The Colonisation of Mars
Larry William Richardson
The Colonisation of Mars
By Larry William Richardson
Copyright 2010 Larry William Richardson
Table of Contents
About the Author
For those who have
Given the lack of evidence of successful travel by means of astral projection and through the use of magic substances able to overcome the force of gravity, it is certain that despite persistent claims to the contrary, no bonafide attempt could have been made at a manned landing on Mars before the mid-1950s. The records of exploration are incomplete. A chronology of Mars missions from that time reveals a long list, with the real and the supposed intermingled until it is difficult to separate the two, even as far apart as they may seem to be.
No one really knows for sure if the first successful round trip was the first manned landing, for many high-risk missions were conducted under tight security, and if unsuccessful became public only through rumor and innuendo, with the occasional larger-than-life report in the less reputable media.
The American 'Orion' mission of the early nineteen seventies was hailed as a success, despite the deaths of many of the crew in the disastrous landing and perilous return. Some, such as the infamous Capricorn One mission, are now understood to have been dramatic attempts to create success in the face of almost certain failure.
By the time the events related here transpire, the surface of the Red Planet is littered with the cast off equipment, bodies and debris left behind by manned missions and the worn out, abandoned and lost landers of six decades of autonomous rover missions.
and the Trees
At dusk of a warm autumn southern Ontario evening the child stood in the ditch tossing rocks over the trees. His first few tries had fallen short, but he soon learned to put more of an arc into the throw. Beyond and above the trees he saw the crescent moon. He threw with all his might and watched the rock fall to the ground. He adjusted his aim and threw again.
After a few tries he realized that this was going to take something special.
2230Z 43 December 2037
It was lonely work, but it had its moments.
The B unit approached the entrance to the box canyon and halted. A quick MGPS check told it precisely where it was and it was precisely where it wanted to be. From just below the carapace a laser scanned the terrain on all sides, forming a three-dimensional representation of the canyon mouth. A quick sniff of the wind blowing down the slope told it something had recently happened here.
It continued forward, picking its way carefully around the boulders that littered the floor, and after one hundred meters it halted once again. The laser scan was repeated and the changes noted. B103 turned slightly to the right and advanced towards the sunlit wall. The darkness of the newly exposed material on the slope contrasted sharply with the old. The soil under its wheels changed from rust red to the distinctive blood red of a recent slip—dynamite dirt to a lonely AI.
Webbed metal wheels churning, it spun its way into the midst of the newly exposed dirt. With an articulated arm it scraped the surface until it had made a small pile. It gently closed digits around this, and brought the soil to a small container, the door of which it snapped shut as soon as the sample was deposited.
It pressurized the container to 100 millibars of O2 and added a small quantity of sterile, de-mineralized water. The Martian soil exploded, violently expelling a cocktail of gases: among them sulphur dioxide, ammonia, and methane. Sensors activated. The trickle of data of the first few milliseconds became a flood, then a torrent of ones and zeroes that overwhelmed the AI's mind, forcing gate after gate into an ambiguous state.
Just before its sensors saturated, in a moment of machine ecstasy, the AI sensed, at levels so intense as to be momentarily paralyzing, the emotions humans felt upon smelling a freshly ploughed field after a shower and the scent of new mown grass.
The moment passed in 1500 milliseconds. Arms raised in bliss dropped limply to the ground. It was some time before the AI was able to move. The moistened soil was expelled to the ground. A thin vapour bubbled until the surface was frozen.
B103 moved on up the valley of the canyon, continuing to make measurements and taking samples of items of interest.
He watched the children play at the beach, screaming, running into the water and then rolling in the sand and grass until they were covered with a slimy goo of dirt and germs and heaven knew what else. He had read somewhere (he could look it up, of course, even as he watched them play) of a hypothesis that posited that humans and parasites had anciently formed a symbiotic relationship. Humans provided warmth and nutrition to the worms, and the worms kept the flora and fauna of the intestinal tract in balance. It was a happy relationship of mutual benefit, for the most part. He wondered how this relationship would play out in the sterile conditions of Mars.
Claire had been neither pleased nor understanding when he had told her of his decision. This was not like the time he had spent a year in Antarctica. This was a small death. There would be no more touching, no hugging, no Sunday dinners surrounded by the happy mayhem of her young family. It would be less of a death than her mother's, though—some contact was possible through edoc, and if time, tide, and planetary alignment allowed, vid.
No, this would be a long, lingering death aggravated by physical absence. That last time had been very difficult. She had cried and called him and all like him fools. The youngest of the children did not yet realize the significance of this particular day. The oldest, of course, knew everything, and with the innocence of their years asked him 'why?' He wanted to tell them that he was old—so old that everything that they had before them he had done and had—that he was expendable and affordable, that he was the most cost-effective solution.
Instead, he told them that the opportunity to explore a new planet was a great adventure, a fulfillment of humankind's destiny, a reaching beyond our grasp.
He held each of them in his arms for the last time, and was again amazed at their vitality and life energy. His daughter held back until the last moment, then clung to him, sobbing in great gasps. Finally she let him go, mustering a wan smile. How much like her mother she looked.
When he reached the bus stop the tears were running down his cheeks and onto his jacket, staining the front darkly, in streams.
1400Z 21 January 2037
He entered the room and took his favourite seat at the back of the hall in the ESA European Headquarters. As usual he was one of the last to a
Not a representative Earthly demographic, this room. The average age was 68. The youngest was 60 and the oldest 83. Forty-nine were females and 103 were males. All were physically fit and, despite their years, most were exceptionally well preserved, the products of 21st century medicine and first world culture and privilege. They were engineers and scientists with a few medical doctors thrown in, all with multiple degrees not always in related academic disciplines. There were no psychiatrists.
There was a large contingent of Americans—sixty-one of them by count—leaders by economic decree and destined to be the department heads of planetary aresology, geochemistry, atmospheric sciences, astrobiology, medicine, power systems engineering, and project management.
The next largest group was comprised of twenty-five Russians who were mainly biologists and exobiologists, with one solitary evogenomicist thrown in. Their presence was assured by the heavy lift capability of the Proton C booster and mother Russia's willingness to share the management costs.
Next were eighteen Brits, their seats financed by their development of lightweight self-contained habitation modules.
The remainder were apportioned in accordance with the generosity of their respective governments. There were seventeen Chinese, all experts in closed system agricultural biology. Globally the most populous, world leaders in advanced technology, their numbers reflected a financial contribution diminished by a government rendered cautious by the disasters of hastily conceived high risk missions in the mid 20's. Yet the gossip on the Matrix was that China was preparing another solo Mars mission.
The rest—roughly equal numbers of French, Germans, Italians, Indians, and Pakistanis—were strictly cash on the barrelhead and included for their knowledge of aresology, computer sciences, robotics and transportation.
There was one Canadian, a youngster, seated at the back of the room alone, age almost 61. Sam Aiken was to be the mission communications specialist, and in the three-hat approach made necessary by severe limits on numbers, the mission radio astronomer, and then too the handyman. He was included, he believed, in repayment for lives lost in support of some American adventure.
He made few acquaintances and even fewer friends during the induction and evaluation phase. Most were quite busy working in their areas of expertise, and since these were for the most part drawn along lines of nationality, it was hard for him to break in. It was a time, though, when bonds were forming that would last throughout the mission and, by extension, the remainder of their lives.
A lifelong inability to cement relationships held him back. Those who were naturally outgoing and who approached him in expectation of common civility found themselves met with terse, dead-end replies. They thought him shy, but that was only a faint perception of the greater truth—despite a loneliness that cried out for inclusion, a part of him could not and would not risk itself.
Forced to associate with some of the others by the common nature of their work, he formed an acquaintance with one Brit and several of the Americans who had studied in Canada. His other relationships were quite formal, but none moreso than those he had with the mission leader—an American named David Fenley to whom Sam had taken an almost instant dislike—and with others whom he saw as variously functionaries and enablers.
After the confirmation of his selection for training he had gone through a predictable rationalization of his decision to commit to the mission. This was followed by bouts of regret and extreme doubt. It was, after all, a one-way trip, with all that implied.
He had no doubt, though, about his competencies in the core requirements for the job. He thought he knew himself. He was quite capable of performing adequately as a radio astronomer, and with an extensive theoretical and practical background in mechanical, electronic and electrical systems, he was the quintessential high-tech handyman. He was a good choice, he felt, and obviously so had the CSA.
Isolation was not going to be a problem. He'd had some experience in travel and living in the remote and often alien backwaters of the Arctic and Antarctic. He knew of the cold polar fogs that chilled through the optimistic clothing of summer travellers, that blanketed the land at inconvenient times, disrupting hopeful travel on the way in and compounding the desperate longing for the trip out. Hurry up and wait were the friends of every polar traveller, a friendship doubtless to be rekindled on Mars.
He recalled the land of the high Arctic, at once monotonous and wonderful. In summer, it was a bleak grey/brown/silver born of mud and muddy rock, relentlessly windy and on the edge of being just cold, informing the mind with a new standard of 'good' weather, with endlessly cloudy days with dreary ground-hugging fog that infiltrated any clothing.
The dullness was interspersed with brief periods of sun that revealed far off sun-lit slopes and low-lying islands marked with patches of snow that seemed to shrink an unbreachable distance. In its most extreme places the colour green nearly always meant death; something had died to make life possible.
In winter it was a merciless sameness, uncomprehending, uncaring, unforgiving, no clump of rocks better than any other. Inescapable. Brilliant blinding sun or endless dark left the unfortunate and the unsupported with no hope for sustenance, save for a drink of icy water, a mouthful of snow. You could see the end coming. You could feel the inevitable impact. Everyone could be dead in six weeks or less—sometimes much less. It had been his Mars-on-Earth. This he could handle.
But the mere contemplation of associating with others loosened his gut. Dropped from the sky into the forced collegiality of apprehensive strangers known by first names only and with no genuine interest or profit in knowing more, he had problems fitting in.
Rarely had he sought the companionship of others. The fleeting intimacy left him embarrassed. He had a tendency to tell all, to inform well beyond necessity and good manners, and to his dismay, his returns to the south had often been marked by such an enormous and unexpected, even unsuspected, relief as to cause him to weep, head down on the dashboard, ashamed, his emotions rebounding as if he had cheated death itself.
What was the cause of that profound sense of relief? Why such a relief? Why such a torrent of suppressed emotion? How, he asked himself, would such a dysfunction play out in the tiny and closeted community of new friends to be found on Mars? Could he hide it?
He found it difficult—if he were honest, painful—to associate with the few who, like him, had not already bonded through shared work or through nationality. Despite an innate shyness, he had forced himself to meet as many of them as he could.
"Hello Doctor Chen, I'm Sam Aiken."
Doctor Chen looked up briefly from his reading, seeking the origin of this intrusion. "How do you do, Doctor Aiken?"
"Fine. Are you looking forward to the trip?"
"Yes, very much so. It promises to be quite an interesting experience." That said, Chen buried his face in his book and resumed reading. Confounded and speechless, Sam paused a moment, considered a reply, then shuffled away silently to the coffee table.
A thought came into his mind. Well, it was not a thought, really, so much as it was more as if he'd heard a snippet of conversation somewhere. No, it was something he had read in a study. Was it from a novel, or a poem, or was it from a vid?
Regardless, it came to him as a turn of phrase from out of his own noisy planet that pithily encapsulated for him both his times and his co-inhabitants on Planet Earth. They were 'a generation that has got beyond facts, beyond impressions, a generation absolutely colourless, a generation that was 'seraphically free of taint of personality.''
He repeated the words over and over until he tasted them. Woody, no, pine needle-like they were. And with each repetition the words became less clear, until they were mere gibberish.
The other outsiders, he could see, were plainly dysfunctional.
Despite decades of analysis and the experience of prior missions there was considera
The initial Mission Planning Team had contained risk takers and the cautious in roughly equal numbers and was for the most part considerably younger than the prospective colonists. The few who had been selected at that time were in any event excluded from the process. Somewhat optimistically, the Team's goal was to achieve consensus in all things. Over time the composition was adjusted by senior management until the consensus was that there was no sense in adding to the already considerable risk. Of the twenty missions required, at least one was likely to fail to orbit Mars, one probably to fail on atmospheric entry, and another very likely to be destroyed during the landing. It was all about risk management. Resources versus results.
All other considerations aside, in the end, as nearly all previous mission planners had done they chose the safest landing area: Chryse Planitia, a northern plain of modest pretension, which was well known and had the benefit of being adjacent to the geologically interesting Kasei Valles. When it was announced with great fanfare to the public, schoolchildren all over the world fingered their Martian globes, searched it out on the Matrix and zoomed in from on high until they could see the very rocks and the dust streaked surface, and if they were persistent, the glint of sun on metal—the ships of previous missions.
For fifteen minutes (less adverts), it was the news, and then the world went back to their music, games, and triD-vids.
Finally the suitability phase with its endless lectures, briefings, and tests was over. Those who had made the cut composed their final goodbyes. Henceforth they would be allowed little physical contact with those to be left behind and so they sought the easy words to break the bonds of Earth. Pink slips were handed out to those who had not. They wrung their hands and rejoined their lives.
The happy few assembled in the ESA Hall for the kick-off meeting of the next phase—programming. David Fenley launched into what was, in any language, a pep talk.