Curiosity on Mars

The Curiosity rover landed successfully on the surface of Mars this morning. It’s an impressive achievement but, to be fair, the US and the USSR have been doing this – with varying degrees of success – since 1971. There’s a good infographic explaining this on here. The Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity is only the latest, and most sophisticated, of these. Putting an astronaut, or cosmonaut, or taikonaut, on the surface of Mars, however, would be a spectacularly impressive achievement. Curiosity cost around $2.5 billion; a crewed mission to Mars would cost several orders of magnitude more. For one thing, there’s the return journey to account for. Unless, of course, the space travellers are intending to settle the Red Planet…

Source: NASA

Mars has held a particular fascination for science fiction writers throughout the genre’s history, and there are countless treatments of missions to Mars – from Rex Gordon’s No Man Friday to Kim Stanley Robinson’s trilogy of Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars. Robinson’s trilogy is often considered the definitive sf work on the topic, though it is more about the political and social development of the Red Planet than it is the nuts and bolts of settling it. For the latter, Robert Zubrin’s First Landing is perhaps more realistic; as is William K Hartmann’s Mars Underground. No Man Friday, on the other hand, is pure Robinsonade (that’s Robinson Crusoe, rather than Kim Stanley Robinson), though its early scenes, in which a team of British scientists secretly built a rocket in a disused water tower, holds a certain period charm.

Mars also proved a popular locale for stories submitted to Rocket Science, and three set on, or en route to, the Red Planet made it onto the table of contents: ‘Dancing on the Red Planet’, Berit Ellingsen; ‘The Brave Little Cockroach Goes to Mars’, Simon McCaffery; and ‘A Biosphere Ends’, Stephen Palmer. All three stories deal with human beings on Mars, however.

Nonetheless, let’s not forget that 900 kg robot currently sitting on the Martian surface, on Aeolis Palus on the floor of Gale Crater. At present, it’s the closest we’re going to get to another world in real life – and if there’s one thing science fiction rarely depicts it’s the sheer difficulty and danger of travelling through space and landing on alien planets. We need to be reminded of that more often.



Filed under space travel

2 responses to “Curiosity on Mars

  1. # The Curiosity rover landed
    # successfully on the surface of
    # Mars this morning.

    Honestly, I can’t believe how easily people are taken in by this stuff, it’s like Capricorn One was never written!

    People are too ready to believe in nonsenses like ‘sky cranes’ that wouldn’t even be plausible as science fiction, and anyone who knows anything about Mars knows that a robot like this would drown in the first canal it encounters.


  2. # Putting an astronaut, or cosmonaut,
    # or taikonaut, on the surface of Mars,

    If we’re going to send something to Mars it should be a person.

    I can provide a list of potential candidates, starting with the guy who cut me up on the way to work this morning.


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