Beyond Earth is a nonfiction popular science book with a couple of tricks up its sleeve. First, co-authors Charles Wohlforth and Amanda Hendrix mix in a near-future science fiction story as they detail present-day planetary science, rocket science along with the physical and psychological effects of space travel. These alternating “future” and “present” storylines generally work well, but there are times when the science fiction bits read like convenient just-so stories.
The other trick Beyond Earth pulls off is that it is really a warning siren for global climate change. While telling a compelling tale about how a small cadre of brave and/or rich souls could colonize space, the real message here is that our best chance to preserve humanity requires facing up to the challenges here on Earth.
Individual nations and even wealthy people could advance the future of space travel to move outward, but to halt carbon emissions would require cooperation by the entire species.
Where could our fearless colonists head after humanity meets the technological, physiological and social challenges associated with deep space travel? You’re probably thinking Mars. For Wohlforth and Hendrix, the idea of going to Mars will be played out by the time technology makes such a trip possible. We already know that Mars lacks adequate natural resources and future rover/probe missions will tell us the rest of the Martian story. In time, the only argument favoring a Mars expedition would be its relative proximity. As unappealing as Mars may be, Wohlforth and Hendrix correctly note that the other two rocky inner planets, Venus and Mercury, are worse options for a host of reasons (e.g. sulfuric acid atmosphere and truly extreme temperature variations). Beyond Earth makes the case that the “best” bet for a space colony lies along the arctic-like shorelines of the natural gas lakes on Titan, a moon of Saturn.
Beyond Earth is Certainly worth a read. If you are debating whether your next book should be popular science or science fiction, Wohlforth and Hendrix have you covered on both counts. If you want to see how an optimistic assessment for space travel compares and contrasts with the challenges of climate change, Beyond Earth provides that unique analysis as well.