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One planet. Two moons in the sky. Not exactly welcoming… July 31, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Was reading a review of soon to be arriving on a digital platform near you SF film Settlers, set on Mars at some point in the future, and to judge from various outlines fairly unrelentingly gloomy.

I don’t know why but broadly speaking I find films about humans on Mars leave me a little cold. Either they’re too prosaic and bogged down in the nuts and bolts of the processes of same or they seem to be too adrift of the reality – essentially allegories. Worse when they’re both. Indeed I’m desperately trying to think of a fictional rendition of Mars that I enjoyed (possibly that in Babylon 5 – possibly not). I don’t include the Martian which while flawed was a film of space exploration and survival more than anything else and while it dragged to some degree did at least have some fantastic visuals of the surface of the planet. Maybe it is because humans arriving and surviving on Mars seems like an awful lot of hard work and considerably more than SF seems to appreciate. It’s not that there might not be outposts there, but ‘colonisation’ seems quite a stretch. And yet, I can point to story after story in Analog and other SF magazines over the past ten or twenty years which seem to take it as read that colonisation is going to be the path forward. In fact that’s not a bad idea for a SF story – something set in a future where scientific research outposts on the Moon and Mars are the only off-Earth human installations. Though even that seems implausible. The effort to have such outposts on Mars – the Moon is slightly different, being considerably closer, would likely be too great given any possible return. And I’m very dubious about space ‘tourism’ taking up the slack.

But back to Settlers which seems to posit a vaguely mapped out future situation where who knows what is going on. Well something must be – the colonists live in the open air, they do not require breathing equipment, they seem to move at Earth standard gravity. They’re living in what appears to be at a somewhat industrialised civilisation level – quite sophisticated firearms, mechanical doors, possibly hydroponics, but the trailer suggests everywhere else is a wasteland. Difficult to see them retaining that level for very long in the face of a broader societal collapse.

Check out the poster. Now it is true that Mars has two moons, but they’re certainly not shaped like they are in the poster. Anything but. Deimos and Phobos are irregularly shaped and very small.

Phobos and Deimos bear more resemblance to asteroids than to Earth’s moon. Both are tiny — the larger, Phobos, is only 14 miles across (22 kilometers), while the smaller, Deimos, is only 8 miles (13 km), making them some of the smallest moons in the solar system.

And what would one see from the surface?

The more distant moon, Deimos, appears more like a star in the night sky. When it is full and shining at its brightest, it resembles Venus as seen on Earth. Phobos has the closest orbit to its primary of any moon in the solar system, but still only appears a third as wide as Earth’s full moon.

But then being on Mars, living on Mars, presumably growing plants using processed Martian soil, or even running around on Mars presents some interesting problems. For example:

Martian soil is toxic, due to relatively high concentrations of perchlorate compounds containing chlorine.[3] Elemental chlorine was first discovered during localised investigations by Mars rover Sojourner, and has been confirmed by Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity. The Mars Odyssey orbiter has also detected perchlorates across the surface of the planet.

The NASA Phoenix lander first detected chlorine-based compounds such as calcium perchlorate. The levels detected in the Martian soil are around 0.5%, which is a level considered toxic to humans.[4] These compounds are also toxic to plants. 

Somewhat less than comforting is the following from Space.com:

In many ways, managing calcium perchlorate exposure on Mars is viewed as no different than managing for example, uranium, lead or general heavy-metal-contaminated areas in modern mines, where dust suppression, dust extraction and regular blood monitoring are employed. Other ideas suggested by the study team include a wash-down spray that can clean suits and equipment of dust deposits.

Managing uranium, lead or general heavy metal contaminated areas in modern mines? Ripe for habitation so. 

And then there’s the atmosphere, or rather the dust in the atmosphere:

The potential danger to human health of the fine Martian dust has long been recognized by NASA. A 2002 study warned about the potential threat, and a study was carried out using the most common silicates found on Mars: olivine, pyroxene and feldspar. It found that the dust reacted with small amounts of water to produce highly reactive molecules that are also produced during the mining of quartz and known to produce lung disease in miners on Earth, including cancer (the study also noted that Lunar dust may be worse).[9]

Let’s not even get into how the lower gravity of Mars is depicted, or not, in the film, to judge from the trailer (unless of course it’s all a big hoax and a final act reveal points to them actually being on Earth).

Comments»

1. EWI - July 31, 2021

We can’t even inhabit deserts on our own planet, and those are infinitely more habitable than Mars or the Moon. Musk and Bezos are sociopathic monsters. How many billions will they spend to get themselves to either destination, and an unsustainable ‘colony’?

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Starkadder - August 3, 2021

Maybe J. G. Ballard was right after all, and humanity wasn’t meant to settle on other planets.

“Indeed I’m desperately trying to think of a fictional rendition of Mars that I enjoyed.”

I did like the Barsoom of “John Carter”, but that’s basically a pure fantasy. As SF, Barsoom might as well be Tolkien’s Middle Earth or Robert E. Howard’ Hyborian Age

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WorldbyStorm - August 4, 2021

Yes, I agree completely – I loved the John Carter film and years and years ago in my teens enjoyed the books but you are absolutely right – that sits in a different genre – tho I did like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Blue and Green Mars too. I guess I like terraformed Mars (and Venus) stories

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2. Mathew - August 1, 2021

Having watched the trailer it feels very M Night. My guess is they’re not really on Mars. As well as the moons how come it’s so hot? Yeah Mars is a desert planet; but a cold one surely?

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WorldbyStorm - August 2, 2021

It surely is! Bloody cold.

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