Project Mars: A Technical Tale
Mankind's love affair with the planet Mars is certainly not new. It has long been recognized that Mars is the only other planet in our solar system that could possibly support life.
Until the 1970s, the existence of life on Mars remained an open question. We know today that there are no civilizations on Mars, but in 1949, when this story was written, the possibility had not yet been ruled out. In this story by Wernher von Braun, Mars has an underground civilization which is more or less on par with our own. And it is a peaceful civilization, neither bent on conquest nor paranoid about being attacked.
In this story of man's first human mission to Mars, ten space ships make the journey. Upwards of 1,000 flights into Earth's orbit are required to build, supply and fuel these ten ships, and it is an international, cooperative project. In short, the undertaking is on a scale that would never happen in the real world. We tend to stick our toes in the water first, before diving in. But neither of these issues takes anything away from the story. In fact, they add to its larger-than-life-adventure quality.
All other aspects of the story are very realistic. The characters think and feel like real people; the science and rocket technology are accurate and are consistent with what is being used today; the mission timeline exactly matches reality; and so on. The mission plan does not include staying to colonize or setting up a Martian base, which, again, is realistic for a first mission. von Braun went to great lengths preparing the plot for this story.
The calculations and technical drawings that he developed for a Mars mission, and on which he then based this story, are included in the 65-page appendix of this book. The writing style of Project MARS is typical of an adventure story written in the 1940s. The translation from German to English and the publisher's editing have both retained the original styling, faithfully reproducing what von Braun created. What we have here is a genuine adventure story, created without the aid of special effects or sophisticated electronics.
In contrast with much of what is written today, this story is highlighted by love and adventure, instead of sex and violence. This is quite simply a story of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Where Project MARS differs from other fiction of the mid-20th century is in its multiple main characters. Typical science fiction of that era involved one main character (perhaps with a side-kick) who beats the odds, saves the world, and gets the girl, pretty much all by himself. In von Braun's story there are many characters who make essential contributions, and the story will center for a time on each of them. This is consistent with how the real world works � many people working together to accomplish what must be done; each affecting and being affected by the others.
It's no accident that contemporary fiction predominantly relies on this �multiple protagonist� style. You will find no ravaging monsters, terrorists or killing machines in this story; there is danger without a �dark side,� and challenge without threat, just like the real world. However, it does differ from a �real� space mission in that there are no interfering politicians, lobby groups, trade unions, etc., repeatedly redefining the mission's goals, driving the cost up and the schedule out . . .
As much as Project MARS is entertainment, it can also be seen as a proposal � for international cooperation in a human mission to Mars. von Braun clearly believed this was possible (this story takes place in the 1980s) and went to great lengths to prove as much, both in his professional life and in his writing. When this story was written, in 1949, a manned mission to Mars was considered fantasy by the man in the street, but today very few people would deny it was possible.
The reasons that we haven't done it are economic, not technical. There are minor social matters in the story that might be different from what would happen if this mission were flown today � such as the all-male crew � but they don't detract in any way from either the story or the idea of a manned mission to Mars. There are no miracle technologies or leaps of faith required to make this story believable, just a willingness to be entertained. In this never-before-printed science fiction novel, Wernher von Braun, combines technical fact with a human story line in the way that only a true dreamer can realize.