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

The Books I Picked & Why

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

By Robert Zubrin, Richard Wagner

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

Why 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.


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

By Olivia Koski, Jana Grcevich

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

Why 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. 


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Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier

By Neil Degrasse Tyson

Book cover of Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier

Why 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.


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The Martian

By Andy Weir

Book cover of The Martian

Why 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.


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Red Mars

By Kim Stanley Robinson

Book cover of Red Mars

Why 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.


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