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9-12 > Astronomy/Space Science

Earth and Beyond

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Excerpt from the novel Red Mars
(Kim Stanley Robinson. Bantam Books, 1993)

Background: The first human expedition to Mars has landed and a small group on a survey mission is arguing about whether or not to investigate the north polar ice cap.

Finally Ann got on the phone, her voice very curt and arrogant, though she looked scared. “I’m the geological head here, and I say it needs to be done. There won’t be any better opportunity to get onsite data on the original condition of the polar cap. It’s a delicate system, and any change in the atmosphere is going to impact it heavily. And you’ve got plans to do that, right? Sax, are you still working on those windmill heaters?”

Sax had not been part of the discussion, and he had to be called to the phone. “Sure,” he said when the question was repeated. He and Hiroko had come up with the idea of manufacturing small windmills, to be dropped from dirigibles all over the planet. The constant westerlies would spin the windmills, and the spin would be converted to heat in coils in the base of the mills, and this heat would simply be released into the atmosphere. Sax had already designed a robotic factory to manufacture the windmills; he hoped to make them by the thousands. Vlad pointed out that the heat gained would come at a price of winds slowed down—you couldn’t get something for nothing. Sax immediately argued that that would be a side benefit, given the severity of the global dust storms the wind sometimes caused. “A little heat for a little wind is a great trade-off.”

“So, a million windmills,” Ann said now. “And that’s just the start. You talked about spreading black dust on the polar caps, didn’t you Sax?”

“It would thicken the atmosphere faster than practically any other action we could take.”

“So, if you get your way,” Ann said, “the caps are doomed. They’ll evaporate and then we’re going to say, ‘I wonder what they were like?’ And we won’t know.”

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