10 Things To Consider Before Moving to Mars

I’m thrilled to have a guest on the blog today. Fonda Lee is the author of the novel Zeroboxer (Flux/Llewellyn, April 2015). A recovering corporate strategist, when she is not writing, she can be found training in kung fu or searching out tasty breakfasts. Born and raised in Canada, Fonda now lives in Portland, Oregon. I loved Zeroboxer, which has been described as Gattaca meets Rocky. Without further ado: here’s Fonda!


So let’s say you’ve watched The Martian and fallen in love with the idea of living in a place with endless red horizons, smog-free skies, and plenty of peace and solitude. You’re ready to sign up to be a Martian colonist. What should you consider before you commit to leaving Earth for less-green pastures?

your new home

When I was writing Zeroboxer, I spent a lot of time researching and pondering what civilization would be like on the Red Planet generations after humans first landed. Even though Mars colonization exists very much in the background of the story (which is mostly about zero-gravity combat sports) it had to be as plausible as possible and feel entirely real to the reader. So, given what I learned, I feel compelled to mention a few things that all aspiring Martian colonists ought to be aware of:

  1. Pack for A Long Trip
  2. It’s going to take you six months to get to Mars from Earth. That’s nearly three times as long as it took the Pilgrims to travel to America. So sign up if you think you can out-stoic a Pilgrim.

  3. Your Kids Are Going To Be Taller Than You
  4. Mars’ gravity is only 37.5% of Earth’s so kids born on Mars would experience less gravitational pull throughout their lives and be taller than their Earth-born parents. Expect your twelve-year old son to be patting you on the head as you toss out yet another dozen pants he’s outgrown.

  5. You’ll Shed Half the Years on Your Driver’s License
  6. A day (sol) on Mars is almost forty minutes longer than an Earth day, and there are 668 sols (684 Earth days) in a Martian year, so congratulations, by moving to Mars you can truthfully claim to be twenty-something again! I’m coming up on my twentieth Martian birthday myself, but no worries, the legal drinking age here is ten.

  7. Bring Your SPF 5000 Sun Block
  8. Not only are you going to be exposed to radiation on the way to Mars, but once on Mars, the thin atmosphere means you’ll have to contend with higher levels of ionizing radiation reaching the surface. NASA has been working on all sorts of different shielding solutions for astronauts and potential settlers. Personally, I’m hoping Martians will engineer human radiation resistance at some point in the future. Scientists are already examining the genome of radiation resistant bacteria Deinococcus radiodurans so it isn’t too hard to imagine that one day Martians will be distinguished by the sheen of their radiation resistant skin.

  9. Be Prepared for Dust. A Lot of Dust.
  10. You think it’s annoying to come into the house after being at the beach and having to contend with sand everywhere? It’ll be a thousand times worse on Mars. The planet experiences massive dust storms, and although the thin atmosphere means that most of the time, they would only feel like a breeze (and not remotely as powerful as the storm in the opening of the The Martian), visibility would be null and there would be fine particles everywhere—all over your clothes, your windows, your rover—everywhere.

  11. Goodbye Cheeseburgers, Hello Beans
  12. I can’t see future Martians justifying spending precious terraformed land and mined water on raising livestock for consumption, so get used to a vegetarian lifestyle. Unless your willing to splurge on special occasions and pay the exorbitant costs for imported beef jerky from Earth.

  13. Live In An Excitingly Diverse and International Neighborhood
  14. The waves of settlers willing to strike out for the frontier of Mars aren’t going to be the privileged, SUV-owning, latte-sipping first-world inhabitants of Earth. Expect to meet colonists from all different parts of Earth suffering disproportionately from overcrowding, climate change, and lack of economic opportunity. There’s a good chance that colonized Mars will be like New York in 1900, a vibrant and diverse melting pot.

    your new home
  15. Best Math and Science High Schools in the Solar System
  16. Politicians and war generals might be the big kahunas on Earth, but on Mars, scientists are going to be the founding fathers and societal heroes. You’ll see Martian high schools named after geophysicists and botanists. With all that brainpower at the top, and considering that Mars will need future scientific talent to deal with the continuing challenges of building a viable colony, I’m suspecting Martian teens are going to blow away their Terran peers on the Math section of the SATs.

  17. Practice Your Three Rs
  18. If you find it hard enough to turn your tap off while brushing your teeth, or find it’s a pain to sort your plastic from your glass bottles, Mars might not be for you. Most everything, including water and oxygen, is going to be in short supply so reducing, reusing, and recycling is going to be well-nigh a religious principle. If you can’t stand the idea of drinking your own recycled and purified pee, well…stay home.

  19. You Won’t Get Home to See The Folks
  20. Unless faster means of transportation are invented, it’ll take you six months just to get back to Earth to visit, but more importantly, Earth’s higher gravity will mean that a Martian traveling to Earth will be pretty much unable to function because you’d be three times as heavy once you got there. So in my case, I’d be, oh, 400+ lbs?! No thanks.

Before You Go

If you want more information before making this life-changing decision, I suggest reading The Case For Mars by Robert Zubrin and Arthur C. Clarke, Mission to Mars by Buzz Aldrin, and check out the website of The Mars Society (www.marssociety.org). Also, Mary Roach’s Packing For Mars is a really entertaining book about life in space.

Still think you’d want to go for it? Kudos! Please invent zeroboxing on your way there.

**You can find Fonda at www.fondalee.com and on Twitter @fondajlee.

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30 DAYS ON MARS, By Which I Mean “About” Mars. Because I’m Sneaky Like That.


Welcome to 30 Days of cool pictures, thoughtful articles, and intriguing facts related to the Red Planet. Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for daily updates on my Tumblr, Pinterest, and Instagram accounts!

Hopefully, by now you’ve had a chance to see THE MARTIAN (review here) and you’re excited about the possibility of sending humans to Mars. Did you know there are people practicing for this right now? Here on Earth? But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up.

In writing the SAVING MARS books, I was intrigued by the idea of having two world cultures which had solved their “how do we get along” issues in very different ways. The Rebody Program on Earth was meant to ensure a level of stability while incentivizing humanity to be on their best behavior so as to earn a better “rebody” when the time came. In contrast, the harsh realities of life on Mars would incentivize humans to be on their best behavior because it wouldn’t do to offend the neighbor who might save your backside during the next dust storm, power outage, and so on. While I was writing, I worried often that I was making my Marsians “too good” to be true. While I had no problem believing an individual like Secretary General Mei Lo would behave selflessly on a regular basis, it seemed to me I might be stretching the truth about humanity by positing an entire culture where “we need one another” was a byword. Imagine my delight when I came upon a post written by a participant in a simulated long duration Mars mission which addressed the issue of getting along in the tight quarters of a Mars Analog Habitat.


There have been some pretty cool Mars Analog Habitats in the past twenty years, but none has been more ambitious than one happening right now called HI-SEAS, an acronym for Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation. Six men and women are currently simulating a one year, long-duration Mars mission on Mauna Loa in Hawaii. You can find their blogs here, including one in German and one in French in case any English speakers want to get some language practice in while learning about life on sMars (simulated Mars).

I started reading Sheyna Gifford’s blog posts about a month ago, and this stood out to me: “In this dome, not a single one of us is replaceable. From dawn to dusk, and at all points in between, the reminders are continual. Every time I turn to a computer to do a task, I fleetingly recall that I can’t run the habitat computer network by myself. I could be trained to, any of us could, but we don’t have to, nor do we have any time to, in light of our other tasks.”

When I was imagining the social structure of my Mars colony in the SAVING MARS series, there came a point where I had to stop worrying about how realistic it was for a group of colonists on a hostile world to get along and just write the darned story. Still, I’ve fretted over this decision for four years. Was I being overly optimistic or were my assumptions plausible? I can tell you this much: Imma sleep a lot better now that Sheyna Gifford set the record straight for me! (You can download SAVING MARS here.)

Gifford continues, “If you just can’t imagine living in harmony in a 1000 square foot dome with five other people, think about it this way: No matter how much someone may vex you, if you need them to eat, drink, and breathe you are going to find a way to get along with them.” Wow. That. I’d encourage you to read the article in its entirety to see what else Gifford has to say about life on Mars. Er, sMars. And after you make your way through Gifford’s blog, there are five more crew blogs to enjoy!

What do you think? Are Gifford and I too optimistic or about right? Comment for an entry to win a signed paperback! (US only, Int’l entries eligible for signable eBook.)


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Coming Soon: 30 Days on Mars! For now, please enjoy: 7 Admittedly Peculiar Reasons I Loved THE MARTIAN

I can neither confirm nor deny that I read Andy Weir’s THE MARTIAN four times once I finished writing the SAVING MARS series. Hey, I was … homesick. Having (almost) admitted to massive exposure to Weir’s novel, you can bet I had high expectations for Ridley Scott’s movie version.


tl/dnr version: I LOVED IT. 

(Super Minor Spoilers Ahead)

Peculiar Reason 1: EYE CANDY

Nope, I’m not talking about any of the (quite attractive) actors cast in the movie. I’m talking about Mars. Mars—sighhhhhhhh. From the opening shots to the final farewell, Mars is lookin’ good. Real good. A few of my fave moments? The starry night shot, the shots of dust devils and their trails, and of course the moment Astronaut Mark Watney wakes to the sound of his O2 alarm going ballistic because: CO2 poisoning!

Peculiar Reason 2: INSPIRATIONAL


Seriously. I dare you to not want to hit rewind and change your life so you, too, can work at NASA or JPL. Weir’s self-published version ended with Watney on a park bench munching pizza. The Crown/Random House published version ended with Watney on the Hermes, musing about the cost of saving one dorky botanist. The movie version ends with Watney teaching a classroom of hopeful astronauts. AND YOU TOTALLY WANT TO BE ONE OF THEM!

Peculiar Reason 3: THE HUMOR

One of the best parts of the book THE MARTIAN is the humor. From Watney’s self-effacing gallows humor to Annie Montrose’s outrageous swear-fests, this book is funny. LOL funny. Snorting diet coke out your nose funny. I would love to know the percentage of new dialogue vs. book dialogue. I would guesstimate maybe 15% of the original dialogue was preserved? (Oooo! Reason to watch it repeatedly until I can actually speak with authority!) But even with the deletion of soooooo much great stuff, the screenwriter preserved the humor. (Yay, Drew Goddard—you done good, kid!)


You cannot simultaneously inspire young engineers and astronautlings and reproduce the original language of the book. The language is funny as youtube cat videos, but it isn’t kid-friendly. I counted one actual f-bomb (which I’m presuming earned the movie its PG-13 rating—or maybe that was the grizzly self-surgery….) and several absolutely genius ways of conveying the same sentiment in a less offensive way. These made me sit up and take notice as a writer. Now, if I could just find a non-visual equivalent way to reproduce Watney’s (movie version) response to hearing his crewmates don’t know he’s alive.

Also, for those of you who recall Watney’s response to NASA’s request that he keep his language family friendly because THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING, well, I’ll just say  there’s a wee moment for all of us in-the-know to recognize what NASA is seeing on the screen when Watney answers.


I think it was very smart to release a family-friendly version of this story. You can, you know, take your family to see this. Plus, ’tweens and teens have a high tolerance for repeat viewings of fave movies. (My son, then 17, went to movie screenings of the first Hunger Games movie seven times.) Such a smart marketing decision. My takeaway? Go thou and do likewise.

Family-friendliness, incidentally, played into my decision to have original swearing language (aka, fake swears) in the SAVING MARS series. I wanted moms and dads to be able to read it with their future astronautling kiddos. Okay, aaaaaand I loved the conceit I used to explain the reason there wasn’t any traditional swearing on the Mars colony. (… by common consent, it was agreed that the use of curses which gave grave offense to the person who might save your hide in the next dust storm was probably inadvisable.)



Okay, not sexy-sexy, but you know what I mean. It would be hard to watch this film and not get a little excited about sending astronauts to Mars. Go on. I double dog dare you. And we all know how Cidney feels about encouraging future generations to get excited about space, si?

Peculiar Reason 7: THE GIRL SAVES THE DAY


I loved that the Hermes/Ares 3 mission was captained by a woman. I loved that Mindy Parks was the one to figure out Mark was alive. And I just plain loved Annie Montrose, potty-mouth and all. My point? There are interesting, smart, savvy women in aerospace careers in THE MARTIAN. What I would have given to read a story like this when I was a kid! I grew up on re-runs of Kirk and Spock. Lieutenant Uhura was my total idol. (A girl! In space! Who did important stuff!) Now, I watch those old re-runs and get angry Uhura wasn’t given More Important Stuff to Do, but I digress….

In THE MARTIAN, the movie, Commander Lewis literally saves Watney’s, erm, derrière. This is a departure from the novel, and I liked it. Thanks, Hollywood! Even though I grew up watching Apollo launches and hearing school talks by a astronauts, I never considered I *could* grow up and work at NASA. It was all dudes, dudes, dudes in my day. (I Dream of Jeannie, anyone?) Women (and non-whites, although I wish there had been a major character non-white female in the movie—sadface) were everywhere in this movie. If I were still a kid, I would be able to look at the gender distribution and say, “Look: a place I could belong!”)

So there you have it: my 7 highly personal reasons for loving this movie enough that I will probably return to see it another 7 times.

What did you like about THE MARTIAN?