Generation Mars, Part 1

The day might well be approaching when humans set foot on Mars. We'll be driven by a desire to find life -- or what remains of it -- and to colonize the planet. Stephen Humphrey and a stellar crew of authors, astronauts and Mars scholars confront the hazards, risks and challenges of getting humans to Mars, and then of surviving -- and living -- on the Red Planet.
On Mars there are ‘Marsquakes’ which may produce hydrogen in the same way as on Earth (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The day might well be approaching when humans set foot on Mars. We'll be driven by a desire to find life — or what remains of it — and to colonize the planet. Stephen Humphrey and a stellar crew of authors, astronauts and Mars scholars confront the hazards, risks and challenges of  getting humans to Mars, and then of surviving — and living — on the Red Planet. Part 1 of a 2-part series. Part 2 airs Thursday, August 16. **This episode originally aired October 20, 2016.

"We're always fascinated by the hardest feat of exploration that can be done in our own time. So in the 19th Century people were very fascinated by getting to the North Pole and then the South Pole. And then in the sixties we had this urge to get to the moon. It seemed harder than we could do and yet we did it. So now in our time Mars sits there as the hardest thing that we might do." – Kim Stanley Robinson 

"It's difficult. It's far away. It appeals to our instinct of exploration. Mars can rally not just a single country but all of humanity to a really audacious vision." – Robert Thirsk

 "I believe that humans have a fundamental instinct that wants to make them go where they've never gone before and to do what has never been done before. And we are going to go Mars." 
 Robert Zubrin

The First Time I Saw the Planet Mars


5 years ago
IDEAS contributor Stephen Humphrey recalls the moment he first learned about the red planet 1:19

Guests in this episode: 

  • Kim Stanley Robinson is an award-winning science fiction author. He published Red Mars and two acclaimed sequels about colonizing the planet Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars.
  • Robert Thirsk is a Canadian astronaut and physician. In 2009 he spent 187 days aboard the International Space Station, the longest any Canadian has been in orbit. He's performed dozens of medical and scientific experiments in space.
  • Ray Jayawardhana is professor of physics & astronomy and dean of science at York University. He's authored two popular science books: Strange New Worlds and Neutrino Hunters.
  • Darlene Lim is a Canadian biologist working at the NASA Ames Research Center. She investigates life in remote places on Earth to prepare human explorers to study Mars.
  • Robert Zubrin is an aerospace engineer, founder of the Mars Society, author of The Case For Mars and other books about colonizing space. He heads Pioneer Astronautics, a research and development company.
  • Ashwin Vasavada is a project scientist for NASA's Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory) rover. He's participated in the robotic exploration of Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury and the moon.
  • Janet Kavandi is a veteran astronaut and Director of the NASA's John H. Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. Formerly NASA's Director of Flight Crew Operations, where she was responsible for the space agency's astronaut corps.
  • Readings by Sharry Flett and Barry MacGregor 

Related Websites:

Reading List:


  • ​Aldrin, Buzz and Leonard David. Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration. National Geographic, 2013.
  • ​Hadfield, Chris. An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth. Random House Canada, 2013.
  • ​Kaufman, Marc. Mars Up Close: Inside the Curiosity Mission. National Geographic, 2014.
  • Roach, Mary. Packing For Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void. W.W. Norton & Company, 2011.​
  • Sobel, Dava. The Planets. Viking, 2005.​
  • Zubrin, Robert. The Case For Mars. Simon & Schuster Inc., 1996, 2011.


  • Bradbury, Ray. The Martian Chronicles. Simon & Schuster Inc., 1950.
  • Dick, Philip K. Martian Time-Slip. Mariner Books, 1964.
  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. Red Mars. Spectra, 1993.
  • Sawyer, Robert J. Red Planet Blues. Ace, 2013.
  • Weir, Andy. The Martian. Broadway Books, 2011.

**This episode was produced by Sara Wolch

NASA’s Curiosity Rover at Murray Buttes, a rocky region at the base of Mount Sharp in Gale Crater, on Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Possible Martian Life. Researchers aren’t sure whether these microscopic shapes on a meteorite from Mars are tiny fossils or not. However, most biologists think any life we find on Mars will be microbial. (NASA)

Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk spent 187 days aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in 2009, the longest any Canadian has been in space. (NASA)

Olympus Mon, photographed by Viking 1 in 1978. It’s the largest volcano and highest mountain in our solar system. (NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

ExoMars, sent by the European Space Agency and Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency in 2016. The Trace Gas Orbiter (left) reached Mars safely but the Schiaparelli lander (middle) crashed. (ESA/ATG medialab)

NASA’s Orion capsule leaving planet Earth. It will soon discard the upper stage of the rocket that launched it. The service module (solar panels extended) will propel and guide it to Mars. (NASA)


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