Home > I. Books, M. Stars > Amundsen, Scott, and KSR: How We Get to Mars

Amundsen, Scott, and KSR: How We Get to Mars

The concept of terraforming Mars has pursued me, in a leisurely kind of way, ever since I read Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy back in the mid-1990s. I’ve already recommended this excellent near-future science fiction novel set during the settlement and terraforming of the Red Planet. But, as I noted in my last post, getting there is not going to be so easy.

So what do we do? Turn to history, of course! Specifically, I’m thinking of the race to reach the South Pole, which Roald Amundsen won, planting Norway’s flag on the spot on December 14, 1911. Happy 100th Anniversary, Mr. Amundsen and his team!

Let’s not kid ourselves: anyone trying to reach the South Pole in 1911 was taking his chances, pushing the envelop of that era’s technology really hard, and totally committed to the idea of exploration for exploration’s sake. Just to get an idea of how dangerous the enterprise was, let’s consider Amundsen’s competition, the team of Robert Falcon Scott, which reached the South Pole only 34 days after Amundsen. Slightly over a month may not seem like a huge margin in terms of safety, but then we’re talking about the Antarctic. Scott was handicapped by faulty equipment, an unwise choice of ponies over sled dogs, and the encroaching winter. On March 29, 1912, he perished with his men on the Ross Ice Shelf. They were 11 miles from a supply depot. Be that as it may, RT salutes their courage and spirit of adventure!

I cannot continue without mentioning Ernest Shackleton’s mind-boggling escape from the jaws of death (1914-1917); his ship, the Endurance, trapped and then crushed by pack ice, Shackleton led his men across the ice, then across the ocean in open boats to land on Elephant Island, and finally captained one of the boats in a journey to South Georgia Island, where the local whaling colony was able to mount a  successful rescue of the remaining men on Elephant Island. Not a single life was lost during the voyage. Wow! WOW! This is the stuff of epic!

So why did Amundsen survive, where Scott failed to return? Careful planning and knowledge of arctic conditions lay at the root of Amundsen’s successful (and at moments, ridiculously easy–they enjoyed a jury-rigged sauna on the way back!) expedition.

Which leads to RT’s suggestion for reaching Mars: place supply depots and at least a couple of rest stations (with saunas, of course!) along the way. Assembling the expedition spacecraft in orbit or at a moon base would also lighten the load.

Yes, with full attention to detail & logistics, the trip to Mars is doable. And here’s to the spirit of discovery!


Photos: Top: Roald Amundsen; Bottom: Robert Falcon Scott. WikiCmns. Public Domain.

  1. Sharon Sieben
    April 16, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    you write the most interesting posts!!!! Thanks for sharing!

  2. April 29, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    Polar exploration has always fascinated me, especially Shackleton.

    • May 1, 2012 at 8:39 pm

      TG: Shackleton was amazing…thx for stopping by! RT

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