Venus on Mars

How Many Ways Can You Get To Mars?

Posted in Author's Notes by janmillsapps on August 21, 2012

So this blog is back!

I’ll be posting frequently – now it’s more about my book’s adventures in the world as I promote, distribute, market and occasionally perform with it.

Last week I saw that the Exploratorium (SF science museum) has a current exhibit, “Return to Mars.” I know what they’re referring to – Curiosity follows those earlier rovers with hopeful names, Spirit and Opportunity. Each is a physical presence on the red planet. Wheels on the ground. Instruments measuring everything from atmospheric content to soil acidity. Cameras capturing detailed closeups of Martian surface features.

I started thinking that there are so many other ways to visit Mars – and therefore to return to it, again and again.

Welcome to Mars – Google hopes you enjoy your visit!

Google Earth can take you there – here’s a video preview of what you’ll see upon arrival.

A few years back Wired ran this article about five ways to get there. For the record, they are chemical propulsion, antimatter propulsion, nuclear thermal propulsion, ion propulsion, and the one that sounds most pleasant (and least explosive), solar sail.

But now that we’re landing rovers on the red planet, a few Earthlings have found another way to visit the red planet. They’re the elite corps of rover drivers, fixated on the rover controls and charting the miniscule progress made each time they take the wheel. They are the first Earthlings, according to sci-fi writer William Gibson (in his essay Googling the Cyborg), to experience “Martian jet lag.” Moreover, he believes, they are as heroic as astronauts and should be feted as such:

That’s what you get when you operate one of those little Radio Shack wagon/probes from a comfortable seat back at an airbase in California. Literally. Those operators were the first humans to experience Martian jet lag.  In my sense of things, we should know their names: first humans on the Red Planet. Robbed of recognition by that same old school of human literalism. 

Because humans have achieved some degree “augmented reality,” reasons Gibson, if Mars happens to some sensory extension of yourself, Mars is happening to you. Monte Morin, writing in The LA Times, agrees:

Short of becoming an astronaut, it [driving a planetary rover] is the ultimate form of space exploration.

Mars rover driver Ashley Stroupe suits up for journey

So if  a dedicated crew of rover drivers are currently joy-riding around on Mars without getting out of their chairs,  perhaps there are other ways to get to the red planet that we have yet to envision.

In my book, Miss Lulu writes about her first look at Mars:

I put one eye to the eyepiece and see hovering right in front of me an enormous red disk, its polar caps splendidly trimmed in ermine. I’d anticipated seeing our planetary neighbor as if it were visiting our own neighborhood, but instead I have the distinct impression that I am the one who’s travelled – in a mere instant – part way across our Solar System. With one brief look, I’ve become a Martian, a quietly spectacular event.

I had this same feeling the first time I looked through a large telescope – an immediate feeling of proximity, as if I’d been propelled through the telescope and zapped clear across space.  It’s a visual shock, but a pleasantly thrilling one.  Armchair astronomy, unlike rocket propulsion, is safe, inexpensive, and immediately gratifying.

I think the ultimate way for us to become Martians, Saturnians, Neptunians, is just to see ourselves that way. We’re made out of the same celestial stuff, just packaged differently.

Writers, artists, visionaries have never had a problem traveling from this world to another.

We’re on Mars now, we’ve always been there and we always will be.

And once we’ve been there, our “return to Mars” – or to any other place in the universe – can come at any time.


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