Mission to Mars

In the first three-quarters of this book, Collins reviews the evidence in favor of manned exploration of Mars, the difficulties facing a mission to that planet, and possible solutions for those difficulties. The last quarter is an account, detailed in some places, very superficial in others, of a fictional mission launched in 2004. Collins uses the fictional mission as a way of more fully illustrating some of the possible problems of manned exploration and how his particular concept would work. Although melodramatic and mediocre fiction, it is useful as illustrative material.

Drawing on both his own experiences with the American space program and the knowledge he has obtained from the Russian program, Collins has developed very definite ideas about the nature of the mission. Recognizing the complexity of the task and the multitude of issues that it would raise, he worries about problems on many levels. On the level of national and international politics, he argues for a multinational mission, with representation from Europe, Asia, the Soviet Union, and the United States. In that way, the great cost would be spread out among many nations, the mission would strengthen the ideal of international cooperation, and individual national technological strengths could be drawn upon. On a more mundane level, he worries about equal opportunity and human sexuality. To prevent possible controversy over the question of equal gender access, without having to confront sexual conflict in space, he advocates sending only married couples on the twenty-two month voyage.

This book is a welcome change of pace. Too many Mars books appeal solely to our emotions with cries of human destiny, ignoring many of the real technical, political, and physiological issues. Collins has thought about the issues and presents his solutions in a manner which is conducive to discussion.