Friday, July 25, 2008

Mars or bust!

Here's the stuff of dreams: a bald statement which takes a little while to permeate the basic denseness of the human cranium (even mine):

Within a decade, NASA plans to begin building a permanent lunar colony to serve as an outpost en route to Mars.

No, Keegan did not make that up! It's an outtake from a feature article which you can find right here:, Wisconsin's Business News Source.

It's well worth a look ... a quiet little article, no fanfare, no noise, no flashy pictures or videos. Just a plain text feature which frames the future of space exploration in no uncertain terms. There's a saying: "Great storms announce themselves with a single gust of air."

A few days ago I was talking about the 39th anniversary of Man on the Moon, and my own memories not only of the event, but of being a kid in the late 1960s, when even our teachers firmly believed we were headed for the stars, and that kids like you and me (well, maybe not you; you're probably too young to have been there at the time!) could expect to live and work in space.

Alas, Project Apollo turned out to be little more than a Cold War publicity stunt, but several decades down the track the future of this planet, not to mention the people living on it, is going to pivot on the NEED to get back to the Moon. It's all about fuel. You can't get helium 3 here. You CAN get it there. And nuclear fusion ain't gonna work without it. I can take or leave the part about the Lunar base being a jumping off point for Mars. I mean, I would love to see it happen, but I'll be damned if I can see any shrieking, screaming, blue-in-the-face necessity to go to Mars. And that's what it would take to get us there. But ... rust, we have plenty of right here ... and Mars is too problematical to make a practical lifeboat for the Earth, in the next century.

Hang on --

Hold the phone. Keegan's getting a plot idea. I mean, a novel concept ... the pivot point around which books revolve, and without which you wind up with soap opera.

Something mildly phenomenal in an entirely fictional context just hit me. Oooooh, man, there's a novel in this...

[long pause while plot idea gets hammered into the computer; further pause for mug of coffee; slight extra pause for re-reading the last few lines...]

Sorry, guys, but this is how it happens. I was about to remark that Mars doesn't have enough gravity to hang onto an atmosphere for long, even if we managed to give it one, and an idea/image/scene 'happened' in my mind. The story will weave itself in the next few hours, and this one gets added to the list of books I just have to write. Eventually. (Actually, book sales via Lulu and Payloadz are doing so well, lately, once again I'm close to seriously considering concentrating solely on writing; now, that would be a day long remembered. Can't wait for it to happen.)

Back to Mars, though. It's actually fairly easy (or, the concepts are easy, not the technology!) to endow Mars with an atmosphere. Buzz out to the Ooort Cloud, find ice asteroids which are comprised of water ice, shunt them back in here, with the ion engine, crash them into Mars. Instant atmosphere, as the water divides into hydrogen and oxygen in the heat of the impact. Problem: Mars only has 30% of our gravity, and the atmosphere we just pumped in will escape to space.

Sad to say, I know a thing or two about Mars, and why it'll be a bear to go there for purposes of colonization ... much less to convince the people of Earth to spend trillions on spaceflights to get there! I've researched Mars for three books and actually written one of them -- APHELION.

Wraparound cover for the 2008 DreamCraft edition of APHELION

Don't get me wrong: Mars is a fantastic place. I had a load of fun with APHELION, and I'm definitely going to return there for a fictional vacation. Jarrat and Stone might not be there; the NARC books tend to touch down in a location and then go on. (The next stories will involve Rethan, which we visited in both DEATH'S HEAD and STOPOVER, also Aurora, where we were in SCORPIO; but I can't figure out how to get back to Mars. Worse luck. The great Martian citites, and the farming town of Lassiter were fantastic places to write about.)

So much the better that you were just witness to The Epiphany, the actual moment when a new novel was born! (It might not be a big thing to most visitors, but to me, as a writer, it's a "wow" moment. I love those moments.) It might be a few years before you see the novel, but this one? Yeah, I'm, going to write this one. It doesn't have a title yet, but I have a feeling it will by tonight...


Jen said...

I'm so glad I could witness that moment! How cool is that?

Regarding your post, I'd like to know when we are going to get those flying cars we were promised ;)

Mel Keegan said...

Jen: hello ... and you're dead right about those flying cars. I had a science teacher when I was 10 y.o. or so who swore up and down I'd be working on a space station by 2000 ... and when I was 10 I believed, heart and soul. I kinda wish the teacher was right. It's not that I (now) *want* to work on a space station -- but it sure would be nice to have the option.

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