In February 1999, 20 students at Gymnasium Haus Overbach in Jülich (Germany) were asked to read Red Mars, a sci-fi novel by the prize-winning American novelist Kim Stanley Robinson, which is set on the planet Mars in the 21st century. Now the group consists of 60 students (aged 17-19) because two other courses have joined our "enterprise", which by now has developed into a full-scale project on the settlement and colonization of the Red Planet, with a special emphasis on terraforming, the method employed to achieve Earth-like conditions (temperatures, atmosphere etc.) on other planets.
On 26 October, the project was launched with a multiple choice test, a plenary session and a theoretical discussion of Alvin Toffler's conception of futurism/future history as a school subject based on literature about the future. The first phase was concerned with a close reading of Red Mars and a detailed analysis of basic aspects of content and form. During that period, Kim Stanley Robinson, the author of the novel, was kind enough to answer in detail all our questions concerning the novel. Besides, Dr Robert Zubrin, the President of the Mars Society, rocket engineer and the brain behind the Mars Direct Plan, and NASA scientist Kristian Pauly from Houston (Texas) helped us in numerous ways. Among other things, phase 1 was concerned with the following aspects:
- the interconnectedness ("knottiness" >>> KS Robinson) of the central theme (inhabitation and colonization of Mars) with other formal and thematic aspects such as the plot, the various subplots, the characters and their relationships, the narrative perspective, the chapter prefaces and the main themes
- themes and motifs such as the colonization process, terraforming, the gerontology treatment, Martian identity versus Terran influences, the travel motif, the motif of escapism etc.
The second phase, which began in December 99 and will continue until the end of January 2000, consists in the project proper, or the real project (group work). Every single group is expected to find and suggest a theme its members are interested in, the only condition being that the aspect of terraforming plays a significant role. In cooperation with physics, chemistry and biology courses and teachers, but also with Overbach students who are currently studying abroad (Canada and England), we will work on both scientific/technological and creative/literary projects the final results of which will be published on this homepage in February or March. It goes without saying that we look forward to receiving feedback from all over the planet (for the time being i.e. Earth ...).
For the final phase of the project, we are currently organizing a panel discussion on the future of manned Mars missions and the colonization and terraforming of Mars. The event will be introduced on video by Kim Stanley Robinson, the author of the Mars Trilogy. The main speaker will be Dr Robert Zubrin, the president of the Mars Society and renowned rocket engineer. Dr Zubrin, who has worked out the Mars Direct Plan which has been adopted by NASA for its official manned Mars program, will give a talk on "Humans to Mars within a Decade" and on the subject of his new book "Entering Space: Creating a spacefaring civilization". Besides, we will present a substantial panel of experts from both Germany and the USA. The event itself will take place on 11 April 2000, on the premises of GHO Jülich at 7 p.m.