir,

Book cover of The Martian

Why did I love this book?

The best science fiction comes across as science fact, and that's what author Andy Weir pulled off in the book The Martian. This is one of the few books about living on Mars, as opposed to acting out an earth-based plot in a Martian setting. Perhaps you have seen the movie starring Matt Damon. However excellent the movie is, the novel goes into far greater detail concerning the very essence of surviving on Mars with current technology and the known dangers on a planet that's cold and nearly as devoid of air pressure as space itself. Even if you saw the movie, I recommend following up with the book.

By Andy Weir,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked The Martian as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he's alive--and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old human error are…

Red Mars

By Kim Stanley Robinson,

Book cover of Red Mars

Why did I love this book?

Once again, science fiction meets science fact in the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson, a thoughtful exploration for colonizing Mars. The first novel, Red Mars, gets us there. The second, Green Mars, is a battle for the soul of Mars, with fractions who desire to keep Mars natural pitted against others who desire to make it more earthlike. All the while there's a revolution unfolding between Mars and Earth à la the American Revolution. (Partial spoiler alert: the third novel, Blue Mars, hints at who won.) Should humans ever migrate to Mars, there is little doubt that they will have different opinions about self-rule. Martian migration will be a grand experiment, and Kim Stanley Robinson may prove himself to be prescient come the year 2100.

By Kim Stanley Robinson,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Red Mars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first novel in Kim Stanley Robinson's massively successful and lavishly praised Mars trilogy. 'The ultimate in future history' Daily Mail

Mars - the barren, forbidding planet that epitomises mankind's dreams of space conquest.

From the first pioneers who looked back at Earth and saw a small blue star, to the first colonists - hand-picked scientists with the skills necessary to create life from cold desert - Red Mars is the story of a new genesis.

It is also the story of how Man must struggle against his own self-destructive mechanisms to achieve his dreams: before he even sets foot…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Mars, survival, and outer space?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Mars, survival, and outer space.

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