Ben Bova talks “Mars Life”
Hugo Award winner Ben Bova has a new novel, “Mars Life,” which follows up on his two previous Mars novels, “Mars” and “Return to Mars.” Jamie Waterman, the first man to step foot on Mars, still is the head of the Mars program, which is funded partially by the U.S. and other governments, but mostly by private funding.
However, facing pressure from religious conservatives, the U.S. government pulls funding from the Mars program. With Earth facing fallout from global warming at home, private funding is getting harder to come by as well. Waterman thinks his scientists are on the verge of several breakthroughs to find out more about life on Mars — but even harder than the battle against the Martian elements is Waterman’s battle against political opportunism.
Bova answered a few questions for Nerdage about space, politics and Mars.
Matt Price: In what ways has science fiction predicted what we now know about Mars?
Ben Bova: It’s been the other way around: science fiction stories about Mars have depended pretty heavily on current astronomical thinking about what conditions on the red planet might be. For example, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Barsoom” novels were based (loosely) on Percival Lowell’s very popular descriptions of what he thought Mars was like. Stanley Weinbaum also used current knowledge for his “A Martian Odyssey.” Ray Bradbury – well, Ray based his Mars on nostalgic memories of the American midwest. My own Mars novels are solidly based on what NASA spacecraft have shown us about the planet.
MP: Do you think it’s important for humans to attempt a Mars landing?
BB: Hell, yes! For years I would argue with Carl Sagan that robotic spacecraft can’t possibly tell us all we want to learn about Mars. Human explorers can do much more than pre-programmed machines. Carl eventually came around to my way of thinking, once he began to realize how limited – and frustrating – the robots can be.
MP: How do you think further space travel should be financed?
BB: Scientific explorations should be financed by government and/or private grants. Space efforts aimed at making profits – from tourism, mining, manufacturing, erecting permanent settlements, etc. – should be privately funded.
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