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#1 2018-07-10 18:37:38

louis
Member
From: UK
Registered: 2008-03-24
Posts: 3,715

Mars Travelogue 2044

PART 1

It’s just 20 years since the first BFR landed on Mars with its precious cargo of six human beings, and the famous words were uttered:  “We have arrived. We are just the first few seeds, from which will grow a new home for humanity.”  But already,  after two decades of frenetic development, the planet is now open to the general tourist – well, as long as you are under 40 and in robust good health, of course.

The journey time of 3 months to Mars on board the new superfast BFR2, which came into operation two years ago now makes Mars an attractive alternative to the jungles of Earth or the silvery plains of the Moon for the adventurous traveller.  So hurry, hurry if you still want to be “one of the 0.0001%” as the advertising puts it,  as tourism on Mars is about to boom.

Two weeks of medical tests and training is all it takes to gain your all-important Travel Confirmation Certification (TCC) which will allow you to undertake the trip of a lifetime, and discover your place in the solar system.   The tests and training take place in Space X ‘s dedicated Cape Canaveral facilities.  You’ll be tested for vertigo, for your ability to tolerate high G forces (if you are terrified of roller coasters then space is not for you).  You’ll even have a trip in the “vomit comet” aeroplane so you get a taste of what zero G feels like.  There are psychological tests as well, to ensure you have the “right stuff” for a journey of 100 million miles. You can fit it into your travel itinerary or make of it a separate element.    If for some reason you are found not to be F4S (Fit for Space) you will have your holiday deposit returned.

The launch is tough on any human body, even a relatively young one, as in my case.  As the G forces begin to press hard on  your internal organs you think back to those tests and reassure yourself that you are the “right stuff” but don’t be ashamed if lingering doubts hover through your darker recesses of your mind at that point.

The stress of the launch quickly gives way to a kind of euphoria once the BFR powers into Low Earth Orbit and, for the first time you and your fellow travellers are able to experience extended zero G.  Now the fun begins!  Maybe I was one of the lucky ones…I didn’t suffer any serious adverse effects on reaching Zero G.  One or two of my fellow 80 passengers did throw up or feel disorientated.  The Transit Support Crew (TSC), who look after your every need, were at hand to offer reassurance and kindly attention.  The TSC includes several trained psychological counsellors as some passengers can find the experience of floating free of Earth unsettling or even traumatic, in that it can release suppressed memories.  There’s still time to return to Earth at that point, though Space X have not yet had anyone make that request.

I was glad to find myself enjoying Zero G and orbiting so much.  I spent several hours peering at the Earth below, which suddenly seemed  to make a lot more sense than it did when we down below – almost as if it were a single living organism.  And it was truly weird and wonderful to experience a fresh sunrise every 90 minutes! 

It’s not all about peering out through the glass. I was one of the first in the Games Space  – a large recreational room where you can enjoy invigorating games of Space Basketball,  Quidditch, and 3D Golf.   For the sports lover this really does add a new dimension to competitive action being able to act so easily in three dimensions.


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#2 2018-07-10 18:40:27

louis
Member
From: UK
Registered: 2008-03-24
Posts: 3,715

Re: Mars Travelogue 2044

PART 2

About 36 hours after we arrived in orbit we experienced the excitement of the refuelling procedure when a BFR tanker docks with the BFR spaceship to refuel its tanks.  It’s quite something to see another  huge spaceship looming into view, coming into to dock with your own. It’s a little unsettling, it has to be said.   But once the refuelling process is complete,  you know then you are well and truly set for Mars and the renewed rumble of the engines marks your departure on what is a strange and magical journey, well and truly beyond Earth’s reach.

The journey from Earth to Mars takes you through many profound changes of perspective. From the excitement of seeing your home, Earth,  close up from space for the first time, you then find you are in the next phase: leaving behind both Earth and Moon – it is impossible not to feel some twinge of sadness.  After that comes the lengthy  middle passage, when you  are impressed by the mentally challenging immensity  of space…everyone on board begins I think to retreat a little inside themselves to become more aware of their own consciousness.  It’s an introspective experience, as you begin to realise the true insignificance of the little speck of life you represent, lost in this ocean of space…or, to be more positive, perhaps you find yourself connecting with some much more fundamental level of identity.

The “daily” routines go some way to filling the void. There is for instance a daily medical check – very thorough, lasting at least 15 minutes.  There are five doctors on board.   On any one journey to Mars at least a couple of passengers will be taken to the Observation Unit.  Space doesn’t suit everyone, but then being on the high seas doesn’t either.

Then there is the supervised exercise.  We are all placed in exercise teams and have to complete our allotted two one-hour sessions each day, designed  to retard bone and muscle loss in zero G.

But in the last month of the journey, as Mars comes more and more in to view, no longer a “star” but now an observable planet, another rocky home for us vulnerable humans to form an attachment with, then an exciting expectation takes over the mind…it’s like you are a child looking forward to Christmas again.

Eventually you get a good view of the planet and can begin to make out some of the more prominent topographical details like the great scar of the Olympus Mons.  At last, Mars comes into full view, you can see the lights of Sagan City below, twinkling alone.
The fiery descent down on to Mars is another test of your physical fitness – you’ll be glad for all those exercise sessions en route as you take on the 5G landing.  Once again, another fresh challenge to the mind and the senses: you really are on a completely different planet from the one you were born on, and that is a truly staggering feeling, to know what lies beneath your feet is not the Earth, not at all.  This is truly the new world.

So how much do all these novel, mind blowing experiences cost?

The Mars Trip can range in cost from $100,000 to $250,000 depending on how long you are going to stay, what you want to do and just how pampered you want to be. You can get a discount of up to 50% if you are accepted on to one of the Mars Construction Teams.  But of course you need to have the requisite skills.  Interest free loans, repayable over ten years are available through the Mars Consortium if the prospect of paying such large sums up front are somewhat daunting.

I opted for the Mars Explorer Premier Package run by Space X’s own travel company Must See Mars, involving a six month stay on the planet, two major excursions (to Olympus Mons and Valles Mariensis) and several shorter excursions including a visit to the original Mission One landing site, which lies some 20 kms outside Sagan City.  Being somewhat technically minded, I also opted for the tours of the Propellant Plant, the Integrated Recycling Facility, and a Mars construction site.  Fascinating stuff.

My stay was at a robot hotel – Hotel Asimo Mars -  in Sagan City run by Sony.  Though there are a few human employees to be found on the desk, basically all the cleaning and catering staffs are very polite and helpful robots.  An interesting experience in itself if you haven’t stayed at a robo-hotel before.

Your first sighting of Sagan City with its domes , observation towers and huge solar fields  is quite breathtaking, reminding  me oddly of my first view of Rome from the Appian Way.  You turn the corner of a crater and then there it is down below rising up over the plain.  The population, with visitors, is currently around 10,000 but is scheduled to grow to 50,000 in the next 20 years.  10,000 is not a large populace for a city on Earth, but its impact on an otherwise pretty much deserted Mars is spectacular.

The organised adventure trips to Olympus Mons and Valles Mariensis were truly stunning.  Even though you are passing along what are now well travelled trails, you still feel very much a pioneer as you head out into what is for you, the unknown.   The constantly changing landscape, the beautiful colours of the rocks, the relief of finding the regular way station stops all bring a lot of light and shade to the experience. 

The exploration rovers are like large motor homes on Earth, fully equipped to deal with all your needs, but cramped of course.  There is an exercise bike and mini gym board, to help you maintain physical fitness. On the longest of the trips, to Olympus Mons there are three well appointed Lodges en route (in addition to the numerous way stations for taking on board food, water and electric power).  Here the Rover docks with the Lodge Hab and you are able to stretch your legs a bit more inside the hab after exiting the Rover. It helps break up what might otherwise become a rather oppressive journey. The self-drive rovers can travel surprisingly fast on the smooth surface of the road trails – up to 50 Kms per hour.  The Captain of the Rover sits at the front and there is a steering wheel , should human steering be required, but that was not necessary on any part of my two major journeys. 

Of course everyone who visits Mars wants to do their own EVA and actually experience moving around Mars under your own power.  The new MCP suits are really easy to don – not much more effort than getting into a wetsuit really. The most brilliant aspect, think I found were the fine mesh gloves that actually allow you to touch the rocks.  You can’t go roaming anywhere you want though. There is a specialised trail area  and you have to stick to the allotted trail.

Sagan City itself offers lots of interesting  attractions  for the visitor to Mars.  There is the Musk Dome – a giant 100 metre span dome, which is the commercial heart of Mars’s leading settlement skirted by many interesting shops and restaurants.  The Mars Pavilion stages free sports events or lectures on science, the arts and philosophy most nights. 

The Museum of Mars (finished five years ago)  is already a hugely interesting institution.  It is divided into five sections: Geology, Ecology,  Human Exploration,  Art and (looking to the future)  Terraformation.

There is more art on display in Mars’s famous Sculpture Park which includes work by contemporary artists such as  Damien Hirst and donations from the estates of long dead artists like Picasso.   

Airlocked  tunnels connect the main buildings in Sagan City.  For destinations further afield, the pressurised bus services will take you for free to your destination.  One trip I would recommend is  the new  Viking Gorge.  This is an artificial gorge that has been carved out of the regolith and then  pressurised and filled with flora and fauna from Mars including trees, flowers,  birds and butterflies.  Overhead, a latticed glass structure supports blue water that stands in for an Earth sky and also protects from radiation.  If you are missing the feel of Earth, it’s a great place to visit with its rocky paths, its copious vegetation and its artificial rain.  The gorge is about 300 metres long with another cross section gorge about 200 metres long.  At its deepest point it is descends down for 90 metres. There are numerous paths cut into its side, plus rope bridges.  It has climbing walls, rope swings, waterfalls, ponds and streams – you might even get some artificial rain during your visit (though it’s mostly at night it rains). In total there are over 10 kms of paths to walk and the cycle path circuit is a generous 3 kms long.

If you are lucky, during your stay you might get a glimpse of Elon Musk, Sagan City’s most famous resident who moved here last year at the age of 72 and who fully intends to live out his remaining years here.  Yes, he’s the man who started it all. I saw him myself at least three times.  Sagan City may be a big city in terms of Mars but with a population of only 10,000 it’s really more like a big village so the same faces keep popping up.  However, there is some sort of aura about him that prevents mere mortals (aka tourists) from approaching him. You feel he is still incredibly busy solving various difficult technical problems and the last thing you want to do is interrupt him in case you put him off!


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#3 2018-07-10 18:41:54

louis
Member
From: UK
Registered: 2008-03-24
Posts: 3,715

Re: Mars Travelogue 2044

PART 3


The overall impression you get from Sagan City is one of incredible prosperity and potential.  It’s amazing to think that only two decades ago, hardly anyone could see the economic potential of Mars. Now we know it is the beneficiary of an incredible investment boom,  amounting to something like $10 million per permanent resident.  There is no doubt that Sagan City will grow exponentially over the next few years.  To be a tourist in its early years is I think a wonderful experience.

Some tips for the Mars traveller:

Firstly, remember that you can insure your trip against dust storms. Dust storms won’t entirely spoil your visit but they might lead to cancellation of some of the more adventurous trips and of course, the views won’t be so good.  So make sure your travel insurance covers against dust storms.

Secondly, never violate a safety rule.   Human habitation on Mars is currently only possible in a vulnerable  pressurised environment – one infringement could, potentially, lead to a lot of deaths. A single offence against safety will have you on the next BFR back to Earth and you will be detained in the Governor’s House until you leave (that’s not as pleasant a stay as it might sound – rather frugal accommodation under lock and key is reserved for miscreants).

Thirdly, do take an active part in Mars colonisation – it really makes a difference I think to feel you are contributing to the settlement of Mars, our second home for humanity.  Although I didn’t opt for a 50/50 work-play split I did enrol on two projects. The first was at the Mars Vineyard outside Sagan City where they hope soon to produce the first Mars wines which will be shipped back to Earth.  I also worked at the Mars Harvard University for one week, using my geology qualification to help check classification of rocks and search for fossils.

A final additional tip – to do with tipping!: tipping is frowned upon on Mars.  The circulation of paper currencies is prohibited on the planet and if you are paying by card or phone, you’ll notice there is no service charge.

To be honest, the journey home is  a lot harder than the outward bound journey.  You feel you are leaving behind a bold experiment in living and what it means to be human, and are returning to a rather tired old planet…but in those last few days as Earth comes into view, it begins to feel much more like a real home coming and the prospect of reconnecting with loved ones creates a kind of intense longing.  Earth has its advantages! Ever after your return, you  will be thankful for the rain on your skin, the noises in your ear, the rich flora and fauna of Earth.   You will return a better person, of that there is no doubt.

Is that worth the ticket price? I think so. If you can afford it, do it!


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