How We'll Live on Mars (TED Books)

How We'll Live on Mars (TED Books)

With 180 ratings

By: Stephen Petranek

Purchased At: $10.49

Award-winning journalist Stephen Petranek says humans will live on Mars by 2027. Now he makes the case that living on Mars is not just plausible, but inevitable.

It sounds like science fiction, but Stephen Petranek considers it fact: Within twenty years, humans will live on Mars. We’ll need to. In this sweeping, provocative book that mixes business, science, and human reporting, Petranek makes the case that living on Mars is an essential back-up plan for humanity and explains in fascinating detail just how it will happen.

The race is on. Private companies, driven by iconoclastic entrepreneurs, such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Paul Allen, and Sir Richard Branson; Dutch reality show and space mission Mars One; NASA; and the Chinese government are among the many groups competing to plant the first stake on Mars and open the door for human habitation. Why go to Mars? Life on Mars has potential life-saving possibilities for everyone on earth. Depleting water supplies, overwhelming climate change, and a host of other disasters—from terrorist attacks to meteor strikes—all loom large. We must become a space-faring species to survive. We have the technology not only to get humans to Mars, but to convert Mars into another habitable planet. It will likely take 300 years to “terraform” Mars, as the jargon goes, but we can turn it into a veritable second Garden of Eden. And we can live there, in specially designed habitations, within the next twenty years.

In this exciting chronicle, Petranek introduces the circus of lively characters all engaged in a dramatic effort to be the first to settle the Red Planet. How We’ll Live on Mars brings firsthand reporting, interviews with key participants, and extensive research to bear on the question of how we can expect to see life on Mars within the next twenty years.
This book has plenty of good information and speculation with only a few errors. This is a topic that is extremely difficult to write about without making any mistakes at all. It's quite possible to write accurately one day and have that accuracy destroyed by new developments and discovery before actual publication. It's hard to explain to those who have not tried, the incredible breadth of knowledge required to discuss travel to and living on Mars unless that person has attempted it. As one who has essayed this effort in both fact and fiction (see and Mars Rhapsody), I can tell you it's a tough job. This book does the topic reasonable justice.

This book is designed to be read in a single sitting. As a result, it often does not plumb the depths of some topics. Quite a bit of the book details the history of the ideas of travelling to Mars, beginning with Wermer von Braun (pronounced: Verner fawn Brown).

Petranek covers the psychological, economic, and physical issues involved in getting to and living on Mars rather completely. He spends some time on Mars One and Elon Musk, suggesting that the former is a very long shot due to funding issues (I agree) and that the latter is almost guaranteed to succeed for a variety of reasons (I agree again). He spends a bit too much space on slamming NASA, albeit with some good reasons. He even indicts Richard Nixon as the primary person responsible for us not reaching Mars already.

As to the errors, they are relatively minor compared to the scope and thrust of the book. For example, the author writes, "When you run out of oxygen in a space suit, you can only breathe the carbon dioxide that you exhale for so long before you lose consciousness." In fact, you will die of carbon dioxide "poisoning" long before you use up the oxygen. Assuming that you are breathing regular air, oxygen is 20% of the content, and carbon dioxide is much less than 1%. By the time CO2 reaches 5%, O2 has dropped to just 15% because one CO2 molecule is produced for each O2 used. You have used up just 1/4 of the O2 available and are dead.

Petranek is very correct about no animals on Mars. They are much too inefficient as a source of food. He remarks that early Martian settlers will be vegetrarians. They'll actually be vegans, meaning that special attention must be paid to vitamins D and B12. These are available from sources such as yeast, lichen, and mushrooms. He also says that settlers are unlikely to produce more than ten percent of their own food. This pessimistic view contrasts strongly with some of his other optimism. Advances in genetic engineering, aeroponics, and fast hybridization should alter this forecast considerably. Self-suffciency is not just nice, it's a necessity.

The remarks on radiation are fairly accurate. Everyone should understand that radiation in space is about twice as harmful as that on Mars because cosmic rays come from all directions and are shielded from half of the cosmic sphere by Mars itself. Solar radiation also is shield half of the time, nighttime, by the planet as well.

Another pervasive issue is oxygen and atmospheric pressures. We have to have an oxygen partial pressure of around 150 millibars or so to survive. This is the pressure at the highest cities on Earth and is less than 1/6 of the pressure of the Earth's atmosphere at sea level. Even if the entire atmospheric pressure were this low, your blood would not boil. Other physiological processes may not be so amenable to low pressures. However, we should find out how low the pressure can go if we keep the partial pressure of oxygen constant at 160 millibars. Lower pressures mean lower construction costs and also have strong implications for terraforming Mars. In my book, Mars Rhapsody, I took the most optimistic view that you could live at 160 millibars of total pressure with all of it coming from oxygen.

The suggestion that plants can convert the CO2 into O2 in adequate amounts is way off. Mars has maybe 8-10 millibars of CO2. Converting it all to O2 would produce only that amount of oxygen, which is 20 or so times to low. Bacteria, lichen, and plants cannot "fix" Mars alone. We must have a much greater souce of O2. However, genetic engineering humans may be possible to make tolerating high CO2 levels and surviving with low O2 levels possible, but not without lots more O2 than you can get from plants.

The potential for genetic engineering humans to make them more radiation resistant, able to eat and metabolize plants that grow on Mars, making them able, perhaps by making them smaller, able to subsist on a limited diet, and allowing them to breathe much thinner air is explored in the book. The question not addressed is when these altered humans become a different species. What if we populate Mars to save our species but do so in such a way as to create an entirely different species? Earth humans, as we know them, may not be able to emigrate to Mars after all.

More discussion would be nit-picking. There's plenty in this book to recommend it. No one, even me, gets this entirely right, and no one knows all of the answers or even all of the problems. For a quick overview of how we'll get to Mars and how we'll live there, this is a very decent essay.

- michael_lopez

This little book is a fast, easy read, for which I give the author the first star. And grudgingly one more star for bringing further attention to a number of intriguing future possibilities regarding our neighboring planet. However, in doing so, he falls prey to various overly enthusiastic “visionaries” who have little appreciation for the challenges of what they claim may come to pass.
A much more reasoned, balanced and comprehensive narrative is available in the more recent book, “Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet,” which was commissioned by National Geographic to accompany their TV series on MARS. As expected, the large format artwork and photographs of Mars are spectacular.
But in his book, Petranek claims right away in his intro “the settlement of Mars is about to happen far sooner than most people realize.” Wrong, I’m afraid. The question, rather, is will some of still be alive by the time NASA and the world actually pony up to sending just a very modest crew of marsonauts to the surface of the red planet.
The author takes his optimistic viewpoints from interviews with only those self-proclaimed visionaries who have never participated in any actual missions to Mars and tend to be naïve about the challenges. In the book, many issues are misrepresented. As if it isn’t enough for Elon Musk’s fanciful claims he will build a rocket that will loft one hundred people all the way to Mars (the Saturn V could only send 3 ‘nauts to the moon, with only a couple week’s worth of food, water, TP, etc.), Petranek claims he was told by Musk that he will send 80,000 settlers in a single trip (p. 33).
Similarly, the author swallows the Zubrin claim that terraforming is a sure bet, and simple to accomplish. Something far less challenging would be ex post facto “fixing” global warming on Earth. Petranek seems uninformed that space-borne mirrors cannot simply remain stationary over a pole of Mars --- that works only at the equator. And, if it were feasible at Mars, wouldn’t entrepreneurs on Earth have conspired to convert Siberian permafrost into tropical farmland long ago?
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that many of these visionary proposals are far into the future, if feasible at all. The author is neither a scientist nor a rocket expert, but doesn’t mind opining, incorrectly, that there have been no advances in rocketry since the Saturn.
The author seems to have researched only recent Mars exploration, attributing many of the discoveries originally made at Mars by the 1976 Viking missions instead to the rovers exploring the landscape decades later. Several statements are blatantly ignorant of fundamental scientific facts, such as the claim that hydration of nitrates releases nitrogen, when it is the nitrate that is the fertilizer for plants and the nitrogen in the atmosphere is useless except in special cases involving bacteria. Or, that the problem with Mars is distance, when it actually is time (once we blast off a rocket from Earth to go to Mars, it is coasting virtually the entire distance, but you cannot speed up the transfer without sacrificing the amount of mass that you can transfer).
There are better books available to get a glimpse of what Mars could provide in our future. If this is the only one you read, and believe, you will be regrettably misinformed.

- augustus_thompson

NASA has just about given up on doing anything further in their space programs that actually would send humankind to explore space. Successive U.S. federal administrations have let space exploration and possible settlements on other solar system planets be done by corporate America, with huge prices for those wishing to be just tourists in the universe. The author lays out a plan for how Mars might become an "outpost." Regrettably, there is enough to fix on Earth first, before we wreck any further planets, anywhere else in the universe.

- zayn_green

Short. Very short. But a great read and highly informative. Your kids (and certainly grandkids) are going to be living on Mars if they are rich and privileged. This tells the rest of us how they are going to thrive while we sweat it out under global warming, global flooding, global pollution (tell your kids to get tech degrees - now). Petranek lays out the basic challenges and how they will be overcome - and soon. Most exciting is the thought that many of us will see this come to pass and the book makes it abundantly clear that colonization of Mars is a reachable goal. What is especially valuable about the book is that it is a great primer for further research. The pages lead to a host of disciplines that will make life on Mars sustainable.

- leah_flores

I wanted to buy this book after hearing about it on a TED talk. I was excited to order it and started reading it a few months after I got it (I had a few other books ahead of this one). It’s a good book so far but it honestly hasn’t kept my interest. It talks through the history of conversation on this topic as well as the actual “how” we’d live on Mars, which is to be expected. It’s not a long book by any means, yet it’s still sitting half read on my coffee table. I guess I hyped it up too much listening to the TED talk.

- anastasia_morgan

There are times when a book comes into our lives at an appropriate moment. This was one such for me. I’d just spent a few days reviewing the research I’d been doing for a science fiction novel set on Mars. Amongst the websites I’d downloaded to consult on technical issues, I found references to this book. It seemed to be well respected, so I bought a copy.
I’m very glad I did. The text is well written, thoughtful and quite comprehensive and has given me reasons to modify that original story, fortunately before I began the editing process!
Petranek has clearly researched his subject well and consulted many different sources to arrive at his conclusions. His vision of the future for flights to Mars and the possibility of humans colonising the planet is well-considered and based on information and news relating to the space agencies and to those commercial companies that have been set up to explore the red planet.
He looks at all aspects of exploration and occupation of the most well-known of our neighbouring planets. His understanding of the science in all the fields he covers is extensive and he points out the realities of each challenge as well as the potential solutions to the problems. His tone is optimistic but realistic and he produces enough information for the reader to make up his/her own mind about the possibilities of each proposition. That the colonisation of Mars will proceed, there appears to be no doubt. There are, however, doubts about the timescale and the probable initiators of the human exploration of the planet. Will it be a state run space agency like NASA, ISRO, or ROSCOSMOS, or will it be one of the commercial concerns like SPACEX or MARS ONE? Petranek seems to favour SPACEX as the front- runner.
As a source for the science fiction writer setting a story on Mars, this is an excellent resource and it’s certainly given me plenty of food for thought. Food, of course, is a major concern for colonisation and the author tackles the subject with his usual thoroughness. He looks at atmosphere, water, power, transport, human health, terraforming and lots more in this volume.
I found the book both entertaining and highly informative. There’s a good deal of common and uncommon sense on these pages and he makes it clear where speculation lies and where there is good evidential reason to believe in a specific outcome. A very good read.

- damon_scott

Intended to be brief and part of a series designed to encourage watching other material on line, this is a crisp summary of the subject which though it seems to adequately cover the problems and issues nevertheless is optimistic and uplifting in outlook.

- madelyn_morales

A great afternoon reading for anyone with even an inkling of interest of humans getting to Mars. I would wholeheartedly recommend it.
Some slight syntax and grammatical errors here and there, but certainly nothing that disrupts the flow of the content.
4/5 as I would have personally liked a little more specifics (chemical formulae, etc), but it's not really needed in this book.

- abigail_martinez

Have your eyes and spirits lifted - this book reminds us (if we've forgotten) what it means to be human, what we are capable of and why we shouldn't stop trying. Everything to play for, as it has always been.

- dominick_cook

Book as described very happy with purchase. Interesting take on the Planet Mars and what it will take to get there and live there.

- isabela_thompson

A Christmas present for my Dad which was greatly received, especially after he watched the TV show Mars. Great book.

- diego_lewis


- amiya_scott

Short and sweet. Not really what I expected, but informative none the less.

- clark_richardson

Great book, original and captivating

- izabella_collins

good read lots to think about

- aviana_edwards

Very thought provoking

- kenya_turner

Amazing, just great

- alijah_ramos


- malaysia_howard

Das Buch habe ich zunächst meinem Freund geschenkt und aufgrund seiner positiven Bewertung später selbst gelesen.

Es ist sehr informativ und unterhaltsam geschrieben, so dass man es innerhalb kürzester Zeit verschlungen hat. Der geringe Umfang und Unterhaltungswert machen es zusätzlich zum perfekten Begleiter für U-Bahn-Pendler.

Die Kritik, dass das Buch lückenhafte Informationen bietet kann ich nicht nachvollziehen: Letztendlich ist es eine Theorie, die dem Leser "mundgerecht" und entertaining aufbereitet wurde und sehr wohl einen guten Überblick der Thematik gibt - empfehlenswert!

- emmy_martinez

Un libro dal grande interesse scientifico. Spero veramente arriveremo al futuro qui prospettato.

- mckenna_turner

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