April 3, 2020

Review: Mars, Inc. by Ben Bova

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It’s a destination that always seems to be “20 years away.”

But just how will we get to Mars? And why should we go? Science fiction author Ben Bova’s most recent book Mars, Inc.: The Billionaire’s Club out from Baen Books shows us just how those first steps might be made.

The author of over 120 works of science fiction and the winner of six Hugo awards, Ben Bova has a science fiction career spanning five decades. He also has a unique insider’s view of the space program having been an adviser and technical writer during the very earliest days of the Space Age to the United States’ early Vanguard satellite program in the late 1950s.

We had a chance to catch up with Mr. Bova during the 2011 Necronomicon as well as review his book Leviathans of Jupiter. And his Cold War era book Millennium is still a childhood fave of ours!

Mars, Inc. traces just what it would take to spawn a true grassroots crewed mission to Mars.  Mars, Inc. delves head-on into the world of space politics, where money and prestige make for back of the boardroom dealings long before a mission makes it to the pad.

It’s an intriguing notion, and the author draws off of a world that could be upon us tomorrow. Can ideas like Mars One take us to the Red Planet? SpaceX also has its eyes set on Mars, and it’s interesting to note that the latest notion of heading to the planet always depicts doing it with hardware courtesy of Elon Musk and his team.  Even Dennis Tito’s proposed crewed Mars Flyby mission in 2018 – which probably lies on the very grim edge of what’s technically achievable – will rely heavily on SpaceX and Bigelow Aerospace hardware.

Bova’s novel traces the triumphs and tribulations of taking those first steps. The chief protagonist Art Thrasher must schmooze through the inner corridors of power, overcoming such hurtles as getting a nuclear power source into orbit and pushing politicians and investors with his unstoppable vision. Disasters and even outright sabotage threaten his drive to make mankind an interplanetary species, but the dream holds true. It’s a very real and interesting idea: construct and fund mission via the implementation of an elite club of financial visionaries. If there’s one thing the uber-rich truly yearn for, it’s the inclusion in an elite club!

Mars, Inc. could also easily be the first in a series of books on “How the Red Planet Will Be Won,” though there’s no indication as to whether this is the direction that the author will be headed. Think of it as akin to a prequel of sorts to Kim Stanley Robinson’s outstanding Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars saga.

What will it take for mankind to truly have the will to journey to the Red Planet? In Mars, Inc., virtual reality is employed to capture the imagination of the public. That’s really not too far out of the question, given today’s technology. And while we frequently hear the objection of spending “so much money” on space, remember, all that cash is spent stimulating businesses and the economy right here on good ‘ole Earth.

If anything concrete comes out of concepts such as Mars One, it might be the ability to test out concepts and technologies needed to survive on Mars or the Moon right here on Earth. Could we build a self-sustaining colony, for example, in Antarctica? Even in a place where there’s a ready supply of water and the air is breathable, we still can’t exist without routine resupply. And ironically, it may have been the illegal hydroponics cultivators of marijuana plants that were the true “pioneers” of planetary colonization!

All interesting facts to ponder, as science fiction becomes science fact. Be sure to check out Ben Bova’s Mars, Inc for a future that could be ours tomorrow!


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