#GloryOnMars #OnMars Chapter Four: Journey

I’ve finished the draft of my new novel about colonizing Mars. Let me know what you think – I’m still making changes.

If you missed the story’s beginning, start reading here.


Exercising in space – NASA Photo ISS021-E-028204.

The journey soon became monotonous. Emma knew she wasn’t the only one to think so, because the Earth Scan sphere, which continued to float at the habitat ceiling, shrunk and glowed a sedate orange.

Emma expected a lot of things would set her teeth on edge. There was the constant hum of life support’s pumps and compressors, more noticeable than the HVAC systems in earthly office buildings. There was vibration, a tremor always present, that she noticed whenever she touched fingertips against a surface. There was the repetitive sound of the flexion machine; since MEX scheduled each of them for two hours of exercise every day, the machine was in use half the time she was awake. At least the ship provided good headphones and they were trained to not sing out loud with their music. But mostly cabin fever would develop because she was sealed in a can with three other human beings.

Duties were part of her individualized plan and she regularly inspected life support equipment on the upper deck – tightening fittings, torquing bolts, and recording pressures. The hum was louder on the upper deck so sometimes she’d pull on her headphones, curl in a ball above the hatch, and mediate as she floated along the aisle to the air intake.

Meditation helped manage isolation. Every afternoon the crew meditated together, which was supposed to build a community bond. Emma would open an eye to peek at the others. James preferred to place himself, cross-legged, upside down in relation to everyone else. He often had a sly smile on his face as he floated in classic lotus position, a novice achieving the yogic levitation that eluded adepts on Earth. Continue reading

Frontier Mine on the Moon – Crater by Homer Hickam #scifi #sciencefiction #review #bookreview

craterCrater Trueblood is an up-right, low-key teenage hero. He is born and raised on the Moon with an unworthy best friend, a crush on a girl he only argues with, and – soon after the story begins – a new job he can’t seem to get right. He also has a gillie – a fascinating “biological machine” that sits on his shoulder (even the shoulder of his space suit) and runs his communications. At first gillie seemed to be simply an odd detail in Crater’s life, but as the story progresses, gillie becomes more significant and I enjoyed him – it – whatever.

Hickam’s whole story is like the gillie. It starts as an idea about mining Helium-3 to sell to an energy-starved Earth (if you care about how Helium-3 is used, read Hickman’s science-based note at the end) – a nifty look at the characters, dangers, and technologies involved in a Wild West sort of mining colony. Then Crater joins a convoy on a dangerous journey across the lunar surface to retrieve a package for the mine boss, and the story expands. There are dangers, big and small, along the way, and several groups of lunar inhabitants, including some humans who have been genetically tweaked to be very different from normal people.

Hickam’s writing style is straightforward and sparse and he weaves in facts about the Moon.

At the end of the story, Crater has achieved a lot but is uncertain about his future. Hickam leaves other loose ends that will lead into the next book in the Helium-3 series. A few of the unexplained elements are important, like the motivation of the bad guys and the welfare of friends, but since the main plot line is resolved, I thought the ending worked.

The standard writing bugaboo of “show, don’t tell” get’s ignored a few times –

First step about to fall - NASA

First step about to fall – NASA

sometimes as straight “telling” but there is also a side trip with tourists to Tranquility Base, the first lunar landing site. Since that trip is tangential to the main story, it’s close to a “telling.” But it was short and interesting – there’s a factoid about the fate of Neil Armstrong’s first footprint on the Moon that I must look up sometime to confirm.

I had a couple issues with the book. My Epub version had quite a few places where a new paragraph began in an odd place – like the middle of a sentence or in a block of dialog. While I noticed this, it didn’t interfere with my reading, so no big deal.

Towards the end, Hickam uses a technique I happen to dislike. After allowing me to ride along inside Crater’s head, privy to his thoughts and feelings, a character tells him something that Hickam won’t share with me. I realize this adds suspense for some readers, but it just annoys me. Especially since the story would have worked just fine if Crater had been left in the dark until Hickam was willing to tell us readers, too. And then he did it a second time! Sheesh.

Crater has a four star rating on Amazon, with 117 reviews. I guess not many readers are bothered by the trick of keeping secrets from the reader. I only noticed one negative review that specifically mentioned it. Some reviewers thought it started too slow. Others noted it was “geared towards a younger crowd,” and I do think younger tween readers will enjoy it (though there is death and destruction), as well as older readers who simply want a light read. Some reviewers noted the book reflects conservative ideas about society and Christian Values, but I think those themes are included with a light touch.

On balance Crater is a pleasant summer read.

#OnMars #GloryOnMars Chapter Three: Goodbye Earth

Here’s the third chapter of my new book. I’ve got the draft completed and am working on the final version – there’s still time for changes, so please comment. I’d love to see what you think.

If you missed the beginning, start reading here.

space plane futuristic_nasa

Spaceplane concept – NASA – AC86-0699-2

The next morning, slightly nauseous and heads aching, the S-3 crew boarded a spaceport sand coach and set out eastward across a broad desert valley. After a while, Emma looked up, then over her shoulder. The spaceport was hidden by a colorless slope behind them.

“Have you followed the cat debate?” Liz asked. “They’ve been at it all night.”

She used the coach’s link and played some messages out loud. It seemed the colonists started talking to Lunar Base about a cat months ago, ever since the Loonies announced a litter of kittens was on the way – kittens to be born on the Moon and raised at the Collins Space Dock. Emma roused herself enough to wonder why they’d kept it a secret from MEX.

Colony Mars engineers, quite reasonably, balked at adding an element to their mission at the last minute, especially a live animal. But Lunar Base had a complete proposal ready. They’d provide everything, including a plan for feeding a cat long-term on Mars. After Ingra’s extraordinary suicide, the psychologists were inclined to approve anything the colonists requested. The added mass of the cat’s supplies was well within the transport ship’s margin of error for fuel. A cat was formally added to their mission. Claude and James seemed noncommittal, but Liz was delighted.

The coach bounced and Emma squinted out a wide window.

“Where are we?”

Jornada del Muerto,” the driver called out cheerfully. “Named by the Spanish who first explored this desert. The Journey of Death.”

“Ironic name, isn’t it,” Liz said. “We’re on a journey of life.”

“It’s a long ride,” Emma said. Continue reading

#GloryOnMars Chapter Two: Spaceport #OnMars

If you missed the story’s beginning, start reading here.

Virgin Galactic facility under construction at Spaceport America. Jeff Foust

Virgin Galactic facility under construction at Spaceport America. Jeff Foust

Spaceport America’s main terminal squatted like a huge horseshoe crab shoved into New Mexico’s desert floor. Dry mountains rose in the distance and roads crisscrossed a sandy plain to launch pads, past low scrubby trees raising gray-green leaves to the blue sky. It was the end of the rainy season and birds flitted across the landscape, searching for ripening seeds.

The reception party was canceled after Ingra’s death, but a banner still hung at their arrival gate: Welcome Colony Mars Settler 3 Explorers. Colony Mars ground support teams met them, accompanied by spaceport officials. They’d spend two nights in the spaceport’s elegant hotel before shuttling out to the launch site.

Emma carried two duffle bags to her room. Settlers took few personal possessions with them and she dropped the small bag on the closet floor. The second bag held what she’d need for her time at the spaceport. She’d leave it behind.

The room was huge. The bed alone was larger than her room on Mars would be, where she’d have a bunk in one of the repurposed ship modules. Kamp’s dormitory bay wouldn’t be built for years.

She activated her link and made a voice contact.

“Hi Mom. I’m at the spaceport.”

Her mother had vacillated between congratulations and tears throughout Emma’s training. Today it was tears.

“I can’t believe you’re really going,” she said with a sniffle. “Living on Mars! It doesn’t seem real. What are you going to do every day?”

“Mom, didn’t you read the Colony Mars mission site?” She’d tried to explain a dozen times. Her mother never listened.

“Yes. Well, some of it. What’s this about you eating worms? Sounds dreadful.”

“It’s practical. The first two missions have been living on space rations while they build the basic settlement bays. There’s room to plant gardens now and – yes – raise mealworms for protein. Fish, too, if that sounds better to you. But the exciting part is the exploration gear – we’re taking the rovers and walkabout suits I designed at Dad’s company.”

Her father’s early business ventures had all failed, according to her mother. But the robotics company he started about the time she was born took off. Her mother wasn’t interested in robotics or business and Emma couldn’t remember a time when her father wasn’t working long hours. It was no surprise that her parents divorced shortly after she started college.

It was her father who got Emma interested in Mars. After she finished her engineering degree, he gave her a job on his contracts with the colony. All his talk about humanity’s destiny in space inspired her to apply. That, and the chance to personally test the robots on the Martian surface. Emma’s enthusiasm bubbled up as she talked about the walkabouts.

“The adjustable seals on the walkabouts were a real challenge. I had to…”

“It sounds very interesting, dear. I’m sure your father’s thrilled, though I haven’t heard from him lately.”

Emma sighed. She should know better – Mom could only listen to technical talk for so long.

“I’ve arrived at the gallery opening, so I’ve got to go. I’m going to miss you so much,” her mother smiled through tears. “I’m proud of you and so happy you’re following your dream.”

Emma flopped across the coral and turquoise bedspread as the link closed. Her mother never shared her zeal for engineering – Emma was her father’s child in that way. He’d encouraged her, though mostly from a distance. She’d treasured every message he sent her and saved them all. Sometimes it was hard to tell where her father’s passion stopped and hers began. Emma hoped she was following her dream. Continue reading

So You Want to Live on Mars @MarsOneProject #science #exoMars #Mars #tech

ManndmissiononmarsnasaMars-One plans to send the first human colonists to Mars – a one-way trip. Here’s what some of the wannabe colonists say:

  • This is a dream job for me — a dream job! I was always attracted to the unknown, to know what is out there…So I was crazy about Mars. latimes interview
  • We stagnate here on Earth. We are so predictable… Just think about if we start to live on another planet, what a breakthrough. We will be a totally new kind of human, homo sapiens Martianis. latimes interview
  • I believe the potential benefits of the Mars One project far outweigh the potential costs it may have to me, personally. I believe these benefits will be scientific progress, which can benefit all of us on Earth. mars-one profile

One hundred finalists have been selected that meet Mars-One qualifications: They are “intelligent, creative, psychologically stable and physically healthy… resilient, adaptable, curious, creative, resourceful, and have ‘self-informed trust.'”

For comparison, here’s some of what you need to become a NASA astronaut:

  • Have a technical background – at least a Master’s degree – such as medicine, chemistry, biology, or veterinary science, or especially engineering.
  • Excel at everything you do, whether mountain climbing, scuba, music, dance, or competitive sports
  • Meet rigorous physical and psychological standards
  • Be a person others like to work with
  • A pilot’s license seems to be a big help
  • Be lucky

I suppose being lucky applies to Mars-One candidates, too. But NASA’s astronauts will come home after their missions. At least, that’s the plan.

Polar explorers in the Victorian age withstood incredible deprivations and were sometimes confined to a ship trapped in the ice for months. These were usually private expeditions undertaken to satisfy curiosity and a need for adventure or to claim the glory of being a “first.” But the explorers planned to return home to claim their fame.

Join the first colonists https://books2read.com/u/bQZp1e

I’ve jazzed up the cover – click on it to see the latest version

Colonists must build a home on Mars, and I imagine that is easier said than done. In my scifi novel Glory on Mars, I give my colonists plenty of electrical power and robots to build living space – and things still go horribly wrong. The more I think about it, the harder colonizing Mars sounds.

Would you go?

UPDATE: Mars One is still out there, still doing events. Here’s the page for an event in Bulgaria.