Astronomical Society of Edinburgh
Journal 39

Advertising Feature


With the summer holiday period almost upon us, we will all be pouring over our holiday brochures wondering where to go this year for a wee change. This travelogue, not ABTA approved, is aimed at the first holidaymakers who wish to travel to Mars, the ultimate in adventure holidays and describes the conditions you might expect to find when you arrive there. Unlike some other tour operators, we are 100% honest with our description of your holiday destination.


Two summers ago we saw the first of the new generation of cheap and cheerful missions to Mars. Probably not since the moon landings has NASSA enjoyed such public interest and excitement in a project. Pathfinder, the landing vehicle, was dropped from orbit around Mars from a height of 9.5km by parachute and landed with the aid of gigantic airbags to cushion the fall. Once landed, Pathfinder opened up its petal-like sides and out trundled the star of the show, Sojourner. This cute little roving buggy, looking for all the world like something you made with your Meccano set when you were 10 years old boldly set forth over the Martian terrain. Sojourner became an instant celebrity, even developing its own persona, unlike its' sleek muti-million dollar predecessors. These were the pioneers of Martian travel.


Landing on Mars

Hang onto your luggage!

The first requirement is the necessity of a very understanding boss willing to allow you a very long holiday, at least three years should do nicely. Choice of carrier is a bit limited at present, NASSA being the only operator currently flying to Mars. Their advice to check in very early should be heeded. You do not want to miss your launch window because the next opportunity won't happen for another 26 months. The flight itself lasts for 6 to 7 months so take plenty of things with which to entertain yourself. ("War and Peace" is probably a sensible choice of reading material). Clutching your boarding pass and your supply of Duty Free, it is at this point that you must be certain that you really want to go to Mars because once there, you will have to stay for another 550 days before the appropriate launch window back, a very long stay if you don't like the place. One of the benefits of flying with NASSA does mean that you can take advantage of the new landing technique which worked such a treat with Pathfinder. Arrival should be fun - a cross between a bouncy castle and a huge bungee jump. But do hold onto your luggage for if you let go, it will end up on the other side of the Solar System (no change there then!). On the subject of luggage, pack every last ounce of your allowance. Once on Mars, everyone is guaranteed to feel light on their feet. For every 100lbs you pack on Earth it will weight only 38lbs on Mars so your luggage will be easy to manage.

Return Travel

Even with a super deluxe 1st class ticket, return is a sticky problem. In the 1960's, in order to prevent any chance of bacteriological contamination of the Earth , the Soviets and the Americans signed a 50 year moratorium giving each other the right to shoot down any returning spacecraft from Mars. This is something we recommend you do not mention to your Insurance Company when taking out your travel insurance. At present we are trying to negotiate a lease for the soon-to-be defunct space station "MIR" with the intention of applying for planning permission to turn it into a quarantine facility for holidaymakers, their luggage and their red holiday rock. Here they can be screened for viruses and any other stowaway lowlife forms.


On Mars, surface transport is pretty thin on the ground. In fact, Sojourner is the only wheeled vehicle on the entire planet and it's not speedy. The top speed is around 2 feet per minute however as there is nowhere to which to rush, this is more than adequate, but a spare set of batteries for Sojourner is a wise move because there is no AA homestart.

Accommodation is fairly basic. There are no five moon hotels as yet as Holiday Inns have not yet reached Mars, but the more people who venture there, the more standards will take off. The best accommodation at present is either a squat under Pathfinder or a do-it-yourself tent made from the landing airbags. It's not comfortable but it is a roof over your head.

The co-ordinates for Pathfinder are available, but Mars doesn't seem to have a magnetic field. Whether this is permanent or not we aren't sure, but leave your compass at home because it won't work.

Climate and Atmosphere

One of the major inconveniences of the Martian climate is the deplorable lack of air. The atmosphere is 95% CO2 with oxygen making up only 0.13%. The atmosphere is much thinner than it is on Earth with the pressure barely 1%. So if you intend to stay longer than around 3 minutes and intend to do much breathing, you will need to take a good supply of air with you.

Mars has a tilted axis therefore it has seasons as on Earth. However, the weather is more extreme. Basically the Northern hemisphere has a more agreeable climate enjoying 174 sols of spring and summer. Today's forecast for example is a maximum daytime temp of 150°C dropping to a rather bone chilling -68°C by tonight. In the winter the temperature drops clean off the end of the thermometer, so take lots of thermal underwear. I am informed that the layered look is very fashionable in Mars this year.

Dust storms can blow up very suddenly with winds of up to 70mph, but because of the low atmospheric pressure, there is no force behind it. However you can rest assured that the sand will still find it's way into your socks! On the plus side, as with the compass, leave your umbrella at home because it hasn't rained on Mars for Aeons.

Nightlife and Eating

Everyone says that Mars is dead after 9pm, but frankly it is dead the rest of the time too, so take along someone special to while away the long nights. You will see the stars much brighter than on Earth because of the lack of Martian atmosphere.... well, dust storms allowing you will.

Basically you will have a terrible job even tying to get a decent cup of coffee, so the best advice is to pack a picnic. In fact pack around 450 picnics depending on the length of your stay. The good news is that food preservation on Mars is no problem, for example a cheese sandwich will last for several millennia, although you may want to protect it from the UV radiation.

Barbecues are out of the question because there's no oxygen to start your fire. Take your kids advice, don't eat your greens before going out in your spacesuit.

There are no Mars bars, but the low atmospheric pressure would mean that any alcohol would have quite a kick. One drink and you can't remember your name or where you live. This marks Mars out as the Iberia of the next millennium because it is so cheap to get drunk there.

Tourist Attractions

Mars has 2 moons, Phobos and Deimos. Phobos is the larger and is in a very low orbit, in fact if you are near the poles you will not see it at all. It will be eclipsed by Mars. It is an absurd lumpish coalsack measuring 13 miles x 17 miles and you could cycle around it in 2-3 hours. This is an interesting day trip, but do be careful not to fall into the rather large crater, Stickney. There won't be a problem in jumping out of the 6 mile deep crater because of the lack of gravity, so little, that there is a danger that you could jump clean off the moon and end up as the third object orbiting Mars.

Deimos is in a higher orbit and hangs around in the sky for around 60 hours at a time. It measures 10x6 miles and a good stiff walk (no bicycle hire on Deimos) should take you around it in an afternoon. Phobos is the sillier of the two. It runs backwards, rushing through its' phases as it scoots across the sky in only 4 hours. Both these clownish moons have eccentric motions, but neither will provide much light to see your way around at night and neither is likely to be conducive to romance.

No trip to Mars would be complete without a trip to Mariner Valley. It is vast and on earth would stretch from coast to coast across the USA. The valley is 2500 miles long, 150 miles wide and up to 4 miles deep in places. Also worth a visit is the Tharsis ridge, home to 4 giant volcanoes which as far as we are aware, are extinct. And what about a trip to the rock garden, home to such famous names as Scooby Doo, Barnacle Bill and Yogi?

Mars is smaller than Earth, but because it has no oceans, on Mars we have a greater scope for outdoor activities and exploration. The great outdoors is also due to the fact that there is no indoors yet on Mars.

So why go to Mars? Why not go to the Greek Islands again? Anyone who enjoys a crisp and bracing climate and picturesque boulders far from the madding crowds should look no further. Mars has something for everyone, from a switched on rock scene to miles of pristine wilderness in guaranteed sunshine for 687 days a year.

The adventure starts here. For more information on Mars, contact your nearest Astronomical Society for further details.

Happy holiday and Bon Voyage wherever you decide to go.

Adapted by Lorna McCalman from "The Traveller's Guide to Mars" by Dana Facaros, Michael Pauls; Cadogan Guides; ISBN: 1860110142