Elon Musk is an ambitious man. He has revolutionized automobiles, taken on the energy industry, and launched a private space program. It’s fair to say the man never thinks small. Musk recently outlined his most ambitious project yet: creating a city of millions on Mars.
Using technology that hasn’t been invented yet — but is almost certainly within our reach — Musk plans to launch a very large spaceship into orbit. It would be filled with enough fuel to survive the months-long journey to the Red Planet. And it would use the Martian atmosphere to slow down, land vertically, refuel, and start the return journey back to Earth.
After thousands of flights, humans will have established a colony on Mars. And become a multi-planetary species as a result. Sounds great, right? Sure, it’s an exciting plan. However, there are a number of things you should think about before you sign up to be a SpaceX Mars colonist.
You should start by reading a few of these books all about Mars and the colonization of the Red Planet. So at least you know what you’re letting yourself in for.
1. Mars by Giles Sparrow (UK)
The average distance between Earth and Mars is about 140 million miles — so most people are understandably unfamiliar with the planet itself. Mars is a gorgeous photo book containing images sent back from probes and rovers that show the magnificence of our second-closest solar neighbor.
Also included are a number of essays that will teach you more about the planet itself, including how it was formed, how its weather works, what the surface of Mars is like, and how likely we are to find signs of microscopic life. (Be sure to get the hardcover 2015 version for the most recent photos and essays.)
If you’re not convinced that we should even be headed for Mars, this is the book for you. In The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must, Robert Zubrin lays out his vision and plan for colonizing Mars.
Of course, this isn’t the same plan as Musk has in mind. However, Zubrin details his plan in a truly logical and methodical way. Which should be enough to convince the doubters that we should, in fact, forge ahead with a trip to Mars.
TED talks are fascinating, so it’s no surprise that TED books are just as interesting. Stephen Petranek’s How We’ll Live on Mars takes a detailed look at the people and companies who are racing to put the first colonists on Mars, as well as the things we’ll need to figure out before we get there.
And if you need further evidence that we should be heading to Mars, check out Petranek’s TED talk, “10 Ways the World Could End”.
Mary Roach is one of the most engaging journalistic writers of our time — her books on cadavers, military life, and scientific investigation into the afterlife are bestsellers and absolutely stand-out works. Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void is her take on what it would be like to live in space (which Mars colonists will have to do for at least a couple of months at a time).
By looking into the strange, unbelievable, and mundane facets of space travel (like the details of space suits for chimps, or what happens when you vomit in your space helmet), Roach gives future colonists a preview of the interesting — and occasionally hilarious — issues they’ll face on their journey to the Red Planet.
If you want to sign up to be a Mars colonist, you’re going to need to read How to Live on Mars: A Trusty Guidebook to Surviving and Thriving on the Red Planet. Much like Zubrin’s more serious The Case for Mars, this book takes a look at some of the issues that we’ll need to overcome in order to live on Mars.
It also injects a serious dose of humor, such as in its sections about jobs on Mars (that won’t kill you), Martian pickup lines, and how to choose a spacesuit. By blending real issues with some quirky humor, How to Live on Mars gives you an entertaining look at some of the things you’ll need to think about before you embark on this trip.
Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy is one of the science-fiction classics every geek should read. And Red Mars kicks the trilogy off in spectacular fashion. In the near future, 100 colonists are sent to Mars to begin the terraforming process, which will turn the planet into one inhabitable by Earth dwellers. Over the course of the trilogy, readers see scientific, political, and interpersonal challenges that play out in the thin atmosphere of Mars.
It’s science fiction, but many of the issues brought up in these books echo real-life issues that will have to be tackled, especially if humans ever make a terraforming attempt. Robinson’s great imagination and storytelling complement the speculative science to create a series of books you absolutely will not be able to put down.
You had to know The Martian was going to be included in this list. If you’re interested in Martian colonization, there’s a good chance you’ve already read this book, but if you haven’t, it’s time to rectify that situation. The movie adaptation created a huge amount of hype, but the book actually manages to live up to it.
In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, The Martian tells the story of one man who gets left behind on Mars when his team has to make an emergency evacuation. It’s a story of survival, ingenuity, struggle, and hope. The science in it is phenomenal (and more accurate than you probably realize), and the writing is so tense that you will almost certainly stay up way too late reading this book.
A lot of really amazing research takes place at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory — when NASA has a problem, that’s often where they go. It’s staffed by some ridiculously smart people, including Adam Steltzner. In The Right Kind of Crazy: A True Story of Teamwork, Leadership, and High-Stakes Innovation, Steltzner takes us inside JPL to see how decisions are made.
While the book’s focus is more on innovation than Mars, one of the central issues the team at JPL is dealing with during the course of the book is how to land Curiosity, one of NASA’s Mars rovers. And this book will give you a deep appreciation for some of the extremely difficult problems involved in space travel — as well as the equally impressive ways our scientists come up with solutions.
Want to know more about JPL? Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars tells the surprising story of the women who worked at JPL in the 1940s and 1950s. They revolutionized jet propulsion using paper, pencil, and ingenuity in an age where the vast majority of scientists and mathematicians were men.
When you consider how many things AREN'T rocket science, you gotta think rocket scientists got a whole lotta shit figured out.
— Bryan Espiritu (@legendsleague) October 4, 2016
Whether you’re an aspiring Mars colonist, a space-travel enthusiast, or a history buff, this book will keep you turning pages as you get a unique look at a group of women that hasn’t received the recognition they deserve — until now.
For highly imaginative science fiction, look no further than Philip K. Dick’s works. A number of his books are firmly ensconced in the canon of classic sci-fi, and there’s no arguing that he’s one of the most influential writers of the genre. Martian Time-Slip isn’t one of his most popular books, but if you want a totally different look at Mars, it’s worth picking up.
Philip K. Dick is the only theologian I take seriously.
— Semiotic Stochastic (@mitdasein) September 27, 2016
Interplanetary business, time travel, warped realities, and other fantastical elements pervade this book, making it less a preparatory book for your colonization and more an exercise in imagination. Dick takes readers to the edge of what’s plausible and possible in an effort to get us to know ourselves better. And surely that’s a good thing for an interplanetary colonist to do.
Don’t Delay: Start Your Preparations Today!
As a species, we won’t be headed to Mars for a while yet, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t start getting ready today. Start improving your physical fitness, invest your energy in learning useful technical skills, and take some time to read these great books about the Red Planet. And don’t forget to send us a postcard when you get there!
Have you read any of the books listed above? If so, what did you think of them? What are your favorite books about Mars? We want to hear your recommendations, both for fiction and non-fiction books, in the comments below!