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The badlands on the floor of Valles Marineris

The badlands on the floor of Valles Marineris
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The recent discovery that there might be a near surface reservoir of ice on the floor the canyon Valles Marineris, near the Martian equator, immediately brought this location to the forefront as a possible site for establishing colonies. The weather will be less harsh than higher latitudes, the low elevation means a thicker atmosphere, and the terrain will be more appealing than the boring flat northern lowlands.

The picture to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, illustrates however the likely difficulties of landing and living on the floor of Valles Marineris. Taken on July 26, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), the photo shows just one small area of the floor of Ius Chasm, the western part of Valles Marineris and about 300 miles to the east of that water reserve.

In this one picture we can see trapped sand dunes in hollows, eroded depressions, mottled terrain resembling stucco, and innumerable cliffs and sinks and plateaus. For the first manned spacecraft to land on Mars, this is not a good first choice. Even later, when the first bases have been built, this terrain would still be forbidding for the early colonists to land in and traverse.

The overview map below shows exactly where this picture is relative to the rest of the Valles Marineris.

Overview map

The small black dot in the southern canyon of Ius Chasm marks the location of this picture. The suspected underground ice reservoir is thought to be in the center of the north-south chasm running from Melas to Ophir. While this spot is 300 miles from that reservoir, and the floor of Valles Marineris is quite vast with much variety of terrain, this picture is somewhat typical of the many images taken by MRO of that canyon.

This is not to say that there aren’t sufficiently large smooth areas in Valles Marineris. Melas Chasm, just a few miles to the south of the highest concentration of suspect ice, is quite large and has a lot of places on its floor that might be workable.

Nonetheless, landing in Valles Marineris will have challenges that must be weighed against its advantages. And of all these factors, the most important will be whether that ice reservoir even exists, and if it does whether it is easily accessible or not.


Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.


  • Cotour

    Once Mars is settled, then what?

    What will people do for their entertainment?

    Mars has no idea what is coming.

  • Cotour: Yup, except that whatever the colonists devise for entertainment it will likely be even wilder and crazier.

  • Questioner

    Cotour & Mr. Z:

    Colonists and Settlements on Mars? Is this a communication between adult men? I can’t take this seriously. Come on. Please wake up!

  • wayne

    Total Recall
    “You Blabbed Quaid, You Blabbed About Mars”

  • Cotour

    While as of this moment in time I tend to agree more with, Questioner than I do, the Zman.

    However, in time and in the future, possibly the distant future, when the issues of radiation, space travel, artificial gravity and food supply are solved, and of course the issue for woman and the promise of a proper toilet facility. When those humans, who may in fact be genetically modified to be there, who find themselves on Mars are faced with free time and become antsy, they will build themselves “Garages” and they will build devices and high-performance conveyances and they will “Tear it up” and compete with one another. These devices will either be terrestrial, and or they will be “Air” born.

    Whichever it may be, be sure, it will be.

    (The first thing that sprung to my mind when I saw those tiny motorcycles driving up that steep hill was competition on Mars.)

    This is the nature on Man and is in fact why man will find himself (And herself) on Mars in the first place.

    How long in the future? 100 years? 200 years? I am not certain, but it will be.

  • wayne

    sorta think it will look more along these lines….

    Outland (1981)
    Directed by Peter Hyams
    -The first 9 minutes-

  • Questioner


    Oh, you’re a progressive too!

    If your theses were correct, all arctic and antarctic regions, Siberia and the great deserts would have been populated long ago. But that is not the case, hardly anyone wants to live there, although the conditions there are a million times more livable and live friendly than on Mars.

  • wayne

    “All the Mistakes That Doomed the Donner Party”
    Weird History (Jan, 2020

  • Cotour

    I hear you , Questioner.

    My point is that if and when humanity finds itself on Mars, and according to the likes of Elon Musk that will in fact happen, whenever that may occur, when things become squared away and survivable, human beings will do what human beings do. And that nature will in time be expressed in the manner that I have outlined. Maybe not in the exact terms as I put forth, but it will happen.

    When? I have no Idea; I would not make that trip myself. Not to stay there anyway. The earth is much too beautiful to do that, and Mars in much too harsh.

    Why would I tend to not want to stay? 1. Mars has no natural magnetic field protection against the sun’s radiation and the radiation from space. 2. There is no appreciable atmosphere. 3. Its cold as witches breast plate. 4. Where is water accessed? (No one is doing anything without there being a readily available and generous water supply)

    But then again, I would not have been raring to make the trip across America to the west coast in the earliest time in our history. But there people went no matter what I would have chosen to do.

    So, again, I hear you Questioner.

    This argument is similar to attempting to argue stopping the tech / computer / AI / Bio manipulation revolution we are within right now. That is just not going to happen.

  • wayne

    Silicon Valley Astronomy Lectures
    “Postcards from Mars: The Latest from the International Armada of Robot Explorers”
    Dr. Jim Bell, Arizona State University
    (November 19, 2021)

  • Questioner

    Nice to see that there are some smart people out there who are still sane or have all their marbles together (as we say here).

    “Neil D Tyson: We Are No Where Close To Living on Mars”

  • wayne

    holy cow….. I really dislike d-tyson, and he’s giving that speech at the “world government summit?” (typical)
    What a Brandon Tool, he is. (but, as I’m reminded, even a broken clock is correct twice a day.)

    That aside— We aren’t colonizing Mars any time in the near future, we just aren’t.

  • Questioner


    You’re right. d-Tyson clearly shows his liberal orientation here. I am also of the opinion that he is misusing the concept of freedom here.

    “Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Thoughts on Transgenderism”

  • wayne

    I thought his degree was in Astronomy. (?)
    But, no matter. “His words mean nothing to me, and I do not hear (any of) them.”
    –unfortunately, most of our so-called ‘main-stream’ ‘science-populizer’ Types, are always bolshies of sort or another.

    Reference Mars:
    I fully support exploration of Mars. Putting even a handful of humans on the surface however, much less any sort of “colony,” we’re not even in the ballpark, not yet. (I’m thinking- 6 months of deadly radiation exposure en route + 6 months of zero-g resulting in jelly-muscles at the surface + a plethora of none & unknown, unknowns, as to how humans acclimate to extended space-travel.)
    I would prefer any efforts at actual “colonization” however, be devoted toward the Moon.

    That being said, Musk can spend his own money on anything he wants, and more power to him.

    The Bernie Sanders Experience ->#420
    Elon Musk
    (December 2021)

    “Bernie invites Elon Musk on the pod to talk income inequality, greed, innovation, political revolution, tweets, taxes, and California VS. Vermont cannabis.”

  • Questioner


    Certainly, nobody has anything against exploratory missions. Especially when it comes to the search for life on Mars (which is also not at the top of NASA’s list as it seems).

    But there is a very long series of problems that rule out a colonization of the moon and Mars for a long time (maybe forever ). For example, we do not yet know, aside the question of the lack of an atmosphere and the risk of radiation, whether a permanent healthy development of the human body is possible with the much lower gravity for the Moon (0.17 g) and Mars (0.38 g). Dr. Bell is right when he said at the time that this should have been researched long ago in the past few decades by NASA. For example by means of rotating space stations in LEO. But NASA did it not. The whole behavior of NASA actually also suggests that it does not really believe in the “settlement” of these celestial bodies.

  • Edward

    You wrote: “The whole behavior of NASA actually also suggests that it does not really believe in the ‘settlement’ of these celestial bodies.

    This could be because settlements and colonies are outside the scope of NASA’s policy and purpose:

    Implied is the establishment of laboratories, stations, bases, or other facilities, but nothing about settlements, colonies, or other family-oriented constructions.

    The ideas for space-based colonies, planetary colonies or settlements, or low Earth orbital settlements have come not from NASA but from civilians. As I have said in the past, when we let government (i.e. NASA) be in charge, all we get is what government wants. When We the People are in charge, we get what we want.

    we do not yet know, aside the question of the lack of an atmosphere and the risk of radiation, whether a permanent healthy development of the human body is possible with the much lower gravity for the Moon (0.17 g) and Mars (0.38 g). Dr. Bell is right when he said at the time that this should have been researched long ago in the past few decades by NASA

    It looks like SpaceX will perform this kind of research in situ. If colonies on the Moon and on Mars don’t pan out, then maybe we will get O’Neill-like space colonies sooner than we might have otherwise.

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