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.
In the August image release from the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) were five images whose title immediately caught my interest:
- 1. Candidate Landing Site for SpaceX Starship in Arcadia Region
- 2. Candidate Landing Site for SpaceX Starship in Arcadia Region
- 3. Candidate Landing Site for SpaceX Starship in Arcadia Region
- 4. Candidate Landing Site for SpaceX Starship in Arcadia Region
- 5. Candidate Landing Site for SpaceX Starship in Arcadia Region
The overview map on the right shows the location on Mars for these five photographs. The second and third images are of the same location, taken to produce a stereo pair.
To put it mildly, it is most intriguing to discover that SpaceX is beginning to research a place where it can land Starship on Mars. I immediately emailed Nathan Williams, the JPL scientist who requested these images from SpaceX, but he was bound by a non-disclosure agreement with SpaceX and could not comment. I have since tried to get some information directly from SpaceX but so far the company has not responded. A 2017 news story had indicated the company’s interest in this Mars’ location, but gave no details either.
First and foremost, there is strong evidence that this location holds buried glaciers called lobate debris aprons. The hilly arc where site #1 is nestled, dubbed Erebus Montes, apparently is filled with these kinds of glaciers, according to this global Martian map of glacier locations (shown as the yellow arc near the left edge in the northern glacial band).
Site #1 appears to be this kind of glacier, though the feature is not very dramatic. To the right are images of a very nearby but more distinct lobate debris apron glacier, located just to the east of Site #1. The top image, reduced and cropped to post here, shows the southern half of this mound. The white box indicates the location of the full resolution close-up below, showing what appear to be glacial erosion features.
Compare this glacier with this buried Martian glacier image I posted last week. Though that earlier image was for a different type of Martian buried glacier, dubbed concentric crater fill because they are found inside craters, the erosion features look remarkably similar, both reminding me of the surface of a large ice block after you have sprayed it with warm water and it begins to melt away unevenly.
The evidence that SpaceX is looking for locations near buried glaciers is further reinforced by the fact that all the locations above are inside the northern 30-60 degree latitude band where Martian glaciers are thought to exist in abundance, either as lobate aprons or concentric crater glaciers.
These locations have other advantages. They are all at about 40 degrees latitude, meaning their climate will be relatively mild, for Mars. The terrain for site #5 is very flat, making for a very safe landing zone that is also very close to the debris aprons at the other sites.
There is also other evidence of buried ground ice at these sites. In fact, planetary scientists have already proposed this location [pdf] as a significant site for exploration, because the ground water here might be shallow. To quote from this presentation: “Easy access to subsurface ice means that it should be easy to sample.”
Based on the pace that SpaceX sets in anything it does, expect their research of this location to accelerate in the next year or so. Unlike NASA, SpaceX is building a vehicle that is designed to go and land anywhere in the solar system. Once Super Heavy and Starship are operational and proven in those first lunar flights there will be nothing to stop it from going to Mars, if only to demonstrate what the design is capable of.
And based on their pace, expect this possibility sometime in the next decade.
Every July, to celebrate the anniversary of the start of Behind the Black in 2010, I hold a month-long fund-raising campaign to make it possible for me to continue my work here for another year.
This year's fund-raising drive however is more significant in that it is also the 10th anniversary of this website's founding. It is hard to believe, but I have been doing this for a full decade, during which I have written more than 22,000 posts, of which more than 1,000 were essays and almost 2,600 were evening pauses.
This year's fund drive is also more important because of the growing intolerance of free speech and dissent in American culture. Increasingly people who don't like what they read are blatantly acting to blackball sites like mine. I have tried to insulate myself from this tyrannical effort by not depending on Google advertising or cross-posts Facebook or Twitter. Though this prevents them from having a hold on me, it also acts to limit my exposure.
Therefore, I hope you will please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.
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