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Friday, 13 January 2006
Mars, Space Elevators, and Dust Devils
Topic: Science Fiction
Here at TAKOTRON we like to make good use of our vacations, seeing our friends, families, and allies, traveling, exploring, and watching movies. But no vacation feels complete without finally getting down and reading some of those things that have been put off for a while. In those terms, this winter break has been fairly productive. Just yesterday I finally finished Red Mars, the first book of Kim Stanley Robinson's Martian trilogy.

It's quite an epic, and I don't know when or if I will get to the other two volumes. But Red Mars was full of great ideas and observations on science, society, politics, and global economics. In 2026 an international group of scientists are sent to explore and colonize Mars from Earth, which is falling into deeper political turbulance as powerful transnational companies, the few wealthy nations more powerful than the corporations, and desperate heavily-populated countries struggle and rebel against one another. The utopian hope for a new start on Mars runs into immediate trouble (even before touchdown) as the scientists disagree on terraforming (engineering global climatic and ecological changes) the new planet and how to deal with the conflicting interests of the global organizations (UNOMA), national governments, and corporations supporting their work.

Factions develop and tension builds, especially with the construction of a space elevator, a one-day feasible method of space transport in which, rather than rocket powered shuttles and landers, travelers and goods are brought to and from a planet by a thin cable tethered between the surface and a weighted anchor (such as a captured asteroid) extended beyond geosynchronous orbit by centripetal force. In Red Mars the elevator boosts the import of an unskilled labor force that mines Mars' natural resources for export. The unregulated, unprotected, and overpopulated workforce ultimately revolts (with the aid of some of the original scientists), affecting the whole Martian population. Lying, backstabbing, murder, ecological terrorism (exploding underground aquifers, blowing up one of Mars' moons[!]), and the dramatic collapse of the elevator (the cable whips around the equator twice, decimating everything around it) all ensue. But that's humanity, wherever it goes! I am under the impression that the sequels are a bit more optimistic, but there's a lot to learn from science and society's worse moments.

Red Mars is full of well-researched, illustrative descriptions of Martian landscapes, but since the novel came out in 1993 a lot has been revealed about the planet's surface. Since 1997 NASA's probes and rovers have been sending back detailed images and data, much of which indicated a watery past.

Space Elevator
The Space Elevator Comes Closer to Reality
NASA: Audacious & Outrageous: Space Elevators
Space Elevator? Build it on the Moon First

Mars Missions
Martian Weather: Dust Devils
NASA: Demystifying Mars
Rover Images

Posted by thenovakids at 12:31 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:06 AM CDT
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