Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Voyage to Mars as Envisioned by Stephen Baxter

Stephen Baxter’s alternate-history novel “Voyage” envisions a possible manned mission to Mars employing Apollo–Skylab technology. Written back in 1996 Voyage is a wonderful novel outlining in detail a possible Post-Apollo Space Program that could have place people on Mars as early as 1986.

Baxter’s novel is epic in scope and spans a period of time from 1963 to 1986 interweaving real history with his alternate timeline. In this alternate history John F. Kennedy survives the assassin’s bullet in 1963 (although Jackie was killed) and steps down from office. Vice president Lyndon B. Johnson serves out the rest of Kennedy’s term of office and wins the 1964 presidential election and remains in office until 1968. On the day of the Apollo 11 Moon landing former president Kennedy sets into motion a series of events that will culminate with humans setting foot on Mars on March 28th, 1986.

Voyage is a thoroughly enjoyable novel and a very realistic depiction of a doable but very risky Mars mission scenario utilizing Apollo technology to its limits.

Yet, one wonders if all the time, money and effort invested in such a mission would have been worth it. Baxter himself tacitly and obliquely makes a reference to this in “Voyage”. The money invested in such a mission would have squandered funds that would have gone to the Voyager missions that explored the outer planets and detailed exploration of the planet Mars using robotic spacecraft.

As Steven Silver mentioned in his review of “Voyage”:

"One interesting aspect of Baxter's Mars Program is that it points out that we have a pretty good and thorough space program even without having landed a man on Mars. We probably know more about Mars than Baxter's astronauts did before they began their mission. Unlike the real world, Baxter's NASA had to scrap most of their unmanned missions, including Mariners, Voyagers, Hubble and the Space Shuttle. In return, they gained Moonlab (in orbit, Apollo 14 was the last lunar mission), and a single shot Mars program".

So in a sense, even though we may have lost an earlier opportunity to gain a small and very brief foothold on Mars we have gained a detailed look at the rest of our solar system and the rest of the Cosmos. Thus paving the way for humanity’s permanent presence in Space when we return to the Moon and eventually set our sights towards the Near Earth Asteroids and then onwards to Mars.

Author’s Note: For a detailed look at various mission scenarios employing Apollo technology as envision in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I suggest your read the report published by NASA in September, 1969 entitled “The Post-Apollo Space Program: Directions for the Future” and take a close look at David S. F. Portree’s very informative “Beyond Apollo” blogsite.

Voyage by Stephen Baxter  was adapted as radio serial for BBC Radio 4 by Dirk Maggs. 

This Mission to Mars as envisioned in Stephen Baxter’s Voyage has also been enacted using the Orbiter Space Flight Simulator.

Mission to Mars: Stephen Baxter’s Voyage - Orbiter Space Flight Simulator

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