Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.

Craters, cones, pits, amid endless plains

Pits, cones, and craters

Cool image time! Buried in the catalog of recent high resolution images from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are places on Mars that are inexplicable and fascinating, while also indicative of its vastness. The image on the right, reduced in resolution and cropped to post here, shows us one such place. If you click on the image you can see the full image at high resolution.

The archive posting of this image is titled “Cones near Pits.” As you can see, to the north and east of the pits are some mesas (why they call them cones I do not know).

The pits are unusual, and appear to be some form of collapse. In the larger image several additional mesas can be seen at farther distances, but most of the overall terrain is remarkably flat and featureless, except for numerous small craters that appear either partly buried by dust or significantly eroded.

I am not going to guess at the geology that caused the pits and mesas. What I do want to focus on is the vastness of Mars. This location is on the southern edge of Utopia Basin, the second deepest basin on Mars. It is part of the planet’s endless northern plains, an immense region covering almost half the planet that tends to be at a lower elevation, is relatively smooth, and is thought by some scientists to be evidence of what was once an intermittent ocean. The global map of Mars below indicates the location of the above image with a black cross.

Global map of Mars

What is important is that the image was not inside Utopia Basin, but on its southern edge. The basin goes on and on for thousands of miles, and across its depth are scattered larger craters and similar mesas, as well as relatively featureless areas with little to recommend them, at first glance.

Most of the northern plains have not been imaged at high resolution. Its apparent featureless terrain does not attract interest, even though its geology might be as significant, especially because the lower elevation means the atmosphere is thicker and thus might be advantageous for future colony building.

Moreover, though it appears featureless, the image above shows that there can be hidden there strange geology and terrain as interesting as anything else on Mars. If you go to the archive for MRO’s high resolution camera, you can randomly explore the images that have been taken, and in doing so you will find a range of geology, all of which might have once been on the seafloor of an shallow Martian ocean, but all of which reflects geology below the ground, some of which might be very valuable to future settlers.

The universe is vast. There are spectacular things to see that are easy to spot. There are also many hidden spectacular things in places like Utopia Basin, that will take gumption, determination, and an explorer’s obsession to find.

I am envious of the future generations who will have the chance to make those discoveries, once we have the technology to make travel to these places practical.

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  • Orion314

    Mars, the more I see, the worse it looks. from a “next-earth-type-planet-to live-on”, POV
    To my way of thinking, a true “Earth type planet” is one , where , you disembark your Space ship, and you can walk around buck naked , drink the water, eat the food , and survive at least 24 hrs. Beyond Earth , everything in this solar system is agonizing death in minutes. My estimate is that, ‘TRUE , Earth type planets” by my definition , will be exceedingly rare . maybe a handful or so in the Galaxy. Perhaps , only one…
    Maybe that’s why , with all the UFO action over the ages, our Earth seems to be the crossroads of the Universe….

  • Orion314

    The point of the previous post is , Mars seems like a horrible place to spend the rest of your life…I don’t get the hype of how wonderful it will be to create a new life there..

  • Laurie

    Well, maybe Mars is hostile but, as the picture shows, it sure is friendly.

  • Max

    It’s the journey, not the destination.
    Every animal in nature has a specialization that allows it to survive… Except humans. All we have is our unusually large brain, we are toolmakers. We copy what we see other animals are using to survive, then improve upon it. We are always looking for a new challenge to test our limits. We have become the masters of every environment on every continent. There must be new challenges or we will get bored and destroy ourselves.
    If you do not give the social justice snowflakes a problem to solve, then they will turn on you to solve your problems for you. Not because you have problems that need solving, they just need something to do, to make their life have meaning. A solution that no one has thought of, a challenge to conquer… Even if it makes things worse, the boredom is unbearable, they will do it anyway because it feels like purpose. It is human nature to repeat history, it’s in our genes. Every idealist thinks they can do it right, that they can create utopia if they can just kill all the nonbelievers.

    There’s where Mars comes in. A wondrous, unexplored frontier. A new problem to solve, a dangerous challenge in a world of safe spaces.
    On Earth, nearly every manual labor job is being preformed by programmed machinery or robots. What took a farmer and his family to create on 100 acres to feed 100 people or animals now, a 100 years later, takes 1 farmer to oversee the planting and harvesting of 1,000 acres to feed 10,000 people. Soon, we will not need to work, we won’t even be able to operate our own vehicles.
    I know that Mars looks a lot like the outback of Australia, or better yet the steps of Mongolia.
    There is only 2 million Mongolians left but the freezing cold highland is home to them.
    We have the technology, the money, the ingenuity, but do we have the will? It is a test for humans, how far will we go to prove we are as smart and clever as we think we are. Are we worthy of higher aspirations? Or is this all that we are, consuming sacks of meat in front of our screens passing the time until we are dead with meaningless pointless lives.

    I want more.
    The world needs more.

    Lives will be lost, lessons will be learned.
    Hope for a better future has been achieved, hope for a future is the goal now. As Robert has expressed, I too hope to live to see it. The challenge is worth the price, there may not be much there, but it will save the human race in the long run.
    Everyone will be watching, something REAL, feeling it like it was them on the surface of an alien world. Giving them something to occupy their mind so they’re not focused on the aliens living next-door. Or the blood sport on the TV.
    If we can do this and survive, then the human race knows it can do anything!
    This is our best hope to avoid the coming dark age…

  • Laurie


    “This is our best hope to avoid the coming dark age.”

    I understand and embrace the sentiment of your words above, but I respectfully disagree with this particular statement: our species needs to walk before it can run and, quite frankly, we’re falling all over ourselves.

    More technology is not sufficient to inspire – we need, firstly, more wisdom.

  • Max: Very very beautiful said.

  • Laurie: It isn’t the inspiration from new technology that Max is celebrating, but the need for humans to have a challenge for our questing and innovative nature. The endless exploration of space can give us that again.

    I want to also note that is for these same reasons that the Enlightenment, a birth of freedom, the end of slavery, and the concepts of government epitomized by the American Constitution all paralleled the discovery, exploration, and settlement of the New World. The two went together, one feeding the other to bring wisdom and creativity to the human race over a period of over five hundred years.

    The exploration of space can renew that effort. We need it.

  • Localfluff

    It’s funny that since don’t know anything about geology, I see a face! Rather a funny smiley.

    Humans have one more unique advantage: Jogging!
    Preys can run fast a short distance, to get away from cheetahs and such. But when they stop to rest, humans track them and they soon have to run again. After a few days the preys are exhausted and easy to approach and kill. This endurance is why human muscles are so very weak compared to those of other animals. If you wrestled a big dog as a kid, you notice that it is quite strong, although it hasn’t got much bulky muscles.

  • wayne

    “A Princess of Mars”
    – Edgar Rice Burroughs
    “Chapter 20: In The Atmosphere Factory”

  • Laurie

    Thanks, Wayne – I love this stuff.

  • Max

    Thank you for your kind words, it is high praise. And thank you for a forum in which I can pretend to be something I am not.

    Walking before running is understood. But one cannot run without trying. The process of tripping is where wisdom is achieved. Not learning from tripping is the mark of the fool. It is why I wrote; “people will die, lessons will be learned” we will honor their sacrifice and remember them as not to repeat the same mistakes as we learn an entirely new way of life.
    If the dark age comes, the many books of wisdom that you have at your disposal will become lost as the language changes.
    All wisdom is just words, until personal experience puts it in context with one’s life. If we wait for the individual to become sufficiently wise… They will be too old for space travel, and the Young ones will ignore them for the most part anyway.
    I believe you were speaking of the human race becoming wiser as a whole. That, I believe, will take a few more thousand years. Quicker if they discover how to import wisdom directly into the brains of the young with technology. Then, with their limited experience, everyone will disagree with profound wisdom! Like with all technology this too, I believe, will be abused to make robotic servants for future masters. The Borg?

    If toddlers only knew how badly they would fall, would they ever be brave enough to try running at all? Fortunately they are close to the ground, when you fall from space…

    The human race need to move out of their parents basement…

    I had forgotten that other quality that humans have. Tenacity combined with endurance. Qualities that ensure our survival… As we work our 12 to 16 hour shifts in the modern age.
    The seven wonders of the world were billed as actual proof that we are more, and are capable of more, than even we realize.
    “Jogging” HAR

    Thanks for reminding us that the flame from the dream candle of Mars and planetary conquest from 100 years ago is still alive in the hearts of men.
    What happens when dreams come true? We begin to have bigger dreams…

  • Edward

    Orion314 wrote: “The point of the previous post is , Mars seems like a horrible place to spend the rest of your life…I don’t get the hype of how wonderful it will be to create a new life there.

    In the bigger picture that I see, when I view my crystal ball, looks a little more like the one dreamed by Gerard K. O’Neill. He envisioned fewer planetary colonies and more space colonies. Those on the rocky bodies of the Solar System would be performing the mining operations that produce the raw materials used in the rest of the Solar System.

    The inhospitable nature of every non-Earth object makes it necessary for us to create our own habitable spaces, which is what we do in Antarctica and what was proposed in the 1960s for colonizing the ocean floors. This explains the desire to create large domes in which people could easily go “outdoors” as some form of escape from the usual living spaces, making our living spaces more Earth-like.

    Colonization advocates have always understood that we would need to make our colonies an Earth-like environment, and that would be rather expensive. SpaceX also understands that people may not like the environment that is created for them at Mars, which is why they have proposed that a return trip back to Earth be part of the price of the ticket on their Mars colonization ships.

  • wayne

    you might like–

    The Pulp Magazine Project

  • wayne

    or maybe….
    some Earl Moran or Gil Elvgren?

  • Laurie

    Wayne, thanks – two outta three ain’t bad ;)

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