Ray Bradbury dreamed of going to Mars

For the Monitor

When Ray Bradbury proposed to a girl named Marguerite 53 years ago, he said, "I'm going to the moon, I'm going to Mars. Do you want to come along'?" She said yes.

"When we got married," Bradbury recalls, "I had $8 in the bank. At the wedding, I handed the minister an envelope with $5 in it. He said, 'You're a writer'?' and I said yes, and he handed it back to me."

It took years of work and lots of dreaming, often about the planet Mars before Ray Bradbury became a professional success. His first novel, written 50 years ago, was "The Martian Chronicles," about the colonization of the fourth rock from the sun.

The first Martian we observe on Bradbury's planet is Ylla, also known as Mrs. K. He introduces her like this:

"They had a house of crystal pillars on the planet Mars by the edge of an empty sea, and every morning you could see Mrs. K eating the golden fruits that grew from the crystal walls, or cleaning the house with handfuls of magnetic dust which, taking all dirt with it, blew away on the hot wind."

The misadventures of humans on Ray Bradbury's Mars is not so much rocket science as a poetic fantasy, a study of humanity and inhumanity among non-humans.

But there are people today who genuinely want to see rocket science take humans to the Red Planet. Several members of the New Mexico Chapter of the National Space Society will have a display about Martian travel in the lobby of the Smith Auditorium the evening of Ray Bradbury's lecture.

He will speak Saturday, Sept. 25, at 7 p.m. in the auditorium. His topic is "The Great Years Ahead." Tickets priced at $10 for adults and $7 for students are available at Gordons' CDs and Tapes. The lecture will be sponsored by Los Alamos National Bank.

The National Space Society promotes change in social, technical, economic, and political conditions to advance the day when people will live and work in space. There are about 25,000 members of the NSS. Another organization, the Planetary Society, founded by Carl Sagan, has about 100,000 members.

An offshoot of the NSS formed under the name "The Mars Society" at a founding convention in Boulder, Colo., in August 1998. Los Alamos resident Lisa Ice and her husband, Chris Johnson, are among the founding members.

Ice recently completed her master's degree in computer science and took a position at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Her special field is scientific visualization, using computer graphics on Massively Parallel Computers. This is a way to visualize gigantic events such as atomic explosions or meteor strikes. Although she doesn't visualize space travel in her work, Ice hopes someday to braid her interests.

"I wanted to be an astronaut from the time I was 11 or 12 until college," Ice says. "I majored in biology as an undergrad because I knew would have to be a scientist before I had a chance to be an astronaut." Science fiction writers Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, and Edgar Rice Burroughs stoked her imagination.

"I gradually grew away from wanting to be an astronaut," she says with a smile, "when I discovered that I'm afraid of heights, and I'm prone to suffer motion sickness."

She fueled her love of space by joining the NSS, however, and recruited Chris Johnson shortly before their marriage. They share a love of science fiction, especially books written by her cousin, Air Force Col. Doug Beason. One of his books, written in collaboration with Kevin Anderson, is Trinity Paradox, a time travel set in Los Alamos during World War II.

They recently attended the annual Albuquerque sci-fi fan convention called "Bubonicon," primarily to meet the guest of honor, sci-fi author Jack McDevitt.

"We both love his books," Johnson says.

Ice and Johnson helped form The Mars Society. The organization's Declaration states:

'"The time has come for humanity to journey to Mars. We're ready. Though Mars is distant, we are far better prepared today to send humans to Mars than we were to travel to the Moon at the commencement of the space age. Given the will, we could have our first teams on Mars within a decade."

For more on the Society and its Declaration, see www.marssociety.org
Reprinted with permission from the Los Alamos Monitor