By Wayne Saalman
[photo by Bill Jelen]
CRIMSON FIRESTORM MARS is the name of my latest novel. It is not a science fiction novel as its name might imply, but a thriller set entirely on this Earth. The substance of its plot revolves around the very real rivalry that currently exists in the world concerning the competition to blast off for the Red Planet ahead of every other spacefaring team, land safely there and establish the first ever interplanetary colony in human history.
Make no mistake about it; this is a space race of an epic magnitude and one of incomparable historical significance.
Indeed, as the race heats up in the coming months and years the media will be saturated with what will surely come to be known as “Mars fever”, especially as the various organizations move ever closer to winning this competition. There will be countless articles and updates on the rivalry, including newsreels of the latest generation of rockets meant to get a crew there, videos which will proudly demonstrate all of the most innovative, cutting-edge technological wonders that will be used in this incredibly complex undertaking and round after round of documentary programs highlighting the monumental preparations being made to ensure the safety and success of the excursion; a mission that will ultimately result in humanity’s greatest space adventure yet.
The man or woman who commands this initial mission will become an instant icon, of course, and go down in history as being even greater than the late, legendary Neil Armstrong, who in July of 1969 became the first person to set foot on the Moon.
Why “greater”? Because Mars is 140 times further away from the Earth than is our faithfully orbiting lunar satellite. That is not just a little bit past the Moon. That is beyond it at an almost unfathomably distance.
While Elon Musk of SpaceX has insisted that his organization in conjunction with NASA will achieve this feat within 5 years, a simple review of the facts makes that a highly optimistic prediction in my opinion. After all, our astronauts will have to travel some 35 million miles in order to get there and, in terms of time, the journey will require almost a year. Quite challengingly, our voyagers will have to achieve their objective while tucked into the rather cramped conditions of a small spaceship, hoping against hope that all of the craft’s mechanical and electronics systems operate perfectly throughout the long excursion and without a single mission-busting glitch.
How cramped will it be? Well, if one considers how confining our current space capsules are, one begins to get an idea of how difficult this journey will be to endure. It will require extreme patience, super serenity and stamina of a whole other order from what goes on in the average busy life of today, especially among the young and active, which these voyagers will be. (While it is probably fair to say that the craft that does go to Mars one day will be larger than the capsules we currently see ferrying our astronauts and cosmonauts to the International Space Station and the Moon, there is no way that the first of these will be massive in size like the ships we see in so many science fiction films; not for a long time yet, unfortunately.)
Blast-off alone, of course, will be the first danger our voyagers will face. Then there is the matter of the toll that space itself can take on the human brain and body. Muscle can definitely atrophy during extended space voyages and bone can lose mass and grow brittle. Vision can become impaired and there is also the risk that a person might contract radiation poisoning from overexposure to cosmic rays and high-energy particles that race across our galaxy at close to the speed of light, some of which might possibly penetrate the spacecraft.
Once the ship arrives in the vicinity of the Red Planet, of course, there will be another moment of grave concern: the utterly crucial, all-important soft landing. It must go without a hitch. (Bear in mind here, that more than one space probe has gone the distance to Mars only to be lost in some way in that final critical period.)
What happens immediately after the craft lands is again vital to human survival, for there then follows a great task. One must set about constructing one’s living quarters in a freezing cold expanse of barren desert and do so while wearing cumbersome space gear, for the atmosphere is toxic to earthlings (it’s mostly carbon dioxide). Add in the fact that there is 62.5% less gravity on the Red Planet and one’s efforts will be even more cumbersome and difficult.
By the way, the components for constructing the living quarters on Mars will need to be there ahead of the crew’s arrival. One, two or possibly more cargo vessels will be required to transport these components, for one cannot ship them along with the crew. The payload would be too great.
There will also need to be vacuum-packed food stores and other provisions within that crucial pre-arrival payload, which means that the ship carrying the crew will need to touch down in extremely close proximity to where these cargo vessels have already landed or our colonists will have a major problem on their hands with getting to these life-sustaining provisions. (Worst case scenario, the ship lands so far away from these vessels that the crew finds itself totally out of luck for accessing them.)
Finally, once our daring young men and women have built their new Martian home and have tucked themselves safely within it, there is one further daunting matter for them to contemplate as they go about their new life: given today’s technology the trip to Mars is, at present, a one-way ticket.
In other words, in all probability, those on the initial missions will never ever be able to return to this Earth.
I would, therefore, advise any would-be Martians to really think long and hard about this particular reality. Is the idea of being a pioneering space cadet greater in your mind than enjoying all of the luxuries, fine food and drink that is currently at your disposal? Are you okay with never again being with your loved ones, going to the movies or seeing your favorite musicians or sports team perform? Is it perfectly fine with you that you will never again revel in the beauty of an island paradise or go for long walks in the mountains, nor sail the ocean nor even swim again? Is it totally all right with you that you will spend virtually the rest of your years indoors, day in and day out, and in the company of a rather small contingent of fellow scientists?
Think about all of that. Given the above are you really and truly perfectly cool with leaving this Earth forever?
If so, what a fantastic and exciting celestial adventure you are certain to experience! And since we must live in hope, then why not imagine that one day you will be able to come back. Decades of technological innovation will probably be required before that end can be achieved, but our scientists and engineers are unspeakably gifted and brilliant. Where there is a will, there is a way, as the old saying goes and why not? After all, it is not just astronauts who have “the right stuff”, so do a great number of our astrophysicists and engineers. This is a team effort.
To those of you who have volunteered so gallantly to be aboard the first ever rocket ship to Mars I say, “Dream on, but do so realistically.” There are enormous physical, mental and emotional considerations that must be ruminated upon for years in order to make this life-changing choice, for once that rocket ship blasts off, there is no turning back.
If you do choose to become a Martian, though, I say, “Bon voyage. Good luck to you. May you live long and prosper.” (Or, since “prospering” won’t really count for much in a place where money will scarcely factor into your colonial existence for quite some time, I should simply say instead, “May you live long and find great fulfilment in the mission and the journey, each in your own way!”)
In the interim you might read Crimson Firestorm Mars. It delves deeply into all of this, has a great cast of characters, some fun and some sinister, and the book hopefully does what every good thriller is supposed to do: shock, startle and delight! (Available now on Amazon in print form or as an Ebook.)