/ Published January 05, 2021
Spacefarers: How Humans Will Settle the Moon, Mars, and Beyond by Christopher Wanjek. Harvard University Press, 2020, 389 pp.
There are several captivating movies that depict humans living in space.The Martian and Gravity capture the imagination but lack true and full realism. Health and science writer Christopher Wanjek walks the reader through a realistic, scientific description of how humans could live enduringly in space in his engaging and informative book Spacefarers: How Humans Will Settle the Moon, Mars, and Beyond. Mr. Wanjek writes extensively on astronomy, notably writing for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center until 2007 and astronomy magazines Sky & Telescope and Astronomy. Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, goes as far as saying that “Spacefarers is the best book I’ve read on space exploration since Isaac Asimov.” This is quite the statement, considering that Asimov was a prolific science fiction and nonfiction writer for more than 50 years with hundreds of books to his name. Mr. Wanjek incorporates elements from his previous books, Food at Work and Bad Medicine, into Spacefarers as he describes in detail the food, medical, and mental challenges of living in space.
Just by reading the chapter titles, one senses that the author is confident humans will eventually live and settle throughout outer space. The author makes a strong and compelling argument that future activity in space will shift from national pride and defense-driven reasons to exploiting and harnessing potential economic returns, such as tourism and mining space resources. He contends that now is the time to go beyond the International Space Station and pursue more advanced living in space. He drives home the point that living in space can increase the quality of life on Earth. He provides examples of advancements we have made through space exploration, such as a better understanding of pollution and communication technology. The book describes the why, how, and who of the drive toward continued space development and exploration in the next 10 plus years. One of the most intriguing aspects of the book is Wanjek’s analysis of unique Earth-based living and how those lessons can be applied to space-based living. Studying the challenges of living in Antarctica, on nuclear submarines, and in high desert plateaus provides insight that can be applied to space-based living. He also points out that the adventurous, hardworking people who find themselves in these most challenging living environments—such as scientists, chemists, and engineers—will be the same ones who head to the Moon and Mars first. My takeaway is that there will be a seat available for those who are steeped in extreme living in the very near future.
Next, the author methodically walks the reader through traveling to and then living in space from a familiar location, the International Space Station, to various locations in space, including the Moon, asteroids, Mars, and beyond. He describes serious fiscal, technical, physiological, and other challenges that will have to be overcome to have a vibrant presence in space. His most technical writing delves into formulas like the Tsiolkovsky rocket equation and the intersection between fission and fusion. While the formulas are important to his scientific argument, I did not view them as a critical component for my purpose. However, this discussion highlights the reality that additional research and funding in current launch and energy technology is required before fundamentally changing the space game.
After describing how humans will travel to each space real estate location and the subsequent survival requirements, he predicts when we will find ourselves on the Moon or Mars. The predictions are bold, but one feels that the author is credible based on his research. Wanjek believes that by 2050 there will be a multinational presence on Mars that includes tourism. Of the real estate options he describes, he is most keen on Mars. The author states, “Living on Mars, at least for the short term, should not be exceedingly difficult if planned well.” Mars offers close to suitable gravity at .38G, manageable temperature, and even nitric oxide that can be converted into fertilizer to grow crops.
The only bias noted is Mr. Wanjek’s extremely critical view of government. He pulls no punches with his critique of Congress and presidential administrations over the years on micromanaging the space program. He states that “NASA excels brilliantly when it is mission driven” and blames government for why the space shuttle and ISS projects were well over budget, among other issues. The reality is that if all challenges were only mission driven, most hard problems would be solved in half the time and well under budget.
The last chapter, “Living in the Inner and Outer Solar System and Beyond,” explores space activity that seems to transition from nonfiction to fiction. Catching comets, riding solar sails, and being pushed by laser beams are all concepts that seem extremely far-fetched—at least for this Earth-based human. I do give the author credit for exercising my brain and pushing the limits on the possible. Dreaming is believing, and he absolutely dreams big on humans living in space.
The book is highly engaging, easy to follow, informative, and well-researched. It drives confidence in the reader that living on the Moon, Mars, and beyond is not only doable in the near term but an imperative for humankind. I am left with only one unanswered question: Will Christopher Wanjek go to Mars?
Lt Col Christopher Mulder, USAF
"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."