Review: A “mixed” memoirist’s Silk Road travelogue becomes a road map to sanctuary on a mission to find out how and when humans can survive on Mars
For a century, many people have been obsessed, captivated, or obsessed by the idea of going to Mars. To be a space enthusiast, to have a personal stake in the Red Planet, can come with a certain cachet: not only a glimpse into a future that seems all but assured, but also a potential to make some kind of impact.
But in reality, few really know what it takes to survive on Mars: to live there, or to go there.
“That’s why they have no idea what it’s like to live on Mars,” says Richard Gordon, a former astronaut candidate and author of A Private First Class: The True Story of the Mission that Launched America’s Space Program. “They’ll say ‘Mars, Mars, Mars’, but it’s only a word. You have to use all your imagination, and maybe you can be a billionaire and own a ship that goes to Mars.”
In the first half of the book (with an epilogue on Mars), Gordon focuses on the challenges of living on the Red Planet, and recounts how he began working to solve them. He reveals how he and his colleagues on the Viking mission lived on a tiny, two-person mission control pod for nine months in a habitable orbit around Mars, and tells readers how he eventually left his job, set off on a yearlong adventure, and eventually founded SETI, a search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
The book ends with Gordon’s first-hand experience on the first mission to land on Mars, and the story of working with the Mars Exploration Society to put the mission on track, then the mission itself, and then finally the landing.
But Gordon is far from an unqualified space enthusiast. He describes his work as a journalist as “not fun,” and says that his early passion for science and technology was “sort of a way to make up for the fact that my father was a horrible son of a bitch