Mars Society Convenes at UCLA

Dr. Robert Zubrin believes the time has come for humans to voyage to the Red Planet. Zubrin is an aeronautical engineer and founder of The Mars Society. The group is holding their 10th annual convention this weekend at UCLA. Debbie Elliott talks with Zubrin about his vision of our future on Mars.

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(Soundbite from series, "X Minus One")

Mr. FRED COLLINS (Radio Voiceover): (As Announcer) Countdown for blast off. X minus five, minus four, minus three, minus two, X minus one. Fire.

(Soundbite of rocket launching)

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

In the sci-fi series "X Minus One," Ray Bradbury imagines Mars as a sort of heaven, the first manned ship arrives on the Red Planet only to find it populated with the deceased. The ship's captain encounters his long-lost brother.

(Soundbite of "X Minus One")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As Edward) Mom's waiting at home.

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As Captain) Mom?

Unidentified Man #1: (As Edward) Yeah. And dad, too.

Unidentified Man #2: (As Captain) Mom and dad are alive? Then, then you're real, Ed.

Unidentified Man #1: (As Edward) Well, of course. Don't I feel real? How's that huh?

Unidentified Man #2: (As Captain) Why, Ed. Ed.

Unidentified Man #1: (As Edward) We've got lunch for you, Johnny. Mom's making corn fritters.

Unidentified Man #2: (As Captain) Dr. Horst, haven't you found anybody?

Unidentified Man #3: (As Dr. Horst) No. No. Captain, I have nobody.

Unidentified Man #2: (As Captain) Then you come on home with me. Right, Ed?

Unidentified Man #1: (As Edward) Why, sure.

Unidentified Man #2: (As Captain) Horst. Horst. You wouldn't believe it. But it's been 35 years since I had mom's corn fritters.

ELLIOTT: Corn fritters on Mars? Not out of the question if Robert Zubrin has his way.

Zubrin, an aeronautical engineer, is the founder of The Mars Society. The group is holding its 10th annual convention at UCLA this weekend. Dr. Zubrin is taking time away from the gathering to speak with us now.

Welcome.

Dr. ROBERT ZUBRIN (Founder, The Mars Society): Thanks for having me.

ELLIOTT: If Mars was Ray Bradbury's idea of heaven, how do you envision the Red Planet?

Dr. ZUBRIN: Well, I guess Mars is my idea of a new frontier. I don't think it's going to be heaven but I think, ultimately, it'll be a place where people will be able to go, where the rules haven't been written yet, and where they have the freedom to create new forms of civilization that open up new possibilities for humanity.

ELLIOTT: Why are you so passionate about Mars and not some other planet?

Dr. ZUBRIN: Well, Mars is the closest destination in space that has on it all the resources needed to support life, and therefore civilization. Mars has copious supplies of water, which is virtually absent from the moon. Mars has got carbon. Mars has got nitrogen. It's got all the elements of life, all the elements of industry. Mars is a place that we can settle.

ELLIOTT: One of the discussion topics at your convention there caught my eye. It's called profitable exports from Mars. Corn fritters, maybe?

Dr. ZUBRIN: I don't know about corn fritters.

ELLIOTT: Seriously, though. It sounds like you believe there will actually be a day when humans colonize Mars. You're talking something here that's beyond just space exploration.

Dr. ZUBRIN: Well, sure. I mean, look. Ultimately, what's the purpose of humans going to space? Okay. It is to open up new worlds. You know, in a very real sense, humans are not native to the Earth. We're native to Africa. We're tropical animals. We're not native to places like North America or Europe. We became a global species by virtue of (unintelligible), to create the technologies that allow us to settle in environments that we are not naturally adapted to. Well, we can be creative again and develop the technologies that allow us to expand our reach much further.

ELLIOTT: What kind of products would envision exporting from Mars?

Dr. ZUBRIN: Personally, I think that Martian exports are most likely to be intellectual products, not physical products. A Mars colony will be a society which is free from various terrestrial constraints on technological innovation and yet forced to innovate.

So, for example, they might be developing super-productive varieties of crops to grow in their greenhouse agriculture, which will have limited acreage. And those crops, those new genetic strains will have tremendous use on Earth -similarly, probably, robotics, things like these.

ELLIOTT: We've seen the risks associated with sending astronauts into space. Wouldn't the risk be even greater trying to send a mission to Mars? I mean, how would you balance that risk with the scientific possibilities?

Dr. ZUBRIN: You know, the risks - yeah, sure, there are risks but Lewis and Clark faced risks. Columbus faced fantastic unknown risks. For us to say that we cannot accept these sorts of risks today is like saying we've become much less than the people who we used to be.

ELLIOTT: Dr. Robert Zubrin is the founder of The Mars Society. Thank you so much for talking with us.

Dr. ZUBRIN: Thank you. Come to UCLA. Our conference runs through Sunday.

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