Do you fancy living in space? Some people are prepared to pay Virgin Galactic almost half a million dollars for five minutes of weightlessness, so demand is clearly there among the deep-pocketed. And for generations of science fiction fans, life off-planet has been a dream forever just around the corner. If Elon Musk is to be believed, by 2050 there will be a million people living on Mars. Would you want your progeny to be among them? That’s the question posed by the authors of this book. Kelly Weinersmith provides the jokey, fact-filled text, while her husband, Zach, intersperses it with cartoon illustrations. Both are self-confessed space junkies, and after years of researching the issue they’ve become ‘more pessimistic than almost everyone in the space-settlement field’.
The book’s title is slightly misleading, since Mars is only one part of the enormous cosmic ground they seek to cover. The pros and cons of Moon bases, orbiting space stations and long-distance flight are all laid out in detail, not just from a technological and scientific perspective, but also in terms of the social, psychological and legal issues they raise. The only really compelling reason the authors can find for space colonisation is ‘because it’s awesome’ – the greatest possible manifestation of humanity’s instinct for adventure. Other instincts could get in the way, however.
In 1991, eight volunteers and some assorted livestock entered Biosphere 2, a hermetically sealed compound in Arizona. By creating a kind of self-sustaining mini-Earth, the project leaders hoped to show how life could be lived beyond our planet. The two-year mission quickly ran into both practical and personal